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Word of Wisdom

From Academic Kids

The Word of Wisdom is the common name of Section 89 (http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/89) of the Doctrine and Covenants of the Latter Day Saint movement (Mormonism). It is also the name of a mandatory health code based on that scripture practiced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The scripture was dictated by Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1833 as a revelation from God which contains health guidelines intended "[t]o be sent [to the church] not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom." The guidelines were given as a voluntary "principle with [a] promise", in order to combat the perceived "evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days".

The health guidelines are particularly important to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which relies on the guidelines as the basis for a mandatory health code. The Word of Wisdom' health code is now a prerequisite for baptism or entry into Mormon temples.

Contents

The Word of Wisdom revelation

The revelation, which is found in LDS D&C 89, contains three parts: (1) a list of substances such as wine, strong drink, and tobacco that should not be used (verses 1-9), (2) a list of foods that should be used, sometimes with certain limitations (verses 10-17), and (3) a promise to those who follow the guidelines (verses 18-21).

Among the substances which the revelation indicates should not be used, the first is "wine or strong drink", which the revelation says should not be drunk, except as part of the Sacrament (like Communion). The revelation gave the further precaution that if wine is used, it should be pure, and made in Mormon wineries. The revelation also advised against the use of tobacco and "hot drinks" (which was immediately interpreted by Joseph Smith and his associates as meaning coffee and tea).

The list of foods and substances which the revelation encourages includes "wholesome herbs", "fruit", and meat, however meat was to be eaten sparingly, and ideally only in winter, famine, or "excess hunger". (Though see D&C 49:18-19 (http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/49/18-19#18) that says that whoever advocates abstaining from meat is not of God.)

The revelation also encouraged the use of grains, particularly wheat. Barley was also encouraged for use in making "mild drinks" such as beer.

The word of wisdom was a "principle with [a] promise". The promise given to those who followed the advice of the word of wisdom was as follows:

And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; and shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.[1] (http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/89/18-21#18)

Interpretation and extension of the Word of Wisdom by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the original Word of Wisdom has been extended into a mandatory health code required for baptism or to receive a recommend allowing entry into Mormon temples.

Adoption by Latter-day Saints as a binding health code

Originally, the Word of Wisdom was given in 1833 as a "principle with [a] promise", and was not mandatory. Indeed, observance of the principle was not widespread. After Smith's death, his associate Brigham Young proposed in September 9, 1851 at a General Conference of the Church that the revelation be adopted as a binding commandment for all Latter-day Saints.

The Latter-day Saint health code

The health code practiced by Utah Mormons is slightly different from the Word of Wisdom revelation given by Joseph Smith, Jr. It has evolved gradually through the years in response to cultural norms. The most significant innovation was the shift in emphasis away from the particular substances listed in the revelation, and toward a more general prohibition against habit-forming substances. In particular, the church has prohibited all alcoholic beverages, including "mild drinks" such as beer, which was allowed in Smith's revelation. In addition, the church came to prohibit the use of wine, even as part of the Sacrament. Water is now used in its place. Most recently, the church has prohibited the use of narcotics. However, the church generally regards narcotics, or any other medically-useful substance, as acceptable if prescribed by a doctor.

In addition, the church modified the part of the code that forbids "hot drinks", and officially prohibiting only coffee and tea, whether or not the drinks are hot. There is no prohibition, however, against herbal tea, or hot chocolate. The church has also taken a relaxed attitude regarding the advice in the Word of Wisdom that meat be used only in times of winter or famine. The church has no mandatory restrictions regarding the use of meat, or the types of meat that may be consumed.

Ambiguous areas within the code

While there is a general prohibition against habit-forming substances, certain areas within the health code are not clearly defined, and are generally amenable to one's conscience. For example, Latter-day Saints are divided concerning the use of caffeinated soft drinks and iced tea. There is also some division concerning the use of coffee, tea, or alcohol as a cooking ingredient. It is also uncertain whether the church allows decaffeinated coffee or tea. A few rare Mormons also take a very strict view concerning caffeine, and refrain from eating chocolate.

Caffeinated soft drinks

The permissibility of consuming caffeinated products such as caffeinated sodas is a longstanding issue among Latter-day Saints. Because of the statements of various Church leaders (which are not official statements nor practices of the Church), some adherents and even non-members believe that caffeine is officially prohibited under the Word of Wisdom. If this were so, other things which contain caffeine besides soda drinks would be prohibited too. Some members who hold that caffeinated sodas are prohibited distinguish between things with naturally occurring caffeine and those things where caffeine is an additive although any difference in the chemistry and effect of caffeine as an additive or naturally occurring are negligible. In short, members are divided on their stance of consumption of caffeinated beverages, though it is not usually a point of great contention. The Church has no official stance on the consumption of caffeinated beverages and the consumption of such does not constitute breaking the Word of Wisdom (that is, you can obtain a temple recommend if you regularly consume caffeinated beverages).

Given the latitude in applying the Word of Wisdom to personal circumstances, many Latter-day Saints feel that the consumption of caffeinated-sodas falls in the category of personal discretion; while some may consider consumption of caffeinated-sodas permissible, others may not. More strict Latter-day Saints hold that while no official prohibition restricts the consumption of caffeinated-sodas, consumption by any member does indeed violate the spirit of the Word of Wisdom, and a member receiving proper inspiration will recognize this as so.

Health subjects not explicitily addressed

Section 89 does not specifically address illicit drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamines or marijuana, although the Church has officially denounced their use as a violation of that doctrine. Beyond illicit drugs, there are innumerable subjects related to the Word of Wisdom that have not been addressed in fine detail by the Church: exercise, medical treatment, junk food, etc. This is in keeping with the teachings of the Church that Latter-day Saints, having been given the Gift of the Holy Ghost, are entitled to personal revelation guiding them to make personal choices that are based on individual circumstances and are consistent with the doctrines and practices of the Church. It is not the purpose of the Church to give detailed rules for every aspect of living a Christian life. The Word of Wisdom is no exception. Thus, Latter-day Saints are expected to make wise choices pertaining to personal health that are not specifically addressed by the Word of Wisdom. This principle allows sufficient latitude for varying circumstances. For example, the specific application of the Word of Wisdom could be potentially more restrictive for a person susceptible to obesity, but that determination is solely in the discretion of the individual.

Purpose of the Latter-day Saint health code

Adding to the caffeine issue is the broader question of why tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea and possibly caffeinated-sodas are prohibited at all. The harmful health effects of tobacco are nearly universally recognized. It is presumed in the case of coffee and tea that these drinks are prohibited because of their caffeine content. Thus, the condemnation of caffeine or caffeinated-sodas by some Church leaders. However, some Church leaders have also stated that God has not revealed why some things have been prohibited under the Word of Wisdom. Some suggest that the reasons will not become known for some time as in the case of tobacco. Some have stated further that: the primary purpose of the Word of Wisdom is, like all commandments, for spiritual benefits; and like some other commandments, earthly benefits are merely incidental. For example, there are a number of promised rewards contingent on obedience to the Word of Wisdom not all of which appear to be direct health consequences of obedience to the dietary code. These rewards stated in section 89 include:

  • "shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones"
  • "shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge"
  • "shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint"
  • "the destroying angel shall pass by them...and not slay them"

The LDS health code and modern medicine

Health effects of alcohol

It has been long established that heavy consumption of alcohol is toxic to the human body, damaging many organs and cells in the body including the brain and liver and giving rise to a higher incidence of cancer by hindering the immune system.

However, recent scientific research indicates that moderate alcohol consumption of alcohol may provide a mild benefit to help prevent coronary heart disease. Some of the health effects can be achieved by other means. For example, the beneficial compounds found in red wine, polyphenols and resveratrol, are also found, although to a lesser extent, in peanuts, grape juice and cranberry juice. However, alcohol itself substantially reduces the risk of coronary heart disease according to a large number of studies. Whether or not the benefits of moderate drinking outweigh the risks has been a source of controversy. See Alcohol consumption and health. This controversy has been an issue of concern for some Latter-day Saints who see such scientific findings as hostile to the authority of Joseph Smith's revelation.

Health effects of coffee

Main article, see Coffee#Health

Benefits
  • Coffee can reduce the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma, a variety of liver cancer (Inoue, 2005).
  • Increases short term recall and increase IQ.
  • Reduces the incidence of heart disease.
  • Changes the metabolism of a person so that their body burns a higher proportion of lipids to carbohydrates, which can help athletes avoid muscle fatigue.
  • Reduces the incidence of diabetes in both sexes, but reduces the risk by about 30% in women and over 50% in men.
Risks
  • Alleged to cause 'caffeinism', a condition which mimics mental illnesses ranging from anxiety and bipolar disorder to schizophrenia and even psychosis.
  • A February 2003 Danish study of 18,478 women linked heavy coffee consumption during pregnancy to significantly increased risk of stillbirths (but no significantly increased risk of infant death in the first year).
  • Associated with significant elevations in biochemical markers of inflammation. This is a detrimental effect of coffee on the cardiovascular system which may explain why coffee has so far only been shown to help the heart at levels of 4 or less cups a day (20oz or less). (abstract (http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/80/4/862))

Views toward modern and alternative medicine

The majority of Latter-day Saints acknowledge that generally the treatments of modern medicine and the advice of their physicians and the guides issued from the FDA is in keeping with the Word of Wisdom. In contrast to this more moderate position, a small minority of Latter-day Saints are wary of modern medicine and have interpreted the Word of Wisdom somewhat less conventionally. This group favors some aspects of alternative medicine—especially herbal or homeopathic treatments—to modern medicine as a more effective treatment of health problems. (Other alternative lifestyle choices, such as home schooling or a strong interest in the La Leche League, often appeal to this group of Latter-day Saints although interest in a particular, alternative lifestyle is not necessarily inclusive of other popular, alternative lifestyles among the Latter-day Saints.) While alternative treatments might also include acupuncture for a few, magnet therapy would be too radical. Still some of the practices, such as the heavy consumption of colloidal silver for common colds, directly contradicts the conventional wisdom of modern medicine and the precautions advised by the FDA. Latter-day Saints generally consider most forms of alternative medicine to be quackery or based on pseudoscience. Thus, although Joseph Smith permitted a phrenologist to examine his head in the 19th century, nearly all Latter-day Saints now-a-days reject the validity of phrenology, an academically respected field of research in its day.

Health studies regarding Latter-day Saints

A 14-year study conducted by UCLA epidemiologist James E. Enstrom tracked the health of 10,000 moderately active LDS people in California, ending in 1987. Of these non-smoking, monogamous non-drinkers, Enstrom concluded from the study "that LDS Church members who follow religious mandates barring smoking and drinking have one of the lowest death rates from cancer and cardiovascular diseases—about half that of the general population... Moreover, the healthiest LDS Church members enjoy a life expectancy eight to 11 years longer than that of the general white population in the United States." The SMRs (standardized mortality ratios) for whites in the general population is defined as 100. For males in the study, the SMRs "are 47 for all cancers, 52 for cardiovascular diseases, and 47 for all causes; the SMRs for females are 72 for all cancers, 64 for cardiovascular diseases, and 66 for all causes." For high priests who never smoked cigarettes, exercised, and had proper sleep, the mortality rate was less. The results were largely duplicated in a separate study of a Mormon-like subgroup of white non-smoking churchgoers in Alameda, California. (LDS Lifestyle May Be Secret to Long Life, Associated Press) (Enstrom 1989)

This study and others conclude that Latter-day Saints live significantly longer, healthier lives compared to the general U.S. populace, a consequence that correlates to prohibition of cigarettes in their health code, the Word of Wisdom.

Some Latter-day Saints use these studies to extol the prohibition against even moderate consumption of alcohol, coffee, tea and tobacco as divine guidance whose wisdom will be recognized in time. However, the studies correlate health primarily with the prohibition against tobacco and, perhaps, church attendance. Critics reject these studies in part because other factors may be credited for Latter-day Saints' longevity and health.

References

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