Mormons and those interested in joining the church are instructed that members of God’s church don’t drink coffee or tea. It comes from the Word of Wisdom and has been interpreted differently over the years, but it has always included “hot drinks”. The Word of Wisdom states that hot drinks are not for the belly. This has been interpreted to mean not drinking tea or coffee. There is no real explanation as to why or who made this interpretation, but many have been led to believe that it is the caffeine in these drinks.
Illogical Word of Wisdom Interpretations
The Word of Wisdom as it was “revealed” to Joseph Smith and as it is interpreted today does not make any logical sense. Try to find the logic or sense in the following statements:
Mormons do not drink coffee or tea because they are “hot drinks”.
Mormons do not drink iced coffee, because it is coffee, even though it is not hot.
Mormons can drink herbal tea, even though it is tea, but not black tea, and does not have caffeine.
Mormons do not drink decaffeinated coffee, because it is coffee.
Mormons can drink soft drinks, though many have interpreted the ban on hot drinks to include caffeinated soft drinks. BYU did not even sell caffeinated soft drinks on campus for decades. They claimed that there was never a demand for them, gaslighting the world to think this wasn’t because of caffeine, but because of a lack of interest. Only recently have they started to allow caffeinated soft drinks to be sold at the church-owned school.
Mormons can drink modern energy drinks. These energy drinks have loads of caffeine, but they are not hot.
Mormons can drink hot chocolate. Which is hot and which contains caffeine. Hot chocolate may have been given a pass since it was not a popular drink at the time the Word of Wisdom was written or reinterpreted.
Mormons do not drink alcohol, including beer, even though the word of wisdom clearly states that mild drinks made of barley are useful for mankind. Mild barley drinks are beer and ale, as opposed to strong barley drinks like whisky. Church leaders including Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and even Heber J Grant drank beer and other alcohol regularly.
Some Historical Context
Surprisingly, President Grant, before the current interpretation of the Word of Wisdom, was a coffee drinker (as well as a beer drinker) but thought he should abstain because he liked them so much. This was in the early 1900s
Obedience to the word of wisdom was not required in order to receive a temple recommend. Leaders like Heber J Grant, who is applauded for overcoming and focusing so much on self improvement, pushed the word of wisdom to be more of a commandment and less of a “not by commandment or constraint”. Earlier in his life though, Heber J Grant himself made a personal resolution to stop drinking alcohol (as well as coffee) because he couldn’t control himself. He couldn’t drink in moderation and found himself addicted time after time. So, it seems he decided to encourage everyone (by requirement) to join in on his personal goal of abstaining from alcohol and coffee.
While his Thirteenth Ward Sunday School tutors inveighed against coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol, the prohibition of these commodities was never made to be a religious test. Mormons could be considered “good” mormons and still occasionally imbibe. In fact, devout Rachel’s boardinghouse first introduced Heber to the taste of coffee. He soon became addicted and despite Rachel’s gentle disapproval he found that he could not abandon it. Time after time he quit only to find his appetite uncontrollable.Young Heber J Grant’s Years of Passage, Ronald Walker, BYU Studies. Pages 145-147. Pages 15-16 of the linked PDF file: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2266&context=byusq
Later on, and as President of the church, we have Grant to thank for making the WOW a requirement. It became required in 1921, the same time prohibition started, to advance in the priesthood or receive a temple recommend. Grant’s “administration also emphasized the practice of the LDS health code known as the Word of Wisdom. During the early 1900s, general authorities differed in their observance of the proscription against beer, wine, tobacco, coffee and tea, but among the apostles, Grant was one of the most vocal in opposing such substances. In 1921, Grant’s administration made adherence to the health code compulsory for advancement in the priesthood or for entrance to temples. Grant also spoke out in favor of Utah’s Prohibition movement, which occurred around the same time.” (see Wikipedia)https://wasmormon.org/evolution-of-the-word-of-wisdom-barley-drinks-and-imbibing-pioneers/
To further complicate things, there is also a 1965 letter from the First Presidency of David O McKay, including David O McKay, Hugh B Brown, N Eldon Tanner, and Joseph Fielding Smith, which states that drinking decaffeinated coffee does not break the word of wisdom. This is controversial because today nearly every church leader would disagree with this sentiment, even though this letter from 1965 states “that the drinking of a beverage made from the coffee bean, from which the caffeine and deleterious drugs have been removed, is not a violation of the Word of Wisdom.”
It’s obvious to those who look that this “commandment” has changed often. It began, and is still detailed in the scriptures, as “not by commandment”, and then reinterpreted as a commandment, and then the details of the commandment changed over time to suit the leaders and the culture of the day.
The paper trail shows the leaders are making things up as they go. In 1965 it was because of the caffeine that made coffee and tea against the Word of Wisdom, but they were fine to drink as long as the caffeine was taken out. But today it’s apparently not the caffeine because Mormons can guzzle certain unnamed soft drinks (Coke) and energy drinks, just not coffee or tea. Today it’s the coffee and tea itself that are bad, not the caffeine.
The Word of Wisdom isn’t about logic or health, it’s about obedience to a set of rules. It’s literally behavior control. It’s the “B” in BITE. What’s interesting though is the picking and choosing of what to follow. Today coffee and alcohol are forbidden. What about “only eat meat sparingly,” who cares about that one, right? The current interpretation is not what was written in the original Word of Wisdom. This is clear to see if the whole section of the Doctrine and Covenants is read, and compared to the lessons that cherry-pick pieces of the Word of Wisdom to support the current interpretation.
Mormons can’t drink coffee. It’s been said that is in fact one of the benefits of drinking coffee… it keeps you from being Mormon. This doesn’t stop heathens from drinking a hot cup for a Mormon by proxy.