Rejoice Diet Coke (con limón) drinkers! Go your way and sin no more…er, at least don’t worry about drinking yourself into outer darkness. In case you weren’t paying attention, a momentous event took place two weeks ago and its impact on Mormonism could be huge. No, I’m not talking about Mitt Romney accepting the Republican presidential nomination. I’m referring to this:
“Finally, another small correction: Despite what was reported, the Church does not prohibit the use of caffeine. The Church’s health guidelines, known in our scriptures as the Word of Wisdom (Doctrine and Covenants 89), prohibits alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco and hot drinks taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee. The restriction does not go beyond this.”
This statement, posted on LDS.org as a response to this, is perhaps the clearest statement I’ve ever read regarding the Church’s stand on caffeine. However, a short while later the statement was softened to read:
“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.”
If you are keeping score at home, you’ll notice the big differences are the change from “not prohibit” to “not mention”, and the phrase “The restriction does not go beyond this” was dropped. I think the message is still clear.
Chances are if you grew up in the church you were aware of the stigma attached to caffeinated sodas. Heck, I remember the first time I had a Coke because I felt so guilty when I drank it. It’s not as if my parents forbade us kids from drinking caffeine. We just assumed we couldn’t because they didn’t.
This of course begs the question, why didn’t my parents drink Coke? Did their parents proscribe it? Did their parents’ parents forbid it? Is finding a beginning to this stigma going to be like getting to the bottom of the turtle tower? Luckily, we do have a starting point on this whole no caffeine thing.
The Word of Wisdom was given as a revelation in 1833 (“hot drinks” weren’t specifically defined as coffee and tea until 1842). It was observed with varying levels of strictness throughout the years, until 1921. That was when President Heber J. Grant made adherence to the WoW a requirement for entry into the temples. Side note: when I say “adherence to the WoW” I mean abstinence from alcohol, coffee, tea and tobacco. As far as I can determine, the church has never cracked down on people eating too much meat or not enough grains. That’s a topic for another day though.
In any event, we’ve established that 1921 was “year zero” for the church requiring strict observance to the WoW, but we still don’t have an answer to the caffeine question. When did Coke and the like become stigmatized? Turns out not all the way until….1922. In April general conference of that year Pres. Grant said, “I am not going to give any command, but I will ask it as a personal, individual favor to me, to let coca-cola alone. There are plenty of other things you can get at the soda fountains without drinking that which is injurious.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m inclined to do the prophet a favor when he asks for one. I’m assuming many of the members in 1922 were the same way, as were their kids, and their kids’ kids. You see where I’m going with this. If I were a betting man I’d say that the reluctance of some members to drink Coke is a cultural/social one, along the same lines as growing long hair and not licking your lips on fast Sunday. In other words, not because of a commandment. It’s more of a spirit vs. letter of the law type thing.
At the beginning of this post I said that the Church’s statement on caffeine was momentous. I was semi-joking. I doubt this will change anything. BYU will still be dry and you still won’t be able to buy Diet Coke in the Jordan River Temple cafeteria. I don’t think the sale of caffeinated soda is going to skyrocket in Mormon-heavy communities. If you drink it you will still drink it. If you don’t, you won’t. The bottom line is the Church’s statement was meant for the media since they are the only folks who seem to think we can’t drink Coke. As for the rest of us we are still free to drink up, or not.