I make no claim to represent the official position of the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Any truths contained herein
have been expressed previously by others. Any errors are my property
and my responsibility.
Most of the quotes by LDS leaders appear in longer citations recorded
in Dr. Kenneth Johnson's wonderful book, Mormon Wisdom and Health
formerly titled The Word of Wisdom Food Plan.
This talk was originally presented at the Northern Utah Health
and Nutrition Conference on November 8, 1997 in Ogden, Utah.
A Path Begins
On an autumn day in 1992, I was stretched out on a sofa in front
of the TV set feeling ill. I routinely suffered four or five cold
or flu episodes each year and this was one of those times. Television
can be an intellectual desert, but on that day a Dr. Marc Sorenson
was being interviewed about his book MegaHealth. He was suggesting
that a total vegetarian diet could not only reverse obesity and
provide immunity against many infections but also drastically reduce
the incidence of several degenerative diseases including diabetes,
allergies, arthritis, heart disease and even cancer. He was so bold
as to suggest that, in many cases, a plant-based diet could actually
cure these modern plagues.
I probably would have dismissed his arguments except that what
he was saying seemed, at the time, to be vaguely consistent with
a health code that is part of my religious experience. That code
is known as the Word of Wisdom among members of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints who are also called Mormons. The Church
is commonly referred to as the LDS Church.
LDS Doctrines Relating to Human Health
A core belief for Latter-day Saints is that God speaks to individuals
in the present day so they can be beneficiaries of divine revelation
to guide their lives. The person who has been called to lead the
Church as its president is regarded as a modern prophet who passes
general revelations along to the Church at large. As such, modern
prophets fulfill the same function as the prophets of Biblical times
in that they communicate the will of God to humankind regarding
its current circumstances.
Mormons believe that in 1833 God gave by divine revelation to
the first of these modern prophets, Joseph Smith, Jr. a health code
that came to be known as the Word of Wisdom. Some might question
why a health code, something that seems more earthly than spiritual,
should be part of a religious observance in the first place. Mormon
theology is consistent with a health code for several reasons.
First, the Mormon cosmology, or the Mormon view of the nature
of the universe, does not divide the physical from the spiritual
as separate or conflicting elements. In fact, in an 1830 LDS revelation,
the Lord is quoted as saying, "...all things unto me are spiritual,
and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal..."
(Doctrine and Covenants 29:34)
In such a context, the physical becomes a sub-set, or a small
part of, the larger realm which is spiritual so that all of God's
laws take on a spiritual significance even if they are concerned
with seemingly temporal things like food or physical health. LDS
doctrine is quite specific about the importance of overcoming earthly
appetites especially those that lead to over-consumption, compulsion
and which can be detrimental to health thereby causing physical
and consequently spiritual damage.
Lifespan-Can I Lengthen "My Turn on Earth?"
Another aspect of LDS theology which supports a health code is
that the time allotted on earth for this mortal life is absolutely
critical to individual spiritual progression and must be used wisely.
A verse recorded in the Book of Mormon, which is a companion volume
to the Bible recorded in ancient America, says "...wo unto him...that
wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!" (2 Nephi
It is believed that the first fully human inhabitants of earth,
Adam and Eve, could have lived indefinitely inside the Garden of
Eden had they not transgressed a commandment that had to do with
what they chose to eat. Even after having been driven from the garden,
however, Adam and Eve and their descendants down to Noah seemed
to enjoy a maximum life span of almost 1,000 years. The eldest was
Methuselah who is reported to have died at 969 years of age. Just
before the Great Flood, however, God announced to Noah that after
the flood the life span of man would be further reduced "...yet
his days shall be an hundred and twenty years." (Genesis 6:3)
Only in a few remote places on earth today do people attain the
age of 120 with any regularity. In our so-called sophisticated,
medically advanced society, average life span is little more than
75 years. Interestingly, a Biblical psalmist recorded 2,400 years
ago, and some 1,500 years after the flood, that life spans were
then down to "threescore years and ten," which is 70 (a score being
20) "...and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years" or
80 "yet is their strength labour and sorrow, for it is soon cut
off, and we fly away." (Psalms 90:10)
Isn't it fascinating that a psalmist lamented that his people
were only living from 70 to 80 years, a life span typical of our
modern era. Maybe that's what Brigham Young, the second prophet
of the LDS Church who led the pioneer saints across the plains,
had in mind when he said, "It is an unusual circumstance to see
a man a hundred years old, or a woman ninety. The people have laid
the foundation of short life through their diet." (Discourses of
Brigham Young, p. 187)
Is a life span of 120 years realistically attainable in these
days? Credible, current, scientific research shows that not only
is it possible but, if we are willing to pay the price by strictly
monitoring what we put into our mouths and other lifestyle choices,
we can actually enjoy our extended years in vibrant health while
engaging in a full range of activities we now associate with youth
or with middle age.
The quest for a longer, healthier life is fully consistent with
the LDS view of mortality being a probationary period that is not
to be wasted but used joyfully and in service to others and in preparation
to meet God. Other LDS doctrines embody the principles of stewardship
and accountability being given and expected of the children of God
concerning their bodies as well as with their other possessions
Is This a Question of "Right and Wrong" or Degrees?
An interesting aspect of LDS theology is that many things are
considered to be on a continuum rather than in a cut and dried,
black or white, right or wrong dichotomy. For example, in the LDS
view of eternity there is no one Heaven or one Hades into which
all of humanity is sent to either enjoy endless bliss or suffer
eternal torment. Rather, the two spheres of paradise and hell are
temporary abodes which immediately follow death where most spirits
continue to prepare for an eternity in which there is a wide-range
of dwelling places each with a greater or lesser degree of light,
knowledge and reward.
With that in mind, it is easier to understand why the LDS Church
is not especially heavy-handed in its enforcement of principles
like the Word of Wisdom health code. While it is true that tobacco
or alcohol users cannot hold most Church offices or attend special
non-Sabbath day services in LDS temples, the dietary aspects of
the Word of Wisdom are left up to individuals to discover for themselves
when they become ready.
This tolerant atmosphere allows for a greater exercise of individual
agency--another vital LDS principle. Someone who is out of conformance
on an issue like the Word of Wisdom, therefore, is not so much considered
a candidate for eternal torment but an unfortunate soul who is missing
out on the blessings and rewards, both earthly and eternal, that
come from adherence. Possibly, this is why Church leaders are only
gradually making adherence to the Word of Wisdom an expected component
of LDS behavior.
Has Emphasis on the Word of Wisdom Ever Changed?
Obviously, in 1833 there wasn't much scientific evidence to reinforce
the wisdom of abstinence from coffee and black tea (referred to
as hot drinks in the revelation) and tobacco and alcohol. In fact,
the popular notion was that those products offered more benefit
than they did harm. Many Church members were overwhelmed by the
major sacrifices they were being called on to make. One can imagine
how these seemingly meaningless restrictions, but ones that required
dropping lifelong habits, met with resistance. Soon after it was
revealed, Joseph Smith felt the need to soften the impact of the
Word of Wisdom by adding an introduction. The first three verses
added after-the-fact and recorded in Section 89 of the book of Doctrine
and Covenants then invited Word of Wisdom observance, "not by commandment
or constraint" but by "greeting." (D&C 89:2)
Gradually, as more emphasis was given to this revelation, a minimum
standard of abstinence from the four listed stimulants and depressants
was adopted, and the Word of Wisdom was eventually accepted as binding
on the Church membership through a vote of common consent. However,
adherence has rarely been enforced by any strict disciplinary measures.
Are Mormons Ready to Step Up?
In my opinion (and I repeat that this is not in any way an official
policy of the Church), it seems that Latter-day Saints may now be
poised to embark on an even higher level of compliance to the principles
of the Word of Wisdom. During a semi-annual world conference, the
current president and prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, admonished, "We
must observe the Word of Wisdom. As we read our newspapers, as we
watch the television news, these remarkable words first spoken in
1833 come to life before our very eyes...People are becoming more
health conscious. We have a running start on the world, a code so
simple and easily understood." (Ensign, November 1997, pg. 69)
President Hinckley went on to show that even the current level
of compliance to the Word of Wisdom affords an additional 10 years
of life to Mormons who don't smoke or drink alcohol. I note, however,
that this still falls far short of the 120 years possible for humans.
One very disturbing trend is that Latter-day Saints are succumbing
to degenerative illnesses like heart disease and cancer in ever
increasing numbers (see the graphic in Church News, October 25,
1995, p. 12). I'll grant that other environmental factors also play
a part, but Mormons could do much better with the variables that
are within their control. President Hinckley had stated previously,
"I regret that we as a people do not live [the Word of Wisdom] more
fully." (Ensign, May 1990, p. 51)
Mormons believe in seeking individual inspiration to confirm that
which is spoken from the pulpit. Therefore, it behooves each Latter-day
Saint to prayerfully ask him or herself, "Is President Hinckley
suggesting that I pay more attention to verses 10 through 15 of
the Word of Wisdom?" Those passages in Doctrine and Covenants Section
"...all wholesome herbs," or plants as the footnote explains,
"God hath ordained for the constitution, nature and use of man--
"Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season
thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.
"Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I , the
Lord, have ordained for the use" and please note--NOT for the constitution,
nature and use as was said of the plants but merely for the use
"of man with thanksgiving, nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;
"and it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only
in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.
"All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be
the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field,
and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
"And these" in repetition of the admonition to limit the eating
of animal flesh "God made for the use of man only in times of famine
and excess of hunger."
Historic Baggage and the Current Social Climate
Despite the fact that the Word of Wisdom was recorded in 1833,
the economic evolution of the American West brought many early Latter-day
Saints, like their neighbors, into the livestock and dairy trades.
This continues to this day, and I count several of those good, hard-working,
honest people as friends. However, as more Americans move away from
meat and dairy products in favor of healthier options, it will certainly
bring more financial hardship on these good people whose careers
are wholly dedicated to and whose fortunes are sometimes completely
invested into land and equipment to raise livestock. I, for one,
wish them the very best as they strive to find better uses for their
lands and their energies.
I state firmly that no Latter-day Saint who has made a change
for better health has the right to judge harshly others who have
not. Each is on the path at a different point and the decision to
move ahead, backward or to stay put is strictly an individual one.
I also state emphatically, however, that the idea of not eating
the flesh of animals except for emergencies has NOT gone completely
unstressed in LDS teaching since 1833.
Hyrum Smith-Removing "Beastly Appetites"
Hyrum Smith, brother of the prophet Joseph and Patriarch to the
Church, wrote in 1842 in the Times and Seasons, which was then an
official Church publicationů "God...knows what course to pursue
to restore mankind to...pristine excellency and primitive vigour,
and health; and He has appointed the Word of Wisdom as one of the
engines to bring about this thing, to remove the beastly appetites,
the murderous disposition and the vitiated taste of man, to restore
his body and vigour, promote peace between him and the brute creation,
and as one of the little wheels in God's design, to help to regulate
the great machinery, which shall eventually," and I call your
attention to the word 'eventually,' "revolutionize the earth,
and bring about the restoration of all things." (Times and Seasons
He went on to say, "let them be sparing of the life of animals"
it sounds like for Hyrum it went beyond just a matter of just
human physical health, doesn't it? "let them be sparing of the
life of animals, it is pleasing saith the Lord that flesh be used
only in times of winter, or of famine."
Hyrum wrote in summation, "Let these things be adhered to; let
us lay aside our folly and abide by the commandments of God; so
shall we be blessed of the great Jehovah in time and eternity; we
shall be healthy, strong and vigorous; we shall be enabled to resist
disease; and wisdom will crown our councils, and our bodies will
become strong and powerful, our progeny will become mighty, and
will rise up and call us blessed.... We shall prepare ourselves
for the purposes of Jehovah." (Times & Seasons 3:799-801)
Hyrum's position is completely consistent with that of his brother,
the Prophet Joseph Smith, who edited certain Bible passages to correct
inaccuracies he said occurred because of mistranslations over time.
One of particular interest is found in Genesis which in today's
biblical versions seems to suggest that the vegetarian diet practiced
for 2,500 years by Adam and the other ancient patriarchs was replaced
by God with an omnivorous diet in the time of Noah. However, Joseph
Smith added a clear cautionary warning to the text. Genesis 9: 11
of the Joseph Smith Translation (found on page 797 of the current
LDS biblical index section) reads, "...surely, blood shall
not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of
every beast will I require at your hands."
Brigham Young-Blunt Counsel to Bless Lives
Unfortunately, the prophetic vision of Joseph and Hyrum Smith
was not quickly fulfilled. In 1855, Brigham Young chastised the
saints by saying, "The fathers and mothers have laid the foundation
for many of these diseases, from generation to generation, until
the people are reduced to their present condition.... The people
have laid the foundation of short life through their diet, their
rest, their labor, and their doing this, that, and the other in
a wrong manner, with improper motives, and at improper times. I
would be glad to tell mothers how to lay the foundation of health
in their children, that they may be delivered.... Some say that
'this is a miserable world, I do not care how soon I get through.'
Well, go and destroy yourselves, if you choose; you have all the
opportunity that you can desire...Latter-day Saints who live merely
to get ready to die are not worth much; rather get ready to live,
and be prepared to live to the glory of your Father in Heaven and
to do the work He has given you to do." (Journal of Discourses 2:269-71)
George Q. Cannon-"Their Old Traditions Cling to Them"
A quorum of 12 apostles helps direct the affairs of the LDS Church,
and in 1892, Apostle and First Counselor George Q. Cannon stated,
"Our religion impresses upon us the importance of taking care of
our bodies. There is a carelessness and an indifference even among
us that are not found among many well-informed people in the world.
Many of the Saints do not seem to be alive to the importance of
those laws which pertain to well-being and preservation of the health
and strength of the body. Their old traditions cling to them." (Juvenile
Instructor 27, May 15, 1892, pp. 690-91)
Elder Cannon understood human psychology and knew how difficult
it is to change old habits (at least until we form new ones which
then become rather easy to maintain). He saw the importance of having
a personal testimony of the truth of principles before they can
be easily implemented. He stated, "If I do not see the evils that
result from eating meats to excess, and the benefits that would
result from abstaining, what anybody else may see would only have
a temporary effect upon me. I must feel in my own heart that it
is injurious to me to indulge in these things; there must be a well
settled conviction within me that this is the case." (Journal of
Elder Cannon also knew that one of the techniques we humans resort
to in order to talk ourselves out of following the word of God is
rationalization. He said, "The question arises...'What then are
we to eat if we drop swine's flesh'," (note: several of the early
saints, like the Children of Israel, did not eat pig flesh at all)
" 'What then are we to eat if we drop swine's flesh and eat very
little beef or mutton...why, dear me, we shall starve to death.'
In conversation with one of the brethren the other day, the brother
remarked 'the diet of the poor is principally bread and meat, and
if they dispense with meat, they will be reduced to very hard fare.'
I reasoned with him...that other articles of food could be raised
more cheaply and in greater variety than the flesh of animals. It
is an exceedingly difficult thing for most people to break off and
discontinue cherished and long standing habits." But Elder Cannon
also emphasized the benefits, "We can have variety in diet, and
yet have simplicity. We can have a diet that will be easily prepared,
and yet have it healthful. We can have a diet that will be tasteful,
nutritious and delightful to us and easy to digest..." (Journal
of Discourses 12:221-4)
Lorenzo Snow-Seeing the Entire Revelation
Other prophets and apostles have been less publicly vocal than
Elder Cannon yet carried the same convictions within themselves.
Concerning the Word of Wisdom, Lorenzo Snow is reported to have
paid "special attention to that part which relates to the use of
meat, which he considered just as strong as that which related to
the use of liquors and hot drinks." Elder Snow "was convinced that
the killing of animals when unnecessary was wrong and sinful, and
that it was not right to neglect one part of the Word of Wisdom
and be too strenuous in regard to other parts." (Journal History,
5 May 1893, pp. 2-3)
One hundred years ago, in a meeting of the church leadership,
then-Apostle Lorenzo Snow "introduced the subject of the Word of
Wisdom, expressing the opinion that it was violated as much or more
in the improper use of meat as in other things, and thought the
time was near at hand when the Latter-day Saints should be taught
to refrain from meat eating and the shedding of animal blood." (Journal
History, 11 March 1897 p. 2) Maybe the time Lorenzo Snow foresaw
a century ago is now upon us now.
Joseph F. Smith-Putting Hunting for "Fun" in Perspective
Several prophets have spoken out against sport hunting. Joseph
F. Smith said in 1913, "I do not believe any man should kill animals
or birds unless he 'needs' them for food...I think it is wicked
for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which
possess life. It is wrong, and I have been surprised at prominent
men who I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the
shedding of animal blood. They go off hunting deer, antelope, elk,
anything they can find, and what for? 'Just for the fun of it!'
I am a firm believer... in the simple words of one of the poets:
'Take not away the life you cannot give, for all things have an
equal right to live'." (Juvenile Instructor 48:309)
In a later statement that was quoted again by two other prophets,
President Joseph F. Smith said, "We are a part of life and should
study carefully our relationship to it. We should be in sympathy
with it, and not allow our prejudices to create a desire for its
destruction. The unnecessary destruction of life begets a spirit
of destruction which grows within the soul. It lives by what it
feeds upon and robs man of the love that he should have for the
works of God. It hardens the heart of man... The unnecessary destruction
of life is a distinct spiritual loss to the human family. Men cannot
worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon his
creation. The love of all life helps man to the enjoyment of a better
life. ...Love of nature is akin to the love of God, the two are
inseparable." (Juvenile Instructor, April 1918, p. 182-3)
Heber J. Grant-an Example of Good Health
Back to the subject of human health, President Heber J. Grant
stated, "I think that another reason I have very splendid strength
for an old man is that during the years we have had a cafeteria...
I have not, with exception of not more than a dozen times, ordered
meat of any kind. ...I have endeavored to live the Word of Wisdom
and that, in my opinion, is one reason for my good health." (Conference
Report, April 1937, p. 15)
John A. Widstoe-Adding the Confirmation of Science
One of the most brilliant scholars to ever serve in the Quorum
of the Twelve Apostles was John A. Widtsoe who had the additional
perspective of a scientist as to the merits of a plant-based diet.
He wrote in a book on the Word of Wisdom, "It was shown in the history
of plant science that plants contain all the necessary food substances:
proteins, fats, starches and the carbohydrates, minerals...water
[and] vitamins. The Great builder of the earth provided well for
the physical needs of His children. Countless varieties of edible
plants, vegetables, cereals, fruits and nuts are yielded by Mother
Nature for man's daily food. If one uses meat it must be used sparingly
and in winter or famine only.... They who wish to be well and gain
the promised reward stated in the Word of Wisdom must obey all of
the law, not just part of it as suits their whim or their appetite,
or their notion of its meaning." (The Word of Wisdom, a Modern Interpretation,
Just as it was 50 years ago, some Church members today still resist
a full embrace of the principles of their divinely inspired health
code. Sadly, some even resent the efforts of others who attempt
to rise above the current LDS cultural norm, and they sometimes
label as "fanatics" those who try to pursue a higher course. In
defense of those Latter-day Saints who have a special awareness
of health and nutrition, Elder Widtsoe said, "one with an intelligent
interest in food and good life habits is in no sense a faddist or
'crank.' Indeed, every one should have such a sound fundamental
knowledge of nutrition." (The Word of Wisdom, a Modern Interpretation,
David O. McKay-Warning Against the Path of Least Resistance
Of course, it is always easier to walk the path of the majority
and to turn deaf ears to that which might make one appear different
from others. President David O. McKay said, however, "Too many members
move along the lines of least resistance and yield to a craving
appetite developed by disobedience to the Word of Wisdom of God,
thus depriving themselves of spiritual as well as physical strength...
Neither the Church nor the world at large can hear too much about
the Word of Wisdom." (Improvement Era, 1953, p. 376)
Joseph Fielding Smith-a Quiet Example
Be aware that LDS people who choose to abandon the eating of animal
flesh in search of better health and peace with the animal kingdom
do not walk that path alone. President Joseph Fielding Smith's wife,
Jesse Evans Smith, said, "my husband doesn't eat meat" and he felt
a "disdain of meat and (a) love of vegetables." (Brigham Young University
Daily Universe, May 6, 1971, p. 1)
Ezra Taft Benson-Seeking a "Daniel" Generation
Ezra Taft Benson, who became not only president of the Church
but had also served as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in the
Eisenhower administration, has been described similarly during his
later years by his private nurse, a personal friend of mine. President
Benson had said, "In general, the more food we eat in its natural
state and the less it is refined without additives, the healthier
it will be for us." (Ensign 4:66, 1974)
Elder Benson obviously felt some frustration about how well Americans
do in their eating habits because he once observed, "To a significant
degree, we are an overfed and undernourished nation digging an early
grave with our teeth, and lacking the energy that could be ours....
We need a generation of young people who, as Daniel, eat in a more
healthy manner than to fare on the 'kings meat' ---and whose countenances
show it." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson pp. 476-7) His reference,
of course, is to the biblical Daniel who, as a student in the Babylonian
royal court, opted for simple vegetarian food and whose superior
health quickly became visible to others. See Daniel, Chapter 1 in
the Old Testament or the wonderful account in Antiquities of the
Jews by Josephus, Book 10, Chapter 10, verses 1-2 for details.
President Benson also remarked, "There is no question that the
health of the body affects the spirit, or the Lord would never have
revealed the Word of Wisdom.... Disease, fever and unexpected deaths
are some of the consequences directly related to disobedience....
To a great extent, we are physically what we eat. Most of us are
acquainted with some of the prohibitions of the Word of Wisdom...but
what need additional emphasis are the positive aspects---the need
for vegetables, fruits, and grain, particularly wheat. We need a
generation of people who eat in a healthier manner." (Ensign, September
1988, p. 5)
What's Different About Our Day?
Nearly from the beginning of history there have been those who
employ corruption for their own economic or political gain. The
problem, according to Section 89, would continue to exist in our
times. "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 you this word of wisdom..." Was
that additional 1833 'forewarning' meant specifically for us today?
If so, are Mafia bosses, drug cartel gangsters, and alcohol and
cigarette executives the only "conspiring men" who operate in our
society? Is it possible that others may have respectable titles
with legitimate companies? Is it possible that anyone who promotes
a product which creates an habitual appetite or that is not health-giving
is, at best, an unwitting accomplice of the conspirators? Is it
possible to not be an evil person and yet be an ally to the conspiracy?
Is, for example, the heart surgeon who performs what amounts to
Roto-Rootor service on people's arteries only to watch them go out
and plug them up again and never teaches them to abandon their high
fat diet an "accessory" to a conspiracy? Are medical schools that
continue to superficially teach nutrition and prevention really
part of the problem rather than the solution? I'm not answering
these questions. I'm merely asking them. It's up to you to find
However, if you are looking for evidence of what President Hinckley
was talking about in October 1997 General Conference, you may want
to go back through that stack of newspapers and magazines in your
garage. While the advertisements from the cattle, dairy and egg
industries continue to suggest that for breakfast you need some
"incredible, edible eggs" and "beef is what's for dinner" and, heaven
forbid, don't forget to ask if you've "got milk?" the news and feature
stories in those publications are almost all telling you the exact
Almost daily there is an article and sometimes several that preach
the wisdom of eating less fat, cutting down on meat or dairy, the
dangers of food poisoning from animal products, etc. The press is
getting it right this time, and President Hinckley, as is typical
of his wisdom, seems to be turning the educational process over
to church members themselves. There is less need to preach from
LDS pulpits that which is becoming obvious to all who will open
their minds and their hearts and will ask in the name of Jesus Christ
for the self-discipline to change lifelong and vainly cherished
Does D&C Section 49 Cancel Section 89?
If you choose to tread a similar path, be aware that you will
encounter some Latter-day Saints who will ignorantly criticize you
because they do not understand Section 49 of the Doctrine and Covenants
and try to make it justify their own flesh-eating habits. They forget
that this section was given two years before the Word of Wisdom
(Section 89) and can't see that 49:18 is actually a warning to those
who would prohibit others from abstaining from eating flesh rather
than a condemnation of those who do abstain.
There is understandable reason for honest confusion on this point.
First, there is an error in a footnote in the present edition of
the LDS scriptures which suggests that "biddeth" means "forbiddeth."
However, just as "left" surely does not mean "right," nor does "good"
mean "bad," to "bid" someone does not mean the same as to "forbid"
someone. "I bid you to come to my house" is the exact opposite of
"I forbid you to come to my house." The inaccurate footnote prompts
us to incorrectly believe that the person who asks another to abstain
from meats is not ordained of God. However, the original scripture
(which was published for 148 years without that footnote) teaches
that he who forbids others to abstain from meats is the one who
is not ordained of God. Furthermore, if forbid really meant bid
it would alter 49:15 to also condemn "whoso 'biddeth' to marry."
Another component of the confusion is that some readers believe
the clause "that man should not eat the same" is some sort of quotation
by an imagined and unidentified vegetarian heretic. I suggest that
it is really a modifying clause that clarifies what it means to
"abstain from meats." In other words, the passage could be interpreted,
"Whoever forbids others to abstain from meats, "others" being those
who believe that humans should not eat animal flesh, is not ordained
of God to forbid them." This is consistent with the context of the
rest of the section that instructed a non-LDS, Shaker community
how it might modify its beliefs to be consistent with Mormon theology.
On some points Shaker and LDS doctrine were poles apart, but on
the this point Joseph Smith seems to have been telling the vegetarian
Shakers that they would not be compelled by LDS leaders to eat meat
if they were to convert to Mormonism.
This interpretation is fully consistent with verse 19 which says
that the beasts, the fowls, and "that which cometh of the earth"
are all ordained to provide food and clothing. Logically, isn't
it much more productive to shear a sheep each year for wool than
to kill it and have the use of its body only once? Doesn't it make
more sense to use your ox to pull your wagon and your plow and provide
fertilizer for your crops year after year than to kill it and use
its body only once? Don't chickens and other fowl provide effective
on-going pest control when allowed to live and patrol the farm?
I can only speculate that "that which cometh OF the earth" may refer
to earthworms, bacteria and other life forms within the soil that
one would never eat directly but are vital to the successful growth
of plants which, in turn, become a better direct source of food
and fiber than the dead bodies animals.
On such a self-sustaining farm people can "have in abundance,"
as 49:20 recommends, as there would be more production allowing
for a greater and more even distribution of temporal resources.
Remember the words of George Q. Cannon who explained that, "other
articles of food could be raised more cheaply and in greater variety
than the flesh of animals." It takes from 5 to 12 pounds of grain
when fed to livestock to produce one pound of meat. What better
way for all to have abundantly than for humans to be eating the
grain directly thus creating food for 5 to 12 times as many people.
Wouldn't that go a long way toward establishing a Zion society and
eliminating the inequities of a worldly system in which one man
"possess that which is above another?"
Only by interpreting these verses in this way is verse 21 consistent
with the rest. It reads, "Wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or
that wasteth flesh and hath no need." Less than two years after,
in Section 89, the Lord gave the guidelines as to when those situations
of "need" occur which are "only in times of famine and excess of
My Personal Choice and Testimony
In November of 1992, I decided to take the Word of Wisdom at face
value. I gradually gave up eating meat and had just one bite of
turkey on the next two Thanksgivings to prove to my grown children
that I had not become a "fanatic." Since then, however, I guess
I have become a "fanatic" and have given up eating all forms of
animal flesh. I try to avoid dairy products and eat eggs only occasionally.
Like Joseph F. Smith, I have come to believe that a loving Creator
is concerned with the welfare of all his living creations and not
just His human spirit-children. I believe that the Lord prefers
that we kill and eat animals only to save our lives in true emergencies.
If I am ever confronted with famine, I will certainly consider eating
animal flesh just as the Word of Wisdom allows.
I don't believe, however, that what I call "the cold weather escape
clause" (D&C 89:13) currently applies to me. According to the thermostats
on the wall of my home, office, in my car, and everywhere else I
go, for all my body knows it lives on a subtropical island year
round. I certainly don't have the excuse of the pioneer saints who
had below-zero winds blowing through the chinks of their poorly
heated cabins. Eating meat for them may have been essential for
survival. It certainly is NOT for me.
I am a witness that health improves when one abandons the standard
American diet in favor of one based on a more literal reading of
the Word of Wisdom. Those four or five yearly colds and bouts of
flu don't visit me any more. Occasionally, if I feel symptoms coming
on, I take a clove of garlic and a few herbs and in the morning
the symptoms are gone. I no longer suffer chronic low-back and neck
pain. A case of plantar's warts that plagued me for almost ten years,
despite using every medical treatment available, disappeared within
three months after changing my diet. People who haven't seen me
in some time think I've discovered a reverse-aging process, and
those who don't know me are surprised to learn that I'm a grandfather
as most think I'm in my mid 30's. I now weigh what I did in high
school, the wrinkles around my eyes have lessened, and even my hair
texture has improved.
Nevertheless, I am also very much aware that I'm in still the
process of learning the full meaning of the Word of Wisdom. I sense
that I'm on that continuum spoken of earlier and that I'm taking
small steps towards a higher goal I still can't even fully see.
I cannot say, for instance, that I always grow or select, combine
and prepare my plant-based foods in the most health-giving way or
eat them in the ideal amounts.
I also realize that the current Word of Wisdom is a "scaled down"
version of what a loving Father in Heaven would give us if we were
capable of living it. Verse 3 of Section 89 clearly declares that
this revelation has been, "adapted" (and that, of course, means
that it has been modified) "to the capacity of the weakest of all
saints." My desire is to implement this "adapted" version of the
health code and then be willing to advance to the Lord's full-blown
version when it becomes available.
All Enjoy the Freedom of Agency
I once felt compelled by certain circumstances to ask the First
Presidency of the Church if my vegetarian lifestyle was consistent
with current LDS doctrine. Understandably, their response is not
a wholesale endorsement of vegetarianism, but I received a letter
that states, "If members of the Church prefer not to eat meat, that
is their privilege." That brief statement makes it clear to me that
the free exercise of individual agency is alive and well in the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its members are taught
correct principles and allowed to govern themselves, and they are
given new and higher principles as they are mentally and spiritually
prepared to take the next step.
Let us remember the words of Isaiah, "Whom shall he teach knowledge?
and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned
from milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon
precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here
a little, there a little." (Isaiah 28:9,10) I take great joy in
seeing the gradual, line upon line fulfillment of an 1833 prophetic
prescription for health in my own life and in the lives of my family
members and friends.
Do You Believe These Promises?
There comes a time when all Latter-day Saints must ask themselves
if they really believe the words they claim to have been inspired
by God. Doctrine & Covenants 89: 18-21 makes these promises:
"...all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking
in obedience to the commandments," (let us NEVER forget that
this is NOT just about food) "shall receive health in their
navel and marrow to their bones;
"and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even
hidden treasures;" (and I take that to mean that there are some
things about the Word of Wisdom, the Gospel of Christ, and about
ourselves that we can NOT possibly know until we become exact in
our performance of that principle.)
"and shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint,"
(and how many Latter-day Saints beyond their early 20's can currently
pass that test?)
"and I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying
angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay
Most current Latter-day doctrinal instruction focuses on spiritual
salvation. Based on the Word of Wisdom, however, it seems that those
who follow the exact truths of this divinely inspired prophecy will
also be given a shield against the sword of the angel of destruction
even unto their "temporal salvation." (Doctrine & Covenants 89:2)
Elder George Q. Cannon warned, "Pestilence of various kinds which
we are led to expect through the word of the Lord are yet to break
forth...will have their effect in calling the Saints' attention
to those laws of life and health." (Juvenile Instructor 27, May
15, 1892, pp. 690-1) I personally believe that those plagues may
have already begun to unfold as the infectious and degenerative
illnesses of our times, but Elder Cannon summarized the joyous antidote
to this ominous specter. "This revealed Word of Wisdom embodies
the most advanced principles of science in the condemnation of unclean
or gluttonous appetites; and if it were implicitly obeyed by the
human family, it would be a power to aid in a physical redemption
of the race."
I believe he was right. Do you?
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