Sometimes Gentiles Understand Better Than Mormons

"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 at 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]." (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 202.)

I found this at in their article debunking the urban legend that the Church owns Coca-Cola. It is a better statement about the relationship between drinking Coke and keeping the Word of Wisdom than I have ever seen in all the years that this been endlessly debated among online Mormons in their various message boards, blogs, email discussion lists and other forums where Mormons get together and discuss, argue, debate, fight and brawl about things related to Mormon doctrine.

I myself drink Diet Coke, and I feel some guilt about it even though I apparently don't feel enough guilt to repent. I know that it is a violation of the spirit of the Word of Wisdom the way I use cola. I am definitely an "addict" using the broader definition of that term. With me it is highly habit forming, I have the habit. I get "on the wagon" and give up Coke, sometimes for years at a time, but so far in my life I always end up coming back to it. So it must be habit forming in my case. That does not mean that it is habit forming for everybody. Different people have different weaknesses for different vices.

And if Coke was my only violation of the "spirit of the Word of Wisdom," I would undoubtedly make a much greater effort to put my Coke habit forever behind me as I have already done in the case of coffee, iced tea, beer, tobacco, and many other sins, some of them unmentionable. But the fact is, were I all that concerned about the spirit of the Word of Wisdom, I would also give up chocolate, eating at McDonald's, failing to get a reasonable amount of daily exercise, not getting enough sleep, and many other personal habits that keep me from being perfectly Godlike.  My behavior is flawed. I am a sinner. I need to do a better job of repenting. But like some others, I struggle with much more important sins than adding to the list of prohibitions implied in the Word of Wisdom. I choose to focus on the more important things rather than further honing my compliance with dietary laws. The Savior said,

11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.


17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?

18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:

20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. (Matthew 15:11, 17-20)

The gospel also teaches us that true religion is more about how well we love one another than what we eat. Consider these verses and ask yourself how they apply to the discussion about Coca-Cola and the Word of Wisdom:

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)

Another important commandment that is relevant to the discussion of cola drinking and the Word of Wisdom is the commandment, repeated many places in scripture, that we are to avoid fault finding. Can all of you see how that commandment relates to the discussion? It has been my observation that a lot of condemnation of cola drinking in the Church is a direct violation of the commandments that we avoid fault finding.

If we must give up cola drinking, what about chocolate? It contains not only theobromine, a habit forming substance that has a very similar effect on the human nervous system to the caffeine in colas, but it also contains caffeine too. Yet how often do we hear the breath sniffers in the Church denounce the use of chocolate while they are shaking the hypocritical finger of scorn at those who use cola drinks? It has been my observation that the Relief Society sister who is the most holier-than-thou in the ward, the one most likely to condemn cola drinking, would think nothing of putting a plate of brownies on the table for the small children to eat at the ward potluck.

Really, brothers and sisters, most of us have far more important things to condemn in ourselves than the cola drinking of others. I am happy that I ran across this excellent doctrinal statement at and its link to this teaching from President Kimball. I think it clears up a lot, even better than much of what has been said by self-appointed, amateur Mormon theologians such as myself.

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14 Responses to Sometimes Gentiles Understand Better Than Mormons

  1. Ujlapana says:

    Rebekah, if you’re pondering these things, that’s great. Thinking about issues beyond what you’re told to think about them is the key to spiritual progress. As any good thinking woman will realize, Boyd Packer is not infallible, so it’s perfectly alright that he would misquote a scripture in a talk. How could we expect otherwise, given how often he speaks? It’s also possible that the D&C is in error, I guess, although we tend to hold the scriptures, particularly the triple-combination, as the gold standard for doctrine (as opposed to, say, Mormon Doctrine).

    I think if you read the entire passage (49)it’s pretty clear the Lord is expressing displeasure at unnecessary meat-eating.

    I think if you look around you in modern society it will be clear that meat-eating is unnecessary.

    While I am probably not *your* priesthood leader, I am *a* priesthood leader in the church (yes, key-holding), and trust me, you’re as qualified as any priesthood leader when it comes to requiring the scriptures to be internally consistent. Just keep on thinking, Rebekah. And if you’re interested in learning more about the 1800’s and their medical practices, particularly as they relate to the Word of Wisdom, I strongly recommend reading Lester Bush’s 1981 article, “The Word of Wisdom in 19th Century Perspective.” (You can find a link to it at the bottom of the entry for “Word of Wisdom”:

    I don’t know what to say to a man who states that Joseph Fielding Smith wasn’t a true prophet of God. I guess you can work that out with him when you meet him. Oh, maybe you didn’t know he didn’t eat meat. Whoops.

    I’m not sure what you mean by bringing up “gospel hobbies.” You’re the one who started a post about caffiene, which is *not* in the Word of Wisdom. Meat *is* in the Word of Wisdom, which means it was given to us by a prophet-leader. Yes, Joseph Smith, Jr. wrote those very words. If you need every prophet-leader since that time to restate the obvious, well, I guess some people must be commanded in all things. For those people’s benefit, George Q. Cannon, Lorenzo Snow, Heber J. Grant, John A. Widstoe, all publicly affirmed the importance of keeping “meat” portion of the Word of Wisdom.

    Perhaps you discount the text of the revelation itself because early church leaders did not follow it? That makes some sense, I guess. Are you saying, “Joseph wrote it one way, but he (along with BY, JT, and contemporaries) did not live it; therefore, it didn’t really become meaningful until the modern emphasis on coffee, tea, alcohol, and smoking began.” Maybe that works.

    Refrigeration is an interesting explanation. Unfortunately, salted, dried meat can be kept for 6 months, at least–a technology readly available to the early saints.

    Which other temple recommend questions do you feel are gnats? I’m genuinely curious.

  2. Rebekah says:

    Me again 🙂
    This discussion has made me really ponder a few things, and do some research. I really appreciate that, as I think I take some of my beliefs for granted.

    I agree with John that alot of scripture needs to be taken in the context of the times in which it was given–and for what purpose it was issued. The beauty of our gospel is that our revelation is ongoing and often very specific in its intended target. As I was taugh in seminary some years ago, in order to understand the scriptures, we need to have some grasp of the society and habits of the people to whom the revelations were directed at the time. Unfortunately, my familiarity with the culture during the 1800s is imperfect, so I have to look to other sources to help me in my understanding of these scriptures.

    In the 1996 General Conference, Boyd K. Packer gave a talk entitled “The Word of Wisdom: The Principle and the Promises” in which he specifically addresses the verses regarding meat that we’ve been discussing. His interpretation of D&C 49:18 is as follows:

    “For example, the Word of Wisdom counsels us to eat meat sparingly (see D&C 89:12). Lest someone become extreme, we are told in another revelation that “whoso forbiddeth to [eat meat] is not ordained of God” (D&C 49:18). ”

    The talk also contained a footnote in its Ensign publication:
    The context for verse 18 is verse 19: “For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air … [are] ordained for the use of man for food.” Section 49 was specifically directed to members of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (the Shakers) to correct some of their erroneous doctrines. One of their beliefs was not to eat flesh-meat or fish.

    This is mentioned in the section’s header as well.

    The above leads me to believe that the footnote you are referring to that has somehow been overlooked and not removed is actually not in error.

    I am nowhere near perfect in my interpretation of the scriptures (which is why I look to my priesthood leaders to assist me in this area), or in my adherence to them. However, while reading through a number of sources, trying to clarify things for myself on this subject, I felt impressed that John is correct in one specific aspect: We are straining at gnats while swallowing camels. Those gnats ARE important, as the Lord encourages us to repent of all of our sins, not just the big ones. However, I’m fairly certain that none of us will reach perfection before we die, and therefore we will necessarily leave some things undone. Perhaps it would be better to exit this world as a meat-eater than someone who is vindictive, selfish, or adulterous.

  3. Rebekah says:

    I concede the point on D&C 49:18 … I wasn’t understanding the passage properly.

  4. Rom. 14: 17

    17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

    The true prophets of God eat meat like any normal person. And they never preach on the subject of meat eating. Anciently, the priests who performed animal sacrifices for burnt offerings according to the commandment of God ate meat as their primary sustenance. Only certain parts of the sacrificed animals were burnt on the alter, the remainder was used for the food of the priests. Those who become vegetarians because of the passages in D&C 89 that speak of eating meat sparingly are perverting the scriptures by attaching a meaning to them that is not from the Lord. The reason we are not to eat meat except in the winter or famine is because without refrigeration such meat goes bad quickly. Today we have refrigeration, and those parts of the Word of Wisdom are no longer needed. This is undoubtedly why our priesthood leaders do not stress this part of D&C 89 when they preach the Word of Wisdom in General Conference.

    An undue emphasis on Word of Wisdom matters beyond the required abstinence from tea, coffee, alcohol and tobacco is spiritually unhealthy and constitutes a gospel hobby, something that has been condemned by our prophet-leaders since the beginning of the Restoration.

    The great majority of saints would do better cultivating Christlike qualities such as unselfishness, kindness, diligence and so forth rather than getting overly focused on Word of Wisdom matter. Such people strain at gnats while they swallow camels.

    The Holy Ghost can guide each of us in our observance of the Word of Wisdom. Our Church leaders only emphasize abstinence from tea, coffee, alcohol and tobacco.

  5. Ed says:

    I *personally* believe that the diet part of Coke is worst for your body than the coke part.
    Have you researched into how bad that stuff is?

  6. Ujlapana says:

    Jonah, I find that reading the scriptures to find out what they say, rather than deciding what they say before I read them, can be most enlightening. I provided a clear reference, I thought, but given Rebekah’s convenient skipping around, I see I need to be more explicit:

    15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

    Okay, so now you’ve got to ask yourself, what are “these?” “These” is a reference to a previously mentioned plural noun. So let’s look back a verse to see what “these” could be.

    14 All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;

    Now, neither grain, man, nor the earth would be referenced with the pronoun “these.” The only plural nouns are beasts, fowls, and all wild animals. So these can be plugged right into verse 15 (which is what a pronoun does):

    And [Beasts, fowls, and wild animals] hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess hunger.

    This is entirely consistent with the other verses in the WoW (and all other standard works). Did God make animals for the use of humans? Yes. When should they use them? When they can’t get any other food, because there’s a famine.

    Rebekah, I also like D&C 49, although I’m not sure of its relevance here. It’s telling people that they cannot “forbid” other people to “abstain from meats.” That means telling people they have to eat meat. Does anyone do that? (Anyone except for Mormons, that is, who probably feel subconciously guilty about their own violation of the WoW.)

    And, just to save you a return post, the footnote that says “forbid” mean “to bid” represents the ultimate in stupidity. I don’t like being so blunt, but there’s no other way to put it. If you don’t believe me, flip back to verse 49:15 (it’s the previous page, which is why this footnote hasn’t been eliminated yet). What does it say?

    49:15 And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man.

    So, people who are not ordained of God:
    1. forbid marriage
    2. forbid abstaining from meat

    It’s the same verb, so reverse its meaning with care…

    You could keep reading on to 49:21 too, rather than stopping at 49:19, if you wanted to get a sense for what ‘s really being communicated here.

    21 And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.

    Once upon a time (and still today in some parts of the world) there was a need to eat meat. As millions of non meat-eaters (with generally superior health) have clearly demonstrated, a first-world citizen “hath no need” for meat.

    I don’t care what you eat either way, but God seems to.

  7. Rebekah says:

    Here are some other sections of the D&C which elaborate more on the subject of eating meat.

    D&C Section 59:
    16 Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;

    19 Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.

    20 And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.


    My opinion on what the Lord has instructed regarding meat is that it is a valuable part of our diet, but that we should be judicious in our use of it–respectful of the life we take in acquiring it, and that we should not be wasteful. There are certain people on the earth who ONLY eat meat, such as the natives of the Arctic–green food is simply unavailable in many instances. I believe this is what the Lord is referring to in “times of winter, cold, etc”. The fact that the native tribes consume the entire animal (organs, marrow, skin, etc) is the reason that illnesses such as scurvy don’t afflict them as it would most people restricted to an only-meat diet.

    Here is more that the Lord says on the subject, which I find very interesting, particularly in light of the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle that has been in vogue for the past twenty years.

    D&C Section 49
    18 And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;

    19 For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for craiment, and that he might have in abundance.


    In regard to vegetarians/vegans.. I completely respect any decision someone makes to eat meat or not, based on personal preference. I personally dislike fish and will avoid it whenever I can. I will not concede that they have any moral high ground in that area, however–and I do disapprove of those who attempt to “convert” me to the vegan lifestyle for moral reasons.

  8. Jonah the giant whale says:

    Dude, that is so not what the Word of Wisdom says.


    SECTION 89

    12 Yea, flesh• also of beasts• and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

    13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used•, only in times of winter, or of cold, or bfamine.

    Please read that and tell me where it says “meat should be avoided except when other food is unavailible”

    That says, eat meat sparringly. Wow, what you said, and the actual truth, have absolutley nothing in common. I am starting to see a pattern with your posts.

  9. Ujlapana says:

    I agree. There’s no point in worrying about what’s not in the Word of Wisdom when we so blatantly ignore what IS in it, namely, that meat should be avoided except when other food is unavailable (v. 15).

  10. Joe Allwood says:

    Don’t you recall the story of President Moyle at a Stake Conference in Michigan setting a can of Coca Cola on the stand, opening it and drinking it, all while the congregation looked on? (I often wondered if he tossed his scriptures to a deacon in the crowd, who then said to him, “Thanks, Mean Henry!”) Too often we don’t see the forest for the trees. The General Handbook of Instruction says the Word of Wisdom refers to tea and coffee. We should not become bogged down with reaching beyond the mark, or measuring ourselves against others’ interpretations of what the mark is.

  11. I drink enormous amounts of Diet Coke when i am drinking it and don’t drink any water at all. Then when I go off of it, as I often do, I have to taper off over a period of several days during which I have terrible caffeine withdrawal headaches and am very sleepy for a couple of days. That sure sounds like “habit forming” to me, and undoubtedly accounts for why I like it so much and drink so much of it when I am drinking it. Each of us needs to know himself and be honest with himself about such things. I know that some people can drink colas casually. I’m not one of those people. I don’t think it is a serious habit, but I’m sure that it is a habit. And I guess calling it an “addiction” is kind of stretching the definition of the word because it is certainly nothing like a hard drug addiction or an addiction to alcohol or tobacco.

    I just think that after tea, coffee, alcohol and tobacco I ought to be concentrating on other forms of commandment keeping such as being kinder to my wife and children, studying my scriptures more, praying more fervently, and so forth. If I spend the rest of my life focused on such piddly stuff as Coke drinking, how am I going to every get around to this other, obviously much more important stuff?

  12. Eric says:

    I have a question about your ‘addiction’ to soda with caffeine. You say you get on the wagon and give it up for years at a time. This does not sound much like an addiction to me.

    I’m a Mountain Dew man myself. I gave it up on my mission. It was no big deal. I put myself through what I might call ‘addiction checks’ once in a while. I will not drink any MD for a month or so (or any other soda with caffeine) and again it is no big deal. If there were caffeine free MD available locally I would buy it often, but it is not. But if someone can go off something cold turkey for a month or a year on a whim, it does not seem to be much of an addiction.

  13. Geoff J says:

    Nice Snopes link, John. I’ll have to bookmark that one.

  14. Judy Jones says:

    That legend I heard was that the church owned Pepsi. LOL. It’s funny hwo that stuff gets started

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