Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Hello! Most Mormons actually do drink caffeinated soda

Photo courtesy of Christian Gidlöf, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

(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.

Hinckley: Right.

Wallace: Eat meat sparingly. Exercise.

Hinckley: Right!

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.


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About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

48 Comments

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  • I do know that Dr.pepper was officialy against the Word of Wisdom during Hinkley’s tenure but the unofficial policy was that Mr.Pib was consumed in the Thursday meetings of the apostles in great abundance~!

  • I don’t drink caffeinated soda, and rarely drink any soda at all, but there was one time when I did consume caffeinated drinks regularly: while I served a full-time LDS mission in the Philippines. Like many Hispanic cultures, the Philippine culture I observed insisted on giving any visitors something to eat or drink. I had a hard time refusing to at least sip some of what people offered me out of their obvious poverty. (I also got an amoeba from drinking contaminated water, but don’t worry, that was soon cured).

  • The Word of Wisdom is not about caffeine. If it were, decaffeinated coffee and tea would be LDS-kosher, and I know full well (thanks to an excellent Bishop) that they are not.

  • I’ve always remembered my parents story from when the family was stationed overseas, of a visit to Germany by one of the Brethren. When he stood up for his talk at the conference he commented that there had been many questions asked about whether Coke violated the Word of Wisdom. He then took a bottle of Coke from behind the podium, drank it all down, then said, “You shouldn’t drink this, it isn’t good for you.”

    For myself, I love Dr. Pepper, but mostly save it for the weekends — as much to keep my weight down as for a good night’s sleep when I have work in the morning.

  • There’s a curious history about why tea and coffee were interpreted as W of W
    no-nos which focused on a law of moses perspective. There are “principles” in the revelation that if followed bring the promised blessings, like moderation.

  • I don’t get it. I can understand that “hot drinks” meant coffee or tea to Joseph Smith. He had no knowledge of Coca-Cola. But it seems like the Church long understood this to mean that caffeine was the culprit. Jana certainly seems to have understood it this way. If not, then the 1969 edict permitting decaf coffee makes no sense.
    I like your note explaining what Sanka is. I feel old now. Are the millennials out there wondering why decaf coffee pitchers are universally signified by an orange handle?

  • My Bishop made the statement in December 1984.
    Inasmuch as he stated that drinking decaffeinated coffee would cost me my Temple recommend, and since I sustained him as my Bishop, I did not pursue the matter.
    Since no Bishop of mine has stated any differently since, I consider the matter settled.

  • Colossians 2:20-23, Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as through you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!?” These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”

    https://downtownministries.blogspot.com/2015/03/definition-of-grace.html

  • Nice try. Paul’s advice here is a lot more nuanced than your plopping it down in this context suggests. First, Paul is advising against preoccupation with worldly commands; the Word of Wisdom is a revelation from God (so your invocation of Paul is only convincing if you first reject that premise). Second, the worldly commands alluded to are the kinds that result in “harsh treatment of the body” such as asceticism. The Word of Wisdom encourages healthy behavior and respect for the body. Third, Paul could not possibly mean that any advice to not handle, taste or touch some particular class of things is unwise, since Jesus himself taught fairly strict abstinence from certain worldly indulgences (e.g. Jesus’ command that to even lust after a woman amounts to adultery) and encouraged certain deprivations, such as fasting.

    http://www.mormon.org

  • I do reject the premise that the Word of Wisdom is a revelation to God. The only way to accept it as a revelation is to test the one who claimed that it was: Joseph Smith.

    If he was a prophet sent by God, then what he says should be listened to. If he was not a prophet sent by God, then what he said should be rejected.

    And when you put Joseph Smith to the test, God’s way, you discover God did not send him. Therefore his message should be rejected.

    https://downtownministries.blogspot.com/2015/04/we-thank-thee-o-god-for-prophet.html

  • David, we know what you think God’s way to test a prophet is, and as I’ve pointed out and you have not adequately rebutted, a number of Biblical prophets also fail that test. So either they’re also not prophets, or your test is wrong.

    http://www.mormon.org

  • That is bizarre logic. If your bishop told that the LDS Church was secretly bringing back plural marriage, would you consider that settled? Would you not question that either?

  • Sometimes it is the lesser of two evils, Coke or bad water. Paul instructed Timothy to imbibe a little wine now and then for his stomach’s sake. They likely had bad water as well!

  • I never knew about the ’69 letter. In the Montana Billings Mission in ’75 – ’77, while I was a missionary there, we couldn’t baptize folks drinking decaf!

    Tea has much less caffein than coffee. I loved iced tea. It was very hard to give up at 18 when I joined the LDS Church. I love it and enjoy it to this day. But I’m also a retired Starbucks/Teavana mgr as well.

    A bottle of Coke has about 16 teaspoons of sugar. I would worry about that more than a little caffein.

  • Deuteronomy 18:22, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.”
    It’s not what I think. It’s what the Scripture says.

  • Shall we go over this again?

    Explain how Jonah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah pass that test with respect to prophecies regarding Ninevah, Tyre, Egypt, and Jehoiakim?

  • I appreciate that when you and I have discussions that you stay away from the topics of Joseph Smith (a false prophet), the Book of Mormon (with no archaeological evidence to support its claims), and the Book of Abraham (which is known to be a fraudulent book), because all of these are indefensible.
    Instead you want to call the Scriptures into question. But I appreciate that you do that. If I don’t know the answer to a point you are trying to make concerning the Scriptures, it forces me to dig into it. And that is a good thing. It benefits me.
    So, let’s start with one issue at a time, rather than giving me several issues to look into at one time.
    Let me know the concern you have about Jonah. We can deal with the other prophets after we have dealt with him.
    And then, after dealing with your questions, we can deal with Joseph Smith.
    Sound fair?

  • David, you of all people don’t have the moral standing to demand that we stick to one topic at a time. Our previous discussions have had you moving from topic to topic without a resolution. Further, I don’t stay away from the topics you mentioned; I have addressed each of those directly.

    What I really want to do is not call scripture into question, but your application thereof. You are a hypocrite in that you apply a standard of evidence to Mormonism that you do not apply to your own belief system. I have noted this repeatedly.

    Take on all four, please. The issue is simple. In each case, a prophet prophesied something that did not come to pass. Under your simplistic standard, these prophecies fail.

  • Moral standing? How about common courtesy.
    Jonah’s prophecy was a conditional prophecy, as we can understand if we read the whole book. Why did Jonah run instead of going to Nineveh? Because he knew God would relent if the Ninevites repented.
    Jonah 3:10-4:2, When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened.
    But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
    Which prophecy would you like to address next?

  • I see that you want to set yourself up as my enemy and jeer at me.
    I don’t choose to have enemies, or to be jeered at.
    Shut up.

  • Ok, so we have established that a true prophet may sometimes make conditional prophecies.

    Take your pick: Tyre, Egypt, Jehoiakim.

  • David, this isn’t new. We’ve gone over this before. Ezekiel 26:7-21, prophecy that Tyre would be destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and never be rebuilt. “When I shall bring thee down with them that descend into the pit, with the people of old time, and shall set thee in the low parts of the earth, in places desolate of old, with them that go down to the pit, that thou be not inhabited; and I shall set glory in the land of the living; I will make thee a terror, and thou shalt be no more: though thou be sought for, yet shalt thou never be found again, saith the Lord God.” Nebuchadnezzar never destroyed Tyre, and Tyre has been rebuilt following other conquests of Tyre.

  • A very complicated prophecy, isn’t it.
    Ezekiel in the passage you are referring to says Nebachadnezzar would destroy Tyre. Yet in the same chapter, verses 3- 4, we are told that the nations would destroy Tyre.
    And we read in the passage you quoted above that it would not be inhabited again. Yet in the same chapter, in verse 5, we read that Tyre will become a place to spread fishnets. Fishnets do not spread themselves.
    So, unless you can distinguish between Nebachadnezzar and the nations, and between uninhabited and people spreading fishnets there, I don’t think you are able to determine whether or not this is a failed prophecy.
    Yes, Tyre has been rebuilt. But the former glory of Tyre has never returned.
    What Biblical prophecy would you like to discuss next?

  • So, we can establish that sometimes true prophecies may seem ambiguous, contradictory, even self-contradictory, and may be more complicated than a superficial reading may imply. We may also establish that a literal reading is not the only acceptable reading of a prophecy (“Yes, Tyre has been rebuilt. But the former glory of Tyre has never returned.”) Would you agree?

    I’ll take this one next: Ezekial 30. Prophecy that Nebuchadnezzar would conquer Egypt. Jeremiah 43 states that he would burn the Egyptian temples. Nebuchadnezzar never successfully entered Egypt.

  • There is precisely one fragmentary historical document that briefly mentions a campaign in Egypt, made by the Babylonians, that doesn’t even claim to have laid waste to the temples and leave Egypt uninhabited for 40 years (Ezekiel 29), or even to claim to have successfully entered Egypt.

    In any event, a large scale conquest of Egypt by Babylon contradicts every other piece of historical evidence.

    Read the source I cited. It’s obvious you didn’t.

  • That makes precisely one piece of historically reliable evidence that blows your claim out of the water.

    Next?

  • Not at all. It’s a piece of evidence that doesn’t support what you say it supports. Even if we take it as truth (there is no other corroborating evidence and ancient historians were notorious for inflating the egos of the emperors they served), the Chronicle doesn’t even claim that Nebuchadnezzar conquered Egypt. It says he went to battle with Egypt. No burning temples mentioned. No mention of a desolate Egypt from Syene to Ethiopia (Ezekiel 29:10). No forty years of waste. That leaves zero evidence of those facts. I’m fine if you believe things occurred for which we no longer have the historical record (most of the world’s history has gone unrecorded), but you then risk applying a double standard when you criticize some other fact for lack of evidence.

    So, try again.

  • 6 comments ago you said Nebuchadnezzar never successfully entered Egypt.

    The Bible says he would. The fragment says he did.

    Next.

  • No….the fragment says he went to battle against Egypt. No mention of success. Besides, the Bible says he would do much more than enter Egypt. It says he would lay waste to Egypt, burn its temples, etc. Even if it rebuts my earlier statement (it doesn’t) it doesn’t support fulfillment of the prophecy.

  • Reread the link.
    http://discussions.godandscience.org/viewtopic.php?t=38766

    Let’s try something a little different here.

    The Bible tells us King Nebuchadnezzar would invade Egypt. The fragment indicates he did invade Egypt.

    Now prove King Nebuchadnezer did not enter Egypt. Not what someone currently says about it…but perhaps a Scripture that says he would not, or a fragment that says he did not.

    And then I will prove to you that Joseph Smith’s prophecies did not come true.

  • The actual fragment and your source disagree. In other words, your source is at best reading more into the fragment than is justified, or at worst, lying and hoping that his audience isn’t knowledgeable enough to call him out on it.

    This is what the Babylonian tablet says, as quoted by your source in another article: “In the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the country of Babylon, he went to Mitzraim (Egypt) to make war. Amasis, king of Egypt, collected [his army], and marched and spread abroad.”

    http://evidenceforchristianity.org/how-do-you-explain-the-fact-that-the-prophecy-in-ezekiel-2917-20-about-nebuchadnezzar-and-egypt-was-not-fulfilled/

  • God tells us in Deuteronomy 18:22 to test those who claim to be His prophets. Joseph Smith fails that test. To try and defend him, you selected a few prophecies from Jonah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah to show that they also fail that test. Jonah’s was conditional. Ezekiel’s concerning Tyre was complicated and not easily understood. And Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning Egypt has an ancient fragment indicated this happened. Though it is not a prophecy that can be proven archaeologically, yet, neither can you disprove it. But then you would also have the prophecies of these prophets that did happen. So you haven’t proven them to be false prophets.

    But Joseph Smith’s prophecies are easily understood. And can be proven false.

    http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/can-we-trust-the-prophecies-of-joseph-smith/

  • Typical, David. You refuse to even acknowledge the contrary evidence. I have responded to this link before. You have presented nothing new, so I refer you back to that prior response. I will note that we have established that some prophecies are conditional. Some may be understood as being fulfilled in a non-obvious timeline, and some may change subject or prophecy of multiple events. Applying each of these principles, Joseph Smith’s prophecies pass the test.

    https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Joseph_Smith/Prophet/Alleged_false_prophecies

    http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_prophecies.shtml

  • He failed the test, Zampona. Joseph Smith was a false prophet.

    Again, the good news is that Mormonism no longer controls the information available to its members.

  • David, he did not. Read the links I provided. Pray about it. Recognize that you hold Joseph Smith to a different standard than Biblical prophets.

    You realize that Atheists say the same thing about the Internet and Christianity in general, right?

  • Was John the Revelator not a prophet? Also, breaking down those verses, it’s clear that neither the meaning nor the purpose of those verses is to assert that “God no longer uses prophets” but that the Son of God Himself spoke directly to the people. This doesn’t necessarily or even tend to imply that God no longer uses prophets. Clearly, He sent His word and revelation (including prophecy) to the world through men after the Ascension. (Edit: E.g. Peter, John, Paul, etc.)

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