Drinking Coke

Changes Mormon Doctrine Priesthood Prophets Traditions Word of Wisdom

We’ve discussed before how difficult it is to determine official mormon doctrine. Policies and guidelines seem to change with the generations, with geographical area or with personal revelation.

I’ve heard from two different sources that someone very high up in mormon priesthood and corporate leadership drinks coke on a regular basis. So since I’m not on the “up and up” with people working in the church office building in Salt Lake, my assumption is that it’s not a closet habit either.

With this post, I don’t mean to gossip over what beverages a person consumes. I firmly believe it is every person’s right – to drink what they want to drink.

But it must be confusing for your average mormon. Because a general authority (H. Burke Peterson)mentioned in 1975 that the Word of Wisdom applied to all caffeinated beverages (including coke and pepsi).
Afterwards, for decades, faithful temple-going mormons refused to drink coke, pepsi or other related caffeinated drinks. At least any of the faithful mormons I knew. And if they drank coke or pepsi, I certainly didn’t see it.

I myself remember telling some classmates in fifth grade that I didn’t drink coke or pepsi because
of my religion. I remember because of their response (anything that’s different when you’re a kid is magnified, right?). I also remember a big deal being made of a certain brand of root beer by the bishop’s youth council, which was rumored to have caffeine, and was therefore verboten.

For more of the debate, see this post by ask gramps for additional confusion. The BYU (Provo) honor code notably doesn’t mention coke or pepsi (just coffee, tea and alcohol). And Fair mentions here that it’s okay to drink coke – Mitt Romney does.

Which makes it odd, twenty some odd years later, to reconcile that apparently even people high up in the LDS leadership drink caffeinated beverages on a (seemingly) regular basis.

Over the years, I’ve realized that each version of mormonism is simply each individual’s interpretation. And whatever sacrifices an individual or family might make for their version of mormonism may not be necessary for someone else.

Perhaps a general authority drinking coke doesn’t do that for anyone else, but for me, it throws many things into question. Why not wear garments only when one feels like it? Why not attend church only when one feels like it, or wear flip flops? Why not bless your own children (for women) and wear the prom (or wedding) dress you want to? Why not skip early morning seminary or that mission? Why not give 10% to the charity of your choice instead of the LDS church?

Usually critics of former mormons say that they are angry (and that they can’t leave the mormon church alone).

I (personally) believe I have every right to be angry about this specific policy/former “doctrine”. It sucks that I thought I was “standing for something” and “being a witness of God at all times” by not drinking coke.

But apparently, that’s not a pillar of the gospel any longer – if it ever was (standing for something or following the word of wisdom). No wonder some former mormons are angry.

It’s natural to be angry when a person has a lot of time, money and energy invested in a belief system or organization only to find out that they were the only one not in on the joke.

Which leads me to the belief that everyone is human, and no one is better or worse than anyone else. In other words, no one is “closer” to God, or speaks for God than anyone else.

I suppose in the end, each mormon (even General Authorities) decide(s) what they will and won’t do. They each decide what counsel they will or won’t follow. Which is great. It should be this way for everyone.

But it is simply another example for me that all Brighamites (Utah LDS church) are cafeteria mormons. Each mormon picks and chooses what they believe. I don’t know how anyone could claim otherwise.

23 thoughts on “Drinking Coke

  1. I also remember a big deal being made of a certain brand of root beer by the bishops youth council, which was rumored to have caffeine, and was therefore verboten.

    Ha, I remember that too! It was Barq’s, right?

  2. chanson – yes – you’re right. It was/is.

    And honestly, I knew some people who were considered “jack” mormons for drinking coke.

  3. I wasn’t around during the Root Beer debacle, but I do know that the Church cafeterias offer only caffeine-free Barq’s.

    Growing up in South Africa, Coke was on a par with coffee and tea. I purchased one in High School once in an act of rebellion and ended up being ‘punished by God’ for that decision, because a bee got into it, and I got stung in the mouth.

    Interestingly enough, moving to New Zealand in the latter half of the 90’s, the YM President brought a bottle of Mountain Dew as the refreshements for mutual our first night there. My father about had a heart attack over it!

    Seems to be very much a localized law of the Church.

  4. My impression was that drinking caffeinated cola was verboten “in the mission field” (it was very frowned upon in San Diego and simply not done in Japan) but Utah Mormons were fine with it. I didn’t know there were Mormons who drank it until I met Utah Mormons in the MTC. (This was back in the ’80s.)

  5. aerin writes

    a general authority (H. Burke Peterson)mentioned in 1975 that the Word of Wisdom applied to all caffeinated beverages (including coke and pepsi). Afterwards, for decades, faithful temple-going mormons refused to drink coke, pepsi or other related caffeinated drinks.

    and kuri writes

    My impression was that drinking caffeinated cola was verboten in the mission field (it was very frowned upon in San Diego and simply not done in Japan) but Utah Mormons were fine with it. I didnt know there were Mormons who drank it until I met Utah Mormons in the MTC. (This was back in the 80s.)

    Um, no. To all of it, except for this part and the parts that relate to it:

    I (personally) believe I have every right to be angry about this specific policy/former doctrine. It sucks that I thought I was standing for something and being a witness of God at all times by not drinking coke.

    I grew up in southern Arizona, and just about every faithful temple-going Mormon I knew–as well as everyone who aspired to someday go to the temple–drank coke or pepsi or whatever. Hell, my family drank boiling hot Dr Pepper for breakfast, beginning about 1962, and I’m drinking some right now. In the 70s and 80s, my friends and family despised Mormons (frequently but not exclusively relatives from Utah) who were foolish enough to imagine that caffeinated sodas were against the Word of Wisdom. We felt sorry for them, that they had so little perspective on what really mattered, that they would let some remark by some crappy low-level GA change their habits of beverage consumption. And we got very indignant when people judged us over it, because it was never official, it was never part of the temple recommend interview, and and it was very obvious to anyone who ever investigated the matter–and we did, because we got tired of the flak over it–that you could always drink what you wanted.

  6. p.s. What I think is interesting about all this is that Mormons sometimes seem to be on a quest for extra rules, especially rules that will require lifestyle changes, will make them unhappy, will set them apart from the rest of the world even more, and will allow them to judge others. What a freakin’ waste of time, and yes, something to be angry about.

  7. I never heard of (nor imagined) hot Dr. Pepper before.

    Anyway, I think Koda has it right: it’s very localized. In San Diego it was a sign of rebellion. Only people who didn’t take the WoW seriously (or people from Utah — same difference) did it. In Japan it just wasn’t done, period. Drinking a Coke would have been just like drinking a cup of coffee or a beer.

    And of course, we had an array of “high-level” GA quotes (President Kimball, Bruce R., etc.) to back us up, and we judged other people for it. IOW, we were a bunch of assholes hahaha.

  8. I am also a bit perturbed at the idea of hot Dr Pepper, but I also must say that the idea of caffeinated sodas being forbidden is one that has never taken much purchase anywhere I’ve been. Although one of the guys in my ward (who was actually the Bishop’s son) had what seemed to everyone to be a rather unhealthy addiction to Mountain Dew. It was comical for the most part, but seeing the withdrawals was NOT pretty.

    My view on the whole issue is that the codification of these kinds of specific rules and laws is meant to serve as a kind of trainer. But people often lose sight of whatever the overarching principle the law was supposed to guide one to, or they think that the law itself is the end, and not simply the mean.

  9. 7 – Holly – I have never heard of drinking boiling Dr. Pepper in the past – amazing. I’ll have to try it.

    I should have qualified my statement about decades of temple-going mormons as “some”. I (personally) have always thought of Arizona as close to Utah – much like Idaho or Alberta. Different than Utah, yes, but still a high population of mormons/LDS.

    And I don’t mean to argue with anyone about what was doctrine where. My point is, it was really hard to tell and still is. And yes, I would have heard people say something like (despite the low level GA quote) well, he held the priesthood so he would know. And it was “approved” by the prophet or leadership because it was published by a church magazine…

    10 -Andrew – as far as the “trainer” stuff goes ..spirit of the law vs. letter of the law – I personally found there was so much stuff like that growing up. Who cared if we were mean and nasty/judgmental to other people, if we defrauded people of their life savings – I/we didn’t drink coffee so I/we was (were) on the right path.

    It seems to me that what matters (again, IMO) is that a person is a good human being, and trying to do the right thing. That’s the “spirit” of the law, right? (I know we can debate the nature of the terms here, good, etc.)

    And whether or not a person drinks or smokes or whatever should have no reflection on their morals or character. That’s what always bothered me – that association that personal choices (like choice of what someone drinks) reflected on the content of someone’s character.

  10. I (personally) have always thought of Arizona as close to Utah much like Idaho or Alberta. Different than Utah, yes, but still a high population of mormons/LDS.

    Yes, AZ and Utah share a border, but southern Arizona is a long ways away from SLC–as in 900 miles.

    I grew up in an extremely Mormon town–President Kimball’s hometown, no less. Because he used to discuss his childhood in talks, when I was growing up, it was rare to meet someone in the church who didn’t know exactly what I was talking about when I said I was from Thatcher, Arizona.

    It was so Mormon that we had our high school prom in the cultural hall. Political and ecclesiastical power were essentially the same. Many if not most Mormons there had ancestors who’d crossed the plains. We were pretty secure in our Mormonness, and understood the WoW pretty well, which is why we felt completely entitled to drink whatever soft drinks we wanted.

  11. I think the issue of something like the Word of Wisdom is not that it’s “training” or “priming” you to be a ‘good person.’ But rather it’s “training” or “priming” you not to get addicted to some craze. [Filter that generic message through 19th century health myths about what substances are bad or not bad and there you have the WoW]

    The issue is that the spirit of this particular law should be “moderation,” not “abstinence.” Of course, with the letter of the law, it’s hard to codify “moderation.” What is moderate? How do you put it in numbers? It’s easier to say, “Never have this ever.”

  12. I grew up with a mother who forbade caffeinated soda and a father with an inordinate fondness for Mountain Dew. Once I got past about age 12, I never felt bad about drinking Coke, but you best believe my mother STILL gives me crap about drinking Coke. And don’t get her started on my coffee “addiction.”

    I did have some people in the ward that thought caffeinated sodas were bad. They were the same kind of people that wouldn’t watch “Will and Grace”– the kind of people I didn’t want to be friends with anyway.

  13. I remember growing up on the east coast (there were hardly any members at all) and making the decision to avoid caffeine so I could be more righteous. Honestly, I think I liked the fact that I was such a “peculiar” person, it really had more to do with the attention from my nonmember friends than the straight and narrow. Looking back now I can see that…oh how silly:)

  14. I grew up not being allowed to drink any caffeinated beverages (except hot chocolate of course), and until I was older, I didn’t know it wasn’t a technical WoW commandment. Other kids in our ward were allowed to, but my parents were just those kind of hard-core orthodox Mormons who did way more than they had to.

    I had a babysitter once who brought a bottle of coke with her, and once my parents had left and the babysitter left the room, I sneaked a drink from the bottle. And then felt terribly guilty afterwards, because I thought I had just broken one of the big commandments.

    And when my parents moved us to Wisconsin, my parents told the neighbours that we didn’t drink caffeinated drinks out of religious reasons, so when I went to my friend’s house, their mum was always worried about getting me something besides coke or Dr. pepper to drink. I was always annoyed at my parents for misrepresenting the no-caffeine rule as the same as the no coffee/tea/alcohol church commandment. Though we were able to drink Mountain Dew until my parents found out it had caffeine in it in the States (it doesn’t have any in Canada as a law prohibits caffeine in non cola pop). It never tasted as good though because of the HFCS instead of sugar.

    Just to spite my parents dire warnings of debilitating caffeine addiction, I’ve still never developed one, despite drinking coffee and tea, and the occasional coke.

    Nowadays, I only drink pop if it’s got alcohol in it. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of calories.

  15. @Hellmut
    I know it’s supposed to be a light-hearted comment, but I don’t see it as useful to say people who like a certain TV programme are lacking taste. Denigrating someone based on their preference in entertainment is pretty juvenile.

  16. Ahh, the trials and concerns of the fundamentalist mind.

    “He drank a Coke!”

    “But authority so-and-so said that’s bad!”

    My own personal thought is “who gives a flying fig?”

  17. My own parents were quite strict about the no-caffeine rule incidentally.

    Somehow, I managed to get through it without the need for therapy. I still don’t drink caffeine. I think the only time I ever drank a caffeinated beverage (not counting hot-chocolate – because I don’t really care) was on my mission in Japan where the guy at McDonalds didn’t know what the hell “root beer” was and just gave me a Coke. But I think that’s about it.

    I’m not particularly proud of this achievement. I don’t feel that it makes me superior to anyone else. I’m grateful for it – mainly because Coca Cola is liquid crap. But big deal is kind of the summary of my feelings on the matter.

    I feel there are bigger fish to fry if you are concerned about prophetic fallibility or changing doctrines. Like how James E. Talmage hijacked the path of LDS doctrine for half a century. Or what we really think about polygamy. Or whether Gordon B. Hinckley really thinks people can become gods. Any one of those topics seems more momentous than whether some general authority I’ve never even heard of ran off at the mouth one fine day.

  18. It’s really funny to read all of the reasons one try’s to interpret the guidance given. It’s very apparent that those who base their whole reason that the church is “false” or whatever excuse you drone up in your mind is from something that you never really understood nor cared for, and quite honestly is really sad. The church is better off not having you apart of it. Of course coffee, or having a coke, won’t kill you or do some suffering to your body, (modern medicine will show you other wise if used in large extremes) but the question is about whether or not Prophets really do exist. If Joseph Smith was not a prophet than he was a fake, liar and everything else, and you can have as many cups of coffee your little body so desires. But if he was a real prophet, then God said not to take that stuff into your bodies. Instead of placing error on the minute things and chalking it up to meaningless error on God, save us all your pathetic attempts to scrutinize what you have so failed to understand. So, I raise my glass of coke to your foolish interpretations of why it’s so important to feel the need to dissect everything thing. For 190 years, people have tried and attempted to slander, use libel, kill and criticize the church, and have failed, as will you, because you have no solid ground to stand on. Sorry to say, but this attempt to stand out as an original blog is nothing more than a life wasted in bitterness and unoriginality, and will just be a piece in the 190 year history of those that have failed to leave a mark on anything. I have gained my humor in reading a lot of what is said, you all are pathetic.

  19. “Its natural to be angry when a person has a lot of time, money and energy invested in a belief system or organization only to find out that they were the only one not in on the joke.

    Which leads me to the belief that everyone is human, and no one is better or worse than anyone else. In other words, no one is closer to God, or speaks for God than anyone else.”

    Well put.

    As for the boiling hot Dr. Pepper. I used to live in Arizona and regularly left my soda fountain Diet Coke in the car and it would get very hot. It wasn’t good, but I drank it anyway. Was it thirst or addiction or both. Don’t know. Don’t care.

    P. S. I like “Will and Grace”.

  20. The best exploration of coke and the W.o.W. was in a religion class at BYU. The professor talked about New Testament converts, formerly Jews, who were debating whether or not they could now eat meats that had been prohibited under the Law of Moses.

    In Romans 14, Paul takes on the issue, and makes this terrific statement: “Let us not therefore judge one another any more, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.”

    The problem for Paul wasn’t that they were or were not eating certain things, but that they were using meat-eating as an opportunity to look down their noses at other members of the church. As others have said above, you make up your own mind, and let others do the same. (Paul says, “Destroy [thy brother] not with thy meat”) I sometimes wonder if one of the purposes of the Word of Wisdom is to remind us of how uncharitable we can be at times towards others.

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