Why Don’t Mormons Drink Coffee?
We’ve discussed Mormons in previous posts, including this one about how happy they appear to be. One of the things that sets Mormons apart from other religious groups is a code of conduct called “The Word of Wisdom.”
According to Mormon doctrine, The Word of Wisdom is a law of health that was given by revelation to the faith’s founder, Joseph Smith. It is contained in a Mormon book of scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants. This law of health is a commandment that faithful Mormons are required to follow. However, it was once more of a suggestion than a strict commandment, and the interpretation of it has varied over generations.
Basically, Word-of-Wisdom-abiding Mormons today do not drink alcohol, tea, or coffee. They don’t use tobacco. And they don’t use elicit drugs. However, the language of the revelation, first published nearly 200 years ago, does not specifically list most of these items as no-no’s. Of the aforementioned substances, only tobacco is mentioned by name.
The text says to stay away from “hot drinks,” but was does that mean? Church leaders since Joseph Smith, including those who guide the faith today, clarify hot drinks to mean tea and coffee. But non-caffeinated herbal tea and hot cocoa are okay.
So temperature doesn’t seem to be the issue. Mormons who uphold the Word of Wisdom can’t chill a cup of coffee then drink it. What’s interesting is that for years, coffee was consumed by Mormons, including their leaders. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the Mormon prophet put his foot down and said no more coffee.
There has never been a specific health-based reason given as to why coffee is should be avoided. The church’s official stance is that it’s a revealed doctrine given to the prophet, and that members should follow the prophet. Some have said it’s because of the caffeine in coffee, but there’s no official church policy that forbids the drinking of caffeinated soda like Coke or Mountain Dew.
Interestingly enough, Mormon-run institutions, like the church-owned Brigham Young University, only offer caffeine-free sodas on campus. However, individual members are not considered in violation of breaking the Word of Wisdom commandment if they go somewhere else and enjoy a caffeinated soda.
Mormon-run facilities do not offer or sell coffee to visitors or non-members, but individual Mormons can do so. Melaleuca, a consumer goods company whose CEO is a practicing Mormon, just launched a line of Melaleuca coffee including 100% organic coffee and other blends.
Other religions eschew alcohol like Mormons do, most notably Islam. So at least there’s some common ground there. And we know a lot more today about the dangers of tobacco than Joseph Smith did in the 1830s. But the health benefits of coffee are well documented, and without a health-based reason behind it, Mormon’s avoidance of coffee based on church doctrine remains a somewhat puzzling requirement to outsiders.
That being said, Mormon doctrine and policy has changed over the years. Perhaps, one day, coffee will be acceptable in the faith. Only time will tell.