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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 19: Temporal and Spiritual Blessings from the Word of Wisdom

During 2012, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

I look upon the Word of Wisdom as kind advice of our Father in heaven, who desires to see His children become more like Him. … I take it as the fatherly counsel of one who, knowing what I needed, said to me: “My son, these things are not good for you, and if you will avoid them I will give you the companionship of my Holy Spirit and joy while you live in the world and in the end eternal life.” How foolish I would be then to partake of these forbidden things, having the assurance that it is the counsel of the Lord I should abstain therefrom. I would feel under condemnation if I should partake of them, when He who knows better than anybody else says that they are harmful, and has warned me against them. … … He thought it of enough importance to give it unto us, and to warn us, and if He who knows all things thought it necessary to give advice and counsel upon these temporal matters, how carefully we, who know not what the morrow has in store for us, should observe that divine counsel. I feel that the Latter-day Saints have in the Word of Wisdom a law that will exalt them and lift them above those who fail to keep it.

Many Mormons—especially those who hold temple recommends—uphold the Word of Wisdom (including not drinking hot drinks such as coffee and tea and no alcohol or tobacco) with religious sincertiy and strictness. The question is, should this really be considered “counsel from the Lord”?

According to D&C 89:3, the Word of Wisdom is a “principle with [a] promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak.” However, this did not become a command for 18 years, until it was proposed in 1851 by President Brigham Young. It later became a requirement for temple recommend holders until later in the 20th century. If this was such an important teaching, it seems strange that it was not a command from God when this revelation was first given.

Brethren and sisters, we cannot with impunity look slightingly upon the Word of Wisdom. It was given as counsel and advice, not by commandment or constraint, but as a word of wisdom, from our Father, for the temporal salvation of our bodies and the preparation of our souls for eternal life. The Lord promises mental and physical health to those who obey the Word of Wisdom.

I am grateful for that wonderful Word of Wisdom, simple as it is, and as the Lord says, “adapted to the capacity of the weak or the weakest of all who are or can be called Saints.” I pause to ask … , are we worthy to be called Saints? All who hope to be called Saints should certainly be observers of the Word of Wisdom. And what does it mean to us? It gives us sweetness of life, it takes from us the poisonous vapors that many people breathe as the result of smoking tobacco. It avoids for us that nauseating condition that is the result of chewing tobacco. It preserves us, if we observe it, from the infirmities due to taking into our systems the [drugs] contained in tea and coffee, and from the disastrous effects of liquor. …

We would agree that tobacco is bad for the human body. But was Smith’s view unique? According to Dean D. McBrein, one group called the American Temperance Society was successful in “eliminating a distillery in Kirtland [OH] on February 1, 1833, just twenty seen days before the Latter-day Saint revelation counseling abstinence was announced, and that the distillery at Mentor, near Kirtland, was also closed at the same time.” (BYU Studies, Winter 1959, 39-40.) Three years before the Word of Wisdom revelation, the Nov. 6, 1829 edition of the Wayne Sentinel, which was published in the neighborhood where Smith grew up, talked about tobacco as being “an absolute poison.” Regarding alcoholic drinks, warnings had been given years before by the temperance movements. It is extremely possible that Smith picked up his ideas from these other sources.

We need to also eliminate the idea that everything interpreted by Mormons as banned in the Word of Wisdom should be considered harmful, especially in moderation. For example, consider an article written in the Salt Lake Tribune titled “Joseph Smith was right about tobacco, but alcohol, coffee and tea pose more complex questions,” printed on Oct 1, 2012 in their General Conference edition. (See here. ) As far as alcohol is concerned, the article explains, “In moderation — no more than two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women, regardless of the type of booze — alcohol can lower the risk of heart attacks, certain types of strokes and deaths from all cardiovascular diseases. Moderate drinkers also have been shown to be less likely to develop gallstones and Type 2 diabetes.”

About coffee, it says: “Smith admonished against imbibing ‘hot drinks’ — later defined by LDS leaders as coffee and tea. But neither causes harm when consumed in moderation in the general population, and both may have health benefits. Most often used as a stimulant because of its caffeine, coffee may also protect against Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, liver cancer and cirrhosis. It has been linked to lower risks of abnormal heart rhythms and strokes among women. A recent National Institutes of Health study found older adults who drank coffee — caffeinated or decaf — had lower risk of death overall compared with nondrinkers. Coffee drinkers were also less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes and infections.”

It goes on: “For the general population ‘coffee is one of the good, healthy beverage choices,’ Rob van Dam, a Harvard School of Public Health professor, said on the school’s website. According to the National Institutes of Health MedlinePlus database, green tea may help prevent cancers, including ovarian and pancreatic, reduce the risk of Parkinson’s, and decrease cholesterol levels and protect against heart disease. It may also help prevent Type 2 diabetes and strokes.

“A recent symposium on tea and health, backed by the tea industry, along with the likes of the American Cancer Society and the American Society for Nutrition, extolled the virtues of the second-most-consumed beverage in the world. It presented research linking tea consumption with weight loss, bone and muscle strength and healthier hearts. ‘The many bioactive compounds in tea appear to impact virtually every cell in the body to help improve health outcomes, which is why the consensus emerging from this symposium is that drinking at least a cup of green, black, white or oolong tea a day can contribute significantly to the promotion of public health,’ Jeffrey Blumberg, director of the antioxidants research laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, said in a news release.

“The Mayo Clinic says the health benefits of coffee outweigh the risks, which can include restlessness, anxiety, irritability and sleeplessness for those who drink a lot of caffeine. It can also cause mild dependence and lead to withdrawal symptoms. Since tea also contains caffeine, it can have similar side effects.”

Just recently the LDS Church website has said it’s OK to drink colas with caffeine. Although these drinks were not necessarily banned in the Word of Wisdom, many Mormons had interpreted this to mean that anything with caffeine was prohibited. Ironically enough, this September 2012 announcement came in the midst of some states banning soda sales in containers of more than 32 ounces. For more information about caffeine and its effects, click here.

Our Heavenly Father not only tells us what we should avoid, but tells us what we may use with profit. He has said to us that all grain, all wholesome herbs, the fruit of the vine etc., are good for man. Flesh of beast and fowls of the air; and these things he refers to we may use with prudence and thanksgiving; and I want to emphasize with thanksgiving.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune article, “The LDS health code also promotes healthy behaviors — eating fruits, vegetables and grains and limiting meat — but fewer members follow that advice, according to another study by LDS Church-owned BYU. Maybe they should. Mormons are heavier than those outside their faith, according to a separate BYU study.” It’s interesting that Mormons stress the dangers of tobacco and alcohol, but little stress in many Mormon families is put upon the issues of fruits and vegetables. In my neighborhood, there are literally more than a dozen hamburger places. (OK, let me try to list them: Wendy’s, McDonald’s, In N Out, Astro Burgers, Apollo Burgers, Smashburger, Carl’s Jr., Sonic, and Artic Circle. I kid you not, all of these can be found in a half-mile radius of 12300 S and 700 E in Draper/Sandy, UT. Many of these hamburger/fry joints are packed at dinner time and throughout Saturday. Note: There are no salad places found within that half-mile radius.!)

We observe that compliance with the laws of health produces mental and physical strength, and we discover that through disobedience thereto, mental and physical deterioration follows. It is our Creator, the Father of our spirits, who gave us opportunity to dwell upon this earth, who has said that certain things referred to in that revelation are not good for us. He has made us valuable promises, if we will obey this law,—promises of wisdom, of health and strength, and that the destroying angel shall pass us by and not hurt us, as he did the children of Israel.

Notice the last sentence. There is no doubt that many Mormons who are strict in observing the Word of Wisdom die early because of cancer or other diseases. (I read the obits daily in the Salt Lake Tribune and see many young faithful Latter-day Saints there.) Yet this says if a person “obeys this law,” that the destroying angel shall pass us by. This seems to reading far more into a health law than should be made. Perhaps the LDS Church ought to use caution when reusing such a quote because how many readers will feel ripped off by God because their loved ones died at an early age?

Obeying the Word of Wisdom strengthens our faith and spirituality.

I am fully convinced that the Lord in His mercy, when He gave us the Word of Wisdom, gave it to us, not alone that we might have health while we live in the world, but that our faith might be strengthened, that our testimony of the divinity of the mission of our Lord and Master might be increased, that thereby we might be better prepared to return to his presence when our labor here is complete. I fear that as sons and daughters of Zion we sometimes fail to realize the importance of this great message to the world.

Perhaps a person who is intent in keeping his body as God’s temple is likely to be more spiritual in his faith. At the same time, though, healthy eating habits alone are not necessarily an indicator of a person’s heart. I do not judge a person’s spiritually based on his health or weight.

I want to say to you, in my judgment, that the use of tobacco, a little thing as it seems to some men, has been the means of destroying their spiritual life, has been the means of driving from them the companionship of the Spirit of our Father, has alienated them from the society of good men and women, and has brought upon them the disregard and reproach of the children that have been born to them, and yet the devil will say to a man, Oh, it’s only a little thing!

We are living in a day when the Lord has spoken again to His people. We, who are members of the Church, who have complied with the requirements of our Father in Heaven, understand perfectly that God lives and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently serve Him. We understand that He has given certain rules and regulations to govern us in this life, and obedience to His requirements insures us His pleasure, and the blessings promised will follow our obedience; but, if we fail to obey His teachings, if we ignore His wise counsels, then we have no promise from Him, and we are wasting opportunities that will not come to us again. I feel the importance of the Latter-day Saints observing this particular law [the Word of Wisdom]. I believe that by obedience to it, much more faith may be enjoyed by the Latter-day Saints.

If this really is a principle delivered by God, then why have Mormonism’s leaders not always been faithful to it? For instance, Joseph Smith often used tobacco and liquor. He even stated:

“We then partook of refreshments, and our hearts were made glad by the fruit of the vine… Elders Orson Hyde, Luke S. Johnson, and Warren Parrish, then presented to the Presidency with three servers of glasses filled with wine, to bless… It was then passed round in order, the cake in the same order; and suffice it to say, our hearts were made glad while partaking of the bounty of the earth which was presented, until we had taken our fill.” (History of the Church 2:369, 378.)

According to the January 22, 1935 Saint’s Herald, a newspaper that was at the time owned by the Independence, Missouri-based Community of Christ, Smith ran a tavern from his home. His wife, Emma, disapproved and ordered him to get rid of it, which he did. Mormon leaders and historians have sanitized some things in LDS publications to protect the reputation of their founding prophet. For instance, Smith is quoted as saying: “It was reported to me that some of the brethren had been drinking whisky that day in violation of the Word of Wisdom. I called the brethren in and investigated the case, and was satisfied that no evil had been done.” (History of the Church 5:450.)   The original account found in the Millennial Star adds these words: “and gave them a couple of dollars, with directions to replenish the bottle to stimulate them in the fatigues of their sleepless journey.” (Millennial Star 21, 283)

Apparently, keeping the Word of Wisdom was difficult for many early Latter-day Saints. In 1873, Brigham Young reported that the cooperative store in Utah “was doing a great business in tea, coffee, and tobacco.”

Let me plead with you, search the Word of Wisdom prayerfully. Do not just read it; search it prayerfully. Discover what our Heavenly Father gave it for. He gave it to us with a promise of longer life and happiness, not if we fail to observe it, but if we observe it. Read the Word of Wisdom in the presence of your families and set the example. If we will do that Zion will continue to grow. If we will do that the Church of the Lamb of God will continue to become a power for good in the world.

Smith concludes by begging his listeners to keep this teaching; if so, there is a promise of longer life and happiness. I believe that much more important than the Word of Wisdom is obeying God’s Word on topics such as the Godhead and salvation. As Jesus said, what good is it to gain the whole world but to lose your soul? Better, He said, to go into heaven without an eye than into hell with both eyes. (See Matthew 18:8-9)

Instead of focusing on a health law (which, it can be determined, is outdated based on current science), I want to beg the reader to look closer at Joseph Smith. If he couldn’t get the Word of Wisdom completely right (and if he was going  to be hypocritical as well), what else could he mistaken? The Book of Mormon? His view of God? His teaching on plural marriage? I testify to you that Joseph Smith was not a true prophet of God, and his teachings as found in the Mormon Church are wrong. Please consider this possibility instead of just blindly accepting Smith as heaven-sent.

To read more reviews from the George Albert Smith manual, click here.

Read Will the Church Ever Overturn the Ban on Hot Drinks?

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