Word of Wisdom/Cola drinks and caffeine
Mormonism, the Word of Wisdom and caffeine
Question: Is it true that Mormons are forbidden from drinking cola drinks such as Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper?
Many members of the Church choose to abstain from cola drinks as part of their personal application of the Word of Wisdom, however, the use of cola products does not result in a restriction of Church privileges
Many members of the Church choose to abstain from cola drinks as part of their personal application of the Word of Wisdom. But, use of cola products per se does not result in a restriction of Church privileges, while the use of coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs certainly would. Abuse of caffeine (or any other drug or substance) would, however, certainly contradict the spirit and intent of the Word of Wisdom.
Spencer W. Kimball made his own and the Church's view of cola drinks clear:
I never drink any of the cola drinks and my personal hope would be that no one would. However, they are not included in the Word of Wisdom in its technical application. I quote from a letter from the secretary to the First Presidency, 'But the spirit of the Word of Wisdom would be violated by the drinking or eating of anything that contained a habit-forming drug.' With reference to the cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken any attitude on this at but I personally do not put them in the class as with the tea and coffee because the Lord specifically mentioned them [the hot drinks].
Bruce R. McConkie observed:
Some unstable people become cranks...There is no prohibition in Section 89 as to the eating of white sugar, cocoa, chocolate...or anything else except items classified under tea, coffee, tobacco and liquor. If some particular food disagrees with an individual, then that person should act accordingly without reference to the prohibitions in this particular law of health.
President Heber J. Grant was encouraged to forbid cola drinks officially, but declined to do so:
On October 15, 1924, representatives of the Coca-Cola Company called on President Grant to complain that non-Mormon Dr. T. B. Beatty, state Health Director, was using the church organization to assist in an attack on Coca-Cola. They asked President Grant to stop him, but he refused at first, saying that he himself had advised Mormons not to drink the beverage. Beatty, however, had been claiming that there was four to five times as much caffeine in Coke as in coffee, when in fact, as the representatives showed, there were approximately 1.7 grains in a cup of coffee and approximately .43 grains or about a fourth as much in a equivalent amount of Coke. After a second meeting, President Grant said that he was "sure I have not the slightest desire to recommend that the people leave Coca-Cola alone if this amount is absolutely harmless, which they claim it is." Beatty, however, insisted that he would still recommend against its use by children. The question was left unresolved, and evidence indicates that while the First Presidency has taken no official stand on the use of cola drinks, some members urge abstinence.
The Ensign included a wise caution in Dec 2008:
...the Word of Wisdom does not specifically prohibit caffeine. However, I believe that if we follow the spirit of the Word of Wisdom we will be very careful about what we consume, particularly any substance that can have a negative impact on our bodies. This is true regarding any drug, substance, or even food that may be damaging to one's health. This includes caffeine.
Official statement of policy from the First Presidency regarding cola drinks
An official statement of policy from the First Presidency is available:
With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.
The Church Handbook of Instructions: "The only official interpretation of “hot drinks” (D&C 89:9) in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term “hot drinks” means tea and coffee"
The 2010 Church Handbook of Instructions notes:
The only official interpretation of “hot drinks” (D&C 89:9) in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term “hot drinks” means tea and coffee.
Members should not use any substance that contains illegal drugs. Nor should members use harmful or habit-forming substances except under the care of a competent physician.
See also: Thomas J. Boud, MD, "The Energy Drink Epidemic," Ensign, December 2008. off-site
LDS Newsroom: "Despite what was reported, the Church revelation spelling out health practices (Doctrine and Covenants 89) does not mention the use of caffeine"
LDS Newsroom, Mormonism in the News: Getting It Right (29 August 2012):
Finally, another small correction: Despite what was reported, the Church revelation spelling out health practices (Doctrine and Covenants 89) does not mention the use of caffeine. The Church’s health guidelines prohibit alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco, and “hot drinks” — taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee.
Question: If Mormons don't drink coffee and tea because it contains caffeine, then why do they consume other products which contain caffeine?
While avoiding caffeine is a legitimate reason for avoiding coffee and tea, it is not the only reason nor is it necessarily the reason the Lord had in mind in giving the revelation
It is claimed that "most Mormons" feel that coffee and tea are prohibited because they contain caffeine. However, it is irrelevant what "most Mormons" claim as their reason for avoiding coffee and tea. The Word of Wisdom itself gives no indication of the reasons these substances are to be avoided—it only states that they should be. While avoiding caffeine is a legitimate reason for avoiding coffee and tea, it is not the only reason nor is it necessarily the reason the Lord had in mind in giving the revelation.
A study printed in the International Journal of Cancer recently reported these startling findings: Drinking very hot beverages appears to raise the risk of esophageal cancer by as much as four times. The researchers analyzed results from five studies involving nearly three thousand people. The study found that hot beverages did increase the cancer risk. The study provided evidence of a link between esophageal cancer induced by the consumption of very hot drinks. Another report by Swiss researchers found that a component in coffee (chlorogenic acid) actually destroyed much of the body's thiamin after one quart of coffee was consumed in three hours. Other reported effects of drinking coffee are more controversial and have yet to be firmly proven. At any rate, it is clear that just because "most Mormons" avoid coffee and tea due to concerns about caffeine, the presence of the stimulant is not the only reason the Lord may have invoked a prohibition against these substances.
The Church does not take an official position on this issue
This is one of many issues about which the Church has no official position. As President J. Reuben Clark taught under assignment from the First Presidency:
- Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church....
- When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not "moved upon by the Holy Ghost," unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
- Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.
Harold B. Lee was emphatic that only one person can speak for the Church:
- All over the Church you're being asked this: "What does the Church think about this or that?" Have you ever heard anybody ask that question? "What does the Church think about the civil rights legislation?" "What do they think about the war?" "What do they think about drinking Coca-Cola or Sanka coffee?" Did you ever hear that? "What do they think about the Democratic Party or ticket or the Republican ticket?" Did you ever hear that? "How should we vote in this forthcoming election?" Now, with most all of those questions, if you answer them, you're going to be in trouble. Most all of them. Now, it's the smart man that will say, "There's only one man in this church that speaks for the Church, and I'm not that one man."
- I think nothing could get you into deep water quicker than to answer people on these things, when they say, "What does the Church think?" and you want to be smart, so you try to answer what the Church's policy is. Well, you're not the one to make the policies for the Church. You just remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Well now, as teachers of our youth, you're not supposed to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. On that subject you're expected to be an expert. You're expected to know your subject. You're expected to have a testimony. And in that you'll have great strength. If the President of the Church has not declared the position of the Church, then you shouldn't go shopping for the answer.
This was recently reiterated by the First Presidency (who now approves all statements published on the Church's official website):
- Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.
In response to a letter "received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:
- Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
- Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility.
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), 202.
- Bruce R. McConkie, "Word of Wisdom," in Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 845–846. GL direct link
- Thomas G. Alexander, "The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 no. 3 (Autumn 1981), 84–85.
- Thomas J. Boud, MD, "The Energy Drink Epidemic," Ensign (December 2008), 48–52.
- Lester E. Bush, Jr., ed., "Mormon Medical Ethical Guidelines," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 no. 3 (Fall 1979), 103.
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Handbook 2: Administering the Church—2010 (Intellectual Reserve, 2010). Selected Church Policies and Guidelines 21.3.11
- LDS Newsroom, Mormonism in the News: Getting It Right (29 August 2012)
- International Journal of Cancer, 88 (15 November 2000): 658–664.
- International Journal of Vitamin and Nutritional Research 46 (1976).
- An example of this is a study by Dr. Hershel Jick of Boston University Medical School. He found that drinking one to five cups of coffee per day raises the risk of heart attack by as much as 60 percent and drinking more than six cups per day raises the risk by 120 percent. However, other studies have failed to find a connection between heart attack and coffee intake. Other ongoing studies indicate a possible connection between coffee intake and bladder cancer. Coffee has also been tentatively linked to a rise in blood fats, increased adrenal activity, and blood cholesterol and heart action irregularity. Nevertheless, these studies are not conclusive and as such, cannot be authoritatively cited as evidence against coffee drinking. There are, however, other health concerns regarding the excessive or inappropriate use of caffeine. See: Thomas J. Boud, MD, "The Energy Drink Epidemic," Ensign (December 2008), 48–52.
- J. Reuben Clark, Jr., "Church Leaders and the Scriptures," [original title "When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?"] Immortality and Eternal Life: Reflections from the Writings and Messages of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Vol, 2, (1969-70): 221; address to Seminary and Institute Teachers, BYU (7 July 1954); reproduced in Church News (31 July 1954); also reprinted in Dialogue 12/2 (Summer 1979): 68–81.
- Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 445. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
- LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," lds.org (4 May 2007)
- Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).