The student-run daily newspaper for Ohio University, The Post, recently ran an article titled, “Being Mormon in College”. In addition to interviewing a Mormon student for the article, journalist Amanda Wilcosky also spoke to the LDS missionaries on campus:
The missionaries said the founder of the religion and prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation from God in 1833 called the Word of Wisdom. In this vision, God warned Smith about certain substances that were deemed to be unhealthful. At the time, little evidence existed to support his claim, but [LDS missionaries] Wat and Patterson said that current knowledge about the dangerous effects of these substances helps to justify Smith’s revelation.
Although a law in the Book of Mormon advises that followers do not consume or use certain items, the church does not utilize threats or guilt to ensure obedience, the missionaries said.
“The church does not take away one’s agency to choose,” Patterson stressed. “They are all just recommendations that can bring more happiness in our lives.”
First of all, the Word of Wisdom came from Joseph Smith’s lips at a time when the temperance movement was sweeping across America.
As early as 1784 Dr. Benjamin Rush argued that excessive use of alcohol was bad for people, both physically and psychologically. This resulted in 200 farmers forming a temperance association a few years later in Connecticut. Another temperance association was formed in Virginia in 1800, and another in New York in 1809. By 1834 there were 5,000 temperance societies in the United States.
Tobacco was believed to be a “nerve-prostrating, soul paralyzing drug, a fleshly, ungodly lust.” Coffee and tea were considered “as bad as toddy-guzzling” and the Journal of Health (published between 1829 and 1835) recommended a vegetarian diet or a sparing use of meat for good health (see Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 166).
I’m sure the LDS missionaries are unaware of these historical facts; nevertheless, it’s a deplorable thing to tell people that the then unknown, but currently understood, dangerous effects of these substances is evidence in support of the idea that Joseph Smith was a true prophet — when it isn’t.
Furthermore, LDS missionary Elder Patterson said that the Word of Wisdom is nothing more than a “recommendation” which, if followed, will bring happiness to peoples’ lives. When was this commandment downgraded to a mere suggestion? True, the revelation was not originally understood to be a commandment, but according to LDS President Ezra Taft Benson:
In 1851, President Brigham Young proposed to the general conference of the Church that all Saints formally covenant to keep the Word of Wisdom. This proposal was unanimously upheld by the membership of the Church. Since that day, the revelation has been a binding commandment on all Church members. (“A Principle with a Promise”, Ensign, May 1983, 53)
And what about the missionaries’ reported statement that the Church doesn’t utilize threats or guilt to elicit obedience to the Word of Wisdom? LDS Apostle Boyd Packer said:
The Word of Wisdom put restrictions on members of the Church. To this day those regulations apply to every member and to everyone who seeks to join the Church. They are so compelling that no one is to be baptized into the Church without first agreeing to live by them. No one will be called to teach or to lead unless they accept them. When you want to go to the temple, you will be asked if you keep the Word of Wisdom. If you do not, you cannot go to the house of the Lord until you are fully worthy. (“The Word of Wisdom: The Principle and the Promises,” Ensign, May 1996, 17)
Just a friendly suggestion. No threats or guilt.
- Obey the Word of Wisdom or you will not be allowed to join the Church.
- Obey the Word of Wisdom or you will not be allowed to lead in the Church.
- Obey the Word of Wisdom or you will not be allowed to go to the temple.
- Obey the Word of Wisdom or you are not “fully worthy.”
- Obey the Word of Wisdom or else.
Don’t get me wrong. The LDS Church certainly has the right — and the responsibility — to require certain things from its members. What bothers me is the way the missionaries — official representatives of the LDS Church — didn’t own up to the Church’s true teachings and requirements on this. If they weren’t prepared to tell the truth about it, why say anything at all?
Maybe I’m making too much of this. Perhaps the 9th commandment has also been downgraded to a suggestion.