Does Drinking Cola Violate the Word of Wisdom?

Upfront I want to confess that I am terribly addicted to Coca-Cola, and I have been for many years. So in what I write here, no one should suppose that I am pointing the finger at them by condemning cola drinking. For me to do so would be gross hypocrisy. But I happen to believe that the Lord doesn’t want me to drink colas. And I think he will rejoice for me when I am able to finally put the addiction forever behind me. Doing so is repentance that I have been procrastinating, and the Lord has taught us in numerous ways that procrastinating repentance is a bad idea. With that said, let me ask the question:

Does drinking cola violate the Word of Wisdom?

Technically it does not, and modern prophets have confirmed this. Further, drinking them will not keep one out of the temple. But for many they are habit forming, and the prophets of God have counseled us to avoid cola drinks. Here are some quotes with sources:

From the Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball:“Wisdom goes beyond the letter of the law. Generally when we speak of the Word of Wisdom, we are talking about tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor, and all of the fringe things even though they might be detrimental are not included in the technical interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. I never drink any of the cola drinks and my personal hope would be that no one would. However, they are not included in the Word of Wisdom in its technical application. I quote from a letter from the secretary to the First Presidency, “But the spirit of the Word of Wisdom would be violated by the drinking or eating of anything that contained a habit-forming drug.” With reference to the cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken any attitude on this, but I personally do not put them in the class as with the tea and coffee because the Lord specifically mentioned them [the hot drinks].”

From the Teachings of Howard W. Hunter:

“The prophets have taught that we should not partake of tea, coffee, tobacco, alcohol, or any substance that contains illegal drugs or harmful or habit-forming ingredients. In a world where so much of this is both acceptable and accessible, we encourage you to walk squarely on the Lord’s side of the line. Do not tamper with any of these substances, nor similar products which give the ‘appearance of evil’ (1 Thessalonians 5:22). (94-11)”

From Gospel Ideals: Selections from the Discourses of David O. McKay:

“Any physiology book will tell you how nicotine may harm the body, particularly how injurious is its effect upon the young. Science demonstrates that, too, but there is a greater reason why young people especially should not indulge in cigaret smoking or in habit-forming drinks—because as children of God they should not be slaves to an appetite.—DNCS, August 8, 1951.”

From Teachings of Howard W. Hunter:

“Live the spirit of the Word of Wisdom. We complicate the simplicity of the Word of Wisdom. The Lord said don’t drink tea, coffee, or use tobacco or liquor and that admonition is simple. But we confuse it by asking if cola drinks are against the Word of Wisdom. The 89th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants doesn’t say anything about cola drinks, but we ask questions that go beyond the simplicity of the lesson that has been taught. We know that caffeine is taken out of coffee and used as an ingredient of cola drinks. It seems to me that if we really want to live the spirit of the law we probably wouldn’t partake of that which had been taken from what we were told not to drink. (79-09)”

From Joseph Fielding Smith’s Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 5:

“Use of Cola Drinks and Playing Games of Chance

Question: ‘Please enlighten me in relation to the use of cola drinks and the playing of bingo games at parties given by members of the Church. Our neighborhood is starting a group of wives who will play once a month, and each person will bring one small item to be played for. I do not like to go and would like to know our policy in relation to such gatherings or groups.’

Answer: Time is precious and should be occupied in some useful pursuit or study in which the mind may be enlightened and spirituality increased. While there is no objection to the brethren and sisters meeting together from time to time to engage in some relaxation, the devoting of the time to some foolish practice as the playing of cards or games of chance is contrary to the spirit and teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I was definitely informed by a chemist that the cola drinks are just as harmful as tea or coffee, and his advice was to leave all such substances alone.”

I see a pattern developing here, do you? Is it a commandment of Jesus Christ to follow prophetic counsel? Well, it isn’t one of the Ten Commandments, if that is what you are asking. But I seem to remember a scripture that commands us to “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” (D&C 84:44) But how can we tell if these words proceed forth from the mouth of God? Well, is it wise counsel or not? Is it true? Moroni teaches that every good thing comes from God. (Moroni 7:16-17) That would include wise and true counsel, wouldn’t it?

So what is the answer? The answer to the question, “Do cola drinks violate the Word of Wisdom,” is no. Technically they don’t. But for those people who find them habit forming, it most definitely violates wisdom. Are we commanded to be wise? As I read the scriptures, we are commanded to seek wisdom. That is the same thing, isn’t it?

Whether drinking cola violates the Lord’s commandment to be wise depends in large part on how seriously one takes prophetic counsel. Those who cling to the wise counsel of Christ’s true prophets will find the Lord’s will behind the counsel we have received to avoid cola drinks. Those who have less confidence in living prophets can do as they please, interpreting the Word of Wisom in a narrow, technical sense.

For myself, and only for myself, I hope this little self-talk will strenthen my desire to finally overcome the habit that I am still a slave to.

9 Responses to Does Drinking Cola Violate the Word of Wisdom?

  1. The WoW refers to “hot drinks.” This was later interpreted to mean “coffee and tea.” This was then interpreted to mean “caffeine.” This was then interpreted to include “coke.” Would it be at all improper to suggest that such a line of reasoning might be building upon the sand even a little bit. To interpret “hot drinks” as really meaning “cold carbonated colas” really is quite the stretch.

  2. JMax says:

    Kim,

    “Adivising against” the use of something is very different than telling someone its a sin to use something or saying that its use violates the WofW.

    Again, this quote sounds like the First Presidency is saying “we think its a very good idea not to drink this stuff, but the Lord has not revealed anything to us on the matter.”

  3. Kim Siever says:

    You may be interested in this quote from a letter sent to priesthood leaders from the First Presidency in 1972.

    “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 habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.”

    For the record, non-alcoholic beer does not have all the alcohol removed; just like sugar-free doesn’t always mean completely free from sugar.

  4. J Max says:

    John,

    Meat, it seems to me, is an important part of the WofW that needs to be further researched. I think the “no refrigeration was available in the 1830’s” argument doesn’t make alot of sense. First, there were ways to cure meat in the 1830’s that obviated the need for refrigeration. Also, alot of meat during that time was eaten very, very fresh–like within days of slaughter–making food bourne illness unlikely.

    As for GA’s not eating meat, I think, but am not sure, that either Joseph F. Smith or Joseph Fielding Smith was a vegatarian. Does anyone know about this?

    As for whether Cola violates the WofW, I think we need to be careful about this. All of your quotes are either less than clear or seem to be made as a matter of personal opinion. I see nothing in them indicating that it is the mind and will of the Lord that we not drink colas.

    We should be very careful about getting ahead of the Prophet on what and what is not a commandment. We need to be very, very careful about calling something a commandment before the Prophet says it is. It seems to me that if the brethren really believed that it was wrong to drink cola they would come right out and say it. They are not shy about preaching against pornography, gambling and other evils. I doubt they would be shy about preaching against colas if it was wrong to drink them.

    I had a bad experience with this issue while in Italy on my mission. I was working in a small branch with only a few members, many of whom had been in the church for over twenty years. The branch had little growth in years.

    My companion and I started to have some success and baptized a small family and single sister. It was the first baptisms in the branch in several years.

    Some of the long time members began giving the new member discussions while we were not there. They told one new member that drinking Coke violated the WofW.

    The new member called us up very upset. She said something like, “I need to go to church every sunday, I need to pay tithing, I can’t drink wine, and now I need to give up Coke? Why didn’t you tell me everything I would need to sacrifice before becoming a member?”

    We assured the sister that drinking Coke did not violate the WofW and in fact I drank Coke myself. The sister went back to the older members, who basically told her that the missionaries must be apostates.

    She refused to stop drinking Coke and decided that it was one thing she just wasn’t going to give up. This led to a great debate in the branch about whether drinking Coke was wrong. Ultimately there were alot of hurt feelings and one or two people went inactive. It was a terrible waste.

    I think its wrong to teach that drinking Coke is a sin when those in authority to declare doctrine have refused to do so. We should not ask anyone to sacrifice anything, including the pleasures of drinking Coke, unless and until the Lord gives us a commandment.

    If an individual decides that its bad for him or her to drink colas, good for them. But it is not doctrinal. And telling someone its a sin in God’s eys is just flat out wrong and will lead to nothing but trouble.

  5. I don’t know about non-alcoholic beer. My guess is that it would be OK because the alchohol has been removed. But I only drank it once over ten years ago, and didn’t like it enough to continue drinking it. I guess part of the reason I avoid it is because I’m not sure about how it relates to the Word of Wisdom, but the biggest reason I don’t drink it is because it doesn’t taste good to me.

    How meat relates to the counsel in the Word of Wisdom is a mystery to me. I eat a lot of meat because I have found that a low carb diet is the only way I can keep my weight down, and I think that being grossly obese is a violation of the Word of Wisdom too.

    I’ve tried to find out what the prophets have said on the subject, and it seems to be something they don’t have an opinion on. Once I had dinner with a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and I asked him if he had ever eaten dinner with the Twelve. He said that he had. I asked him about meat in their diet. And he said that as near as he could tell, they eat meat just like anyone else.

    I’ve read somewhere the explanation that the references to meat in the Word of Wisdom had more to do with how rapidly meat spoiled in the summer months before the advent of modern refrigeration. That makes more sense to me than anything else. If it applies to us today, it certainly hasn’t been taught by our prophet-leaders.

    Plus, there are scriptural passages that identify meat eating prohibitions as a sign of apostasy. And anciently, meat was the sustenance for the priests who officiated in the ancient Tabernacle and the temple in Jerusalem. When they offered animal sacrifice, they only burned parts of the animal. The rest was kept for the sustenance of the priests. I can’t help thinking the Lord would not have instituted such a religious practice under the Law of Moses if there was anything intrinsically wrong with meat eating.

    I am very confused about the right and wrong of meat eating. It is one of those areas of my life in which I have received no divine inspiration. I don’t have an understanding and testimony of it on either side of the question. I do know that I have a terrible weight problem, and eating a low carb or mostly meat diet seems to keep my weight down efffectively. Nothing else seems to work for me.

  6. J Max says:

    John,

    What about Near Beer? Do you think that violates the WofW?

    What about eating any more than one serving of meat per week? That violates the WofW also, doesn’t it?

  7. Jared says:

    I think this is one of those areas where the gospel is meant to be customized to the person. I don’t like cola drinks, but I do like Dr. Pepper. I honestly can’t tell that the caffiene does anything to me. Nevertheless, I figure it’s not good to have large amounts of it, so I only drink it on occasions when I go out for dinner.

    I wonder if the Church could use some customized WofW prodding depending on location/culture. Maybe in the U.S. we should be hearing a little more about obesity in Church. It’s easy for me to say, but I know some people who really ought to consider weight as part of their religion.

  8. The underlying problem is that our day cycle is artificial and unnatural–and has been at least since the invention of electricity. This is one of the major reasons for the widespread use of stimulants, like caffeine–to get us through a day that just isn’t shaped for us.

    A second problem, of course, is that much of the work we do is also unnatural. This is especially the case for those of us with desk jobs. Humans seem not to be designed to be fully mentally alert in that way for 9 or 10 hours in a row. Again, stimulants fuel this social innovation.

    I think we could all, across the board, give up stimulants if we were willing to radically rework our society. If work were shorter, and if we slept and woke with the sun, we probably wouldn’t need caffeine. But most people seem to prefer our current system, caffeine and all.

  9. John, great quotes in your post. You can do it. Most soda is terrible for a person’s health, but you probably know that. I gave up coke/sprite/etc a while back, but I do drink ginger ale, made w/ natural sugars, no chemicals, no dyes, and no caffiene. In fact, I think you can find a healthy replacement cola at a local health food store. When I gave up caffiene, I had headaches off and on for a while, but after the withdrawl period, it was worth it. Find a healthy replacement, and the transition is easier, and your body will like you better!

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