In the past year, Latter-day Saints have been amazed at the changes occurring in the doctrines, practices, and teachings of the Church. Eleven year old boys now pass the Sacrament. The Church has developed a new lesson plan to increase personal and family conversion in the “Home Church.” Over 200 temples are now in operation, under construction or announced. Sisters have more opportunities and power in the priesthood. The list goes on.
Many of the changes are because a review of previous practices has determined that those teachings and practices were based on tradition, and not on doctrine, per se. Three hour Church seemed inviolable, but now we all enjoy more time teaching our own families, while the Church benefits from being able to fit more wards in each chapel (freeing up funds for building temples, missionary work, etc).
So, how inviolable is the current reading of the Word of Wisdom? When the WoW first came out in 1833, it was sent as heavenly advice and counsel, not as a commandment. Even after the WoW was given, Joseph Smith continued drinking alcohol, and both he and Emma drank coffee and tea.
It wasn’t until 1851, almost twenty years later, that Brigham Young made it a commandment. It established who could be baptized, receive the priesthood, serve a mission, and enter a temple.
However, over time, unofficial statements by leading General Authorities seemed to give the WoW a new angle: If you drink caffeinated drinks, while it may/may not (depending on the authority or bishop) be a violation of the WoW, it would be a moral or spiritual violation of the law.
Then, in 2012, while Diet Coke drinking Mitt Romney was running for president, the Church finally gave an official statement that drinking caffeinated drinks is not violating the WoW.
So, a couple issues came to my mind in regards to this. If we are to keep the WoW so we may enter the temple, what of its teaching to “eat meat sparingly” primarily in winter and in times of famine? Isn’t that as important as the no alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee? Or is that part still not a commandment, but a literal “word of wisdom” to follow on an individual basis? If the whole thing is a commandment, why not state we can only eat meat twice a week, or literally only in winter time, making us vegetarian during the spring, summer and fall?
Or, perhaps we need to go the other way? I would like to see the Prophet revisit the WoW, and see how it should apply to us today. Which parts should be commandment? Personally, I can see alcohol, tobacco and dangerous drugs as things to be avoided completely.
But what about coffee and tea? They are forbidden, but why? We can’t blame it on caffeine anymore, so why? Why is it that I can’t drink black/green tea, but I can drink Chamomile, Yerba Mate, or other herbal teas (some have caffeine or other natural drugs in them). Should all these be forbidden? If so, why?
Today’s science shows that both coffee and tea have natural qualities that improve health. Studies have shown coffee to reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s Disease. Tea reduces heart problems.
Perhaps the command is for some spiritual reason? Yet, the WoW explains that we were given this guidance because of the evil workings of men. Does that still apply today in all these cases? I can see serious problems with both alcohol and tobacco. Are there evil men trying to overpower us by having us drink coffee and tea?
I am always a follower of the Prophet of God. And I do live the Word of Wisdom, believing that obedience is best. But I also love it when prophets consider whether tradition needs to be changed or adapted, as President Nelson has done many times in the last year.
Is it time to revisit the Word of Wisdom? Your thoughts are appreciated.