Saturday, January 10, 2009

Origins of the Word of Wisdom

At dinner tonight, my non-believing wife was wondering why coffee and tea are prohibited by the Word of Wisdom. I said, "You know, Joseph didn't come up with that on his own; he borrowed it from the temperance movement (and the Cold Water Society) that was popular in the area at the time." She said she didn't know that, so I told her I would show her when we got back home.

True to my word I looked it up and showed her. So, I figured since I already looked it up I might as well share it with you, just in case some of you didn't know. The following is from the Tanner's book, "Changing World".

It has been suggested that the temperance movement led to Joseph Smith's "Word of Wisdom." Leonard J. Arrington, who has since become church historian, provides this enlightening information:

In recent years a number of scholars have contended that the revelation is an outgrowth of the temperance movement of the early nineteenth century. According to Dean D. McBrien .... the Word of Wisdom was a remarkable distillation of the prevailing thought of frontier America in the early 1830's. Each provision in the revelation, he claimed, pertained to an item which had formed the basis of widespread popular agitation in the early 1830's:



"A survey of the situation existing at Kirtland when the revelation came forth is a sufficient explanation for it. The temperance wave had for some time been engulfing the West.... In 1826 Marcus Morton had founded the American Temperance Society.... In June, 1830, the Millenial Harbinger quoted ... an article from the Philadelphia 'Journal of Health,'... which article most strongly condemned the use of alcohol, tobacco, the eating intemperately of meats.... Temperance Societies were organized in great numbers during the early thirties, six thousand being formed in one year... On October 6, 1830, the Kirtland Temperance Society was organized with two hundred thirty nine members.... This society at Kirtland was a most active one.... it revolutionized the social customs of the neighborhood."

McBrien then goes ahead to point out that the Temperance Society succeeded in eliminating a distillery in Kirtland on February 1, 1833, just twenty-seven days before the Latter-day Saint revelation counseling abstinence was announced, and that the distillery at Mentor, near Kirtland, was also closed at the same time (Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1959, pp.39-40).

In his book The Burned-Over District, pages 211-12, Whitney R. Cross points out that "the temperance movement ... began much earlier... During the 1830's it attained national scope. ... Further, if alcohol was evil because it frustrated the Lord's design for the human body, other drugs like tea, coffee, and tobacco must be equally wrong ... Josiah Bissell.... had even before the 1831 revival 'got beyond Temperance to the Cold Water Society—no tea, coffee or any other slops.' "

1 comment:

Stacey Lau said...

Yes, this is interesting. So much of the historical context is lost on so many of the episodes in church history, because there is only one edited and sanitized version put forth by the church to its members.