(RNS) — Late last week, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were saturated with some shocking news.
Were dogs and cats mating together?
Had hell at last frozen over?
Close. Mormon-owned Brigham Young University decided to start serving caffeinated soda on campus, overturning a policy that’s been in place since the 1950s.
And there was much rejoicing. Not only, I think, among the current students at BYU, but among U.S. Mormons of all ages, because it’s one more confirmation that what most of them are already doing is kosher in the eyes of the Church.
Most American Mormons do consume caffeinated soda, according to the Next Mormons study. We asked respondents a wide variety of questions about whether they had consumed any of the following in the last six months, including things that were clearly OK (herbal tea), things that were clearly not OK (psychedelic drugs, marijuana, alcohol) and things that were somewhere in the middle (decaf coffee, see explanation below*).
The full results are being discussed in Ben Knoll’s forthcoming journal article, so I won’t offer any spoilers here except to say that it’s not just LDS President Dieter Uchtdorf who loves him some soda.
Nearly two-thirds of currently identified Mormons have had caffeinated soda in the last six months.
And in contrast to other questions for which the younger generations were clearly more likely to imbibe certain substances, in this case the Silver Fox’s generation is leading the way: For folks his age, just under 7 in 10 respondents have consumed caffeinated soda, while for millennials it’s about 58 percent.
This overall acceptance of caffeinated soda is a marked change from LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley’s "60 Minutes" interview with Mike Wallace in 1996, when the prophet verbally affirmed “no soft drinks” as being on the list of things forbidden by the Word of Wisdom:
Wallace: Mormons adhere to a very strict health code. No alcohol, no tobacco, no coffee, no tea. Not even caffeinated soft drinks.
Wallace: Eat meat sparingly. Exercise.
Wallace: Get plenty of sleep.
Hinckley: Right! It’s wonderful!
Some attitudes have clearly shifted over the last two decades. After this BYU policy change and President Uchtdorf’s beloved 2016 endorsement of diet soda, many, many Mormons are pretty happy right now.
I have more mixed feelings, myself. I’ve shared before that as a convert, I personally discovered the power of the Word of Wisdom when I joined the Church in 1993. My health improved — noticeably.
That wasn’t because I had a drug or alcohol problem, though I enjoyed the occasional glass of wine (and still miss that very much). Rather, I think it was because I gave up caffeine, which started a chain reaction that forced me to get enough sleep for the first time since childhood. I hadn’t realized until I quit caffeine cold turkey how much I depended on it to keep me going.
My health improved when I began getting enough sleep — between seven and eight hours a night, rather than the five or six I routinely got before. I came down with fewer colds and stopped getting bronchitis Every. Single. Winter.
Weirdly, I also started eating a bit better, mostly because my worst junk food binges had tended to come late at night when I was jacked up on caffeine and trying to finish some paper or project.
Overall, then, I have a good old-fashioned Mormony testimony of the truth of the Word of Wisdom, at least as I have practiced it all these years. I’ve received health in navel, as advertised; I’ve been able to run and not be weary — at least until about 9:30 p.m.! — even without the caffeine I once required.
So while I’m glad about BYU’s change of policy, and the less rigid approach Mormons have to caffeine overall nowadays, I won’t be partaking of it myself.
Please pass the Fresca.
* An LDS First Presidency letter from Feb. 12, 1969, to a stake president stated that “the use of a beverage from which the deleterious ingredients have been removed would not be considered as breaking the Word of Wisdom. This includes Sanka Coffee, and a temple recommend should not be denied to those drinking Sanka Coffee.” (Download a PDF of the letter: First Pres., Letter on Sanka 1969.)
Sanka (derived from the French “sans caffeine,” or “without caffeine”) was at the time the major brand name for decaffeinated coffee and for several decades the only such product available in the United States. As this letter seems to be the the Church’s only official guidance on decaffeinated coffee, it would seem that decaf is permissible, yet few Mormons say they drink it.