My Cola Addiction Has Just Been Ok’d

Last week, NBC News’ hour-long feature on Mormonism made the mistake of stating that Mormons don’t drink caffeine.  This prompted a very quick correction on the LDS Church’s website:  “the church does not prohibit the use of caffeine,” and that the faith’s health-code reference to “hot drinks” “does not go beyond [tea and coffee].  A day later, the website was slightly altered by stating that “the church revelation spelling out health practices . . . does not mention the use of caffeine.”

The artwork of Michael Naples

To add further confusion (or insanity) to the situation, a BYU spin doctor opened her mouth to justify the university’s failure to sell caffeinated drinks on campus.

Carri Jenkins explained that it is “not a university or church decision, but [one] made by the dining services based on what our customers want.”  There has not “been a demand for it.”

Nothing like throwing “dining services” under the bus.  Ms. Jenkin’s statement left the doubters (including me) enjoying a good laugh.

One of the overall doubters is David Jones of SLC who wrote the following in a letter to the Tribune (5 Sep 2012):

The [LDS] Church actively campaigned against caffeine sodas in previous decades.  The official Church News ran stories that listed the caffeine content of drinks (my babysitter was distraught that Dr. Pepper had more caffeine than Coke).  Mission presidents railed against caffeine drinks, and elders who imbibed were made to feel like they had sinned.

In the 1960s in the Franco-Belgian Mission, at one of our missionary conferences, we were counselled against consuming caffeinated sodas.  Unfortunately I had a standing order for a Coke at a nearby restaurant and was immediately branded a sinner.

The LDS Church’s “clarification” on caffeine inspired Pat Bagley, cartoonist for the SLTrib, to illustrate 4 “great moments in Mormon history”:

  • July 24, 1847:  the saints arrive in Salt Lake Valley
  • Sept 25, 1890:  the end of polygamy (sort of)
  • June 8, 1978:  black male members get the priesthood
  • Aug 30,2012:  Coke and Pepsi OK’d

But there are still a bunch of really important questions about “hot drinks” that need to be answered, including:

  • Does this make ice-tea okay?
  • If it’s not the caffeine, what is wrong with “hot drinks”?  Why the prohibition on coffee and tea?
  • Is it okay to drink coffee and tea if they are only luke warm?
  • What is the situation with energy drinks (where they ramp-up the caffeine)?

When I pointed out these questions to my son, he suggested that I just eat all my meals on the BYU campus.  That way I will always be safe.

In general, from a health perspective it is better to drink coffee and tea than it is to consume carbonated beverages.  The principal problems with the latter are the empty calories and carbonation.  Jones concludes his letter:

Science won out.  Studies show that caffeine isn’t bad, and so instead of saying “My bad,” the LDS Church just changes its website, as if the whole issue were a misunderstanding by the “gentiles.”

Baloney.  Anyone who lived in Mormonism the past half century knows the misunderstanding started at the top of the Mormon pyramid.

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8 Responses to My Cola Addiction Has Just Been Ok’d

  1. Allen says:

    Joseph Smith used the phrase, hot drinks, because that phrase was in common use at the time, and people knew what he meant. That phrase did not refer to the temperature of the drinks. That phrase is not used today, and church presidents have used more specific wording to explicitly say that tea and coffee should not be used. When the Word of Wisdom was first given, it was given as a warning. Later church presidents made it a health-law.

    Even though the DN Church News and some mission presidents evidently said LDS should not consume caffeine, church presidents have never made caffeine part of the Word of Wisdom. It’s unfortunate that some editors of the DN Church News felt they should justify the word of the Lord as given in Section 89. My mission president, during the mid 50s, never mentioned caffeine or the Word of Wisdom at all, and I think it is unfortunate that other mission presidents felt they had to justify the word of the Lord. These people are human, and they make mistakes. We must realize, though, that they speak for themselves and not for the church.

  2. rogerdhansen says:

    Hi Allen, you say that “Later church presidents made it a health-law.” By stating that the WofW does not mention caffeine, doesn’t that bring into question whether the WofW is really a health code? If it isn’t the caffeine, what is wrong with coffee and tea? A cynical friend of mind, felt that coffee and tea had to be imported from outside the Utah territories and thus there is an economic explanation for their ban.

    David Brooks, a conservative political columnist for the NYTimes, said that he admired the sacrifice Mormons make to live the WofW. Maybe instead of a health-law, it ought to be billed as something to help strengthen our moral character. Except for tobacco and meat, it doesn’t really work as a health code anymore.

    • Allen says:

      Hi Roger,

      When the WoW was first given, it wasn’t a requirement and was given as a warning about future conditions. I stated the WoW was made a health law when the church made the WoW a requirement for temple recommends. If we consider the WoW a health law, it is at a “higher” level than we normally think of such a law. Coffee and tea are forbidden, but the reasons for that are not specified. We can speculate on possible reasons why coffee and tea are forbidden, but our speculations might be not be accurate. In my blog on science and Mormonism, I’m collecting science articles about the WoW, and almost all the articles about caffeine are favorable. To me, the WoW is a spiritual law, and I keep it via faith and don’t worry about reasons why coffee and tea are forbidden. I like your suggestion that the WoW be billed as a law to strengthen our moral character. I also like the original purpose of the WoW, a warning about the future.

  3. Allen says:

    Here is an example of evil designs of men in the last days. This paragraph is from a report at sciencedaily.com

    “A new UCSF analysis of tobacco industry documents shows that Philip Morris USA manipulated data on the effects of additives in cigarettes, including menthol, obscuring actual toxicity levels and increasing the risk of heart, cancer and other diseases for smokers.”

    Here is the verse from Section 89 that gives the warning.

    “Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation— (D&C 89:4)”

    • rogerdhansen says:

      I have no problem with the evils of tobacco and the tobacco industry. It is a disgusting habit and business. I have never smoked and have no desire to do so. Smoking is becoming endemic in the developing world. So even though it may be declining in America and Europe, it is still very much a global problem.

      I had a heart attack when I was 50 and bypass surgery when I was 60, and there is evidence that moderate alcohol consumption may be beneficial. (I understand the downside of alcoholism. I have two colleagues who are alcoholics.) There is nothing wrong that I can see with coffee or tea. But even though I drink it, I can see a lot of downside to carbonated, sweetened beverages. There is also a lot of downside to eating a lot of meat. I would argue that the WofW should be updated, with different things emphasized. The world has changed.

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  5. roger hansen says:

    Mormon humorist Robert Kirby wrote the following in sltrib.com (7 Sep 2012):

    “Years ago while preparations were underway for a party at an LDS ward in Utah County (of course), someone sneaked into the kitchen and made off with part of the refreshments.

    The items turned up in the bishop’s office. Apparently while passing through the kitchen area, the culprit had spotted several bottles of root beer on the counter and “confiscated” them.

    I don’t know. In the name of righteousness, I guess.

    It wasn’t just any root beer. It was Barq’s, a little-known caffeinated gateway beverage for more hard-core cola products. And Barq’s just wasn’t going to be allowed in our ward. . . .

    One of the first things to leave town when dogmatism comes calling is reason.”

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