Response to Lance Starr
Rejoinder by Eric Johnson
If the reader so
far has come to expect that Mormonism 201 is marked with numerous
logical fallacies, including unwarranted ad hominem attacks and circular reasoning,
then he or she will not be disappointed in chapter 14 that was written by Lance
Would you like some cheese with your whine?
Starr does not take more than a paragraph before he makes what has to be the
most audacious ad hominem attack in all of the rebuttals in Mormonism 201.
He writes: "Indeed, there is truly nothing new, especially in McKeever
and Johnson's Mormonism 101. After reading this chapter, I can only say that I
hope the authors are paying a royalty to Jerald and Sandra Tanner. The chapter is little more than a rehash of an essay
that appeared in the Tanners' anti-Mormon opus Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?
It's probably a good thing for McKeever and Johnson that such textual incest is
common among the writers in the anti-Mormon genre, otherwise they should be
worried about a lawsuit for copyright infringement."
1 then reads, "As I read this rather short chapter in McKeever and
Johnson's book, I was struck by the many similarities between this chapter and
chapter 29 from Jerald and Sandra
Tanner's book Mormonism:
Shadow or Reality. My curiosity was sufficiently peaked that I obtained a copy
of the Tanner's (sic) book and did a comparison of the two." He then lists 10 similarities and adds, "In
fact, it would seem that McKeever and Johnson essentially edited the Tanner's
(sic) work to make it shorter then simply stuck their names on it. Their
footnotes give the Tanner's (sic) no credit for their work whatsoever."1
With all of this
venom, there is no doubt that Starr would like his readers to believe that Bill
and I copied from Jerald and Sandra
Tanner's work Mormonism: Shadow or
Reality, condensing their work into our chapter.2
His claim is absolutely bogus. First, I have to ask, is Starr accusing us of
"plagiarism"? He never uses this particular word in the two paragraphs that
contain his charge, but later in his review, he says this:
also have us believe that as he was plagiarizing these ideas (and plagiarism is
something that McKeever and Johnson should be very keenly aware of) from these
various resources, he somehow managed to avoid including even a single bit of
the 'quackery' that was prevalent in his day."
the possibility that Smith took his ideas for the Word of Wisdom from temperance
movements in his day, Starr gives a very telling parenthetical comment. He, in
fact, uses the word "plagiarism." Perhaps he was very careful not to use the
word in his original complaint because he might have been aware that using
quotes referenced by other authors is not a crime and is not even unethical,
especially when you have permission to do so.
So just what is "plagiarism"?
The Miriam-Webster dictionary says this is "to steal and pass off (the ideas
or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without
crediting the source." If Starr wants to accuse us of plagiarism,
then he is wrong. After all, the Tanners themselves would never claim that
their ideas on the Word of Wisdom, including the concept that this LDS code is
not a biblical concept, were original with them. Then if the Tanners were not
the first to make these claims, would it be right to accuse the Tanners of
"plagiarizing" from whomever we could trace as the first to criticize the Word
of Wisdom? While we cannot ascertain which critic first disagreed with the Word
of Wisdom, we can assure you that the Tanners were not the first, and certainly
Bill and I will not be the last.
why this charge is false is that plagiarism is stealing someone else's ideas or
words that are not your own. If we had provided the quotes from the original
sources but never provided any documentation, then this is plagiarism. I wonder just where Starr got the quote from the
ballplayer Yogi Berra listed at the front of this rebuttal. Did Yogi personally
tell this to Starr? I highly doubt it. So from where did it come? How come he
didn't give credit for this source? This type of back-and-forth haggling shows
just how silly Starr's charge is.
And if we had claimed that our book was original and
there was never another one like it—well, this would have been a lie, and
anyone with any sense of reason should have realized the lack of truth in these
words. I don't think that too many people have been confused about the purpose
of Mormonism 101. As the title implies, our book was meant to be a basic
primer that compares Mormon teaching with evangelical Christianity. Our preface
and introduction clearly state our intentions. 3
are also no grounds for "copyright infringement," as Starr
claims, even if the Tanners were on the opposite side of the fence. This is
because you cannot copyright original quotes in a research essay. Consider the
example of Shelby Foote, the great Civil War historian. Would Starr claim that
Foote is a plagiarist when this historian quotes from sources previously
utilized by other people? How about when somebody uses those same original
quotes after reading Foote's books? Is this person obligated to report where he
got those quotes? If so, then I suppose every researcher is going to have to do
massive amounts of work to discover who reported what and when. It would become
such a nightmare to trace any particular quote. I am a college English
professor, yet I would never tell students that they are plagiarists because
they included quotations in their term papers that had been previously utilized
by published authors. My main concern is that each student utilizes original
sources and writes their own commentary.4
another example. Are the nightly news anchors obligated to say where each piece
of the news came? Is anyone so naïve to think that the local television news
doesn't get the majority of its sources from other media organizations,
including the Internet and the local newspaper?
have had several people call MRM's office to ask us if they could use certain
primary quotes that we cite, adding that they would be glad to give us credit.
Bill's response has always been the same, as he has told these researchers to
feel free to use whichever quotes they want. However, he has told them that it
is not necessary to credit us. The Tanners feel the same way and have
encouraged others to utilize their quotes, especially from Mormonism: Shadow
or Reality, which is the bible of all countercult books on Mormonism. But
let's be serious. It isn't normal to give a secondary source credit for a
primary quote. Why should Starr require this of us? If this is such a big
issue, then perhaps Starr needs to critique his church's scholars who
oftentimes use primary sources previously used by others without crediting the
secondary sources. Examples of this can be found in Mormonism 201.
Starr also writes
that there is "truly nothing new" in our book.5
He doesn't clearly state whether he means ideas or quotes. As far as information,
we include a number of original quotes that, to our knowledge, have never been
used in other publications. Perhaps Starr would like to find any other instance
that anyone else quoted from page 85 of the 1988 book A Sure Foundation:
Answers to Difficult Gospel Question as we do in chapter 14. How
about the many Ensign articles referenced throughout our book, including
these from chapter 15 (February 1995, August 1997, March 1997)? In fact, we
continually quote writings that were published after 1995, or five years and
earlier before our book went to press. We even have several references that
were written the very year Mormonism 101 hit the bookshelves! How can he
then say that nothing is new?
Of course, in
trying to prove our case that Mormonism really has not changed, it was
imperative for us to include older quotes from LDS general authorities with our
new information. Meanwhile, as far as ideas are concerned, we never claimed the
concepts would be new. Why should they be? It should be expected that the LDS
ideas of God, Jesus, the path to salvation, and temple worship would be
criticized in this evangelical Christian book. Obviously these ideas are not
new with us.
idea of taking the Tanners' quotes is mentioned in another chapter rebuttal,
this by Mormonism 201 founder Kevin Graham whose accusation in the
chapter 7 (Bible) rebuttal is similar to Starr's:
this be mere coincidence all throughout the book? I suppose it is possible, but
I think we should allow their readers who are more than likely fans of the
Tanners, to judge for themselves before buying the same book twice. Is this
plagiarism? If the Tanners granted permission to use their research, it is
strange that they do not offer credit to them. What I do find interesting is a
definition of plagiarism offered by none other than Eric Johnson himself:
am a high school teacher. If someone comes to my class with a paper entitled
'The Cat in the Big Hat,' with the ideas obviously coming directly from a
certain 'doctor,' I don't have to see word-for-word copying to accuse the
student of plagiarism. Just using the idea and calling it your own makes you
guilty of this crime. Eric Johnson
should find his own comments self-incriminating as it clearly demands a strong
criticism against those who even allude to a previous work without offering
proper acknowledgement. Lance Starr also noted that chapter fourteen appears to
be a replica of several pages from the Tanners. There are probably many more
instances that were not addressed by other Mormonism 201 reviewers, but I think
these examples serve teh (sic) purpose of bringing their claims of the offering
the 'cutting edge' into serious question.'" 6
Graham purposely stops short of calling us plagiarists. However, Graham certainly
insinuates it through his use of a quote from one of my Internet articles.
Graham does fail to inform the reader that he has taken my words out of their
The illustration I give is very clear. It is unethical to take someone's
original concept and claim it is your own.8
Yet nowhere do we ever indicate that our book is the first of its kind to
provide the type of information that we are giving. There have been many 20th
century works on the topic of Mormonism from a Christian perspective; already
there have been additional books since the time of our book's publication.
Clearly our intention was to provide a book that any layperson could
Graham writes, "I think these examples serve the purpose of bringing
their claims of the offering the 'cutting edge' into serious question,"
I ask where did we ever say our book was 'cutting edge'? A radio show host gave
our book this moniker, but that is his prerogative. Where do we ever tout Mormonism
101 as a book that is "cutting edge"? Perhaps Graham or Starr could refresh
our memories. Truly the title of the book indicates that our presentation was
intended as an introduction to Mormonism in an "examin(ation) of the religion
of the Latter-day Saints."
all of this said, we acknowledge that we utilized some quotes from the Tanner's
publication. Although we possess all but one of the original sources that we
used from Mormonism: Shadow or Reality, in hindsight, we probably should
have credited the Tanners with these quotes. It must be understood that every
cult researcher worth his salt has the Tanners' book on his or her bookshelf.
To not have it or use it would be amiss since it is a wonderful reference tool!
Constantino, our good friend and fellow MRM board member, has even financed a
CD-ROM edition of this book and has packaged it with rare LDS books, which our
ministry sells. I should also point out that we listed Mormonism: Shadow or
Reality in our bibliography at the end of the book, which should have
clearly shown that this was a work we did utilize in Mormonism 101. When
we told Sandra about the charge leveled by Starr and Graham, she laughed and
told us how ridiculous the accusation was, adding "of course you have
permission to use whatever you want from it."9
Graham makes it appear that we have copied "throughout"
Mormonism 101. Unless he is willing to prove this with the facts to
back it up, we would advise him (and Starr, for that matter) to back off this
ridiculous charge. And instead of worrying about the source of any quotes we
provide, perhaps these writers ought to spend more time either defending or refuting
the quotes themselves. Quite clearly these men are utilizing the logical
fallacy commonly known as a red herring.
Please don't put any poison into my well
to Starr's rebuttal, the author writes about his impression of our chapter: "I
can't say that I'm disappointed, because disappointment requires a high level
of initial expectation. Unfortunately, based on my past experiences with
anti-Mormon literature, I didn't hold out any lofty expectations for fairness
or even a reasonably in-depth treatment of the subject at hand. I wasn't
disappointed in either respect. In total, the author's (sic) arguments were
often unfair and so shallow that if they were a puddle of water, that puddle
would barely wet the soles of my shoes.
of this chapter of Mormonism 101 is the unique LDS doctrine of the Word of
Wisdom. McKeever and Johnson gleefully attack this principle, liberally quoting
from the Tanner's (sic) work, blissfully unaware of any previous LDS response
to the Tanner's (sic) work. In the several years that I have dealt with
anti-Mormon propaganda, the biggest complaint that I have is that anti-Mormon
writers like McKeever and Johnson seem so frightened of admitting that
competent counter-arguments exist and seem almost incapable of responding to
those arguments. They seem dedicated to the principle that if you repeat a
fallacy often enough and vociferously enough, then that fallacy becomes truth.
In realty, it simply becomes an oft-repeated fallacy. The chapter itself is
very poorly organized because the authors are fond of using little throw-away
lines that are tangential to their arguments."
This is a
classic example of the logical fallacy known as "poisoning the well." In other
words, before providing any evidence to back up his accusations, Starr attempts
to cast doubt on our work in his introduction. Our arguments, he says, are "unfair
and so shallow" that, if they were water, they would hardly dampen the
soles of one's shoes.10
We "gleefully attack" the Word of Wisdom, he says, making it
appear that our primary motive was to search and destroy the doctrine no matter
the cost. Then he says we "liberally quote" from
the Tanners' work, which Starr insinuates has been adequately answered.11
Then, Starr assumes that we must have been "frightened of admitting that
competent counter-arguments exist and seem almost incapable of responding to
those arguments." We are apparently dedicated to the principle that if
"you repeat a fallacy often enough and vociferously enough, then that
fallacy becomes truth." Finally, it is a "poorly organized"
chapter since we use so many "little throw-away lines."
Any Mormon who
has made it this far into Starr's chapter would have to believe that Bill and
- are plagiarists (because, unlike Graham, Starr has never said he's not accusing us of this practice)
- ignore anything ever written by Mormons to defend the Word of Wisdom
- use shallow arguments in an unfair way
- continually use logical fallacies because we don't think anybody will notice.
what proof Starr is able to bring to the table.
Proof is in the pudding
Starr writes: "Let us begin with the first
assertion related to the Word of Wisdom. McKeever and Johnson state: 'While
most Mormons say caffeine is their reason not to drink coffee and tea, an
article in the Salt Lake
Tribune states that 90 percent of adults in North America
consume caffeine on a regular basis through other products.' My first reaction
to this statement is: So what? That 90 percent of adult (sic) in North
America consume caffeine on a regular basis is totally
irrelevant. It does not address the percentage of Mormons who consume caffeine
on a regular basis, neither does it describe what some of these other sources
may be. Many common headache medications contain the drug because it enhances
the effectiveness of the pain killing properties of the medicine. Anyone taking
this medication could be classified as partaking caffeine, (sic) however the
Mormons have always recognized that the 'abuse' of certain drugs is different
that (sic) using those drugs for legitimate medical reasons. Without further
information or clarification, therefore, the '90 percent' figure is totally
How is this totally useless? If
caffeine is against the Word of Wisdom, as many Mormons understand the concept
and therefore believe to be true, then shouldn't there be a desire to avoid
this drug altogether? And where does it say in the Word of Wisdom that there
are exceptions to this rule when it can be shown to be for a "legitimate
Actually, some tests are showing that caffeine may
hold some medical advantages. An August 2003 article in Better Homes &
Gardens talked about the health benefits provided in natural coffee. "People
have tried to pin negative things on coffee," Martha Goodrian, the
outpatient dietitian with Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, said.
"The truth is it isn't as unhealthy as most people think it is." She said that"coffee
beans, like tea leaves, have natural nutrients that are transferred to the
coffee," helping to curb certain types of cancer and to prevent kidney
stones. Betty Rudy, who is a respiratory therapist at the same hospital, said
coffee can be part of a solution to keep asthma under control because coffee
naturally relaxes "the muscles around the bronchial tubes."12
An article from CNN.com reports this: "Caffeine,
the chemical stimulant in coffee and tea, has been found to lower the risk of
skin cancer in laboratory mice. A study suggests that a skin lotion spiked with
caffeine or with another compound found in green tea can reduce by more than
half the number of cancer tumors on the skin of hairless mice exposed to brutal
levels of ultraviolet radiation, said Dr. Allan Conney, a professor of cancer
and leukemia research at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey." 13
In this study, the caffeine is said to have lowered
the cancer risk by 72 percent of those mice that ingested the caffeine after their
exposure to radiation. Since skin cancer is the most common of all cancer, it
is hoped that this study can be used to help find a solution for those people
who are highly susceptible to melanoma and other skin cancers. In fact, the
article says that there is "a need for a 'morning-after' treatment
for skin cancer" that "would reduce cancer risk after excessive sun
Suppose that later scientific studies support the
above research and determine that coffee and tea are beneficial in the fight
against such a killer as cancer. Let's even suppose certain Mormons are
convinced that this research is correct. They feel that their coffee and tea
may help prevent cancer. Are they then justified in drinking coffee and tea
after a day in the sun? Would they be given clearance in their next temple
recommend meeting and receive their prized cards after admitting to this? We
highly doubt it.
Caffeine is not only found in coffee and tea but in
soda and numerous other products, as we mentioned in our book. Interestingly
enough, much of Utah—which is supposed to be 70 percent LDS—ingests caffeine on
purpose. Writes Derek P. Jensen: "It's a familiar scene: the bleary-eyed
milling around the coffee pots at 7-11, or in line at the Starbucks. Yet
perhaps just as common are the crowds filling all manner of containers with
everything from Diet Coke to Mountain Dew at gas stations from Logan to Lehi
and beyond. While Salt Lake will never be confused as a 'latte town' and we're
not as heavily caffeinated as the Pacific Northwest, it's clear Utahns love
their coffee—and their soda….On Salt Lake's Fifth South freeway corridor
Chevron employee Justin Brough says commuters stop in daily for soda, regular
coffee and visits to a popular cappuccino machine. 'I'd say almost every other
customer,' Brough said."15
Starr personally does not believe caffeine is good
for the human body, but he writes this later in his rebuttal: "Unfortunately,
I must concede one point to the authors. While I have already pointed out that
the consumption of coffee and tea is not prohibited due to the caffeine
content, it is true that caffeine is a drug and does have a deleterious effect
on humans. It is addictive and can, in very high doses, be dangerous. It is due
to this fact that this reviewer does not drink caffeinated beverages of any
kind. However, it is also true that some Mormons do enjoy cola drinks and other
soft drinks that contain caffeine. The Church has no official stand on caffeine
as it pertains to the Word of Wisdom."
After quoting Bruce McConkie, he adds this: "At
this time, however, the Lord has not seen fit to include caffeine as a
substance forbidden by the revelation. Thus, some Latter-day Saint do partake
of these things without endangering their worthiness to enter the temple. Despite
this fact, it is still true that the majority of faithful Mormons comply with
the Word of Wisdom as it is currently understood and interpreted and they have
reaped the benefits, both temporal and spiritual of their obedience to this
It is obvious that there is confusion from both
Mormons and non-Mormons alike about what exactly the Word of Wisdom prohibits.
Should the code include hot drinks only? Or are cold drinks that have caffeine
also prohibited, as it is interpreted by numerous Mormons?16
Like Starr, many Mormons stay away from caffeinated
drinks. Yet the whole issue can be confusing. Consider this article from The
Salt Lake Tribune: "Coke-guzzling Mormons let out a collective cheer
earlier this month when Lt. Gov. Olene Walker told comedian Bill Cosby that
caffeine was fine 'as long as it's cold.' True, Walker is no LDS
spokeswoman, but her comment resounded with faithful Mormons who imbibe
energy-boosting colas under the disapproving scrutiny of fellow believers who
righteously eschew them. Outsiders are continually baffled about how caffeine
fits in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' prohibitions, known
simply as the 'Word of Wisdom.' The passage from Mormon scripture forbids the
use of wine, strong drink, tobacco and 'hot drinks,' which have been defined
since the 1830s as black tea and coffee. Nowhere does it mention caffeine…." 17
The article later continues: "Those (Mormons) who
believe that coffee and tea are off-limits because of their caffeine content
avoid any products that contain it—primarily soda pop like Coca-Cola, Pepsi,
Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper. But few Mormons have a problem with chocolate,
which also is a mild stimulant. Many Mormons readily use painkillers and diet
drugs laced with caffeine. Perhaps it is the taste of coffee, not the caffeine,
that God forbids. If so, is decaffeinated coffee OK? Coffee-flavored ice cream?
The health code mentions 'hot drinks.' Hot chocolate is, well, hot, but
Latter-day Saints find it a welcome alternative to coffee."18
As it can be seen, the church leaders are apparently
not willing to give any more specific guidance in what it means to follow the
Word of Wisdom. As the Salt Lake Tribune points out, "LDS
Church spokesman Dale Bills said that 'members are expected to
exercise wisdom in applying the principles of good health' on questions 'not
specifically addressed by LDS Church teachings.'
Still, confusion, even among the faithful, is rampant."19
Since Mormons are not allowed to drink coffee,
the article shows how some Mormons substitute caffeinated soda for it. "'I
can't drink coffee because of religious reasons, but I still need the
caffeine,' said Darla Thomas while scurrying off to work with a 44-ounce Diet
Coke in hand. The large fountain drink, she says, is now a daily habit. 'I
could probably go through two of these before noon.' In a Salt
Lake bagel shop, Rock Olsen says his morning Diet Coke has also
become a habit. 'If I don't have a Diet Coke for like three days I start to
feel a little wiped out,' he said. You won't get an argument from downtown
Maverick employee Thomas Holland who says the foot traffic from nearby office
buildings is steady and thirsty for something cold. 'I see a lot more people
drinking soda than coffee because this is a Mormon town, you know." 20
Yet the article points out that sodas with caffeine
are even worse than coffee. "According to Joan Clark, outpatient clinical
dietician at University Hospital, everybody reacts
differently to caffeine. For cardiac patients and high stress individuals, she
notes even small amounts can be dangerous. On average, Clark says
a 6–ounce cup of coffee contains roughly 100 milligrams of caffeine while a
12-ounce coke has 65. A cup of tea has just under 50 milligrams….'I would say
coffee is actually better than pop,' said Clark…Another danger with the
oversized fountain drinks or for the six-pack a day drinkers is the caffeine
levels add up in a hurry….'The problem with Coke is people can get addicted,'
Clark added. 'Not only do they get addicted to the caffeine, they get addicted
to the sugar rush.' Meanwhile, Nutrasweet, the trade name for the chemical
aspartame in Diet Coke leads to irritability and nervousness according to Clark."
As far as coffee is concerned, there is contradictory
research on whether or not coffee drinking is bad for one's health. Besides
possibly helping fight skin cancer cells, heavy coffee drinking has been said
to lower diabetes risk. According to one Internet article: "Scientists at Vrije
University in Amsterdam said components in coffee
seem to help the body metabolize sugar, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes,
which affects 130 million people worldwide… Whether it's filter, cappuccino,
latte or espresso, coffee maintains minerals such as magnesium, potassium and
other micronutrients that have health benefits….Individuals who drank seven
or more cups of coffee a day, were 50% less likely to develop the
disease….'For most people it is not bad to drink moderate amounts of coffee,'
(Dutch researcher Rob) van Dam said."22
According to a 1986 Journal of the
National Cancer Research study of more than 16,000 people, there is no
relationship between coffee consumption and cancer risk. In addition, "the
most recent review by the International Agency for Research on Cancer also
concluded that data do not support a link between caffeine consumption and
cancer in humans."23
Meanwhile, tea has been said to help boost the body's
defenses against infection according to one scientific report. According to the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, "the health effects of tea
have been extensively studied. It has been linked to lower heart disease and
cancer risk through the action of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Other
studies have linked tea to helping combat osteoporosis, the brittle bone
disease, and to relieving some allergy symptoms.24
If the ban on coffee and tea is for health reasons—which is what most
Mormons tell us when we ask why the Word of Wisdom was created—then why are
faithful Mormons substituting soda for coffee? Furthermore, if beer is said to
be beneficial in moderate intake, why is it banned as well?25
Yet Starr says caffeine is not the reason why hot
drinks are prohibited in the Word of Wisdom. He cites sources from the International
Journal of Cancer and the International Journal of Vitamin and
Nutritional Research to show that there is "evidence of a link
between esophageal cancer induced by the consumption of very hot drinks."
If the problem, then, is a heated
beverage, then what about those Mormons who drink hot chocolate (as mentioned
in the Salt Lake Tribune article above)? One would think that there
should then be the same effect when "hot soup" hits the esophagus.26
If Mormons are supposed to avoid hot drinks, then why is former BYU professor
Cleon Skousen seen on page 213 of the April 1960 edition of the Improvement
Era serving up a pot of hot Instant Postum to a couple of police officers.
In fact, the advertisement boasts that "Postum is 100% coffee-free, contains
no caffeine or other artificial stimulants." Why mention the caffeine if
this is not a reason for the ban? In the September 1953 issue of The
Improvement Era, "Ficgo" is advertised on page 703 as "a delightful hot
beverage for those who don't drink coffee." Why would these drinks be
advertised in a Mormon publication if the heat in the drink is most dangerous?
At what point do we ask how ridiculous Starr's argument really is?
Was the Word of Wisdom a command?
proceeds to explain how Bill and I are somehow misleading because we don't
quote all of the words from the original D&C 89. After quoting verse 2 ("To
be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation
and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the
temporal salvation of all saints in the last days"),27
Starr proceeds to reply to a point in our book where we write, "If this
(Word of Wisdom) was such an important teaching, it seems strange that it was
not a command from God when this revelation was first given."
He then writes, "I must ask the authors why
they find this so strange when the second verse of the revelation clearly says
that it was NOT a commandment. I am led to seriously question the amount of
time and study that McKeever and Johnson invested. How they missed the answer
to their own question, which was so obviously stated, is beyond me."
We clearly wrote on page 202 of Mormonism 101
that the Word of Wisdom "did not become a 'command' for eighteen years until
it was proposed in 1851 by President Brigham Young." Although we agreed
that it was not a "command," it seems strange that many people did not take it
that way and considered it much more than a divine "suggestion," as Starr seems
instance, History of the Church 2:34-35 reported this in February 1834: "The
president opened the Council by prayer…The Council then proceeded to try the
question, whether disobedience to the Word of Wisdom was a transgression
sufficient to deprive an official member from holding office in the Church,
after having it sufficiently taught him. Councilors Samuel H. Smith, Luke S.
Johnson, John S. Carter, Sylvester Smith, John Johnson and Orson Hyde, were
called to speak upon the case then before the Council. After the Councilors had
spoken, the President proceeded to give the decision: No official member in
this Church is worthy to hold an office, after having the Word of Wisdom
properly taught him, and he, the official member, neglecting to comply with or
obey it; which decision the Council confirmed by vote."
the same publication on page 482, it is shown that, on May 28, 1837, it was"resolved
unanimously, that we will not fellowship any ordained member who will not, or
does not, observe the Word of Wisdom according to its literal reading."
According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, "In the mid-1830s, many
Church members felt that abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee was
a criterion for fellowship. The one possible exception to this otherwise strict
interpretation was wine, which some early Church leaders may not have
considered 'strong drink.' This early emphasis on abstinence or near abstinence
failed to gain Church-wide or official acceptance, although Joseph Smith said
no member 'is worthy to hold an office' who has been taught the Word of Wisdom
and fails 'to comply with and obey it' (TPJS, p.117, fn.)." 28
Consider this from an 1855 speech delivered by Elder
George A. Smith in the Salt Lake Tabernacle: "I know persons who apostatized
because they supposed they had reasons; for instance, a certain family, after
having traveled a long journey, arrived in Kirtland, and the Prophet (Joseph
Smith) asked them to stop with him until they could find a place. Sister Emma,
in the mean time, asked the old lady if she would have a cup of tea to refresh
her after the fatigues of the journey, or a cup of coffee. This whole family
apostatized because they were invited to take a cup of tea or coffee, after the
Word of Wisdom was given." 29
President Joseph Fielding Smith said that a member could not hold a church
office unless he abided by the Word of Wisdom. Smith writes this in Essentials
in Church History: "One question considered was as follows: 'Whether
disobedience to the word of wisdom was a transgression sufficient to deprive an
official member from holding office in the Church, after having it sufficiently
taught him?'' After a free and full discussion Joseph Smith, who presided, gave
his decision as follows: 'No official member in this Church is worthy to hold
an office after having the word of wisdom properly taught him; and he, the
official member, neglecting to comply with or obey it.' This decision was
confirmed by unanimous vote." 30
Although I am not suggesting that everyone,
including all of the LDS leaders, considered the Word of Wisdom as crucial and
something to be followed, many did as these quotes attest. Even Starr admits
this when he quotes from someone's master's thesis: "Early LDS records
suggest that 'adherence to at least some portions of the revelation was
mandatory and necessary for Church fellowship'" but there
"'was no consistent pattern or interpretation or application of the Word
of Wisdom between the time it was given and the middle 1840's.'" Yet if
God intended for this code to be followed, then why did the LDS leaders disobey
its principles? And if it wasn't supposed to be a command, then why did it
become a command in later years, remaining so today? It seems that Starr wants
to play games with the word "command" in an attempt to give freedom to
interpret the Word of Wisdom based on the culture in which one lives.
But I suspect that many contemporary Latter-day Saints
do not know that the Word of Wisdom was a result of pragmatism and NOT
prophethood. As it has been documented, the Word of Wisdom was given by Smith
to appease his wife Emma and not as a health code for the betterment of his
people. For instance, BYU professor Marvin Hill says in Sunstone
magazine: "According to David Whitmer, Emma was disgusted at the spitting of
tobacco juice by the elders in a school in Kirtland which was held above her
kitchen. She said, 'It would be a good thing if a revelation could be had
declaring the use of tobacco a sin.' The elders countered against Emma and the
ladies by suggesting that the revelation should also provide for abstinence
from the use of tea and coffee."31
writes: "The Word of Wisdom itself originated in a revelation Joseph Smith
received in February 1833. At the time the region around Kirtland, Ohio, where
Smith and the church leaders resided, together with much of the northeastern
United States, was a hotbed of temperance and health reform sentiment. Moreover
Smith and his wife Emma became offended by the frequent use of tobacco by
guests who visited their house for instruction. The revelation against the use
of alcohol, tobacco, and hot drinks (Joseph Smith interpreted the phrase 'hot
drinks' to mean tea and coffee about five months after he gave the revelation)
also cautioned against eating too much meat and advocated the use of herbs,
fruits, and grains. In return members were promised physical and intellectual
tells this story: "Emma complained at 'having to clean so filthy a floor,'
and according to Brigham Young, this in part 'made the Prophet think upon the
matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the elders in
using Tobacco, and the revelation known as Word of Wisdom was the result of his
inquiry.' David Whitmer adds a bit more, telling us that Emma actually
suggested a revelation on the subject: "Some of the men were excessive chewers
of the filthy weed, and their disgusting slobbering and spitting caused Mrs.
Smith… to make the ironical remark that `It would be a good thing if a
revelation could be had declaring the use of tobacco a sin, and commanding its
A Post-Modern Mormonism
way Starr presents it, how you follow the Word of Wisdom is not as important as
following it in the way that makes the most sense to each individual. He
writes, "…the majority of faithful Mormons comply with the Word of
Wisdom as it is currently understood and interpreted and they have reaped the
benefits, both temporary and spiritual of their obedience to this principle."
Starr does not
offer any proof that the majority of "faithful Mormons"34
should be considered followers of the Word of Wisdom. Then he writes: "The
issue of interpretation brings us to McKeever and Johnson's second major
argument—the fact that early Mormon leaders didn't follow the teachings of the
Word of Wisdom as strictly as do modern members of the faith. Why this fact
should bother them is unclear, especially in light of the aforementioned verse
three which clearly states that the World of Wisdom was not, at that point in
time, a commandment."
He later adds, "The early Mormons and their
leaders did not interpret the Word of Wisdom in the same way as it now
interpreted…. The reasonable question is not, 'did early Mormon leaders obey
the Word of Wisdom as it is understood today.' The reasonable question is, 'did
early Mormon leaders obey the Word of Wisdom as they understood it in their
day?' The answer to that question is a resounding yes.
Starr is wrong.
As earlier pointed out, leaders were held to a higher standard than the laity
and were compelled to comply with the Word of Wisdom standard. This also begs
the question as to what it meant to follow the Word of Wisdom "as
(people) understood it in their day." Does this mean a person today can
drink coffee because studies make it appear that the caffeine will help fight
melanoma cancer? Does it mean a person can abuse caffeine in non-heated drinks
or eat too much food as long as he does not ingest "hot" drinks? If the code
can be interpreted in different ways, then what real purpose does it serve?
It is disingenuous to refer to the Word of Wisdom as
some revelatory miracle that proves Joseph Smith was a prophet when Starr
admits it wasn't a command when it was first given. If there was a purpose to
the Word of Wisdom when it was first given, then there needs to be a purpose
for it to be followed today. Otherwise, it becomes a man-made code and should
therefore be no more binding in our lives than the dietary laws as mentioned in
Leviticus. The reason Christians are not required to follow these laws is that
God deemed these "unclean" foods as fine.35
But if God really gave the Word of Wisdom for a particular reason, then that
reason must still matter. It just doesn't make sense that it was originally not
given as a command and then evolved into one.
To make "personal
revelation" the key is akin to asking one's sister if she is fasting from food.
"Yes," she replies, "I am." "So why are you eating a Twinkie?" "Because," she
answers with confidence, "fasting means not eating food, and a Twinkie is not
food." In the same way, having the ability to interpret the Word of Wisdom
however you want, as Starr seems to suggest, makes the Word of Wisdom a
meaningless concept. The LDS Church has an obligation to tell its people how
this law needs to be followed (i.e. approval or not for caffeinated drinks;
medical treatment for skin cancer; etc) and why the Word of Wisdom is even
necessary for the 21st century.
Starr also does
not answer some vital questions. For instance, why did:
- the early LDS leaders disobey something that was supposedly given
by God? Obviously some took it to be a command, even if everyone did
- it evolve into a command under the leadership of Brigham Young? It
would seem that making the Word of Wisdom a "command" when it was
merely given to appease Emma, who apparently was disgusted with tobacco
juice on the floor, is more pragmatic than prophetic.
- the LDS Church wait until the 1930s to make the Word of Wisdom a
requirement for temple entrance? If it was commanded by Brigham Young,
why didn't the leaders see this as a reason to limit temple entrance
Then Starr lists
what he calls our "accusations," including "an alleged
story that Smith counseled a man to get drunk else he die." This item,
he says, is "based only a third party allegation and is completely
hearsay. There is no evidence that Smith said such a thing or that the man who
was thus counseled actually died. Ergo, it is an inane and utterly useless
example, typical of an argument desperate to score points at any cost."
from a typed copy of the Life of Oliver B. Huntington, which is located
at the University of Utah. Although Starr would like to cast doubt on Huntington's
credibility, he fails to mention that Huntington was Joseph Smith's personal
secretary. The reason he wrote what he did was to show off Smith's prophetic
nature and not to describe the Word of Wisdom. Starr can write whatever he
wishes, but his presuppositions get in the way of truth. He doesn't seem to
realize that he has the burden of proof to prove Huntington was not a credible
witness. In fact, we have just as much information that Huntington's story is
true as compared to the idea that Joseph Smith was visited by angels, that he
was given the priesthood by Peter, James, and John, or that he translated the Book
of Mormon. Yet very few Mormons cast doubt on the authority of Oliver
provides us with this analysis: "McKeever and Johnson are not covering
new ground with their arguments. They are simply parroting the very same
accusations that Jerald and Sandra Tanner first
made years ago. It is most interesting that while accusing Smith and other LDS
leaders of the bygone era with blatant hypocrisy, neither the Tanners nor their
imitators McKeever and Johnson seem able to address the glaring inconsistency
inherent within their argument. How were Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other
leaders able to indulge themselves, in public, using substances forbidden by
the Word of Wisdom, without any apparent criticism from the members, if the
understanding of the Word of Wisdom in that time was that of complete
abstinence as it is today? The answer is quite simple but will not make
McKeever and Johnson (or the Tanners for that matter) happy: The early Mormons
and their leaders did not interpret the Word of Wisdom in the same way as it
turned the Word of Wisdom into a command in 1851, yet the evidence clearly
points to the fact that he took it no more seriously after this time than
before. Our chapter is littered with evidence that Young did not take the Word
of Wisdom seriously any more after 1851 than before. Certainly a Mormon like
Starr can rationalize, "Well, that's just the way they were back then." A
Mormon can do the same with polygamy, the black issue, and other
"swept-under-the-carpet" issues. But merely pointing to the culture still
doesn't make marrying more than one woman or discriminating against blacks any
more right than wrong.
There is no doubt that a person can believe whatever
he or she wants to believe. But the fact is that the Word of Wisdom—if this
really was a command and God intended for His people to follow it—cannot be
interpreted in whatever way one feels best. How were these leaders able to
indulge in vices such as tobacco and alcohol? Starr asks. There is no doubt
that some of Smith's contemporaries turned their eyes away from the abuse, but
there is proof that some members were uncomfortable and even left the church.
The hypocrisy of the membership was even admitted by LDS Apostle Orson Pratt
who once stated, "I do not wonder that the world say that the Latter-day
Saints do not believe their own revelations. Why? Because we do not practice
for Starr to say that it "virtually ensured wildly varying
interpretations of the revelation" ignores the supposed idea of
"latter-day revelation." If it was, as Starr suggests, a great "suggesion, then
why did it later become mandatory for all Mormons who desired to enter the
temple, especially with Alma 41:8 in the Book of Mormon says that the
decrees of God are unalterable? If it was merely a suggestion in the 19th
century, then it should be a suggestion in the 21st century as well.
also makes it appear that this church is being guided more by the whims of the
people and personal opinion rather than by prophets and apostles. To have "wildly
varying interpretations" of a doctrine such as the Word of Wisdom begs
the question of why even bothering having these "latter-day" leaders. In fact,
this is the complaint many Mormons have about Christendom as a whole, with the
idea that there is so much doctrinal confusion because the Catholic, Orthodox,
and Protestant churches do not have the authority that the Mormons do have. In
other words, we should expect confusion with the branches of Christianity that
lack authority. We shouldn't expect this from a church that supposedly has a
man with the same keys of the Kingdom of God that Peter and Joseph Smith had!
gives evidence to show that Joseph Smith himself did not take the Word of
Wisdom seriously in his lifetime, rather stressing "moderation." This is fine,
except today Mormons point to the fact that Smith was ahead of his time. While
abstaining from alcohol, tobacco products, and hot drinks themselves, many temple Mormons would
resist the very idea that God merely intended moderation, whether two centuries
ago or today. If these products are fine in moderation, then why did the LDS Church leaders
ban them completely? Why did President Joseph Fielding Smith say, as we stated
in our introductory quote, that "if you drink coffee or tea, or take
tobacco, are you letting a cup of tea, or a little tobacco stand in the road
and bar you from the celestial kingdom of God…"?
In a footnote in
his chapter's summary, Starr writes: "In the Latter-day Saint view, the
Lord introduced the doctrine but refrained from making it a commandment at
first because at the time the majority of the Saints were not living according
to the principles found therein. Making it a commandment at that time would
have placed many members under condemnation. Instead, the Lord showed a measure
of mercy, phasing in the principle. This action also has a prototype in the
Children of Israel whom Moses led out of the wilderness. The older
generation, too tainted by all their years in captivity, were forced to wander
for 40 years until a new generation could be reared that was unencumbered by
the same baggage their parents brought with them."
Thus, according to Starr, God "introduced" the Word of
Wisdom but was apparently so wimpy that he decided to move slowly. For
instance, can you imagine Paul speaking to the Corinthian Christians and how he
would have addressed believers who lived in a culture infiltrated with sexual
immorality? Instead of saying "flee from sexual immorality" (1 Cor. 6:18) or "expel
the immoral brother" and "hand him over to Satan" (1 Cor. 5:1-5),
Paul would have been better off saying, "You know, if you'd like, shuffle away
from sexual immorality until more medical knowledge comes in. And don't be so
rough on the brother who is having sexual relations with his mother-in-law
until everyone in the church agrees that this is wrong. Remember, everything
should be done in moderation. God doesn't want anyone to be offended, so be
careful not to use words that judge!"
Is this how God
works? Absolutely not! When God knows something is good, He commands it. When
it is wrong, the deed/doctrine/understanding is condemned. As far as not
hurting anyone's feelings and condemning something, certainly Jesus, Paul, and
the Old Testament prophets really didn't care about being politically correct.
What the people thought about the criticism was not their concern. Right was
right, and wrong was condemned. This meant personally condemning individuals in
numerous cases. There were even times when the speaker's words were meant to be
offensive in hopes of awakening dead souls to the reality of their sin(s).
Starr's reference to the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years is a
non sequitur and does not support his argument.
The whole issue comes down to this:
Either the original Mormon prophet was way ahead of his time in stressing
moderation—which is not a bad thing—or he was not. But the Word of Wisdom, as
practiced in today's Mormonism, is not the same Word of Wisdom that Joseph
Smith originally introduced. If, as Starr states,
- Mormons are "highly influenced by the prevailing medical wisdom of the day in regards to how they interpreted the revelation"
- "the LDS have always interpreted the Word of Wisdom based on
current medical knowledge, not on fallacious assertions based on the
shallow research of professional anti-Mormons."
- "many early Saints believed that there were medical benefits
for the consumption of alcohol, including tonic or restorative
properties, as well as relief from fatigue and sore throats."
- "At other times alcohol was consumed to lift their spirits in times of turmoil."
- "The Saints didn't believe that ingestion under these conditions was in violation of the Word of Wisdom."
- "In the final days of Brigham Young's illness in 1877, he
received regular doses of brandy—the single most widely used drug of
- "Observance meant moderation. It really doesn't matter that
Joseph drank on occasion—he lived the Word of Wisdom according to his
understanding of the revelation based on the newness of the concept and
his cultural understanding of health and medicine"
then the Word of Wisdom
can no longer be considered as inspired revelation from God. Rather, D&C 89
becomes a rationalistic outlook based more on the current medical science
knowledge as well as on each Latter-day Saint's personal opinion than on
revelatory guidance from the Creator. So which is it? If the Word of Wisdom
wasn't taken seriously back in Smith and Young's days because it didn't conform
to contemporary medical science and contemporary Latter-day Saint opinions,
then its vital importance for today's Mormon seems a bit overdone. Just because
we have more information today from a medical standpoint should not get in the
way of a cutting-edge doctrine that—and again, I assure you, most Mormons with
whom I speak believe—was way ahead of its time.
Starr's desire to turn the Word of Wisdom into a progressive revelation, he
fails to connect the dots. Should Mormons view the Word of Wisdom as a piece of
advice from God—never meant to become a legalistic requirement for entrance
into the most important place in all of Mormonism, the temple—as Starr seems to
suggest? Should they consider this as important in the areas the Word of Wisdom
lines up with medical science or the overall opinion of the Latter-day Saint
people? Or should they hold that the Word of Wisdom was ahead of its time and
is a direct command of God? Perhaps the temple Mormon ought to read Starr's review and see how at least one
Mormon doesn't consider D&C 89 as anything more than originally commanding
moderation in alcohol, tobacco, and hot drink issues. If Starr is right, then
we wonder when Gordon Hinckley will dictate that the Word of Wisdom obedience is
no longer required for temple entrance.
Eric Johnson has volunteered as a research associate
at Mormonism Research Ministry since 1989. A graduate of San Diego State
University (B.A., 1985) and Bethel Seminary San Diego (M.Div., 1991), Eric is
the Bible department chair at Christian High School in El Cajon, CA, is an
English instructor at Grossmont Community College (El Cajon, CA) and is adjunct
professor at Bethel Seminary San Diego. He and his wife Terri have three girls.
In order to make this review easier to read, all original quotes from the Mormonism
201 rebuttal are boldfaced and italicized to separate these from the rest
of the rejoinder.
We ought to point out that we are long-time friends with Jerald and Sandra.
Introductory college classes often use this designation, which is the feeling
we wanted to convey. Although it was not necessarily made for anyone under a
junior high level, we intended this book to be easily comprehended by high
school students and up.
The Tanners' work is extensive. They have uncovered numerous quotes before the
advent of computers and CD-ROM programs. There is no doubt that many quotes we
and other LDS researchers use were probably first uncovered by them!
This is not the first time this charge is leveled or insinuated in a chapter
from Mormonism 201. If there is "nothing new," and if our book is merely a
rehash of previous "anti-Mormon" books, then why the need for Mormonism 201 in
the first place?
Isn't this just as unethical as what he accuses me of doing?
How about Joseph Smith's use of the Bible—word for word in most cases? Where
did Smith ever give credit to the Bible for his obvious use of the Bible? If
Starr wants to talk about ethics, perhaps he should first look at his
It should be noted that the Tanners have sold Mormonism 101 in their
bookstore since it was published in 2000. It sits next to our other two books.
Certainly this must be a vote of confidence!
While we don't agree, we have to admit that Starr is very creative with his
The reader ought to realize as well that merely "answering" someone is not
necessarily the same as "answering" with good logic and responses. In other
words, while many Mormons have tried to rebut the Tanners' scholarship, these
rebuttals have generally been woefully inadequate. We have found the same with Mormonism
201, so when Mormons hear the bragging on the Internet that "McKeever
and Johnson are found short," they may generally assume that these
responses were good. As we are showing in these rejoinders, these are generally
not strong responses; rather, they are filled with logical fallacy and a
The San Diego Union/Tribune, September 2, 2003, "Daily Cup of Joe can be
"Study: Caffeine lowers skin cancer risk in mice," August 26. 2002
http://www.cnn.com/2002/health/08/26/caffeine.cancer.ap/index.html, August 26.
The Salt Lake Tribune, January 12, 2003. "Caffeine Conundrum"
16 For instance, a person cannot find any caffeinated
soft drinks anywhere on the campus of the LDS-owned Brigham Young University.
Yet students drink it on the campus all the time.
Salt Lake Tribune, February 17, 2001. ""The Word on Caffeine, LDS teachings are unclear on issue of consumption"
Salt Lake Tribune, January 11, 2003, "Caffeine Conundrum." Starr admits in his writing that "other reported effects of
drinking coffee are more controversial and have yet to be firmly proven."
November 8, 2002 article in Reuters.com
Yahoo News, April 29, 2003
25 According to www.msnbc.com/news/793342.asp,
twenty years of research shows that beer protects "against major ailments such
as heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, diabetes and dementia." In addition, an
article on no-alcohol beer showed that it had similar benefits ("No-alcohol
beer offers heart benefit of booze," WebMD Medical News, 5/13/2004.
Surely these hot "beverages" (the esophagus must not be able to tell the
difference between "hot" coffee and "hot" chocolate or soup) would also be
harmful to a person.
Vol.1, DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS
Journal of Discourse 2:214. Thanks to the Tanners for this reference.
Page 169. Thanks to the Tanners for this reference. The Tanners also point out
that Smith sometimes used the breaking of the Word of Wisdom as a means of
excommunicating certain members, including David Whitmer and Almon Babbitt. For
complete information on this topic, we recommend the reader look over chapter
26 ("The Word of Wisdom") in Mormonism: Shadow or Reality.
March 1985, 10:3/58.
Mormonism in Transition, p. 258.
Women and Authority, p. 190.
One wonders how Starr defines "faithful."
36 Journal of Discourses 17:104. Thanks to the
Tanners for this reference.