The Word of Wisdom can be a strange point of contention among Latter-day Saints. In the nearly 10 years that This Week in Mormons has graced your eyes and ears, we’ve picked apart the law of health ad nauseum. And yet, here we are today, still debating the particulars of it. And a new edition of the LDS youth magazine, The New Era, goes to some lengths to clarify a few areas that might otherwise be left to that dangerous realm of “personal interpretation.”
While the implementation of the Word of Wisdom, as well as its adherence being required to enter a temple, has changed over the years, the broader interpretations have been locked in for some time. Coffee and tea are hot drinks. Tobacco is only for sick animals. Eat meat sparingly. However, society’s tastes have evolved to such a point that we find ourselves wondering if coffee ice cream is still a “hot drink” even though it’s clearly not hot. Iced tea is not hot, either, so what’s the deal? It’s been different for everyone.
On to The New Era. For the first time, the Church goes after vaping specifically:
“Electronic vaporizers or e-cigarettes are devices people use to inhale mist, usually with various flavors. One study showed that nearly two-thirds of teen e-cigarette users thought that the pods they were vaping contained only flavoring. That’s way, way far from the truth. Most vaping pods contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, and all of them contain harmful chemicals. Vaping is clearly against the Word of Wisdom.”
So don’t vape, nerds. This one should seem obvious, but here we are.
On to coffee and its derivatives. I’m sure whoever wrote this section enjoyed it:
“The word coffee isn’t always in the name of coffee drinks. So, before you try what you think is just some new milkshake flavor, here are a couple of rules of thumb: (1) If you’re in a coffee shop (or any other shop that’s well-known for its coffee), the drink you’re ordering probably has coffee in it, so either never buy drinks at coffee shops or always ask if there’s coffee in it. (2) Drinks with names that include café or caffé, mocha, latte, espresso, or anything ending in -ccino are coffee and are against the Word of Wisdom.”
Does this explain everything? No. I do take some issue with the assumption that anything you might order in a coffee shop probably has coffee in it. Starbucks and Dunkin’ sell many beverages that are not based on nor contain coffee. But it’s true that it is wise to ask about the ingredients if it’s not clear. Coffee remains coffee regardless of its form or temperature.
“Green tea and black tea are both made from the leaves of the exact same tea plant. The only difference is that the leaves in black tea are fermented and in green tea they’re not. They’re both tea and against the Word of Wisdom. Some drinks have tea in them but don’t advertise that fact, so always check the ingredients. Also, iced tea is still tea.”
I do wish the article went to greater lengths to clarify the differences between tea and infusions. What we commonly call chamomile “tea,” for example, is really just hot water steeped in flowers and herbs, with nary a tea leaf present. Black and green tea, on the other hand, are actually derived from tea leaves. They are actual, real tea.
Living on the fringes of the American South, sweet tea is ubiquitous. Who doesn’t love that chilled, savory perfection on a hot summer’s day? God, that’s who. Ice tea is still tea. It’s made from tea leaves. Proper iced tea is actually just regular, hot tea that is later chilled.
That leaves sweet Mary Jane for our final section:
Marijuana may be legal for medicinal or even recreational use in a lot of places now, but that doesn’t mean that any use is suddenly not against the Word of Wisdom. Medical uses are being studied, but just like many pain medications such as opioids, marijuana is an addictive substance. Such habit-forming substances should be avoided except under the care of a competent physician, and then used only as prescribed.
It seems like there’s some delicate footwork going on here. First the reminder of the obvious: just because it’s legal doesn’t make it OK. See: well, everything we’ve just discussed in this article. The Church has gone back and forth on medical marijuana, eventually dissuading Utahns from voting in favor of it in 2018. We see the qualifier that marijuana’s uses are still being studied. I’ve always found that an interesting inclusion. Science™ has already said that a glass of wine on occasion can be good for heart health, and yet imbibing remains verboten to Latter-day Saints. So why should it even matter whether marijuana is still under medical review? It’s not like we’re going to be told to have that wine if a doctor tells us to do so.
While recreation use remains out of bounds, and likely will, the Church appears to be leaving open the door for medical use as overseen by a qualified physician.
What to make of these updates? Some will greet them with a big “duh.” Others might feel inclined to push back. Others might wish Salt Lake would hold their hand more and spell out every little thing.
None of this changes that the Church hasn’t spoken out in this capacity against over consumption of meat, which is both a health and an environmental hazard, or Latter-day Saints’ dangerous addiction to sugared everything.