More on gay marriage

Related Posts: Gay Marriage Again ; Gay Marriage ; Gay Marriage: The Iowa Supreme Court ; Idaho Test Oath ; Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act (1862) ; Edmunds Act (1882) ; Edmunds-Tucker Act (1887) ; Blacks and the Priesthood

I would like to add a few more thoughts on the gay marriage issue.

One of the claims I made in my previous two posts is that many people see gay marriage as a civil rights issue, consequently they will have to go all the way with it, even to the point of threatening religious organizations fighting to preserve traditional marriage.

Most gay marriage activists are adamant that gay marriage won’t force the Mormon church, or any church, to recognize, solemnize or perform homosexual marriages. Many on the religious right don’t have faith in those assurances—neither do I. (For several examples of the tactics being used see
this article by William A. Jacobson, Associate Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, NY.) In a debate on gay marriage, Lorrie L. Jean, attorney of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, made this chilling comment,

The real danger to religious freedom lies not in treating everyone equally under the law, but allowing any one religious belief to be imposed on everyone else. Thousands of religious leaders, churches and synagogues oppose Proposition 8 -- and they would never do so if their own religious freedom was endangered.
(A gay-marriage Pandora's box?, Los Angles Times.)

She insists that gay marriage will not threaten churches, even quoting one California Supreme Court justice, “[same-sex marriage] will not impinge upon the religious freedom of any religious organization, official, or any other person.” But her belief is clear. Opposing gay marriage is opposing equality before the law, and religious organizations opposing equality are the true threat to religious liberty. As she points out, thousands of liberal churches and synagogues opposed Prop. 8, and they don’t feel threatened. What about those who supported it?

The way I see it, the view that gay marriage does not threaten churches rests upon a peculiar view of immediacy. If it can be shown that in the foreseeable future there is no compelling threat to churches, then any anxiety regarding gay marriage seems unfounded. If society goes along with evolution towards ever more liberal sexual mores, and if this evolution is slow enough, then at any given time the perception that society is headed toward moral morass seems far distant, and even overblown. If evolution from the present, to gay marriage being accepted as a civil right by a political plurality, to the churches accepting and performing gay marriages, is smooth and continuous there is little to worry about. The basically good religious people will eventually come around and realize there is nothing threatening about gay marriage.

The problem with this scenario is many religious organizations are fighting to preserve traditional marriage and they’re good at it. The religious right are very interested in preserving their way of life, passing it on to their children and grandchildren. This threatens the smooth transition scenario. The stubbornness of America’s churches will therefore provoke a degree of “self”-marginalization that otherwise wouldn’t have happened; by their stubbornness conservative churches harm only themselves.

To put it another way, being mugged is nonthreatening if you know that by “willingly” handing over your money you will escape unharmed. You risk harm only if you fight; so if you get hurt it’s your own fault for being stupid.

But gay marriage proponents don’t see it quite like that. To them it’s an act of justice, even an act of love. So conservative churches shouldn’t have the right to fight against what is good and just. Therefore any harm is self-inflicted and deserved. After all, the true threat to religious freedom lies in opposing equality under the law, not in gay marriage itself.

With this in mind I’m not sure what to make of arguments that churches wouldn’t be forced to perform or recognize homosexual marriages. Clearly “encouragement” to conform will be forthcoming. What they probably mean is laws intended to pressure churches to perform or recognize homosexual unions won’t come in the near future. Naturally that’s true. But then again, they believe history is on their side, making coercive tactics unnecessary.

What about the Mormons?

Justin Webb, BBC's North America editor, recently wrote on his blog,

The Mormon church itself - let us be blunt - did not do much for monogamous marriage in the early years of its existence; Mormons did not think much of black people until God told them (in 1978!) to change their ways. In the long term, He will be back...

The message he is trying to get across is that Mormons are basically good people and will eventually come around. The church abandoned polygamy and extended priesthood ordination to black men; the pattern will repeat. Eventually the church will change its stand on gays.

But few people know Mormon history well. Those two aspects of our history are often used to extrapolate what some believe is a likely future scenario. But if the past is a reasonable predictor of the future they’re in for a huge fight.

Misunderstanding our history

A few things can be said about the church’s abandoning polygamy and dropping its priesthood proscription.

The Official Declaration, which changed the priesthood policy, contains the phrase, “the long-promised day has come.” This “long promised day” refers to the expectation, going back to Brigham Young, that eventually the priesthood restriction would be dropped. In 1854 Brigham Young, who took over leadership after Joseph Smith was killed, gave his opinion that, as to the priesthood, “when all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood… then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity” (JD 2:143). He said this on several occasions and the idea endured in the church.[1]

The belief that there would be a change in the priesthood policy was repeated by other church leaders, but all their statements can be traced to Brigham Young. Whatever you want to make of those statements, the point I’m making here is that the long standing expectation that the priesthood restriction would be dropped facilitated the change in the church’s priesthood policy. (See Blacks and the Priesthood.) And it’s difficult to know how history would have unfolded without those statements by President Young.

Polygamy is another point of misunderstanding. There is an impression that the church abandoned plural marriage because the government applied modest pressure on the church. It was pressure, coupled with the church wanting to be accepted into the American mainstream, that brought about the demise of polygamy. In reality the church was facing a much more serious threat. The legislative campaign against Mormonism began with the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act (1862), which made bigamy a crime and restricted church owned property to a value of fifty thousand dollars. But it didn’t have much of a bite because enforcement remained in the hands of the Utah Territory which was dominated by Mormons. After the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 many people believed the ever increasing number of non-Mormons would civilize us; Mormons would realize the folly of polygamy and abandon it. They were disappointed. It was the Edmunds Act (1882) and the Edmunds-Tucker Act (1887) that applied the real pressure. The Edmunds act says, “no polygamist, bigamist, or any person cohabiting with more than one woman, and no woman cohabiting with any of the persons described as aforesaid in this section…shall be entitled to vote.” The Edmunds-Tucker act made adultery punishable by three years imprisonment; also, “no illegitimate child shall hereafter be entitled to inherit from his or her father.” It also disincorporated the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church leadership was forced into hiding—President John Taylor died in hiding in 1887. The government began seizing church property. In 1870 Utah was second only to Wyoming in granting women the right to vote. However, that all changed with the Edmunds-Tucker act: “it shall not be lawful for any female to vote at any election hereafter held in the Territory of Utah for any public purpose whatever.” In 1885 the state of Idaho passed a law making it illegal for Mormons to vote: “[no person] who is a member of any order, organization, or association which teaches, advises, counsels, or encourages its members…to commit the crime of bigamy or polygamy…shall be permitted to vote at any election.” (See Idaho Test Oath.) In 1887 Nevada amended its constitution to read, “No person shall be allowed to vote at any election in this State…who is a member or belongs to the ‘Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’” (Statutes of the State of Nevada, 1887, p. 156, see also p. 107). In 1885 Arizona passed a law very similar to Idaho’s. It stated that “any person offering to vote may be orally challenged by any elector of the county, on the ground that he is a member of an order, sect or organization which teaches, advises or encourages the practices of bigamy or polygamy” (Laws of the Territory of Arizona, 1885, p. 214). The Arizona law was repealed without being tested. The Nevada law was repealed by the state supreme court in Whitney v. Findlay (1888). The Idaho law was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Davis v. Beason (1890). (See Joseph H. Groberg, “The Mormon Disfranchisements of 1882 to 1892,” BYU Studies, vol. 16, no. 3.)

These laws were intended to pressure the church into abandoning polygamy—though disfranchising voters can be very politically advantageous. The church saw what was coming. They knew the temperament of the nation and saw clearly that the United States was willing to commit judicial religicide. Facing such a threat they had to bend.

So, contrary to what some people believe, the change in priesthood policy originated from a long standing doctrinal precedent going back nearly 120 years, and resistance to anti-polygamy laws was in fact three decades of civil disobedience ending only because of an existential threat to the church. (See Gordon C. Thomason, “The Manifesto was a Victory!Dialogue, vol. 6, no. 1.)

Final Thoughts

Jerry Brown, attorney general of California, argued (see also here) that gay marriage falls under rights that are “part of fundamental human liberty.” But the idea that gay marriage is a fundamental human right doesn’t seem to work. The way I see it, fundamental rights do not originate with the government. The government has a duty to protect its citizen’s fundamental rights, but it can’t create or void them. Though a particular government might legalize slavery, such a law would violate the basic right to liberty. So arguing that gay marriage is a fundamental right, or part of fundamental liberty, is deeply flawed. They would have to argue for the existence of a fundamental right to government granted relationship validation. Because marriage is granted by governments and/or religious institutions it can’t be fundamental as it requires pre-existing institutions to grant the so-called fundamental right.

But civil rights is another matter. Proponents of gay marriage argue it is fundamentally about equality before the law. But the truth is we are not all equal before the law. Minors are typically given leniency when convicted of a crime. They are not expected to have the appreciation or maturity necessary to be held fully responsible for their actions. This makes perfect sense so the favorable treatment is justified. If the special purpose of marriage is subverted and rejected in gay marriage then there is, arguably, a good reason to oppose gay marriage.

Here is one way of understanding the argument. Q: Why gay marriage? A: So that gay couples are treated equally under the law. Q: Why should gay couples be treated equally under the law? A: To secure rights and privileges heterosexuals have. There are variations on that argument, but what it reveals is a new vision of marriage. By rearranging the priorities behind marriage they will have to find a way to fit procreation and traditional family into their new vision.

There is another point to be made here. If it’s argued that the purpose of gay marriage is to secure for gays equal treatment under the law, and that equal treatment under the law demands gay marriage, they are in a circular argument. Is marriage the means to an end? Or is it the end itself? If marriage is a tool to secure privileges then marriage is not the fundamental thing—privileges may be secured by civil unions or domestic partnerships. But if equality demands allowing two people of any gender to marry their fight is rooted, not in the right to lifestyle choices or securing particular material and social advantages, but rather to erase the distinction between homosexual and heterosexual relationships. But here’s the rub. If they gave reasons why the government should erase those distinctions they would be arguing that marriage is not the fundamental thing. So long as they don’t clarify which is fundamental—a new vision of marriage or benefits—their arguments appear consistent.

Alas, avoiding specificity is the politically smart move. Because the reasons for supporting or opposing gay marriage vary from person to person proponents will play these approaches to maximize their political advantage. But ultimately gay marriage advocates will never be satisfied so long as there is a legal distinction between heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Gays want to be thought of with equal regard; they want something that publicly says they are not other. So for them a new vision of marriage is fundamental.

But is the rightness of gay marriage true for you? Or true for all? If you are going to foist beliefs on others they better be true for all. And if they are true for all there must be some common standard against which to determine its veracity. But because it is difficult to reduce fundamentals it isn’t obvious any such common standard exists. So it must be approached in a non fundamental way. Historical precedents for example—but there is very little historical evidence that homosexual relationships were ever thought equivalent to heterosexual ones; this is true even in societies having no stigma against homosexuality.

In the gay marriage issue two very different worldviews are facing off. One denies traditional morality, traditional meaning and purpose, and seeks a new vision of marriage that permits two people of any gender to marry. Having rejected traditional values they see only the legal inequalities. So in their view opposing gay marriage is a denial of basic justice. The other worldview seeks to preserve traditional marriage, a traditional sense of meaning and purpose. A meaning and purpose we believe transcends individual desires and human capriciousness, which is why we resist the leveling process.

Equality and sameness; purpose and meaning. If one is taken to the extreme the other is excluded. In other words, the carpet isn’t big enough to cover the floor. No matter how you move it around something will be left uncovered. Heterosexual relationships propagate the human race; the divergent male/female sexuality has a stabilizing effect on heterosexual relationships, which helps with propagation. A home with a father and mother is ideal for children: daughters learn about fathers, sons learn about mothers. All of this is unique to traditional marriage.

As to the legislative campaign against Mormonism during the 19th century, one should remember why it was possible. The temperament of the nation allowed it. After three decades of
encouragement the patience of the nation had become exhausted. Government seizure of church property was upheld in Mormon Church v. United States (1890). One section reads,

The pretense of religious belief cannot deprive Congress of the power to prohibit…[all] open offenses against the enlightened sentiment of mankind.

And that is REALLY scary.

End Notes_______________________________________
[1] In 1859 he said,

That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam's children are brought up to that favourable [sic] position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion.
(JD 7:291)

In 1866 he said,

when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to. (JD 11:272)

He also said,

Cain shall not receive the priesthood, until the time of that redemption. Any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot receive the priesthood; but the day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have. (Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors, p. 351)

It is interesting to note that in his book The Way to Perfection (published 1949) Joseph Fielding Smith, then an Apostle, used the last two passages given above (p. 107 and 106 respectively), and the quote included in the main body of this post (p. 106), as a precedent for a forthcoming change in priesthood policy. He also used these quotes in his book Answers to Gospel Questions (originally a monthly series in the church magazine Improvement Era in 1953)
for the same purpose. He wrote,

[the Negro] may be baptized for the remission of his sins and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and if true and faithful to the end, he may enter the celestial kingdom…Salvation in the Kingdom of God is open to him, with the promise that in the due time of the Lord, if he receives the gospel, all restrictions will be removed.
(Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 2, pp. 177-178)

Gay Marriage, Again

Related Posts: Gay Marriage ; More on gay marriage ; Gay Marriage: The Iowa Supreme Court

I am very pleased that Proposition 8 passed. But the debate is far from over. The far left will continue to criticize the Church and the Latter-day Saints. On
Americablog John Aravosis accused the Mormon church of “promote[ing] legislative gay-bashing,” writing,

At some point the Mormon Church needs to learn that they're not the only people with the right to free speech. They have the right to bankroll bigotry and we have the right to publicly call them on it. And we finally are.

Because of the Churches involvement in getting Proposition 8 passed, and because most of Utah’s population is Mormon, and because the Mormon Church is based here, some have decided to unleash their fury on Utah. Aravosis was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “We're going to destroy the Utah brand. It is a hate state,” “At a fundamental level, the Utah Mormons crossed the line on this one…They just took marriage away from 20,000 couples and made their children bastards…You don't do that and get away with it” (“
Thousands protest LDS stance on same-sex marriage,” Salt Lake Tribune; “Utah faces boycott after Mormon work for Prop 8,” AP). One website even called for the Mormon Church to be stripped “of its status as a religious organization” so as to “stop taxpayer subsidies of intolerance.”

Those who voted for Proposition 8 come from all colors and creeds. And hating people whose only common characteristic is they voted for Prop. 8 doesn’t make a lot of sense. If Aravosis had said, “We're going to destroy the California brand. It is a hate state…At a fundamental level, a majority of the people of California crossed the line on this one,” his argument would lack persuasive force; he wouldn’t be able to rally the troupes. Hatred needs a focal point. Sadly, Utah, the Church, and the Mormons are convenient foci. Though opposition to gay marriage isn’t confined to Mormons—a majority of people in 30 states have passed laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman—the Mormon Church could very easily become the symbol of what is wrong with religion in America.

I suppose that some on the left were hoping for a different scenario, a smooth transition from the old to the new: Eventually, a majority of Americans would come around and support homosexual marriage, and eventually America’s churches would follow—the error in California is the courts got too far ahead of public opinion. But if America’s churches don't liberalize the tension will become intense. For the political left this might be the worst case scenario, but to some on the religious right it seems unavoidable.

I also believe that to some extent
soft support for gay marriage comes from liberal attitudes about sex. If sex is merely a biological function with no deeper meaning there can be no logical opposition to homosexual conduct. If all there is to life are the three Fs—foraging, fighting, and reproducing—then sex is simply this thing that people do. Obviously, attitudes about sex are more liberal now then they were 30 years ago: when I was a kid the raciest images on TV were of Jeannie, Marianne, and Ginger. Attitudes about sex are still evolving and becoming ever more liberal: I remember Jay Lenno joking in an interview that President Clinton made it possible to say “oral sex” on TV. The internet has made pornography easily accessible and quite a lot of young men (and women) are being exposed to it at an early age. This will only further distort their attitudes about sex. Men will want their pornographic fantasy and women will feel pressured to live up to that image. As far as gay culture is concerned, there is an inextricably promiscuous element embedded in it. (See my previous post for examples.) Though I don’t believe such promiscuity extends to all gays, I can’t see any significant portion of the gay community condemning the promiscuous dimension of gay culture, or coming out in favor of abstinence before marriage, or in opposition to the presence of internet pornography. And to that extent social conservatives and gay marriage advocates support fundamentally different value sets. Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but the way I see it, gays want marriage rights without the conservative sexual mores that historically have accompanied it. Consequently we cannot be allies, but rather, we must be political opponents.

In principle, I have no objections to civil unions. Homosexual couples should be afforded the opportunity to make a legal commitment providing many of the protections afforded by traditional marriage. Recently the Church stated,

The Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.
(Church Responds to Same-Sex Marriage Votes).

What civil unions do not provide is a solid legal footing that would allow others to foist their beliefs on religious organizations, denominational schools and universities, and charities owned and operated by churches. I also believe civil unions would have a less liberalizing influence on sexual mores than gay marriage would; the promiscuous element embedded in gay culture would de facto be denied legitimacy. If homosexuals would be satisfied with civil unions, I think we could get along. However, many liberals view civil unions as “baby marriage,” or “marriage light,” and the gay community would have to abandon their belief that gay marriage is about civil rights as well as the perception that opposition to gay marriage is a form of hate or ignorance. Because civil unions carry the danger that activist judges will erase the legal distinctions between marriage and civil unions, the gay community would have to advocate a legal footing that would guarantee religion in America remain free—such as supporting a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. With such a foundation in place I would be willing to support civil unions.

Gay marriage proponents have invested and dedicated so much of their emotion to hating those who oppose gay marriage, and sustaining the belief that we are bigots, it seems unlikely they could adopt the position I have outlined above. This emotional intensity only increases the potential of a legal backlash should gay marriage become legal, and raises the stakes for the religious right. Gay marriage has unfortunately come to symbolize rejection of bigotry. And for some, and possibly many on the religious right, opposition to gay marriage is fueled by bigotry. Gay marriage advocates believe gay marriage is the way that such bigotry will be defeated so that it never rises againGiven the way homosexuals have been treated this is understandable. But it seems the dynamics of the gay marriage issue is evolving towards a wholesale acceptance of the moral values of the left, to the marginalization of the moral values of the religious right.

I believe that the religious right could be persuaded to accept civil unions so long as there is a constitutional guarantee that religious organizations remain free. That would require that the left abandon the belief that gay marriage is about civil rights, and a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

That is a long shot, and it would require compromise from both sides. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.

Heck, it might be the 60s all over again.

(I hope the hippies don’t come back.)

Related Articles
Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, Oct 1995.

Interview of Dallin H. Oaks about same gender attraction.

Jeffrey R. Holland, “Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, Oct 2007

Thomas Sowell,“Affirmative Action and Gay ‘Marriage’” and “The right to win.”

Joel Campbell “Activists' tactics counterproductive.”

John Elsegood, “The battle to protect marriage.”

Gay Marriage

Related Posts: Gay Marriage Again ; More on gay marriage ; Gay Marriage: The Iowa Supreme Court

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently released this press statement.

At the request of the Protect Marriage Coalition, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is making arrangements for them to call friends, family and fellow citizens in California to urge support of the effort to defend traditional marriage. The coalition has asked members of the many participating churches and organizations to contribute in whatever way they can to the effort to pass Proposition 8, including by phoning. (Church Readies Members on Proposition 8, 8 October, 2008)

See also Gordon B. Hinckley, “Why We Do Some of the Things We Do,” Ensign, Nov 1999 and California and Same-Sex Marriage from LDS Newsroom; Californication” by Jeremy Gayed.

With the upcoming vote in California on Proposition 8 I thought I would weigh in on the gay marriage debate. Because I’m not gay I’ll never be able to understand fully the homosexual perspective on this issue. As a devout Mormon my belief is strongly influenced by my religion. It’s a truism that each person is a captive of his culture, whatever that culture might be, so it should be no surprise that I’m conservative in politics and religion. What can I say? I’m not open to having my mind changed on this issue. So I can only tell it as I see it.

The issue of gay marriage touches many issues: the meaning and purpose of marriage, issues of sexual morality, religious freedom, and fundamentally it is a debate about what is civil rights. There’s a lot at stake for both sides, neither of which are willing to back down. Those who are liberal on this issue see gay marriage as an important step toward creating an all inclusive body politic. Those who are conservative see it as a shift down the slippery slope of degenerate morality, and a distortion of the institution of marriage.

In my judgment the pro side of the issue is making the more effective argument. So, except for making the point about likely interference with religious freedoms, the cons rely principally on those who already have conservative attitudes about sex and marriage. I can only put together my own understanding of this issue and hope it has some kind of persuasive force.

So I’ll begin.

I found a website that listed several reasons for supporting gay marriage. Some of the reasons listed are bereavement leave, insurance breaks, automatic inheritance, child custody, reduced rate memberships, joint adoption and foster care, and divorce protections, etc. But in the final opinion of the author,

…the single best reason to legalize same-sex marriage is not because it's benign, or because it is inevitable, or because it is what our legal history demands of us, or because it is more conducive to family life. It is because legalizing same-sex marriage is the kind thing to do. (“Four Reasons to Support Gay Marriage and Oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment,” Tom Head)

Another variation on that theme is that same sex relationships ought to be legally recognized because it’s the right thing to do. After all, heterosexual relationships are legally recognized, so why not homosexual ones too? From the perspective of the left it is about equality before the law. Consequently they see it as a civil rights issue. But I’ve noticed that the pros have only recently come out positively and publicly that gay marriage is fundamentally about civil rights. And judging from the reaction of the left toward those who are opposed to gay marriage I would have to conclude that they definitely see it that way. After all, if it isn’t about civil rights, opposing gay marriage wouldn’t be so bad. But here is where the rub comes in. If it is a civil rights issue then they have to go all the way with it. Acceptability of gay marriage would have to permeate every level of society. Not necessarily down to small unimportant groups, but generally. After all, no self respecting civil rights advocate goes halfway with civil rights. Consequently, I don’t see how gay marriage advocates wouldn’t feel compelled to marginalize those who preach that homosexual sex is a sin, at least to the point of them becoming a tolerable minority. In any political or religious movement there is no such thing as intellectual equilibrium; there is always movement in some direction or other. Intellectually, where else is there to go? Religion plays such a powerful role in American culture and politics, that if the churches don’t liberalize on this issue their influence poses an existential threat to gay marriage. If churches do liberalize, fine. If not, then other pressures are available. The government waged a thirty year campaign to force Mormons to abandon polygamy. This included the state of Idaho making it illegal for believers in polygamy to vote (upheld by the United States Supreme Court, see Idaho Test Oath), eliminating female suffrage in Utah, disincorporation the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, putting restrictions on how much property the church could own, and arresting its leaders. (Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, Edmunds Act, Edmunds-Tucker Act.) More was under preparation. Faced with an existential threat the church had to abandon polygamy. But what was it about American culture that made this possible? It's simple. Polygamy was repugnant to Americans. One of the reasons given in Reynolds vs. the United States for supporting anti-bigamy laws is, “Polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe…polygamy has been treated as an offense against society.” Many people are treating opposition to gay marriage as an offense to society, and view it as odious. Reynolds established a basis for the legal persecution of religious belief.

I listed above some of the issues coupled to the debate about same sex marriage: insurance breaks, automatic inheritance, etc. But how do they relate to marriage? A great many privileges have been attached to the institution of marriage, so much so that it seems marriage is merely a collection of privileges beneficent to heterosexual couples. But marriage is not subsumed by its privileges. They are peripheral to it. From a religious point of view marriage is principally about providing a stable situation in which to raise children. And homosexual couples, having no procreative potential, are naturally apart from this purpose. Therefore gay marriage itself is not about procreation. By extending marriage to homosexual couples the emphasis of marriage is placed on its peripheral benefits, changing the public's perception of marriage. Also, since gay marriage is generally seen by its advocates as a civil rights issue, it in effect legitimizes homosexual relationships. But from a religious view marriage is not about relationship validation—making it so has an Orwellian creepiness to it. Nor does marriage exist to acquire bereavement leave, insurance breaks, or inheritance rights. Using marriage to acquire these privileges is a distortion of the purpose of marriage because it places the peripheral privileges prior to the purpose of the institution. The privileges are there to assist the purpose, not to precede it. By saying gay marriage should be legalized for reasons that are not fundamental to marriage, the very purpose of marriage is distorted.

A typical counter argument is many heterosexual couples cannot have children, so why should homosexual couples be treated differently from them? But again, this goes back to the purpose of marriage. In order to affirm that the purpose of marriage is principally about procreation, all that is needed is to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and the implication is implicit. By extending marriage to homosexual couples the implication is lost.

Gay marriage advocates also argue that all the virtues found in heterosexual relationships are also found in homosexual ones. And on that ground equal treatment should be extended to homosexual relationships. But to what extent are homosexual relationships similar to heterosexual ones?

Marriage is an institution well suited to heterosexual relationships. Most happily married men would probably agree that marriage has had a civilizing effect on them—most of my male friends are married and they would probably agree with that. The principle cause of the stabilizing effect is simple. Marriage exists as a way for a man and women to commit to each other; traditionally a marriage had no legal force until it was consummated; and consummation implies procreation. Let’s face it, men are turned on visually and easily; women aren't like that. To put it crudely, if a guy really likes a girl and wants her “favors,” generally speaking, she won’t until he has committed himself to
her. So in its very nature heterosexual sexuality has a committing influence on men, and thus a stabilizing effect in heterosexual relationships. Marriage is a way for a man to commit himself legally. Given that the man has invested himself emotionally he feels responsible for his wife and kids. The difficulty for homosexual relationships is that it doesn’t work this way. There is no divergent sexuality. This is especially true for homosexual men, who’s sex drive is just as strong as any man’s. (I can’t speak for the female sex drive.) Homosexual emotional and sexual longings are just as real as heterosexual ones. Men are turned on visually and easily—that’s how we are. But in this case no one is left with a baby if the other partner leaves, and there is no difference in sex drive promoting a prior commitment. Homosexual feelings lack the stabilizing effect that arises from the divergent male-female sexuality. One might argue that marriage would provide a kind of stabilizing effect for homosexuals. But I am unconvinced. If homosexual orientation is driven by nature, and I’m convinced that for many it is, marriage won’t change that. Marriage wont change same sex sexual dynamics. So the natural instability of homosexual relationships remains.

Another issue at stake, again from the religious point of view, is that of sexual morality. Chastity is a religious concept. One thing that devoutly religious people, like myself, want to see preserved in this world is some kind of concept of chastity and fidelity: That men and women should abstain from sex before marriage and remain faithful to each other after marriage. But how would same sex marriage change that? Firstly, it does legitimize same sex relationships, which in itself is a mixed bag. Many homosexuals go through what is sometimes called a gay adolescence, what amounts to parties and promiscuity. David Starkey—host of the very excellent Monarchy series—described his gay adolescence as occurring in his thirties and forties. He was wildly promiscuous, commenting that “I had many memorable moments on Hampstead Heath [a park in London]. They were like scenes from a Midsummer Night's Dream…Do I regret it? No. Am I pleased I went out and did it? Yes.” (“The history man,” The Independent.) His partner, however, never did enjoy the gay scene; some gays detest the wildly flamboyant element of gay culture, others not. My own impression is that at some point most homosexuals go through the adolescence, and are heavily involved in its promiscuous dimension. And it seems this element is inextricable. I can’t see any significant cross section of the gay community coming out in favor of abstinence before marriage. If some did, they would loose support from those who don’t distinguish between celebration of sexuality and celebration of sex. So, for political reasons that is unlikely to happen. And from a practical point of view many homosexuals are unable to live a life of abstinence anyway. The LDS church teaches that there must be complete abstinence before marriageI can only imagine how difficult it must be for devout LDS gays trying to live a chaste life with gay culture working against them. Those on the religious right see gay marriage as providing a degree of legitimacy to the promiscuous element embedded in gay culture. We see it as a further slide down the slippery slope. Religious conservatives believe healthy marriages are promoted when society has an expectation of abstinence before marriage and complete fidelity after. By legitimizing the “gay adolescence” gay marriage would effectuate a rejection of that expectation, an expectation that many have already rejected. Whether as a phase of life or as a lifestyle choice, promiscuity would be further legitimized. Those on the right believe that sex should not be seen as merely this thing that people do, or as a form of experimentation; promiscuity should not be seen as a right of passage or as a phase of teenage life. And many parents resent the popular culture that encourages this attitude for their children.

Gay marriage advocates have confused tolerance and approval: There can be no tolerance of gays without gay marriage, and in that light opposition to gay marriage becomes synonymous with intolerance; gay marriage provides a chance for loving gay couples to marry, anyone who objects must be a bigot, or simply ignorant. But that is not how I see it. There is a basic tension between freedom and equality: total freedom tends to promote inequality, and forcing equality restricts freedom. Wherever the balance lies, the marriage institution should be left out of the fray. Marriage should not be used as a way to promote diversity. That is not why it exists. Nor does it exist merely to provide an opportunity for loving couples to make a commitment to each other. Nor does it exist for people to claim its peripheral benefits. The necessary purpose of marriage is to promote stable environments for the procreation of children. And abusing the institution of marriage by saying it is about other things works against that purpose.

Protect marriage.

Support Proposition 8.

See also, In pictures: Sydney gay pride from BBC.

Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade 2005


Related Posts: The Premortal Life; The Spirit World; Adam-god Theory

See also Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (Apostle),
The Ministry of Angels.

According to Mormon beliefs angels are children of God sent to perform tasks, minister, and deliver messages. For example, Gabriel visited Zechariah and also Mary the mother of Jesus (
Luke 1:19, 26); Joseph Smith was visited by the ancient prophet Moroni (JS-H 1:29-47); an angel comforted Jesus in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43; Matt. 4:11); and Israel was led to the promise land (Ex. 23:20; 32:34; compare Mal. 3:1). It was an angel who carried Lazarus’ spirit to Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22) and at the last day angels will separate the righteous from the wicked (Matt. 13:41, 49). These angels are premortal, mortal, postmortal, and resurrected children of Heavenly Father.

In addition to performing tasks angels can also serve as witnesses before God: “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God” (
Luke 12:8); “He that overcometh…I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Rev. 3:5); “Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people” (Helaman 10:6).


The Premortal Life

Related Posts: Election; Blacks and the Priesthood; Who is Jesus?–to a Mormon; Are Satan and Jesus Brothers?; Angels; Doctrine of Agency

Summary: When a Mormon speaks of premortal life he is referring to the belief that each person existed before their birth, that the spirit preexists conception and that we all had lives, thoughts, friends, and beliefs during that time.

You, me, Jesus, Lucifer, and everyone else who has been, are now, or will be living on the earth are all children of God.

The term preexistence refers to a time before the creation of the earth when we all existed and during which several important events occurred. One of those events was the war in heaven. Eventually, everyone chose one of two camps: followers of Jesus and followers of Lucifer. The war led to the expulsion of Lucifer and his followers. It is believed by Mormons that 1/3 of the preexistent spirits followed Lucifer. The remaining 2/3 followed Jesus and were born to earth, or will be born to earth. Lucifer and his followers will never have that privilege.

Everyone born to this earth was at one time a follower of Jesus. Though, some of them were more valiant than others.

Our belief in the preexistence contributes greatly to our larger view of life, such as the origin of evil, the nature of Christ, and how we are related to each other. It also affords a generally optimistic view of humanity and allows us to see other religions in a favorable light.

It gives additional meaning to this life, providing a sense of purposefulness to the positive elements of history. Elder Neal A. Maxwell (Apostle) explained, “There cannot be a grand plan of salvation for all mankind, unless there is also a plan for each individual. The salvational sum will reflect all its parts” (“A More Determined Discipleship,” Ensign, Feb. 1979).


Mormons and Caffeinated Soft drinks

Related Posts: The Word of Wisdom

Summary: The Mormon code of health is called the Word of Wisdom. It states that we should abstain from “hot drinks,” tobacco, and alcohol; that we should enjoy wholesome foods and eat meat sparingly.

Hot drinks are taken to mean caffeinated coffee and tea. But then, why would coffee and tea be prohibited? It is usually posited that it is their caffeine content. But if they are prohibited because of caffeine then shouldn’t other caffeinated drinks also be avoided? such as Coke and Pepsi? Many Mormons believe so. Others not.

Officially, caffeinated coffee and tea are prohibited. As for Caffeinated sports drinks and colas, some Mormons will tell you the Word of Wisdom prohibits them, others will say not. Your answer will vary from person to person, but officially they are not.
In this post I shall explore the caffeinated soft drinks issue and go a little into its history.

(For a discussion about the caffeine issue see Gregory Smith, “The Word of Wisdom in a Caffeinated World,” at Mormon Times; and “Teas” by Kaimi Wenger at Times & Seasons; and “Health Practices” from LDS Newsroom.)


The Word of Wisdom

This post will discuss the Mormon code of health, often referred to as the Word of Wisdom. The historical context in which this code of health came about will be discussed as well as its history from the time it was written to the time it became a requirement for Latter-day Saints, on up to the present time. There is also a strong cultural prohibition against caffeinated soft drinks, but no formal prohibition against them. I will discuss the caffeine issue in a separate post.

Related Posts: Mormons and Caffeinated Soft Drinks

What it says

The revelation called the Word of Wisdom was, according to the section heading, revealed at Kirtland, Ohio on February 27, 1833. The revelation states that we ought to abstain from “hot drinks,” eat meat sparingly, and that we should avoid tobacco and alcohol products. (For the entire revelation see
D&C 89:1-21.) Those who adhere to this code are promised “health in their navel and marrow to their bones; And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures”; they shall “run and not be weary…walk and not faint.” The Lord then promises, “the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them” (D&C 89:18-21).

It also stipulates that “wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man.” Of the meat of beasts and birds, “they are to be used sparingly…[and] only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” And tobacco “is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill,” but it is “not for the body, neither for the belly.”

From early on hot drinks were interpreted as being coffee and tea; because coffee and tea were common and served hot, “hot drinks” seems to have been generally applied to them—I have never heard it interpreted otherwise.[1] It has been posited that the reason behind the prohibition of coffee and tea is that they contain caffeine—the prohibition against tea does not extend to herbal tea, however. As far as decaffeinated coffee is concerned, it would be frowned upon; I don’t know any active Mormon who drinks it. Some interpret the Word of Wisdom as including a prohibition against all caffeinated drinks, soft drinks included. Others believe that “hot drinks” applies only to coffee and tea. However, a Mormon can have a Coke and still obtain a temple recommend (see below).

(For a discussion about the caffeine issue see Gregory Smith, “The Word of Wisdom in a Caffeinated World,” at
Mormon Times; and Teas by Kaimi Wenger at Times & Seasons; and Health Practices from LDS Newsroom.)

Adhering to the Word of Wisdom's proscription of coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol is a requirement for holding important positions in the church, as well as for temple attendance. In order to enter a temple a Mormon must have a temple recommend, signed by his bishop and Stake President—during the temple recommend interview the interviewee is asked if he abstains from coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol.

Historical context

Though Brigham Young was not present at the time, according to his information the circumstances which brought about the Word of Wisdom were as follows.

The brethren came to that place [Bishop Whitney’s store] for hundreds of miles to attend school in a little room probably no larger than eleven by fourteen. When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, 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 the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry. (JD, 12:157-158)

But the Word of Wisdom goes beyond tobacco use to include instruction about the use of alcohol, hot drinks, herbs, meat and grain. Clyde Ford makes some very interesting points about this: “If tobacco was the principal question, why does tobacco occupy only one verse? And why are not the chewing and smoking of tobacco specifically mentioned? How does the proper food for an ox relate to Emma’s concern regarding tobacco?” (Ford, 137-138). Some sections of the Word of Wisdom seem to be iterations of previous revelations. It was revealed in 1831 that the sick “shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food” (
D&C 42:43). Later that year it was revealed, “the herb, and the good things which come of the earth…in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart…for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess” (D&C 59:17-20). Both predate the 1833 Word of Wisdom revelation. Ford posits that the Word of Wisdom was compiled from previous revelations; if so that would account for its rather unusual structure. [2], [3]

Much of the advice contained in the Word of Wisdom was, in fact, common medical wisdom of the time. A treatise on diet from 1828 contains the warning,

The art of extracting alcoholic liquors from vinous liquors, must be regarded as the greatest curse ever inflicted upon human nature. The fatal effects of dram-drinking have been vividly depicted by numerous writers; and the awful truth has been too frequently illustrated.
(John Ayrton Paris, A Treatise on Diet, p. 289)

Another health book published that year contains this warning, “those who debase themselves by this sordid gratification, are constantly troubled with sickness at stomach…the finer feeling are thus insensibly weakened and great are the inroads of this destructive habit upon the mind, that with it, every vice may enter” (James Rymer, A Treatise on Diet and Regimen, 1828, p. 47, italics original). The warning of these physicians is not very different from the one contained in the Word of Wisdom, “inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good…And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly.” The Word of Wisdom also mentions that strong drinks are “for the washing of your bodies.” Some have interpreted this to mean perfume, which contains alcohol—I’m skeptical about that interpretation. The part about strong drinks being “for the washing of your bodies” is unclear but seems to prescribe alcohol for external cleansing. I haven’t found any references from the period explaining what this was suppose to achieve, but apparently it was an accepted practice of the time. An anti-Mormon book published in 1840 says, “The first [commandment] is, that strong drink is forbid, except as an external application—in this we are inclined measurably to agree with the mandate; but believe there might be reasonable arguments urged in favor of its internal use, under particular circumstances” (E.D. Howe, History of Mormonism, p. 229).

As for tobacco the Word of Wisdom says, “tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.” Rymer’s book says that tobacco fumes will “stupify the brain, and deaden the invigorating power of the nerves upon the whole bodily system” (p. 45). Apparently tobacco was used as a remedy for bruises: “The first English book on first aid came out in 1633 recommending tobacco as an antidote to poison and as an unguent for wounds or bruises, etc” (Grace G. Stewart, “A history of the medicinal use of tobacco 1492-1860,”
Medical History, Vol. 11, No. 3, July 1967, p. 240).[4] Tobacco has been used successfully in treating scab on sheep, cattle, and horses, as well as a treatment for animal parasites generally.[5]

Of eating meats the Word of Wisdom teaches that “the Lord, have ordained [them] for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly…only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine…these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger” (D&C 89:12-15). Part of this is common sense: food tended to be scarcer in winter; vegetables were more abundant during summer; meat would keep better in winter. But the general understanding was that meat produced heat, therefore its consumption was favorable during winter. A Physician of that period, Caleb Ticknor, writes,

The question in this place naturally presents itself, whether or not animal food is equally proper at all seasons in a temperate climate. From the fact that animal food is proper and necessary for health in polar regions, and that a vegetable diet is equally proper and necessary in the torrid zone, we may conclude that in winter, in our own climate, an animal diet is the best, while vegetables are more conductive to health in the summer season. And such a conclusion is born out by almost universal experience.
(Caleb Ticknor, The Philosophy of Living, 1836, p. 37).

In the opinion of another physician “animal food, though more easily digested than vegetable, is more stimulant to the stomach, and more productive of heat and general excitement” (Ticknor citing a Dr. Jackson of Philadelphia, Ibid., p. 59
).[6] This is very similar to the advice contained in the Word of Wisdom: meat should be consumed “only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine” and “Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof.” However, the advice that meat should be used sparingly didn’t seem to have strong support from physicians of the time.[7]

The Word of Wisdom says, “hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” But there is no specification as to the exact meaning of “hot drinks.” Because coffee and tea were quite common it seems to have meant those two drinks. But it should be pointed out that in the contemporary view of the early nineteenth century any hot beverage was generally considered to be detrimental to one’s health. Paris writes, “fluids heated much above the temperature of the body are equally injurious: it is true that they will frequently, from their stimulus, afford present relief; but it will always be at the expense of future suffering, and be compensated by subsequent debility” (
A Treatise on Diet, p. 156). Combe writes, “The temperature at which liquids are taken is a matter of perhaps greater consequence than it is usually considered. As regards the teeth, we have already seen that either very cold or very hot substances coming in contact with them are apt to be injurious. As regards the stomach, the same principle hold true.”[8] Also, “Liquids, such as soup, tea, and coffee, taken at a very high temperature, also are injurious, but not to the same degree [as cold liquids]. They relax the mucous membrane and weaken the action of the muscular coat, and in so far tend to impair digestion” (pp. 272-276). (Physicians of the time also viewed cold drinks as possibly fatal if taken after strenuous exercise.[9])

From principle to commandment

Though adherence to the Word of Wisdom was “not by commandment or constraint” it is nevertheless the “will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days.” Throughout the nineteenth century it was seen as strong advice, but not a requirement. Indeed, in 1836 Joseph Smith attended a wedding during which, he records, “We then partook of some refreshments, and our hearts were made glad with the fruit of the vine. This is according to the pattern set by our Savior Himself, and we feel disposed to patronize all the institutions of heaven” (CHC, Vol. 2, p. 369
). Brigham Young’s policy was to walk a fine line between preaching adherence and leaving people free to choose. In 1865 he preached, “Let us raise our own tobacco, or quit using it…The Lord gave me strength to lay aside tobacco, and it is very rarely indeed that I taste tea or coffee; yet I have no objection to aged persons, when they are fatigued and feel infirm, taking a little stimulus that will do them good” (JD 11:140-141). In 1860 he said, “Many of the brethren chew tobacco, and I have advised them to be modest about it…Do not glory in this disgraceful practice. If you must use tobacco, put a small portion in your mouth when no person sees you, and be careful that no one sees you chew it. I do not charge you with sin. You have the ‘Word of Wisdom.’ Read it…It is, at least, disgraceful to you to expose your absurdities” (JD 8:362).

Throughout the nineteenth century the saints were committed and recommitted to more strictly adhere to the Word of Wisdom’s prohibitions against alcohol, tea, tobacco, and coffee. But it nevertheless remained “not by commandment” and had never been a test of fellowship. Reportedly at a conference in 1851 Brigham Young “rose to put the motion and called on all the sisters who will eave off the use of Tea, Coffee, etc., to manifest it by raising the right hand…And then put the following motion; calling on all the boys who were under ninety years of age who would covenant to leave off the use of Tobacco, Whiskey and all things mentioned in the Word of Wisdom to manifest it in like manner” (
Frontier Guardian, Vol. 3, No. 22, November 28, 1851; cited from McCue p. 67). In 1859 he said “it is my positive counsel and command that drinking liquor be stopped…In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command the Elders of Israel-those who have been in the habit of getting drunk to cease drinking strong drink from this time henceforth, until you really need it…As I have already requested, I now again request the authorities of this Church in their various localities to sever from this society those who will not cease getting drunk” (JD 7:338).[10]

That it was “not by commandment” is affirmed by Brigham Young in a sermon given October 30, 1870: “In some respects we have to define it for ourselves—each for himself—according to our own views, judgment and faith, and the observance of the Word of Wisdom…must be left, partially, with the people…We cannot say you shall never drink a cup of tea, or you shall never taste of this, or you shall never taste of that; but we can say that Wisdom is justified of her children” (JD 14:20
.) Heber J. Grant (b. 1856; ordained an apostle in 1882 and President of the Church in 1918; d. 1945) is a good illustration of how the Word of Wisdom was viewed by average devout Mormons. As a young man (before he became an Apostle) in an effort to gain weight so that he could get a life insurance policy to protect his mother, he began drinking beer on the advice of a doctor.

At first Heber found beer “bitter and distasteful”…But he quickly acquired both a business and a personal taste for it. Within a year, he secured the fire insurance business of most Salt Lake City saloons and Utah breweries, an additional ten pounds, and a growing relish for the savor of hops. His daily four-glass limit became five, and occasionally grew to six.

He warred with his acute sense of conscience. Rereading the Word of Wisdom, he resolved to abandon his drinking and place his health and his mother's future with the Lord, “insurance or no insurance.” But resolutions were easier made than kept. “I wanted some [beer] so bad that I drank it again,” he confessed. Finally…he overcame his obsession and ceased drinking. As quickly, he lost his trade with the saloons and breweries of the Territory.
(Ronald W. Walker, “Young Heber J. Grant's Years of Passage,” BYU Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2, Spring 1984)

As the twentieth century approached preaching on the Word of Wisdom became stricter as to adherence, especially for church officers. In 1894, President Wilford Woodruff, said, “The Word of Wisdom applies to Wilford Woodruff, the President of the Church, and it applies to all the leaders of Israel, as well as to the members of the Church; and if there are any of these leading men who cannot refrain from using tobacco or liquor in violation of the Word of Wisdom, let them resign, and let others take their places” (Collected Discourses, Vol. 4, October 7, 1894). In 1897 Apostle George Q Cannon said, “I am today at my present age, and I never have drunk tea and coffee. I scarcely know the taste of either tea or coffee, and I have never touched tobacco, nor anything intoxicating” (Ibid., Vol. 5, January 1, 1897). In 1902 the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles made it a rule not to fellowship those who operated saloons (Alexander, 79). Alexander writes, “In the same year, Joseph F. Smith urged stake presidents and others to refuse recommends to flagrant violators but to be somewhat liberal with old men who used tobacco and old ladies who drank tea. Habitual drunkards, however, were to be denied temple recommends…By mid-1905, members of the Twelve were actively using stake conference visits to promote adherence…In keeping with the change in emphasis, the First Presidency and Twelve substituted water for wine in the sacrament in their temple meetings…beginning July 5, 1906” (Ibid.).[11] In the decade prior to Heber J. Grant’s administration the Word of Wisdom enjoyed greater emphasis than in times past, but after 1918 it was more strictly enforced. According to Alexander adherence to the Word of Wisdom became a requirement for temple privileges in 1921 (p. 82). (See also Word of Wisdom,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism.) The General Handbook of Instructions from 1933 instructed bishops that members seeking temple privileges “should observe the law of tithing…observe all other principles of the Gospel, [and] should keep the Word of Wisdom” (Alexander, 82).

Moving toward stricter adherence began in the late nineteenth century and overlapped with the national temperance movement in the United States. The Mormons were latecomers to the national prohibition movement which was spearheaded by evangelical Protestants. However when temperance became a national issue church authorities generally supported prohibition laws. (Though B. H. Roberts, a Seventy, fought prohibition laws and supported their repeal.)[12] National prohibition was created by the Eighteenth Amendment which was passed on October 28, 1919 and went into force January of the following year. The Twenty-first Amendment that ended it was passed in 1933. The timing of Utah’s convention was such that it was the state which gave the three-fourths majority necessary for ratification. Thus on December 5, 1933 at 5:32 pm EST, Utah became the state that ended prohibition (“Liquor Milestone,” Time Magazine, Dec. 11, 1933). The London Star’s headlines were “The Deciding Vote by Latter Day Saints,” and the London Evening News' was “Prohibition is dead—The Mormons Killed it—Whoopee—Happy Days Are Here Again” (“Last Mile,” Time Magazine, Nov. 20, 1933)—Apparently Great Britain exported a lot of alcohol to the United States. But even without Utah’s vote prohibition was doomed. Had Utah voted dry, Kentucky’s vote would have ended it, Kentucky having voted a week earlier to end it but had not yet had a constitutional convention to make it official (Ibid.). In Utah the vote clearly favored ending prohibition, 99,943 to 62,437 (Kearnes). In analyzing the vote Larry Earl Nelson found that of the seventeen rural counties only four voted to repeal; of the twelve urban counties nine voted to repeal. In twelve of the counties voting for repeal 55 percent of the population were Mormons (Kearnes).[13]

An economic interpretation

Mormon essayist and educator
Leonard J. Arrington (1917 - 1999) makes a very good case that one of the reasons behind preaching adherence to the Word of Wisdom was economic. In 1861 Brigham Young complained “We annually expend…$60,000 to break the ‘Word of Wisdom’” (JD 9:31). In 1867 Wilford Woodruf said, “Very few of us have kept the Word of Wisdom; but I have no doubt that if the counsel of President Young were carried out it would save the people of this Territory a million of dollars annually” (JD 11:369).[14] The reason for this frugality was partly that, in the frontier, goods were scarce: tobacco, coffee, and tea were seen as luxuries. But even after Utah became economically integrated to the rest of the nation this view endured. In 1926 Heber J. Grant said, “let me say right here that I am convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that if the Latter-day Saints had observed the Word of Wisdom, and if the money that has been worse than wasted for tea, coffee, tobacco and liquor, had been utilized for missionary service, we would have had the millions of dollars for the work of the Lord” (Conference Report, October 1926, p. 7).[15]

When Sunday school lessons on the Word of Wisdom are taught, often the great expense of tobacco and alcohol consumption are mentioned, along with testimonies of the money saved by adhering to the Word of Wisdom. One of the purposes of the Word of Wisdom is “the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days” (
D&C 89:2).

What is it like today?
Today the usual prohibitions of tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea are maintained. But the Word of Wisdom is often mentioned in conjunction with other addictive or harmful substances. Elder Boyd K Packer (Apostle) said,

Members write in asking if this thing or that is against the Word of Wisdom. It’s well known that tea, coffee, liquor, and tobacco are against it…There are many habit-forming, addictive things that one can drink or chew or inhale or inject which injure both body and spirit which are not mentioned in the revelation…Everything harmful is not specifically listed; arsenic, for instance—certainly bad, but not habit-forming! He who must be commanded in all things, the Lord said, “is a slothful and not a wise servant” (
D&C 58:26). (President Boyd K. Packer, “The Word of Wisdom: The Principle and the Promises,” Ensign, May 1996.)

President Gordon B. Hinckley (d. 2008) said,

Pornography is one of the hallmarks of our time. Its producers grow rich on the gullibility of those who like to watch it. In the opening lines of the revelation which we call the Word of Wisdom, the Lord declares: “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). (President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Loyalty,” Ensign, May 2003.)

Concluding remarks

The practical health benefits of abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, coffee and tea, are obvious. The collective health benefits are something Mormons are quite proud of. (See William T. Stephenson, “Cancer, Nutrition, and the Word of Wisdom: One Doctor’s Observations,”
Ensign, July 2008 and Clifford J. Stratton, “The Xanthines: Coffee, Cola, Cocoa, and Tea,” BYU Studies, Vol. 20, No. 4, Summer 1980)It's also a point of pride that BYU has been #1 on the Princeton Review's list of stone-cold sober universities for the past 11 years (see BYU NewsNet; here). However tobacco and alcohol promote chronic disease, which was not a major cause of death until the twentieth century. Lester E. Bush pointed out: “First, the major impact of the Word of Wisdom appears to be on chronic diseases of adulthood such as cancer and heart disease, aliments of relatively little impact in the nineteenth century—because people didn’t live long enough to die from them…Second, the largest single demonstrated factor in favor of twentieth-century Mormon longevity is the failure of Mormons to smoke cigarettes, a custom that became commonplace in America only after the invention of cigarette making machinery very late in the nineteenth century. In many important areas of health…it is not so much that Mormons do ‘better,’ but rather that non-Mormons now collectively do worse” (Bush, 59).

But even so, the timing of the change of the Word of Wisdom from being a principle to a commandment can be seen as providential. Bush points out,

Circumstances changed around the turn of the century in such a way that its guidelines could unquestionably promote better physical health (i.e., there was more cigarette smoking and less serious infectious disease). That this development—the implications of which were not apparent to the medical scientists for decades—coincided with a decision by the church leadership to require firm adherence of the Word of Wisdom is quite remarkable. It may well represent their most demonstrably prescient insight to date in helping assure that the “destroy angel” of disease will “pass us by”
(Bush, 60).

Journal Articles about the Word of Wisdom
Gary J. Bergera, “Has the Word of Wisdom Changed Since 1833?,” Sunstone , Vol. 10, July 1985.

Clyde Ford, “The Origin of the Word of Wisdom,”
Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 24, No. 2, Fall 1998.

Lester E. Bush, “The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth-Century Perspective,”
Dialogue, Vol. 14, No. 3, Autumn 1981.

Robert J. McCue, “Did the Word of Wisdom Become a Commandment in 1851?,”
Dialogue, Vol. 14, No. 3, Autumn 1981.

Thomas G. Alexander, “The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement,”
Dialogue, Vol. 14, No. 3, Autumn 1981.

Leonard J. Arrington, “An Economic Interpretation of the ‘Word of Wisdom,’”
BYU Studies, Vol. 1, Winter 1959.

John Kearnes, “Utah, Sexton of Prohibition,”
Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 47, 1979.

Brent G. Thompson, “‘Standing between Two Fires’: Mormons and Prohibition’: 1908-1917,”
Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 10, 1983.

End Notes_________________________

[1] An 1868 issue of the American Phrenological Journal contains a short a response to a question.

“A number of your subscribers would like to have your opinion, through the columns of the Journal, upon the following subject. The people of this Territory--Utah--are making strenuous efforts to abandon the pernicious habit of drinking tea and coffee. Persons who have been in the habit of drinking those beverages twice, and sometimes three times a day, find it hard to partake of a meal on a cold winter day without the accustomed beverage.
“Do you think it necessary in our cold climate that we should drink
hot or warm drink of any kind? or, in other words, does the system, when in health, require hot or warm drinks to give tone to it, or to create an artificial heat sufficient to withstand the inclemency of our cold winter season.

Ans. Tea and coffee are simply luxuries, not necessary to health or life. Hot drinks are injurious. More colds are contracted in consequence of the general habit of using them, than from almost any other one cause. The sugar and the cream used in tea and coffee are nutritious, and therefore food. But neither tea nor coffee afford anything which can prolong life. No harm can come from their total abandonment.
“If one's stomach has been accustomed to hot tea or coffee for years, it may not be best to drop it at once; but lessen its strength from day to day till reduced to water with the sugar and cream. Then, instead of pouring it down
hot from the pot, let it cool--and in time pure cold water will be relished as well, and to an unperverted appetite, better than any mixture. Try it. (here)

[2] Ford concludes, “the Word of Wisdom is complex and possibly not a literary unity. The three main parts were not necessarily received at the same time, may not have been addressed to the same group, or probably were not responding to the same issues…Comparing the revelations in the Book of Commandments (1833) and the Doctrine and Covenants (1835) easily establishes the fact that the Prophet Joseph Smith expanded some revelations after they were originally received (e.g., D&C 7, 27). Furthermore, other sections of the Doctrine and Covenants appear to be compilations of two or more individual revelations” (Ford, 153)

[3] The unusual structure becomes apparent after a careful reading. Verse nine says “And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” The words “and again” are confusing: are they to mean a repetition of things “not for the body or belly”? If not, why are “hot drinks” not mentioned previously? Verse 17 says that barley is “for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.” Is this intended to give an OK to alcoholic beverages made from barley? such as beer? It has never been interpreted that way; the proscription of strong drinks seems to include all alcoholic beverages, except for the use of wine in the sacrament which must be locally made. Also, the opening, “for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion,” seems redundant. Simply saying that it was intended for all the saints would be sufficient. Also, it has been noted by several authors that the introduction (verses 1-3) was not an original part of the revelation. Those three verses were originally part of the chapter heading (Ford, footnote 8). For example, the 1852 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants:

Text not available

Ford points out: “Note that ‘Amen’ and ‘Even so, Amen’ end many of the revelations. Some sections of the current LDS Doctrine and Covenants have these endings in the middle as well as at the end of the revelation, suggesting that two or more original revelations have been combined. Often the next verse begins with: ‘And again.’ Examples include Sections 30, 72, 75, 96, 124. Other sections, such as 88, are also composite (see heading of section.)” (See footnote 77 in Ford).

[4] A home remedy book from 1885 says, “[Tobacco] not only seems to cure all cases of bruises, sprains, wounds, bunions, corns, sore throats, erysipelas of the dead or face, sore eyes, etc., but the suddenness of the cures is most remarkable” (Thomas Lanier Clingman, The Tobacco Remedy, 1885, p. 24).

[5] An edition of the New England Farmer, Saturday, April 26, 1823, here; “Tobacco dips for Sheep Scab,” The Farmers Bulletins (1913), from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; The Sportsman’s Dictionary (1807), p. 102, here; Medical and Veterinary Entomology (1915), “Bovine Scabies; Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, Vol. 19, 1858, p.149).

[6] Here Dr. Ticknor is quoting Dr. Jackson who in Ticknor’s opinion was “second to no medical man in this country.”

[7] “It may be considered to be proved by general experience, that animal food is more nourishing than vegetable food” (The Philosophy of Living by Herbert Mayo p. 54). And, “The preceding examples are valuable as showing the impressions of practical persons upon the questions of what diet is the most nourishing, what the least so. We seem authorized to concluded that meats contain the most nutriment, milk and eggs the next, the best farinaceous food the next, fish the next, vegetables the least” (p. 58). As to meats versus vegetables Ticknor writes, “The extend to which we may indulge, I have no disposition to limit by certain fixed abstract ‘rules.’ This I leave for each person to settle, in the first place, with his conscience, in the second, with his health, and in the third, with his purse. (The Philosophy of Living, p. 63, italics original).

[8] As to teeth Paris writes, “It is a popular idea that hot liquids injure the teeth. I entertain great doubts upon the subject” (p. 157

[9] Combe notes that, “It is well known, for example, that a copious draught of cold water, taken in a state of perspiration and fatigue, is often instantly fatal” (p. 273).

[10] In 1867 Brigham Young said,

We, for instance, exhort the Saints to observe the Word of Wisdom, that they may, through its observance, enjoy the promised blessing…What did we drink hot when that Word of Wisdom was given? Tea and coffee. It definitely refers to that which we drink with our food…the Spirit whispers to me to call upon the Latter-day Saints to observe the Word of Wisdom, to let tea, coffee, and tobacco alone, and to abstain from drinking spirituous drinks.
(JD 12:117)

[11] The wording in the word of wisdom gives approval of the use of wine when “assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments” and that it should be “pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.” A revelation from 1830 says “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory” (
D&C 27:2).

[12] B.H. Roberts writes to Elder Rugder Clawson president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles,

All this gives me the opportunity of saying that to my way of thinking there is no connection between state prohibition and our Word of Wisdom. State prohibition is based on compulsion as all human-made laws must be, while the Word of Wisdom is just what its name implies, namely a Word of Counsel from the Lord as to what is good for all his saints, but it is not given by way of “compulsion” or “constraint”; and certainly does not rest upon physical force as state prohibition does and must do if it continues.
(Roberts to Clawson, September 20, 1933. Typescript copy in Special Collections Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; cited from Kearnes)

[13] Around 1911 the population of Salt Lake County was only 40.3% Mormons (Thompson, 43).

[14] Another example is from Brigham Young: “Speaking of the completion of this railroad, I am anxious to see it…’But,’ says one, ‘we shall not have any money.’ Yes, we shall, if you and I observe the Word of Wisdom, we shall have plenty of it” (JD 12:54-55

[15] Later in the twentieth century Apostle John A. Widstoe counseled, “Humanity has need for the warning and help offered by the Word of Wisdom…There is too much poverty, because money is spent for things injurious to the body…There is not enough faith; not enough prayer…by obedience to the Word of Wisdom they may be corrected” (The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation, p. 248, 1950).