131–132: The Word of Wisdom

October 15, 2012
By

The Word of Wisdom has been in the news again, triggered by a claim about caffeine made on a network news show, which led to an official LDS Newsroom statement clarifying the church’s position, which led to fascinating discussions and events, including hilarity at BYU over its policy of serving only de-caffeinated drinks, as well as some church members exulting that now they have an official statement that they can use to tell others to back off when they try to force their “spirit of the law” Word of Wisdom interpretations on them. What is it about the Word of Wisdom that makes it both so central to Mormons as an identity marker as well as such a divider? Is it primarily a “commandment” or the “Lord’s Law of Health”? Is it a “sin” for a Mormon to break the Word of Wisdom (requiring “forgiveness” through Christ’s suffering), or more a rejection of teachings that lead to blessings?

Clearly the Word of Wisdom is ripe for fresh discussion, which is what Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Jared Anderson, Kenton Karrasch, and Les Gripkey attempt in this two-part episode that covers (and cuts through some of the mythmaking concerning) the historical background of the revelation and how it was (and was not) practiced during the church’s first eighty-plus years, social and identity issues and inconsistencies in how it is viewed by church members (Part 1), some of the theology and doctrine surrounding Section 89, and, finally, how science and health experts evaluate today the effects of the various food and drink items mentioned in the revelation (Part 2). Among the most interesting features of the discussion is a look at the differences between how the Word of Wisdom would have been understood at the time it was given (based, for instance, upon an entirely different model in the early nineteenth century for what caused disease) versus today, and the consequences, both positive and negative, for our tendency to reflect on it through contemporary lenses. The panelists also each share parts of their own journey with and views about the Word of Wisdom.

We very much hope you will listen and then join in the discussion in the comments section below!

_____

Links (please recommend others):

Lester E. Bush, “The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth Century Perspective,” Dialogue, Autumn 1981

Thomas G. Alexander, “The Word of Wisdom:  From Principle to Requirement,” Dialogue, Autumn 1981

Leonard J. Arrington, “An Economic Interpretation of the ‘Word of Wisdom,’” BYU Studies, Winter 1959

John A. Widtsoe and Leah Widtsoe, The Word of Wisdom, A Modern Interpretation

Alan Hurst, “Of Caffeine and Covenants,” Peculiar People (blog), 19 September 2012

Heather May, “What Science Says about Mormonism’s Health Code,” Salt Lake Tribune, 1 October 2012

Les Gripkey, “Among the Mormons: My Journey as a Liahona Christian,” Sunstone, December 2007

Sister Jessica Walton letter to MTC president (urging, in line with the Word of Wisdom, a more healthy menu at MTC), February 2012 (used with permission)

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  • Guest

    I am interested to listen to this…here are two links that may be interesting to add:

    1. THE WORD OF WISDOM: FROM PRINCIPLE TO REQUIREMENT by THOMAS G. ALEXANDER

    http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V14N03_80.pdf

    2. Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation John A Widtsoe
    http://www.ldsveg.org/WidtsoeWordOfWisdomAModernInterpretation.htm

    • Dan Wotherspoon

      We’ve had the Alexander one there from the beginning. Tell me about the Widtsoe one. What does it say, or what is it’s approach, to recommend it for reading?

      • kkp232

        It’s been a while since I read through it, but I remember the book being significant because it was an attempt to be comprehensive and use modern science as a basis for much of the WOW. It was interesting to me because it fits into that “middle period” between the early church and the modern church we know today.

        I remember him arguing against white bread and refined flour. He also talks about the “National Complaint” of constipation.

        Something I agree with and regret that many have forgotten or ignore is this:
        “One can not say that to refrain from smoking and from drinking tea, coffee or alcohol is to keep fully the Word of Wisdom. That is a big step toward maintaining health but it is not full obedience to the law. The many “do’s” in the inspired document are as important as the “don’t's”.”

        Quoting Heber J. Grant:
        “President Heber J. Grant said in the General Conference of the Church in October, 1933:
        “Do you want to know how to obtain temporal salvation? Not only the Latter-day Saints, but all the world would have the solution of that problem if there were no tea, coffee, liquor nor tobacco used in the world. Peace, prosperity and happiness would come to the entire world.” ”

        • Dan Wotherspoon

          Fun! Thanks! Just put up the link.

  • kkp232

    I am interested to listen to this…the book “Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation” by John A Widtsoe may be useful to add:

    http://www.ldsveg.org/WidtsoeWordOfWisdomAModernInterpretation.htm

  • Mark

    All right you healthy eaters on the podcast, let’s hear your recommendations for meal plans, menus, and recipes. :]

    • Emily: RainbowDelicious.com

      I share similar backgrounds with some on the panel… I did research on food and feel strongly that following the word of wisdom and recent nutrition studies help me feel my best. I loved the China Study book, the Forks over Knives Documentary, and all of Michael Pollan’s books. I have recently started a meal planning blog. It is based on Michael Pollan’s idea of “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” The meals are vegetarian but do often include dairy. Some of the meals are vegan, or could easily be made vegan. I hope this helps!

      • Mark

        Thanks for the suggestions, and I will be sure to check out your blog as well.

  • Les Gripkey

    OK, as per Mark’s question about recommendations, here are some books and films that are helpful:

    Books —  The following books contain substantial sections on food planning and menus (as well as explanations of the studies and science behind them):

    Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way To Health edited by Gene Stone; 

    The Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn; 

    Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell Esselstyn, MD (while this book gives the OK to caffeine, later studies convinced Dr. Esselstyn that caffeine also should be eliminated);

    The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever
    Conducted by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II, MD; 

    The McDougall Program: 12 Days To Dynamic Health by John McDougall MD;

    The McDougall Quick and Easy Cookbook by John McDougall MD;

    The Word Of Wisdom Food Plan: A Medical Review of the Mormon Doctrine
    by Kenneth F. Johnson MD (this book does not contain much in the way of recipes and food plans, but is the best book I’ve found on this topic from an LDS perspective).

    Films: Forks Over Knives; The Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue (both free streaming if you have Netflix)

    • Mark

      Thanks, Les. Lot’s to look into!

    • mckay

      If anyone is interested in some of the problems with the China Study and more generally with the science discussed in Forks Over Knives, you really need to check out http://rawfoodsos.com/the-china-study/

      After watching FOK my wife and I became vegetarians for about six months, but as we’ve both done more research we’ve decided to give it up and focus on quality animal products instead of eliminating them altogether (grass-fed beef, pastured pork, etc.).

      I also suggest reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

      I know I’m late and I really don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but someone has to voice a dissenting opinion, right?

  • NomNomNom

    Haha…this guy giving testimony of vegetarianism.

  • Kevin Merrell

    Men and brethren—a great deep
    dive here on the Word of Wisdom. Les, I love your friendly connection to the
    Mormon tribe. You’re an example of why I increasingly reject the insular view
    of the Church that I grew up with. Ditto for the recent delightful podcast with
    Phyllis Tickle and Brian McLaren.
    Why not actively claim the whole human family?

    Bravo for returning repeatedly to
    our American Mormon fixation on meat, fat and sugar. May we consider the better
    way. In our priesthood lesson on Sunday I observed that the longevity
    statistics of our Seventh Day Adventist friends offer solid evidence that
    eating much less meat yields even better life expectancy than ours. My
    comment drew mostly blank looks. I love the reminder that animals have spirits
    too and we will be held accountable for our treatment of them.

    Several years ago the media
    picked up on claims by a noted researcher at the University of Connecticut,
    Dipak Das, that red wine may be beneficial to cardiac health. However, ten
    months ago, allegations of widely-published data fraud by Dr. Das cast
    called those claims into serious question:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/science/fraud-charges-for-dipak-k-das-a-university-of-connecticut-researcher.html?_r=0 Perhaps we can count the ambitious Mr. Das
    among the conspiring men of the last days. Whether he’s evil is anyone’s guess.

  • Kevin Merrell

    Men and brethren—a great deep dive here on the Word of Wisdom. Les, I love your friendly connection to the Mormon tribe. You’re one of the reasons I increasingly reject the insular view of the Church that I grew up with. Ditto for the recent delightful podcast with Phyllis Tickle and Brian McLaren. Why not actively claim the whole human family?

    Bravo for returning repeatedly to our American Mormon fixation on meat, fat and sugar. May we consider the better way. In our priesthood lesson on Sunday I observed that the longevity statistics of our Seventh Day Adventist friends offer solid evidence that reducing the consumption of meat yields even better life expectancy than ours. My comment drew mostly blank looks. I love the reminder that animals have spirits too and we will be held accountable for our treatment of them.

    Several years ago the media picked up on claims by a noted researcher at the University of Connecticut, Dipak Das, that red wine may be beneficial to cardiac health. However, ten months ago, allegations of widely-published data fabrication by Dr. Das cast called those claims into serious question: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/science/fraud-charges-for-dipak-k-das-a-university-of-connecticut-researcher.html?_r=0 Perhaps we can count the ambitious Mr. Das among the conspiring men of the last days. Whether he’s evil is anyone’s guess.

  • Yvonne

    Wonderful podcast! Very informative and lots to think about in the way we live the Word of Wisdom.

  • Mike C

    Dan, great podcast as always! I really enjoyed Jared’s complication of the health benefits of the word of wisdom, especially of coffee, since at church I still sometimes hear comments about how bad coffee is for your health. However, I would like to further complicate the issue. As an epidemiologist who does not study coffee or chronic diseases, my curiosity got the the better of me and I looked on Medline for meta-analyses or systematic reviews (basically, studies of studies) of coffee consumption and health outcomes in the past 2 years. Not surprisingly, there is a lot going on. Coffee may decrease stroke, increase blood pressure, decrease Parkinson’s risk, increase panic attacks, decrease oral cancers, increase cholesterol, etc. In general, these risks and benefits tend to be small (10%-50%) and don’t necessarily increase with increased coffee consumption (not always a dose-response relationship). Furthermore, studying small effects of multifactorial processes that take years or even decades to develop is an inherently hard problem, and singling out one causal factor, such as coffee, even harder. So I would conclude that, when deciding whether to drink coffee or not, or drink a glass of red wine or not, you’d be better off basing your decisions on how it makes you feel (what are the fruits?) or how it fits with your religious world view, rather than on some expected health benefits.

  • derreamer

    Love it guys!!!! “if sin smelled like smoke, the pughs would be empty!”

  • derreamer

    sorry, pews. :-)

  • Wade

    What does Jared Anderson (or others) make of 1 Timothy 4:1-4? In short, vegetarianism (or the teaching of abstaining from meats) is a “doctrine[] of [the] devil[]“?

    • Emily

      I can’t speak for Jared but as for myself I do not believe those passages point to vegetarianism being a doctrine of the devil. Vegetarians that I know do not “command others to abstain from eating meat” but rather make a conscious personal choice to abstain themselves for personal health, moral & spiritual reasons. I agree that it would not be right to command others to abstain from meat, just as it would not be right to command others to abstain from marriage— however if one personally decides to avoid meat or marriage for that matter it is not “of the devil.” but rather a exercise in moral agency.

  • UnderCover Brother

    Hi Dan,

    Enjoyed listening to this podcast on the Word of Wisdom. A couple of thoughts that I believe could have also been mentioned:

    1) In 1876 Orson Pratt moved verses 1-3 from the heading to the body of the section. If we then read section 89 like it was originally, doesn’t that make a big difference to what the Lord was saying? It is then no longer a suggestion for the weakest of saints, but a commandment from Lord to abstain from those things mentioned. It also begs the question: why did Brother Pratt make the change in the first place? Were the brethren struggling
    with this commandment, hence the ‘softening of the stance’?

    2) I have always been interested in v18, when the Lord says, ‘And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments…’ and linking it to, ‘ And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;’. Is it possible that we read it incorrectly and miss out the ‘obedience to the commandments’, part? In the podcast (and I’ve also heard this in Sunday school lessons), it was inferred that if you keep the Word of Wisdom you will find ‘wisdom and great treasure of knowledge’. That cannot be right, can it? Will you find ‘wisdom and great treasure of knowledge, even
    hidden treasures’, if you keep the Word of Wisdom and yet commit adultery? Doesn’t make sense at all. I think we can only find wisdom and knowledge when we keep and do the Lord’s sayings and obey of His commandments as a whole.

  • Heleen

    Hey there! Thanks for the interesting podcast. I have heard more than once this reference to Talmage having a smoke to calm his nerves. Would it be possible for you to post (maybe in a reply) a link or reference to this story? I would love to know more about it. I also remember reading about George A. Smith’s nervous breakdown. He had approval, and the recommendation, that he take up drinking alcohol to calm his nerves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.leverich James Leverich

    Found this over here in the UK… I can’t ever see the church pushing eating less meat as we are one of the worlds biggest cattle ranchers.

    Eat less meat to save the planet – UN

    The world needs to change to a more vegetarian diet to stand a chance of tackling climate change, according to a major new United Nations report.

    By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent

    The group of international scientists said the greatest cause of greenhouse gas emissions is food production and the use of fossil fuels.

    But while the use of coal and oil could be gradually replaced by renewable energy sources like wind and solar, the world will always need to eat.

    As the world population increases it is feared that the production of food will become the main cause of climate change and environmental degradation.

    The International Panel of Sustainable Resource Management pointed out that agricultural production accounts for 70 per cent of global freshwater production, 38 per cent of land use and 19 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

    The report, that will be presented to world governments, said the only way to feed the world while reducing climate change is to switch to more a more vegetarian diet.

    Related Articles

    UN admits flaw in report on meat and climate change 24 Mar 2010

    People urged to give up meat to stop climate change 27 Oct 2009

    “A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change,” it read.

    Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, said ordinary consumers can help fight climate change by eating less meat.

    “The Panel have reviewed all the available science and conclude that two broad areas are currently having a disproportionately high impact on people and the planet’s life support systems—these are energy in the form of fossil fuels and agriculture, especially the raising of livestock for meat and dairy products,” he said.

    Mr Steiner said governments could encourage people to eat less meat by reforming the system of taxes and subsidies so vegetarian food is cheaper.

    “Smart market mechanisms, more intelligent fiscal policies and creative policy-making are among the options for internalising the costs of unsustainable patterns. Some tough choices are signalled in this report, but it may prove even more challenging for everyone if the current paths continue into the coming decades,” he added.

    Lord Stern of Brentford, the author of the influential Stern Review that first argued for economic measures to fight climate change, also believes the world needs to eat less meat.

    He has already warned that the price of meat and other “carbon intensive” goods will need to go up to fight climate change.

  • Karina

    To balance the argument:

    Books:

    Nutritional and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price,D.D.S.

    The Chemistry of Man by Bernard Jensen, Ph.D. (may be out of print, but so worth finding)

    Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Eng, Ph.d.

    And to further mess with dietary dogmas, it’s good to know that the fears, emotions and judgements attached to foods can create more stress and dysfunction in the body than eating the actual food.

    180degreehealth.com has some fun, informative and snarky articles that are worth looking into.

    It just feels like, as in all things, each individual should be having meaningful conversations with their creators (and their own bodies) , and be receiving words of wisdom to guide their individual paths to health and healing.

  • princessgodess23

    Conspiring men: MLM