Mormons and Caffeine

If there is any topic that gets the most regular attention on Formspring, I think it is caffeine. There is a whole lot of confusion out there, and I think this post was a long time coming.

Disclaimer: This post expresses my own opinions about things, much more so than I usually do on LDS Sunday posts where I try to represent the official position of the Church. Unless you see something cited and written with quotation marks please assume this this is one person’s attempt to explain what we believe, what our teachings mean, and how it should be applied. Also, please keep in mind that these standards are set for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, because we agreed to follow them. I don’t think people who do things differently are “bad people”.

You’ve probably heard that Mormons don’t drink alcohol, coffee, or tea. My new favorite blog has an excellent concise definition of the Word of Wisdom, which is a passage of scripture found in the Doctrine and Covenants. Avoiding alcohol and coffee altogether might seem strange to some, but I think they make sense from an LDS standpoint.

One of the core doctrines of the Church is the idea that we are sent to the earth by God to exercise our ability to make right or wrong choices, known as free agency. God does not force us to do things, He lets us choose for ourselves. Free agency is so important to God that He cut off Satan and a third of all of our spirit brothers and sisters in the premortal world when Satan proposed that we should live all be living a life without free agency (as in the life we are living right this very moment, but with no power to choose what we want to do with it).

What do alcohol, coffee, and tea have in common? When overused and abused they can be addicting. It’s not that the substances themselves are inherently bad, but that men and women have the tendency to overuse them. And when that overuse occurs, judgement and choices are impaired. If I am an alcohol addict I might drink too much and then not have control over my actions. Or I may drink so much coffee that I can no longer function normally without it. Does everyone drink so much coffee that they can’t function? Certainly not, but I’m sure you know someone like that, and God decreed that the Word of Wisdom was given to help the “weak and the weakest of all” of His saints. (We as LDS members call ourselves saints, and in this context it means a follower of God.)

The story behind the Word of Wisdom was told by Brigham Young:

“The first school of the prophets [a special school for the early leaders of the Church] was held in a small room situated over the prophet Joseph’s kitchen. … [This was the room where] the prophet received revelations and in which he instructed his brethren. The brethren came to that place for hundreds of miles to attend school in a little room probably no larger than eleven by fourteen [feet]. When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first [thing] they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room; and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths, a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the prophet entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry” (in Deseret News [Weekly], 26 Feb. 1868, 18).

I believe the Word of Wisdom to be brilliant and inspired by God because this was brought forth during a time when the harmful effects of tobacco were unknown by science. I think it’s important to keep the time-period in mind when thinking about what substances were to be avoided, because this is where some confusion sets in when we talk about caffeine.

Some of the questions about the topic of caffeine/coffee/tea/soda/etc that I currently have sitting in my Formspring inbox include:

I know that Mormons do not drink alcohol coffee or tea, the last 2 because of the caffeine and you will not drink tea with caffeine but you drink dark pop. Could you please explain the difference?

Why is it that you can’t have coffee or tea but you can have soda? Seems like it should be the opposite since coffee and tea are the more natural options.

and anyone who has read my responses knows that I’ve answered sever other questions as well. These questioners bring up good points that I would love to answer with this post, in part so I can point other people here when they ask the same thing!

The reason that I brought up the story of the origin of the Word of Wisdom above is that I think the fact that we were instructed not to drink coffee and tea, but soda pop was left off the list, makes more sense when you think about the time period. Joseph Smith revealed (began talking publicly) about the Word of Wisdom in 1833. This was long before soda pop with caffeine, like Coca Cola, was commercially available. The substances that were spoken of in the Word of Wisdom were all available and used commonly during that time period, but several years would pass before men would start combining sugar and caffeine to create a product that would hook people by the millions.

So do Mormons drink caffeine? Yes, we do. Do we ingest caffeine? Yes, we do. Caffeine is found in drinks, medication, chocolate, and a host of other things, and all of these things are items which members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints consume on a regular basis with no disciplinary actions necessary by spiritual leaders. I think the Lord put coffee and tea off limits because those were abused during that time period. As science evolves, caffeine and other addictive substances will be used in a variety of new ways, and what Mormons should be doing is thinking about the reasons behind the Word of Wisdom and analyzing whether their own actions are inhibiting their freedom of choice in any way. Moderation in all forms is key, and in my opinion averaging 50 ounces of caffeinated soda every day (accompanied by signs of withdrawal if the soda isn’t acquired) is just as bad for the body/free agnecy as drinking coffee or tea would be.

The Church’s official position on caffeine is:

“With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.”

In my own life, I avoid soda altogether for the most part, not only because I want to avoid dependency on drugs like caffeine, but because I think food should be real and consuming too much sugar is terrible for us. I do indulge a few times a year though (like on the plane, I love drinking ginger ale), sometimes choosing a caffeinated beverage and sometimes not. I eat dark chocolate, which contains caffeine, but I eat it in small amounts because I’m trying to lose/maintain my weight, and because I think it’s difficult to eat enough chocolate that you become physically addicted and dependent on it. I have a diverse collection of herbal tea, much of it gifted to me by my husband’s family in Poland, which I love to sip on throughout the day. For me, following the Word of Wisdom means knowing what the text says, understanding the rules that need to be followed, and working to avoid behaviors and substances that could negatively affect my body and my free agency.



63 thoughts on “Mormons and Caffeine

  1. Good post. I know you’ve commented on this before, but it’s nice to see it all written out.

    I can’t have any caffeine (like not even chocolate) or any alcohol b/c I’m on the IC diet. So my take on this is funny, because I’m all for caffeine, I just can’t have it. I haven’t had a cup of coffee in 6 months, and I really, really miss it. I hate that it takes my brain 2 hrs to wake up in the morning, I miss how good it tastes, and also all the health benefits. I think you are on-track when you talk about the potential to abuse it, though I don’t really get when people say not drinking coffee/tea/alcohol is “healthier” for you. Heavy drinkers live longer than non-drinkers, women who drink green tea have a much lower chance of ovarian cancer, wine is good for your heart, etc.

    Since I can’t drink/eat any of that, I miss out on all the health benefits. :-( I know I’m not still physically addicted to coffee (don’t think I ever was) but I do still really miss them. I really believe that they are good for you, in moderation. I find it really funny when LDS say they are healthier by no drinking those, but then drinking lots of pop. IMO, coffee is way healthier!

    So, in my heart of hearts, I don’t think those substances are bad for you in moderation, and can even be good for you. I am so jealous of people who get to partake in them. I can’t even have most herbal teas or even any carbonated beverages or most juices! So maybe I just wish I only had to follow the Word of Wisdom instead of the whole IC diet, haha.

    I drove through Utah recently and saw tons of signs warning against falling asleep while driving. I guess drowsy driving is a much bigger problem there than drunk driving? :-)

    I guess I kinda compare it to Catholics not eating meat on Fridays during Lent. Meat isn’t bad, eating meat on a Friday isn’t inherently harmful. But we do it to honor God. Sometimes what we do to honor God makes sense, like thou shalt not kill. Other times, its an outward act to express an inner prayer, even if that outward act itself isn’t good or bad.

    Katy Reply:

    I would agree that just because we aren’t drinking alchohol/coffee, that doesn’t mean drinking soda is great (even the decaffinated)! I might have around, oh, 5 sodas a year? Sometimes less. I feel like I can brag that I’m so good about drinking water and staying away from soda because on the other hand, I’ve not been great lately at eating more naturally and limiting my sugar. So we all have something that we need to evaluate even though we think we can pat ourselves on the back for staying away from alcohol/caffiene.

    Life on Mulberry Reply:

    What is the IC diet, Jackie?

    Jenna Reply:

    Jackie has Interstitial Cystitis, a disease which I have as well! I had surgery in high school so I haven’t been suffering from the symptoms for a long time, but when things were really bad for me I had to avoid acidic foods and other things that irritated the lining of my bladder. I really feel for Jackie because I know the pain she is going through!

    Jackie Reply:

    It’s laaaaaaaaame. That’s what it is. But yeah, Jenna got it right. No acid.

    Hailey Reply:

    jackie, i like your analogy about the word of wisdom/no-meat-fridays-during-lent/prohibited things not harmful but about honouring God – i agree, it is about honouring God… that one glass of wine would not have a huge impact on an lds person’s health, but we abstain totally to honour God. but… something that description lacks is the point that the word of wisdom is ALSO literally meant to enable a healthy lifestyle.
    i have to admit, i’m one of those lds people who claims a life free of alcohol/drugs/tobacco/tea/coffee is healthier. SOME heavy drinkers live longer than non-drinkers. ingesting lots of harmful substances is not a death sentence, nor is smoking, but alcohol and other substances are proven to be really harmful! sure, studies come out now and again to prove that an alcoholic drink carries a certain health benefit, but which sip of wine is good for your heart and which sip is poisoning your liver? you don’t get to choose. i realise a lot of people are willing to take the risks and enjoy alcohol and drugs rather than live without, but the risks and harms associated with alcohol and drugs are proven and undeniable.

  2. Beautifully explained. All of it.

    I try to explain that it’s not really the substance itself, but the high propensity to become addicted and feel like life can not function without it. Since it’s very rare that anyone says “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my hot cocoa” we don’t need to neccessarily rule out those things completely, though if you did ever find yourself saying that about *ANY* substance, it’s best to reevaluate!

    God wants us to take good care of these bodies He’s given us so we must think more carefully about what the things we eat/drink are really doing to our bodies, and even more importantly, our minds.

    Katy Reply:

    Forgot to add: something else I think about along the lines of the timing of the Word of Wisdom to the early members – - I can imagine that those in the church and those not didn’t understand what exactly was wrong with tobacco. Science had not yet revealed the problems with it’s use and abstaining from it probably felt more like an act of obediance than actual understanding.

    We have no idea what we might discover about other substances in future years. So, though we might think that certain substances are just fine, we too may just not fully understand yet. For now, I choose to just trust God who is the maker of our bodies and take His word for it in this matter.

    (though I feel I need to mention as did Jenna, I don’t think that people that do these things are ‘bad people’ either! ;) )

    Natalie Reply:

    That’s EXACTLY how I explain it to people. It is about mind over matter and avoiding addictive substances, or substances that impair judgement.

    I think if you are addicted to Diet Coke that it not a good thing either.

  3. I’m LDS, and I’m always really annoyed by people who refuse to drink coffee or tea but still drink Mt. Dew or other soda. Sure, the occasional soda (or coffee or tea) isn’t going to kill you, and coffee and especially tea do have health benefits. But large amounts of caffeine on a regular basis in any form isn’t good for you, and I hate the argument that “the Word of Wisdom doesn’t mention soda.” I think everything is okay in moderation. I’ll admit, I have the occasional Starbucks treat. But after drinking two large Dr. Peppers a day for months (I have chronic fatigue syndrome and other health problems, and the only way to get through work was with caffeine), I quit caffeine cold turkey and now everything I drink has no caffeine. So whether it’s Starbucks, a soda, etc., I only drink caffeine-free. As a result, caffeine now makes me very sick, so it’s probably a good thing! I have chocolate, but only a little and the caffeine in that small of amount doesn’t seem to bother me.

    I guess my point is that whether you follow the Word of Wisdom or not, don’t be a hypocrite if you’re going to defend your actions. And decide for yourself what you should be putting into your body, because you’re the best judge for you.

    Alisha Reply:

    Oh, and when I say “you,” I’m referring to people in general, not anyone specific! :)

  4. What kind of education is there for young LDS members about alcohol? I mean, is there classes youth take to explain the affects it has on the brain and behavior and how it lowers inhibitions? Or is it just known not to do it?

    Also, are there support groups (similar to AA) for LDS members who find themselves addicted to alcohol?

    Jessica @ One Shiny Star Reply:

    The education doesn’t focus so much on the physical repercussion as much as the spiritual ones (in my experience). If one believes that their body is a sacred gift, a temple of God, it is easy to see why you wouldn’t want to do anything that could cause it harm (like being dependent on a drug, getting tattoos, or drinking alcohol – which like you said had several negative impacts). I’m trying to remember when I learned about the affects of alcohol – and I’m not sure if they are specifically laid out in church or not. The main point is to keep your body clean, because it is a gift from God.

    I don’t think there are support groups, but a person can get private counseling from some one who is both LDS and a certified/legal counselor (like… a regular person who studied to be a counselor, who is also LDS). But of course nothing would stop them from attending AA if they wanted to.

    Meg Reply:

    I like that idea: treating our bodies as sacred gifts. That is something the teens I work with don’t do..I mean, how can they when everyone in their life (literally, besides people at school) are telling them they are worthless.

    I think it would be interesting to find a LDS counselor, I wonder if there is a data base for that, lol.

    Marissa Reply:

    The church does have AA type support groups for addictions and pornography in most areas of the church. I know the one by me meets on Thursday nights and follows confidentiality rules similar to AA.

    Jenna Reply:

    In the Young Womens program (for 12-18 year old girls) we have lessons on the Word of Wisdom on a regular basis (I’d say at least once a year). Young men have a similar program. Drinking isn’t as prevalent for LDS teens though because we are encouraged to choose friends with high standards and a lot of drinking in high school is due to peer pressure. My friends weren’t drinking and so the thought of doing so never appealed to me.

    The church has counseling programs for pretty much every sort of struggle a member is going through, including addiction (to pornography/alcohol/drugs/etc, recovery from traumatic experiences, unemployment, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, etc.

    Shanna Reply:

    From my own experience in the church, in a very liberal town, there was no education beyond “don’t do it.” This was across the board ranging from sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. I think the message would have been a lot more powerful if it had been paired with teachings about WHY things are bad for you but that’s just me. I need the why (and didn’t my parents just hate it!).

    Hailey Reply:

    Good question, Meg. I think what you learn about at church depends on who happens to be teaching the lesson/class. Different people focus on different things. Generally, Word of Wisdom discussion would include some reference to the science that happens to back up the concept that alcohol is bad for you. For me, growing up I was well aware of the health affects of alcohol because there were several alcoholics in my extended family. I already could see for myself the toll alcohol takes on the body by the time I was ever taught the Word of Wisdom at church. When I reached an alcohol-drinking age, initially, the choice to abstain out of obedience to my religion allowed me to stand back, sober, and watch what happened to my peers under the influence… needless to say, I made it to adulthood with no desire to join in that.

  5. I just had this discussion with my husband a few days ago. I am LDS; he is agnostic. We have agreed to raise any children we have in the church so I try to educate him on doctrine and other things involved with being a church member.

    I had been pondering the use of caffeine recently and agree with your post. I unfortunately have a horrible Coca-Cola addiction. I was drinking up to eight cans a day. I am now down to having one can a week at home and a small glass when we go out to eat.

    The Word of Wisdom was revealed to keep us healthy. It stresses eating healthy and physical activity. Many things that are available now that can be addictive were not available then. Sometimes I wonder if the WoW were revealed today, if it would include soda and counsel against eating sugary and/or processed foods more than sparingly. Just my thoughts.

    Jenna Reply:

    Yes yes yes! I feel the same way about some of the different content. Now we have science to help us understand how to take care of our bodies (though science can fail us, as is demonstrated by the lipid hypothesis), and we should use that knowledge to take care of our bodies and respect them as God would want us to. Saying things like “its my body and I can do what I want with it” is disrespectful to Him.

  6. I also think we need to remember the word of wisdom is more then just staying away from alcohol and those things we have discussed above. it also talks about our diet and did you know the eating disorders are also breaking the word of wisdom…? interesting huh!

    Hailey Reply:

    Ooooo I don’t know if I entirely agee, Tiffany. Though technically the behaviour/actions/diet of someone with an eating disorder defies what we are commanded to do in the Word of Wisdom, I don’t know if I feel comfortable classifying someone afflicted with an eating disorder as ‘breaking’ the Word of Wisdom. Eating disorders fit under the umbrella of mental illness – an individual afflicted by such a disease as anorexia nervosa is unable to control their actions and I would say unaccountable for their actions that go against the WOrd of Wisdom.

    Tiffany Reply:

    it could possibly depend on the severity of it. but according to church authorities, aka bishops, and stake presidents. it can be catagorized as such and I think we do have control of our eating actions so i say we are definitely accountable.

    Hailey Reply:

    yeah, i have control of my eating habits, and you have control of yours, but the point of eating disorders is that an afflicted person *doesn’t* have control… or it wouldn’t be an eating *disorder*… it’s a genuine illness, you can’t just snap out of it! as such, why would someone with an eating disorder face disciplinary action from the church for ‘violating’ the word of wisdom?

    Tiffany Reply:

    alcoholism is a disease too…I mean withdrawls from being addicted and all that stuff can be catagorized in the same way…you could argue that they don’t have control either. I know from many personal experiences that an eating disorder is against the word of wisdom. the word of wisdom involvs our diet too. not just drug and alcohol…

    Hailey Reply:

    alcoholism and eating disorders are two different kettles of fish. you have to choose to drink alcohol (break the word of wisdom) to become addicted, no matter the nature of your resultant addiction. then you lose control over further choice, to be classified an alcoholic. in an eating disorder, following a poor diet is a SYMPTOM of the mental disorder. a person can control whether they take their first drink of alcohol, but they cannot control succumbing to a mental illness such as an eating disorder. as such, a person with an eating disorder should never be subject to church discipline.

    Tiffany Reply:

    I don’t agree. sorry.

    Hailey Reply:

    haha that’s not opinion, that is fact… but okay!

    Tiffany Reply:

    i know everything is on a case by case basis. because i know for a fact that some cases ARE against the word of wisdom.

    Hailey Reply:

    the lds church does not punish people for having a mental illness. any church leader who does is poorly advised. a mentally ill lds person needs to be given professional and ecclesiastic help, but certainly not disciplinary action.

  7. I always thought that it was strange that most LDS peeps don’t concentrate on reducing their meat intake; in fact, I know VERY FEW members who don’t eat meat as a part of every meal. I certainly know that it’s the main focus of all meals at my LDS in-laws homes. Loooots of meat and potatoes.

    Jenna Reply:

    I hope that changes.

    Sharon Reply:

    Our LDS family and many others we know are pretty low on meat consumption. About half our dinners contain no meat, and when we do eat chicken, for example, I use about 3 boneless chicken breasts for the six of us. I never really thought about it as a word of wisdom thing, but I suppose it is. For us it’s economy that has influenced our tastes. I was most influenced by the way that my mother taught me to cook.

    As far as soda, the homes that dh and I grew up in were not big on drinking soda, and mine especially discouraged caffeinated soda. I am 46 and have no idea what a Coke or Pepsi taste like. I might have sprite when I have an upset stomach, ginger ale on the plane, or rootbeer at the pizza place, but that’s it. No caffeine. I decided on my own as a teen to avoid it. My kids are all non-soda drinkers because they don’t like the way all that sugar makes them feel.

    My personal weakness is chocolate chip cookies!

    Katy Reply:

    Yes, to truly be following the Word of Wisdom, we need to greatly decrease our intake of meat, though it seems God has let us decide what “sparingly” means – something between more than once a year but less than every single meal ;) It’s something we all should be evaluating! I think not just from a ‘too much meat isn’t good for us’ standpoint, but also from an encouragement from God to eat more vegetables, fruits, and natural grains.

    Shanna Reply:

    I think this one depends a lot more on education levels and where one lives rather than education. I know that we were taught to take care of our bodies and to be good stewards of the earth but I feel that (beyond the WoW) the how-to of its application isn’t quite emphasized. I think there’s a lot more than the WoW that goes into living a healthful life that has a low impact on the planet and I love seeing Jenna spread the word and go into this. It’s refreshing after visiting my family in Utah who laugh at me when I recycle. :(

    Shanna Reply:

    replace that second “education” with religion.

    Jenna Reply:

    Ohhhh you’ve probably encountered Mormons who say ridiculous ignorant things like “well the earth is going to burn anyway”, and really meant it. We had some intelligent friends say that to us once and my jaw dropped. Yet another example of people forming opinions based on their political party instead of common sense.

    Also TH has an *awesome* response to statements like that (well from a Mormon perspective) if anyone would like to hear it.

    Shanna Reply:

    Yes please! I would love to break it out on the next family reunion. In the nicest way possible, of course. :)

    Hailey Reply:

    Jessica, sometimes there is a laaaaaarge gap between what God commands and what His followers do… sometimes because of disobedience, sometimes because we interpret it the wrong way. I am an Australian who lived in Utah for a few years, where I found that lots of people in Utah read the part about what dangerous substances we shouldn’t ingest and kind of stopped the lesson/reading there… they kind of ignored or were not aware (due to poor study/religious culture infiltrating pure religion) that there was more to the Word of Wisdom than avoiding obviously harmful substances. I hope this changes. In the mean time, I do not believe that God’s word loses value or credibility when His followers aren’t doing a good job of following commandments or even interpret it wrong.

  8. Great post Jenna. I am totally addicted to Diet Coke at the moment:( Working on it!

    This is totally off subject, but I couldn’t quickly find the original post where you were talking about your favorite workout songs. Anyway, I have a new favorite that I have had on repeat all week. “Human” by the Killers. LOVE it!


    Katy Reply:

    I love so many things by The Killers for working out – Mr. Brightside, When You Were Young – Human is great too!

  9. Great post, and well said! I am very open about the fact that I am addicted to caffeine, specifically soda. It’s horrible. I’ve tried to quit several times, and just can’t. Which makes me feel like a total bum sometimes, since my husband successfully quit dipping tobacco last year cold turkey, and hasn’t cheated once. I’m successful enough that I’ve been able to limit myself on how much I consume per day (purely because of my pregnancy, I doubt I’d have the strength otherwise), but I can’t give it up entirely yet. Someday, though. Having a child in the home will be good motivation to get those sodas out of my refrigerator!

  10. Very interesting. I always thought it was completely forbidden for the LDS to drink coffee and tea. But now I see it is up to your own judgement. Keep these posts up!

    Jenna Reply:

    Sorry I was unclear, coffee and black/white/green teas are off limits. One of the first links I have above explains the Word of Wisdom more clearly.

    Sharon Reply:

    Do you have any backup for the green tea issue? My son has been asking me a lot whether it’s all right because he has heard about health benefits (he’s a runner) and I tend to think it isn’t approved.

    emilie Reply:

    Have you son look into rooibos tea. From what I have read, it has some of same health benefits as green tea, but it does not have any caffeine.

    Hailey Reply:

    they also say alcohol has health beanefits… the question is, which glass of wine is good for your heart, and which glass is poisoning your liver? which mug of tea is addicting your son to caffeine, and which mug is making him a super star runner? you don’t get to choose, which is why i’m inclined to believe that if a substance is simultaneously harmful and of benefit, then it is probably best to look for something else that benefits you and does no harm. i have heard similar things about rooibos tea, emilie :)

    Monica Reply:

    Any tea that comes from the tea plant is off-limits. They are all the same plant (black/green/white), only harvested at different times when the leaves are in different stages.

    Jenna Reply:

    Umm this is the simplest description I’ve ever heard! I can’t believe it took me so long to understand this.

  11. “Or I may drink so much coffee that I can no longer function normally without it.” <—-That's me. I've been addicted to caffeine for probably 5 or 6 years now. If I don't get a cup of coffee by at least 10:30 AM, I get dizzy and start to feel sick, and just want to lie down with a cold compress. I have never been much of a soda drinker, but oh my, black coffee is such a vice for me!! I see no problem with having a soda or cup of tea once in a while…they're refreshing for sure!

  12. I like this post. I personally drink soda. Not all day everyday. Usually just with dinner or on the weekends. I drink water all through out the day. I dont think its a big deal. I sometimes get a Chai Frapp. from Starbucks. Yes it is tea. I only get one maybe 3-4 times a year now. Its for a very special treat. I used to get them 3-4 times a week. I realized that that wasnt following the teachings of the WoW.

    I think you have to do whats right for you and your family. I find it interesting when people dont have any soda of any kinds.

    Side note. The LDS Institute I attend has a soda machine. Yes its all caffine free, but its still soda.

  13. If I’m following what you’re saying correctly, you feel comfortable with drinking sodas from time-to-time because they aren’t explicitly mentioned in the WoW. However, by overall limiting your intake of substances that aren’t good for the body and are often addictive that’s observing the spirit of the WoW and going beyond what is explicitly not allowed.

    So the bigger question is– is there a difference to you in following the letter vs. following the spirit of rules like this? I certainly understand how for some, the letter of the law is more important. I guess I would follow your argument better if I understood what you focus on– the spirit of the law, or the letter of the law since it seems to be both?

    Jenna Reply:

    I guess I think it’s the difference between the higher law and the lesser law. Following the letter is the lesser, following the spirit is the higher. AND that we are judged based on our knowledge and comprehension. So if you knowingly say to yourself “I am addicted to Dr. Pepper but that’s okay because it doesn’t talk about that in the Word of Wisdom” and you have the intellectual capacity to understand that the spirit of the law is that you should avoid abusing any substance which addicts you… that is something you are going to have to answer to God for.

  14. I so agree with everything on this page. We had a discussion in church a couple of weeks ago about the W of W and I feel exactly the same way (well said, Jenna). There is a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. If we understand it, we should do better. No excuses. Otherwise, the same judgement could be used on coffee, alcohol, whatever. A little bit of any of that will not “hurt” you, but it will slowly start to dissolve the spirit of being obedient.

  15. Those are really good points when it comes to addictions coffee is the only one I have left. I have cut all other bad habits out of my life. This one I have taken very seriously I’ve gone from a pot a day down to 1 or 2 cups, and have added water through out the day. My kidney’s are so thankful now.

  16. I obviously can only really look at this from a non-LDS standpoint (and as such, love coffee and enjoy alcohol in moderation) but I do think it would be wonderful if the focus shifted to include sodas more definitively. I know that when I was young, my mom gave me Diet Coke along with her, to the point where I was flat-out addicted. I can tell you the withdrawal headaches and mood swings I went through from giving Diet Coke up were 1000x worse than when I go a few days without coffee.

    I later read an article that talks about how Diet Coke is particularly addictive, because the caffeine may be less than in a cup of coffee, but when you have both the caffeine and the aspartame going into your brain, it’s basically a high that you can never achieve – and one which makes you hungrier, to boot! My FFIL really struggles with his diet soda consumption – well, he doesn’t struggle, because he doesn’t see anything wrong with it, but all of us wish he’d stop – and it’s very sad to me to see all the pop cans that he goes through in a day. In this case, I would MUCH rather he was drinking water, tea or coffee, because I do believe that they’re healthier, with the exception of those sugary coffee drinks! And I do understand the LDS perspective – I think the focus on knowing what you’re putting into your body, and trying to lead a healthy life, is always a good endeavor.

    Thanks for explaining all of this, Jenna! I knew the basics of it, but I’ll admit it did throw me for a loop the first time I saw one of my brother-in-law’s LDS friends drinking soda.

    Hailey Reply:

    awesome, anni! i’m lds and i would say that as far as a ‘definitive’ focus shift were to happen towards identifying soda as a word of wisdom no-no, it is unlikely… i think the notion that coffee is bad but soda and other unhealthy things are okay comes from a cultural view of the word of wisdom less than a spiritual understanding. i don’t see any church official coming out and saying soda breaks the word of wisdom because the word of wisdom is already laid out for anyone to study and ponder, and learn that for themself. if soda was denounced, half the products in stock at the supermarket would have to be denounced too, and i don’t think that is how the word of wisdom was intended. if a person studies the word of wisdom and reviews their eating and living habits, they will be able to identify for themselves what is and isn’t right. God didn’t mean to tell us exactly what is and isn’t right, but rather to seek for ourselves.

    Anni Reply:

    Thanks for the reply, Hailey! Your answer makes sense to me, and I’m sure there is a lot of gray area and personal introspection necessary. It’s just a topic I feel really passionate about! I’m glad that many are starting to realize that just because soda is “diet” doesn’t mean it’s healthy!

    Hailey Reply:

    You’re so right, and it is important for passionate people to speak up about what they know, because that is how understanding is spread, whether at church or work or in the family or any community you are a part of. Mormons are people too, just as succeptible to being fooled by food labels like ‘diet’ soda and ‘low fat’ yoghurt as everyone else :)

  17. I think it is important to remember that the Word of Wisdom is not just about physical well-being, but also about spiritual well-being, and not just in the sense of being obedient. Latter-day Saints believe that there is an inherent link between our physical and spiritual selves, that no law is given which is strictly temporal, and that having a body is crucial to becoming like God. There are several things to take away from that point of view with regard to the WoW. For one, we should learn self-mastery and respect with regard to our physical body not only out of respect for God, but because it is an intrinsic part of who we are spiritually. When looked at in this light, anything we do physically to our bodies affects our spiritual well-being. This can be related to health, which several people have already commented on, but also the fact that when you are influenced by certain substances (whether by their presence or absence), you lose some or all of the ability to clearly feel and recognize personal spiritual communication from God. When you are drunk, you won’t be able to hear His voice to you, not because being drunk is inherently bad, but because it deadens your senses. When you are addicted to caffeine, you surge between periods of hyper-alertness and grogginess, both of which play a role in how you interpret and respond to spiritual experiences and feelings. Part of taking care of our bodies is being in tune with God in every possible way that we can.

    At the same time, I think it is really important to remember that part of why the Word of Wisdom was given was “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” With the advent of cultures of consumption, I think this point has particular relevance to the world we live in right now. There is a vested interest in getting people hooked on all kinds of things in conjunction with knowledge that such substances are generally not healthy and can have serious repercussions (health-related and otherwise) when continued and prolonged use of such substances is encouraged. And this was something that certainly would not have been known at the time this revelation was given. Why do we have this now when people in the past could drink wine? I think this is exactly the answer. Our own propensity for addiction can never be known until a substance is tried, and ease of access, availability, and social/cultural attractiveness make substance abuse of any kind an easy trap to fall into.

    Lastly, I think there is good reason for the Lord to not compel us in all things, and good reason to leave room for personal revelation with regard to laws like the Word of Wisdom. Our ability to grow spiritually is strengthened both by our accountability for the things that we are explicitly commanded to do as well as for the things that are left in the gray and what we feel we should do about them.

  18. I think that you are leading people astray, and I’m not even LDS. Caffeine is a substance whose effects aren’t even completely disclosed. I believe that God gave you the knowledge of his wisdom along with the choice, so that you might eventually see that he is correct. I believe that to desecrate the temple of your body in ANY way with chemicals is probably against the will of God. That is not to say that you might do so unintentionally, but to actually spend money to do so…whether it’s just a tiny bit or not…is definitely not what He had in mind.

    Oh, and to gain physical well-being is not necessarily spiritual well-being, but without physical well-being, the spiritual is not only harder to achieve, it is sure to be tainted.

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