The Word of Wisdom has to be one of the most poorly understood, misapplied parts of LDS scripture. Realizing this was actually one of the first things I began to question as a devout member of the church, as I saw how totally off-course most Mormons were when it came to living it, and how little the brethren did to correct the problem.

The first problem with the Word of Wisdom and LDS application of it stems from verse 2, which states that the Word of Wisdom should “…be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom”.

Not by way of commandment, eh? That’s interesting, because I seem to remember “Do you follow the Word of Wisdom?” being a temple recommend question. I also remember the Word of Wisdom constantly being referred to as a commandment in every church setting I can think of.

I perused to see how the correlated church navigates the whole “not by commandment or constraint” thing. I found that they leave out that part in most resources. For example, in the manual, the Word of Wisdom is quoted almost in its entirety, minus the part where God specifically said it shouldn’t be a commandment. Though space is not an issue in this web-based manual, the first two verses of the Word of Wisdom are conveniently omitted in favor of ellipses. Fascinating. Where’s the new revelation, guys?

The next issue with the Word of Wisdom comes in verse 5, which says that “inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.”

Well, this is awkward, because Joseph Smith himself drank wine up until his death, and we certainly don’t use wine for the sacrament anymore. Wine, according to multiple sources, was the reason things were a bit cray cray at the Kirtland Temple dedication. People had been fasting for a decent amount of time, and an empty stomach + wine = an interesting cocktail.

“It was reported…that they consumed a barrel of wine and other liquors at the dedication of the Temple, enabling some of them to see angels, have visions, prophesy and dream dreams.” (Pioneer and Personal Reminisces, pg 26)

“On the 6th of April, 1836, the ministerial authorities, about five hundred in number, entered that house at sunrise, and remained fasting until next morning, sun-rise, in order to receive an endowment, but utterly failed in their endeavor! It was more an endowment with wine than power from God.” (McLellin to Dear Mary, 3- August 1872; cited in Stan Larson and Samuel J. Passey (editors), The William E. McLellin Papers 1854-1880 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2007), p. 512.)

Church members today might be getting it right by avoiding wine, but earlier church leaders and members apparently didn’t!

Verse 9 says, “hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” A face-value interpretation of this would have Mormons avoiding hot chocolate and Pero, but thankfully, those revelation-rich modern day prophets have clarified that God only meant tea and coffee. Well, maybe. We haven’t seen any revelations, but that’s kind of the general word on the street. Never mind that coffee, tea, and green tea are all known to have positive health benefits ranging from weight management to reduced risk of cancer—no, if you’re a faithful Latter-day Saint, you’ll opt for a calorie- and sugar-laden hot chocolate instead, to please God. Yummy! Oh, and don’t drink iced tea. It’s not like, IN the Word of Wisdom, but we’re PRETTY sure that when God says “hot drinks” he expects us to realize that he also means “iced tea”. 

Verses 12 and 13 bring me to the clickbait title of this post.

“Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained 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.”

The Word of Wisdom kicked off in 1833, when GMO crops weren’t a thing and people didn’t know a whole lot about nutrition. God tells the saints that it pleases him when meat is used only in winter, cold, or times of famine—aka, when it is necessary for them to eat meat because there aren’t a lot of other options. From this, we can reasonably deduce that God prefers it when his people don’t eat meat unless they need to because it’s 1833 and every freaking crop field is frozen over.

In 2015, we are never in times of winter, famine, or cold, food-wise. We have globalized food production, and humans can live comfortably on a vegetarian, even vegan diet. But even casting this logic aside, almost every Mormon in existence enjoys bbq ribs and hamburgers countless times every summer. I wonder what God makes of that.

In case you need FURTHER proof that Mormons, if they’re genuinely concerned with “what God wants”, should be vegetarian almost always, here’s the rest of what the big man has to say about it:

“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 the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;

And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.”

Seems pretty clear. Have fun getting slain by the destroying angel at your next potluck, Mormons.


More Stuff

Shouldn’t Mormons be Vegetarians? by Jana Reiss (I love her. This is a fantastic article that does a better job than I did at discussing Mormonism and vegetarianism.)


Books I recommend if you’re interested in vegetarianism/veganism beyond Mormonism/this post:

Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young would have been a millennial blogger, but she died in 1901. The wife of Brigham Young, and prior to that Joseph Smith, and prior to that Henry Jacobs, who was sent on a mission by Brigham before he married her, Zina loves writing, long walks on the beach, and playing the field.
  • Nancy

    Well seeing that Joseph Smith was a fraud as were all his self proclaimed successors, and due to the fact that I’m no longer a Mormon, I’m sticking to my prime rib. I might ingest a couple of mugs of green teas to counteract the carcinogens. PS do you have any good recipes for Yorshire pudding?

    • Jaasiel Rodriguez

      I think it’s ironic that one of the things he got right, namely meat, nobody focuses on. Funny.

  • Jaasiel Rodriguez

    Fucking thug kitchen. Got my shit on point.

  • kevin_t

    The interesting thing about the Word of Wisdom is that it replaced Polygamy as the staple mormon identity in the early 1900s.

    i.e. in the days of polygamy, zealous mormons expressed their righteousness by shacking up with multiple wives. Those mormons look very different from today’s TBMs. They drank, smoke, rarely attended church meetings, etc. But once polygamy ended, the mormon identity slowly shifted to avoiding tea and alcohol, attending more church meetings, and blind-obedience, etc.

    Nowadays, it’s like the mormon identity is again starting to shift. This time, it’s all about “how much do you hate gays”. Kind of sad.

  • Gadianton

    I find it interesting that the WoW wasn’t a requirement for a recommend until the early 1920’s, which, according to my then-excommunicated(but back in now)-father, just happened to occur right around the time of Prohibition. Prior to this time, as I understand it, many members drank and smoked regularly.

  • mandala

    As a returned missionary, I was overzealous to obey. Imagine that. To me, Section 89 was clear. Kill only when there’s nothing else to eat. So I became a vegetarian.

    Probably my very first ‘WTF Moment’ was attending a luncheon at the COB fully expecting vegetarian fare. But no, I along with everyone else there were treated to a large portion of animal flesh.

    I’ve since had thousands of ‘WTF Moments’. They never stop.

  • Nathan Fife

    Yeah, this is pretty correct. I actually think that the word of wisdom is one of the few things that is almost prophetic. However the church doesn’t listen to it at all! All the reading that I have done seems to show that the word of wisdom is almost perfect as far as a health diet goes.
    So… Why are the things we care about in the word of wisdom not in it? It seems silly to me. I try to be mostly Vegan and I have been healthier and happier because of it. Word of wisdom convinced me to be vegetarian on my mission and I didn’t stop that for 6 years. I went back to meat for 2 and I hated it. Now I am back to vegetarian/vegan and I am feeling good again.
    It’s a shame that one of the most prophetic things Joseph Smith ever wrote down is almost entirely ignored int he church.

  • ozfan2013

    Yes, absolutely on the money here. There is positively no getting around the meat language in the WoW. It’s clear. It’s easy to apply. And there is NO revelation to counter it. It is inconceivable that a verbal comment from whatever leader can replace or contradict the written revelation. You would need to publish the additional “clarifying” revelation so that the Scriptures are correct. You need to also explain why the written version is wrong, because it could get real confusing.

    The unofficial key tenets of Mormonism are, “We say we’re inspired and consistent, but in actual fact we believe in being completely random and blown one way or the other according to the whims of a particular leader. But we pretend we’re still consistent. We believe Scripture is true until a leader says the opposite, then we believe that. We believe the Gospel is wonderful and consistent and we do that by ignoring all the inconsistencies. We doubt all the world’s religious intellectuals unless we need one to explain why all the others are wrong. We doubt science and the scientific method unless we can find some vague link to preconceived notions of scriptural history (or when we need hospital care or technology). We believe in “the Gospel” but we actually believe very little of what it says. Sermon on the Mount? It’s nice, but too hard. Divorce? Yeah, I know, but we just didn’t get along. Avoiding riches? Maybe after I’m rich. Giving everything to the poor? Yeah, you’re funny Jesus. Word of Wisdom? I don’t drink or smoke. What else do you want? Gimme a steak. Polygamy? Umm, I, err, yeah I don’t really read that one anymore.”

    Mental Gymnastics should be an Olympic Event. Mormons would challenge for the Gold.

  • Lauren Bowler

    Dear “Zelph on the Shelf” writers,
    I found this article to be very interesting, especially since I currently live with vegetarian friends myself. I agree that the Word of Wisdom is not always kept the way it should be. Many faithful Mormons do not drink or smoke, but they are idle, unclean, or sleep too long or too little. These last concerns are found in D&C 88:124, which some refer to as the beginning of the Word of Wisdom. I have seen how widely interpreted this revelation is within church members and how some follow these guidelines more strictly than others. I also understand your concern with the opening line of it being “sent by greeting; not by commandment or constraint.” Furthermore, the different interpretations of whether meat should be eaten or not are confusing and I can see how many people do not do these things in moderation. It would make sense to be vegetarian, especially with the scripture about how meat should be eaten only in times of famine, cold, and hunger. My purpose in writing you is to explain how I view of the Word of Wisdom so that you understand why I don’t believe that vegetarianism is necessary to be a worthy member of the LDS church.
    To make sense of the statement of it being a “greeting” yet a modern-day commandment, it has helped me greatly to look to history. The Word of Wisdom wasn’t a commandment at first, but a revelation. The Lord did this so that addicted men and women would not be immediately condemned. This gave them time to quit these habits, and if not, to at least teach the next generation this healthy standard of living. Some leaders emphasized it more than others. Brigham Young in 1851 taught that the Word of Wisdom was preferred, but not a commandment. It was more about moderation (and still excluded wine as a strong drink) in the 19th century. In 1921, Heber J Grant was inspired to make the revelation a commandment and had it added to the temple recommend questions.
    Just think: if the prophet came out today and told us that using social media were against the commandments, how would everyone react? We are all so addicted to using social media that it would be nearly impossible for us to stop, at least right away. Yet, the act of us continuing to do so would bring us under condemnation and we would all be unworthy in a matter of minutes. In Joseph’s time, smoking and drinking were seen as the common norm. The Lord wanted to tell them what would be best for their health and give them blessings, but did not make it a commandment at the time in order to bless them and keep them from instant condemnation.
    You also expressed concern about the consumption of certain drinks as opposed to others. Let us keep in mind that at the time of the revelation, the negative health risks of smoking and drinking were still unknown. Although we still don’t know exactly why coffee and tea are included in this revelation and not hot chocolate, Pero, and other things, we can only wait for time to tell. I admit that I don’t know the reasoning behind every part of the Word of Wisdom, but I do know that obedience brings blessings and that the Lord will “reveal all mysteries” to those who serve Him “in righteousness and truth unto the end” (D&C 76:5-8).
    Concerning meat, I agree that the guidelines are sometimes overlooked and taken advantage of, but I disagree that it implies that we should all be vegetarians. God often gives us correct principles and then lets us govern ourselves and decide what we think is best according to what He has given us. I do not think vegetarianism is bad, rather I admire those who are vegetarians for whatever reason and realize that there are many health benefits of living this lifestyle. Yet, I also do not believe that the Word of Wisdom implies that all good Mormons should embrace this lifestyle. As stated in D&C 49:18-19, “And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God; for behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.” Here, it clearly states that animals were made so that we can use them for our food and clothing. Verse 21 adds: “And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.” In this verse, I can see where people err, misuse, and mistreat animals in unnecessary ways.
    In the article you attached at the end by Jana Riess, she included an example from an Ensign article in 1977. This article clarified that “the Word of Wisdom does not advocate total vegetarianism.” Meat, the 1977 article clarified, was an important source of protein, while “a diet which relies totally on grains, fruits, and vegetables usually means protein deficiency.” Riess also mentioned a quote by George Q. Cannon in the 1890s saying, “Am I or my family hungry? If so, of course man is justified in killing animals or birds to satisfy his or his family’s hunger. But if he has not any want of meat he ‘sheddeth blood,’ and he exposes himself to this wo which the Lord has pronounced.”
    I know that many people, Mormons and not, do not follow this rule and take advantage of animals without needing their meat. I also acknowledge that I am not an expert on these things and can’t know the true intent of the early prophets and apostles in their statements. I don’t know exactly how strict the Lord wants us to be with the consumption of meat and how much is in excess, but I do know that the Lord has given us these resources for a purpose and wants to bless us in all aspects of our lives. I know that he loves us and can help us each personally know what type of diet is the best for us if we ask him. I appreciate you taking your time to read this response and hope to hear back with your thoughts.
    Sincerely, Lauren

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  • roberta

    Very good article. I am vegetarian and have been for over 30 years. I am very disappointed that our church does not teach this doctrine. Too many Mormons are huge meat eaters, and hate that. With sensitive hearts we should know better than to murder animals and rob them of their lives in order to eat them when humans really do not need to eat meat at all.

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  • paul

    Except… you forgot D&C49 which states, anyone who forbids eating meat is not of God

  • VFanRJ

    If you let your coffee or tea sit for a while, it’s no longer hot. There you go, now you’re in compliance.

  • GSA Mom

    Leaders eventually stopped preaching about not eating meat around the same time as large portions of land were purchased in 1949/1950, which were used for cow and calf ranching. The LDS Church would eventually become the largest beef ranchers of the United States and would briefly hold the title of largest beef ranchers of the world in 1997 (and protected by ag-gag laws).

    These ranches are for-profit not for humanitarian purposes. (Besides, grain crops are much more effective for feeding the hungry and keeping for storage).

    Names of these LDS ranches include Deseret Ranches, Deseret Ranches of Florida, Deseret Cattle and Citrus, Taylor Creek Management, Agreserves, East Central Florida Services, and Farmland Reserve.

    The impact of factory farming on our planet has been devastating: polluted air, soil erosion, water contamination, ecoli contamination to other crops, world hunger, rainforest destruction.

    Why are prophets, seers and revelators more concerned about gay marriage and masturbation than about the health of our planet? Money.

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