Criticism of Mormonism/Books/The Changing World of Mormonism/Chapter 18

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 18: Word of Wisdom"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Criticism of Mormonism/Books, a work by author: Jerald and Sandra Tanner
Claim Evaluation
The Changing World of Mormonism
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Response to claims made in The Changing World of Mormonism, "Chapter 18: Word of Wisdom"

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Response to claim: 468 - The admonition not to eat meat is mostly ignored by the Church

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The admonition not to eat meat is mostly ignored by the Church.

Author's sources:
  1. John J. Stewart, Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, p.90

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors have not explained how they understand "sparingly," and how they would assess this in individual's lives. Do they have any statistics? Studies? Or just a "gut feeling"?


Question: Do Mormons who do not eat meat "sparingly" violate the Word of Wisdom?

Just as past members struggled as individuals and a group to keep some parts of the Word of Wisdom, it is arguable that some members today likewise struggle

As with the former members, the Lord is merciful and has not yet created a "standard" for meat consumption—each member and his or her conscience settles the matter with him or herself.

With respect to the question of why we do some things (tend to eat lots of meat) but not others (don't drink tea), the reason for that likely has much to do with the concept of following the counsel of living prophets. The current Church Handbook says "hot drinks" means tea and coffee, and it forbids the use of illegal drugs, even though neither "tea" nor illegal drugs are explicitly mentioned in the Word of Wisdom. Like other scriptures, we rely on guidance from living prophets to help us to know how Doctrine and Covenants Section 89 should be applied in our time. With respect to eating meat sparingly, that remains a "word of wisdom," but, unlike refraining from tea, is not mentioned in the current Handbook and has not been publicly mentioned by any General Authorities for many years.

Joseph Fielding Smith made the following statement with regard to eating meat:

While it is ordained that the flesh of animals is for man's food, yet this should be used sparingly. The wording of this revelation is perfectly clear in relation to this subject, but we do not always heed it. [1]

Thus, each member is encouraged to do better, but as in Joseph Smith's day we ought not to attack or dictate to others. If the Lord is displeased with us individually, he can make his will known by revelation. If He is displeased with the Church as a whole, prophetic authority will give the necessary correction.

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member. Members and leaders struggled with its application, and leaders of the Church were clear that while the Lord expected perfect adherence to the Word of Wisdom as an ideal, he was also patient and understanding of everyone—leader and member—who struggled to alter their habits.

In our day, the Word of Wisdom applies in ways in which it did not for Joseph Smith's era—the modern Word of Wisdom forbids a great many other illegal street drugs that received little attention in the 19th century.


Response to claim: 469-470 - Joseph Fielding Smith said that drinking tea can bar a person from the Celestial Kingdom

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Fielding Smith said that drinking tea can bar a person from the Celestial Kingdom. Church members feel that Joseph "carefully observed" the Word of Wisdom. Joseph Smith wouldn't be able to get a temple recommend today.

Author's sources:
  • Doctrines of Salvation 2:16
  • John J. Stewart, Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, p.90

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors are impossible to satisfy. Strict consequences for the Word of Wisdom are critiqued, but they later expected us to be shocked and trouble because Joseph had tea. There is no effort to help readers understand these matters—the authors' efforts are all dedicated to the search for scandal.
  • Michael R. Ash, "Up In Smoke: A Response to the Tanners' Criticism of the Word of Wisdom," FAIR Conference, 2000. off-site

Question: Why did Joseph Fielding Smith say that the consumption of tea may bar someone from the celestial kingdom?

Critics count on "presentism"—they hope readers will judge historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day

Critics of the Church wish to emphasize that there is a "contradiction" in which one prophet says tea can prevent exaltation, while another prophet—Joseph Smith—is recorded as drinking tea. However, in contrast with Joseph Smith's day, more than a hundred years has passed since church leaders implemented a more stringent application of the Word of Wisdom. Thus, Joseph Fielding Smith's remarks apply to those under the current standards and laws. D&C 89 was clear that the revelation was from God, but it was not made a commandment or "point of fellowship" until the twentieth century.

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today

The Word of Wisdom was not the strict test of fellowship in the 19th century Church that it is for the modern member. Members and leaders struggled with its application, and leaders of the Church were clear that while the Lord expected perfect adherence to the Word of Wisdom as an ideal, he was also patient and understanding of everyone—leader and member—who struggled to alter their habits.


Response to claim: 470 - Joseph sometimes drank wine

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph sometimes drank wine. Joseph smoked a cigar.

Author's sources:
  • History of the Church 2:369
  • History of the Church 2:378
  • History of the Church 6:616
  • "Joseph Smith As An Administrator," M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, May 1969, p.161

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

In Joseph's day, wine was not forbidden by the Word of Wisdom, especially if used in a medicinal sense.


Question: In what way did Joseph Smith implement the Word of Wisdom during his lifetime?

Joseph Smith never interpreted the Word of Wisdom revelation as demanding total abstinence

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. Observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed over time, due to on-going revelation from modern-day prophets, who put greater emphasis on certain elements of the revelation originally given to Joseph Smith. Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements as today's Saints are.

Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lord reveals his will to men "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28:10,13 and others) and that revelation continues as circumstances change.

As one historian noted:

it appears clear that Joseph Smith never interpreted the [Word of Wisdom] revelation as demanding total abstinence, but stressed moderation and self-control....He had no objections to using tobacco for medicinal purposes. With regard to wine and "strong drink" possibly the most accurate index to the Prophet's position was expressed by Benjamin F. Johnson, who personally knew Joseph: "As a companion, socailly, he was highly endowed; was kind, generous, mirth loving, and a times even convivial. He was partial to a well supplied table and he did not always refuse the wine that maketh the heart glad."[2]

Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances

The text of the Word of Wisdom forbids "strong drink" (D&C 89:5,7), which some (including Joseph) seem to have interpreted as distilled beverages (hard liquor). Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some (D&C 89:17) and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances (note that verse 17 specifically permits "barley...for mild drinks"). One historian notes that the degree of rigor with which early Saints observed the Word of Wisdom varied:

[23] While the Saints opposed the common use of tea [24] and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequently used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use....

[25] The journal of Joseph Smith reveals many instances where Joseph and other Church leaders drank wine and a tolerant attitude towards the consumption of this beverage is particularly noticeable....

[26] Despite the injunction contained in the revelation discouraging the drinking of wine, (except for sacramental purposes) the casual nature of the allusions to this beverage suggest that many Church Authorities did not consider moderate wine drinking in the same category as the use of strong drinks....

Evidence suggests that the drinking of tea, coffee, and liquor was [in the 1830s] in general violation of the principle [of the Word of Wisdom], though exceptions can be found. All of these items were used by the Saints for medicinal purposes. Moderate wine-drinking was evidently acceptable to most Church leaders....[27] In short, it would seem that adherence to the revelation to at least 1839 required Church members to be moderately temperate but certainly [did] not [require] total abstinence....[3]


Question: Did Joseph Smith appear in public smoking a cigar right after teaching a sermon on the Word of Wisdom?

This accusation was made by Amasa Lyman, who had already been excommunicated from the Church

Abraham H. Cannon made an entry in his diary stating that Amasa Lyman saw Joseph Smith smoking the cigar immediately after delivering a sermon on the Word of Wisdom and that he immediately afterward "rode through the streets smoking a cigar" in order to try "the faith of the Saints."[4] At the time that Lyman made this accusation, he had already been excommunicated from the Church.

We ought to start with a degree of suspicion when we hear stories like this, because Joseph really did to things on occasion to test the Saints

These sorts of things really call into question a lot of these kinds of stories - especially when they are published long after the events they claim to be portraying (and the cigar story is certainly that). By the time these stories develop, we have these cultural myths being created about Joseph Smith. And so when we have this story about the Amasa Lyman encounter that first shows up in Abraham Canon's journal in 1895, we ought to start with a degree of suspicion. The problem we have with stories like this is that Joseph really did on occasion do things to test the Saints. He liked to go down to the boats at Nauvoo dressed poorly so as to interact with the new converts coming in to Nauvoo and to see what their expectations were. He regularly acted in ways that some thought were inappropriate for a prophet. One of the more widely known stories in the later 19th century was this one, recorded by William Allred and published in 1892:

I was with him [Joseph Smith] in the troubles at DeWitt, Adam-ondi-ahman, and in Far West. I have played ball with him many times in Nauvoo. He was preaching once, and he said it tried some of the pious folks to see him play ball with the boys. He then related a story of a certain prophet who was sitting under the shade of a tree amusing himself in some way, when a hunter came along with his bow and arrow, and reproved him. The prophet asked him if he kept his bow strung up all the time. The hunter answered that he did not. The prophet asked why, and he said it would lose its elasticity if he did. The prophet said it was just so with his mind, he did not want it strung up all the time. Another time when I heard him preaching he said if he should tell the people all the Lord had revealed to him, some would seek his life. Even as good a man as old Father C—-, here on the stand, he added, (pointing back to him) would seek his life.[5]

There is this story, and it sounds like something we might expect, but it tends to have problems when we realize that this entire story is based on a much older story about the New Testament apostle John. Here is a version of that story, published by Fracis De Sales, in 1609:

It is necessary sometimes to relax our minds as well as our bodies by some kind of recreation. St. John the Evangelist, as Cassian relates, was one day found by a huntsman with a partridge on his hand, which he was caressing for his recreation. The huntsman asked how such a man as he could spend his time in so poor and mean an occupation? St. John replied: Why dost thou not carry thy bow always bent? For fear, answered the huntsman, that if it were always bent, it would loose its spring and become useless. Be not surprised, then, replied the apostle, that I should sometimes remit a little of the close application and attention of my spirit and enjoy a little recreation, that I may afterward employ myself more fervently in divine contemplation.[6]



Response to claim: 471 - Joseph Smith asked "Brother Markam" to get "a pipe and some tobacco" for Apostle Willard Richards

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: In one instance, Joseph Smith asked "Brother Markam" to get "a pipe and some tobacco" for Apostle Willard Richards. These words have been replaced with the word "medicine" in recent printings of the History of the Church. At another time Joseph Smith related that he gave some of the "brethren" a "couple of dollars, with directions to replenish" their supply of "whisky." In modern editions of the History of the Church, twenty-three words have been deleted from this reference to cover up the fact that Joseph Smith encouraged the "brethren" to disobey the Word of Wisdom. In the third instance, Joseph Smith frankly admitted that he "drank a glass of beer at Moessers." These words have been omitted in recent printings of the History of the Church.

Author's sources:
  • Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star, vol. 23, page 720. (Reference to beer) compared to History of the Church, vol.6, p.424.
  • Millennial Star, vol. 21, p.283. (Reference to whiskey) compared to History of the Church, vol. 5, p.450.
  • Millennial Star, vol. 24, p.471 (reference to the pipe and tobacco) compared to History of the Church, vol. 6, p.614.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

As strange is it is for modern readers, people in Joseph Smith's day sometimes regarded tobacco as a medicinal substance. Beer was not forbidden by the 19th century application of the Word of Wisdom, and moderation with alcohol was the general standard. Whiskey could also be used medicinally.
  • See also p. 33 for the Tanner's further exploitation of this presentism.

Question: Did Joseph Smith give some of the brethren money to purchase whiskey in violation of the Word of Wisdom?

The use of whiskey as a stimulant while traveling was allowed, but abusing it by getting drunk was not

Liquor in judicious amounts was used as a medicinal substance, and seen as a stimulant or restorative against fatigue. This is why Joseph "investigated the case"--he wished to know if the use had been acceptable or to excess. (In a similar way, a modern-day Church leader who heard that a member was using morphine might investigate to discover if such use is appropriate--e.g., under a doctor's supervision in proper prescribed amounts for a legitimate ailment--or whether they were abusing it to get "high".)

Here's what Joseph said,

The company moved on to Andover, where the Sheriff of Lee County requested lodgings for the night for all the company. I was put up into a room and locked up with Captain Grover. It was reported to me that some of the brethren had been drinking whiskey that day in violation of the Word of Wisdom.

I called the brethren in and investigated the case, and was satisfied that no evil had been done, and gave them a couple of dollars, with directions to replenish the bottle to stimulate them in the fatigues of their sleepless journey.[7]

The complete prohibition on alcohol was phased in gradually

Critics of the Church who use this quote as evidence that Joseph disregarded the Word of Wisdom also do not inform readers that the complete prohibition on alcohol was a gradual matter, and so Joseph's judgment on the issue was possible (which explains why no one at the time was shocked or outraged by it). Later nineteenth century Mormons, such as Brigham Young, understood the matter in the same way, and also distinguished between the excessive and judicious use of spirits.


Response to claim: 471 - Joseph wrote in his diary that he had tea with breakfast

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph wrote in his diary that he had tea with breakfast.

Author's sources:
  • Joseph Smith Diary, March 11, 1843
  • Joseph Smith Diary, January 20, 1843

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Consulting the journal entry, we read: "Saturday, March 11th Too cold last night as to freeze [p.332] water in the warmest rooms in the city. River filled with anchor ice. 8 1/2 o'clock in the office, Joseph said he had tea with his breakfast." [8] In Joseph's day, medical thinking held that "hot drinks" (such as tea and coffee) could heat the body and vital fluids to prevent illness. As a physician, Willard Richards (who wrote Joseph's journal for him) would have known this.


Question: Did Joseph Smith violate the Word of Wisdom by drinking tea?

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today

Joseph Smith is reported as drinking tea on a few occasions. Does this make Joseph Smith a hypocrite for violating the Word of Wisdom?

We are sometimes guilty of "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day.

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not enforced as rigorously, or with the same requirements, in Joseph Smith's day. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member. Many speakers emphasized the Lord's patience in this matter, as applied to both leaders and members.

But, many of the events described are actually concerned about medical practice, not the social or recreational use of these substances. For example, one might be shocked to learn that President Kimball used morphine—however, the morphine was prescribed for cancer pain by a physician.

Joseph's use of tea may have been an exceptional event, worthy of note in his journal

Joseph's use of tea may have been an exceptional event, worthy of note in his journal. Why would this be?

In consulting the journal entry, we read: "Saturday, March 11th Too cold last night as to freeze [p.332] water in the warmest rooms in the city. River filled with anchor ice. 8 1/2 o'clock in the office, Joseph said he had tea with his breakfast." [9]

In Joseph's day, some medical thinking held that "hot drinks" (such as tea and coffee) could heat the body and vital fluids. While this was usually regarded as a bad idea that would be dangerous to health:

I found, after maturely considering the subject, that all animal bodies are formed of the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water. Earth and water constitute the solids, and air and fire, or heat, are the cause of life and motion. That cold, or lessening the power of heat, is the cause of all disease; that to restore heat to its natural state, was the only way by which health could be produced;....a state of perfect health arises from a due balance or temperature of the four elements; but if it is by any means destroyed, the body is more or less disordered. And when this is the case, there is always an actual diminution or absence of the element of fire, or heat; and in proportion to this diminution or absence, the body is affected by its opposite, which is cold. And I found that all disorders which the human family were afflicted with, however various the symptoms, and different the names by which they are called, arise directly from obstructed perspiration, which is always caused by cold, or want of heat ....[10]

This entry is from the works of Samuel Thomson, a founder of what became known as "Thomsonian herbalism." There were several Latter-day Saint physicians who were Thomsonians, including (significantly) Willard Richards, who wrote the diary entry we are here considering. The emphasis on loss of heat and lack of stimulation is significant—for it clashed with another set of medical principles, the "orthodox" or "heroic" doctors who came to believe that acute disease was not caused by lack of heat, but by too much energy, heat, or vital force: hence their prescriptions for bleeding, purging, and the like: to lower the energy or "heat." [11] Thus, under normal circumstances an 'energizing', 'hot', or 'stimulating' drink would be inappropriate.

There might, however, be exceptions. Thomson described a local woman who acted as a healer, and his admiration for her skill and methods is clear:

There was an old lady by the name of Benton lived near us, who used to attend our family when there was any sickness. At that time there was no such thing as a Doctor known among us, there not being any within ten miles. The whole of her practice was with roots and herbs, applied to the patient, or given in hot drinks, to produce sweating; which always answered the purpose. [12]

Thus, in a time of extreme cold, a "hot drink" like tea could be seen as a medicinal or preventative treatment which would help maintain health, since it would prevent the loss of the vital heat upon which the body depended. As a Thomsonian physician, Willard Richards (who wrote Joseph's journal for him) would have known and preached this. An "orthodox physician" (wary of heat, and more apt to bleed or purge) would have vigorously disagreed. [13]

By analogy, a modern member would be in violation of the Word of Wisdom if he or she injected morphine as a "recreational" drug. But, if the same drug was administered for a medical reason, the member would not be at fault. (Indeed, we might find fault with someone for refusing a medical treatment to maintain their health or cure an illness.)

That Richards was not surprised or offended by Joseph's consumption of tea on a bitterly cold winter morning demonstrates that Joseph's action was not the scandal that some wish to portray it as.

As one historian observed in 1972:

While the Saints opposed the common use of tea and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequenlty used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use.[14]


Response to claim: 471 - Joseph prophesied that he would drink wine with Orson Hyde in the east

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph prophesied that he would drink wine with Orson Hyde in the east.

Author's sources:
  • Joseph Smith Diary, March 11, 1843
  • Joseph Smith Diary, January 20, 1843

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Wine was not forbidden by the Word of Wisdom in Joseph's day.


Question: Did Joseph utter a false prophecy and show disregard for the Word of Wisdom in telling Orson Hyde that he would drink wine with him in Palestine?

Joseph's prophecy of drinking wine with Hyde in Palestine is reminiscent of Jesus' promise to the apostles that he would drink of wine when the kingdom of God was come

Joseph's prophecy of drinking wine with Hyde in Palestine is reminiscent of Jesus' promise to the apostles that he would drink of wine when the kingdom of God was come (Luke 22:18) which was reiterated in a revelation to Joseph Smith (D&C 27:5). Joseph prophesied that he would drink with Hyde there—but whether he would go to Palestine in this life was something about which he immediately expressed uncertainty.

Those who offer this criticism make three errors:

  1. they do not cite the entire text
  2. they refuse to consider a fulfillment after this life.
  3. they ignore the Word of Wisdom's application in historical context.

The prophecy: "If I live I [will] take these b[r]ethren through these United States and through the world. I will make just as big a wake as God Almighty will let me"

Joseph was not certain that he would see Palestine during this life. As can be seen below, Joseph (1) prophesied that he would drink wine with Hyde in the Holy Land; and then (2) expressed hope that he would go with the Twelve to the Holy Land, but was aware he might not live, and left the matter to God's will:

Elder Hyde told of the excellent white wine he drank in the east [Palestine]. Joseph prophesied in the name of the Lord that he would drink wine with him in that country. Joseph [said], "From the 6th day of April next, I go in for preparing with all present for a Mission through the United States and when we arrive {page 143} at Maine we will take ship for England and so on to all countries where we are a mind for to go." P[r]e[se]nt: H[yrum] Smith, B[righam] Young, H[eber] C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, John Taylor, W[ilford] Woodruff, Geo[rge] A. Smith, [and] W[illard] Richards.

[Joseph said,] "We must write for John E. Page. We must love the whole Quorum. We must send Kings and Queens to Nauvoo and we will do it. We must all start from this place. Let the 12 [Apostles] be called in on the {page 143} 6th of April and a notice be given for a special conference on the platform on [the] House of the Lord. We are sure to go as we live till spring. If I live I [will] take these b[r]ethren through these United States and through the world. I will make just as big a wake as God Almighty will let me."[15]

In Joseph's day, wine was not forbidden by the Word of Wisdom

Critics count on their audience thinking that the prophets have commanded the same degree of observance of the Word of Wisdom throughout Church history.


Response to claim: 472 - George A. Smith reported that some church members left the church after finding that their leaders drank tea and coffee

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

George A. Smith reported that some church members left the church after finding that their leaders drank tea and coffee.

Author's sources:
  1. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 2:214.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors count on their readers not understanding the historical context. George A. Smith obviously believes that those who apostatized on this issue are being foolish. His statement helps us see why.


Question: Did George A. Smith report that some church members left the church after finding that their leaders drank tea and coffee?

George A. Smith clearly intends his audience to see the converts' action as ridiculous

Some critics of the Church hope their readers will be shocked by George A. Smith's admission that Emma Smith offered some new converts a glass of tea. But, why would George A. Smith admit to Joseph committing a grave sin, if such it was? His account provides us with the clues:

I know persons who apostatized because they supposed they had reasons; for instance, a certain family, after having travelled a long journey, arrived in Kirtland, and the prophet asked them to stop with him until they could find a place. Sister Emma, in the mean time, asked the old lady if she would have a cup of tea to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey, or a cup of coffee. This whole family apostatized because they were invited to take a cup of tea or coffee, after the Word of Wisdom was given. [16]

It is significant that George A. Smith says Emma made the offer "to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey." This is not merely a polite offer of something to drink—it is suggesting that the old woman may be particularly vulnerable to having her "vital heat" diminished by the rigors of a long journey exposed to the elements. Emma is probably making a health-related offer, not just offering a social beverage as we would today. Difficulties in assuring clean water supplies also make tea or coffee a sometimes wiser choice for health. Both coffee and tea are made from boiled water, which will kill bacteria. Even without boiling, the tannic acid in tea would kill the bacteria that caused such scourges as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery—all real risks on the American frontier. [17]

George A. Smith clearly intends his audience to see the converts' action as ridiculous—the Word of Wisdom did not forbid the maintenance of health.


Response to claim: 472 - Almon W. Babbitt was brought to church trial for breaking the Word of Wisdom, but he said that he was following Joseph's example

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Almon W. Babbitt was brought to church trial for breaking the Word of Wisdom, but he said that he was following Joseph's example.

Author's sources:
  1. History of the Church 2:252

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Babitt was tried by the high council for much more than Word of Wisdom violations.
  • Michael R. Ash, "Up In Smoke: A Response to the Tanners' Criticism of the Word of Wisdom," FAIR Conference, 2000. off-site

Question: Is it true that Almon Babbitt "followed Joseph" in violating the Word of Wisdom?

We often employ "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day

It is claimed that Joseph Smith violated the Word of Wisdom, and that another member (Almon W. Babbitt) followed his example. However, the Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member. Members and leaders struggled with its application

Almon Babitt was tried by the high council for much more than Word of Wisdom violations

On the 19th, a charge was preferred before a council of the Presidency, against Elder Almon W. Babbitt, for not keeping the Word of Wisdom; for stating the Book of Mormon was not essential to our salvation, and that we have no articles of faith except the Bible.

Elder J. B. Smith testified that Elder Babbitt had assumed the prerogative of dictating to him in his preaching; and that he was not keeping the Word of Wisdom.

Elder Babbitt said that he had taken the liberty to break the Word of Wisdom, from the example of President Joseph Smith, Jun., and others, but acknowledged that it was wrong; that he had taught the Book of Mormon and Commandments as he had thought to be wisdom, and for the good of the cause; that he had not intended to dictate to Elder J. B. Smith, but only to advise with him.

The council reproved Elder Babbitt, and instructed him to observe the Word of Wisdom, and commandments of the Lord in all things;....[18]

The more serious charges against Babbitt were:

  • claiming the Book of Mormon was not essential
  • claiming the Church had no teachings or beliefs outside the Bible
  • failure to follow lines of priesthood government.

It seems likely that Babbitt would not have been charged if his sole difficulty was the Word of Wisdom

Given the serious variety of charges against him, however, this was likely seen as one more sign of his unreliability and dangerous lack of orthodoxy.

It is also not clear what action of Joseph's Babbitt took liberty from—there were cases in which Joseph used substances normally forbidden by the Word of Wisdom, but under conditions in which use was probably appropriate. In any case, Babbitt readily admitted that this was no excuse, and no one seems to have been too shocked by the charge that Joseph's observance wasn't perfect. If the members at the time were not dismayed, this should be a good hint that the critics are hoping we over-react without the perspective of those "on the scene" at the time.

In any case, leaders of the Church were clear that while the Lord expected perfect adherence to the Word of Wisdom as an ideal, he was also patient and understanding of everyone—leader and member—who struggled to alter their habits.


Response to claim: 472-473 - Joseph Smith sold liquor in Nauvoo

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith sold liquor in Nauvoo.

Author's sources:
  • History of the Church 6:111
  • The Saints' Herald, January 22, 1935, p.110
  • "Journal of Oliver B. Huntington," typed copy at Utah State Historical Society, vol. 2, p.166"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member. The author's don't acknowledge this, and simply count on the "shock value" of the claim to do their work for them.


Question: Did Joseph Smith set up a bar to sell liquor in Nauvoo?

The Word of Wisdom was not binding on Latter-day Saint members, and was certainly not seen as a requirement for non-members

Joseph's hotel would likely see many travelers who would be non-members, and he may have felt that his supervision would be better able to prevent the abuse and trouble which liquor often brought with it. Despite this, he seems to have gradually decided that the Mormons could not or should not impose their views on abstinence on the entire city and its population.

Emma's concern, notably, does not have anything to do with the Word of Wisdom, but simply that she does not wish her children and home to be associated with the difficulties that came with the liquor trade, and that it looks bad for any religious leader to be in any way associated with something as disreputable as liquor.

Critics count on "presentism"—they hope readers will judge historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day.

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member.

Drink was often viewed as a scourge on the nineteenth century frontier

Mayor John C. Bennett's inaugural address sounded this theme:

The 21st Sec. of the addenda to the 13th Sec. of the City Charter concedes to you plenary power "to tax, restrain, prohibit and suppress, tippling houses, dram-shops," etc. etc., and I now recommend, in the strongest possible terms, that you take prompt, strong, and decisive measures to "prohibit and suppress" all such establishments. It is true you have the power "to tax," or license and tolerate, them, and thus add to the city finances; but I consider it much better to raise revenue by an ad valorem tax on the property of sober men, than by licensing dram shops, or taxing the signs of the inebriated worshippers at the shrine of Bacchus. The revels of bacchanalians in the houses of blasphemy and noise will always prove a disgrace to a moral people. Public sentiment will do much to suppress the vice of intemperance, and its concomitant evil results: but ample experience has incontrovertibly proven that it cannot do all -- the law must be brought to the rescue, and an effective prohibitory ordinance enacted. This cannot be done at a better time than at the present. Let us commence correctly, and the great work of reform, at least so far as our peaceful city is concerned, can be summarily consummated. It would be difficult to calculate the vast amount of civil and crime that would be prevented, and the great good that would accrue to the public at large by fostering the cause of temperance; but suffice it to say that the one would be commensurate to the other. -- No sales of spirituous liquors whatever, in a less quantity than a quart, except in cases of sickness on the recommendation of a physician or surgeon duly accredited by the Chancellor and Regents of the University, should be tolerated. The liberty of selling the intoxicating cup is a false liberty -- it enslaves, degrades, destroys, and wretchedness and want are attendant on every step.... [19]

Soon after the Nauvoo charter came into effect, Joseph and the city council "passed an ordinance against vending whiskey in small quantities, effectively restricting the opening of saloons." [20]

It seems this prohibition did not apply to wine

On 12 July 1841, Joseph "was in the City Council, and moved that any person in the City of Nauvoo be at liberty to sell vinous [i.e., of the vine—wine] liquors in any quantity, subject to the city ordinances." [21]

As one historian of Nauvoo noted:

Although Nauvoo was a city of temperate or abstinent Saints, it was also a burgeoning western river town. Doubtless most of its gentiles and many Mormons did not hold prohibitionist views, and the demand for alcohol in its various forms must have been more or less constant. Such pressure is evident in the gradual relaxation of the official attitude toward liquor....

There was apparently never any prohibition on the sale of beer and ale, and on April 9, 1842, the council acted to license taverns and ordinaries in the town to sell beer but not spirits. But on May 14, [Joseph] Smith recorded, "I attended city council in the morning, and…spoke at length for the repeal of the ordinance…licensing merchants, hawkers, taverns, and ordinaries, desiring that this might be a free people, and enjoy equal rights and privileges, and the ordinances were repealed." [22]

On 12 December 1843, the city council in Nauvoo passed a law allowing the mayor (i.e., Joseph) to sell spirits:

Be it ordained by the City Council of Nauvoo, that the Mayor of the city be and is hereby authorized to sell or give spirits of any quantity as he in his wisdom shall judge to be for the health and comfort, or convenience of such travelers or other persons as shall visit his house from time to time. [23]

We note that such sale can include for "health"—some alcoholic use was seen as medicinal. (To learn more about medical beliefs and the Word of Wisdom substances, see here.)

The complete restriction on liquor sales was further relaxed on 16 January 1844, though liquor is still viewed with disapproval:

Whereas, the use and sale of distilled and fermented liquors for all purposes of beverage and drink by persons in health are viewed by this City Council with unqualified disapprobation:

Whereas, nevertheless the aforesaid liquors are considered highly beneficial for medical and mechanical purposes, and may be safely employed for such uses, under the counsel of discreet persons: Therefore,

Sect. 1. Be it ordained by the City Council of the city of Nauvoo. that the Mayor of this city is hereby authorized to sell said liquors in such quantities as he may deem expedient.

Sect. 2. Be it further ordained, that other persons not exceeding one to each ward of the city, may also sell said liquors in like quantities for medical and mechanical purposes by obtaining a license of the Mayor of the city. The above ordinance to be in full force and effect immediately after its passage,—all ordinances to the contrary notwithstanding. [24]

A bar for travelers was set up in Joseph's hotel, the Mansion house, and Emma rejected it due to the type of people it might draw

Joseph Smith III tells of Emma's return from a journey to find the bar in place. As her biographers tell the story:

...Emma entered the main room of the Mansion House on April 24 [, 1843]. A bar, complete with counter, shelves, and glasses for serving liquor stood in the room. [Orin] Porter Rockwell reigned supreme over it. Emma sent her eleven-year-old son into a meeting to tell Joseph she wished to speak with him; she waited in the hall.

"Joseph, what is the meaning of that bar in this house?" Emma asked with restraint obvious to her young son, who later recorded the confrontation. Joseph explained that a new building across the street was planned for Porter Rockwell's bar and barbershop, but until it could be completed Rockwell had set up the bar in the Mansion. "How does it look for the spiritual head of a religious body to be keeping a hotel in which a room is fitted out as a liquor-selling establishment?" she asked earnestly. Joseph countered that all hotels had their bars, the arrangement was only temporary, and he wanted to make up for Rockwell's months in prison. [25]

Rockwell had been jailed for months, and reached Nauvoo in financially desperate straits. Joseph hoped to find a trade for his old friend and bodyguard.

Emma was not persuaded by this argument:

Unconvinced, Emma told Joseph he could hire someone to run the Mansion for him. "As for me," she continued, "I will take my children and go across to the old house and stay there, for I will not have them raised up under such conditions as this arrangement imposes upon us, nor have them mingle with the kind of men who frequent such a place. You are at liberty to make your choice; either that bar goes out of the house, or we will!"...

Joseph answered, "Very well, Emma; I will have it removed at once." Soon a frame structure, designed to house the bar and barbershop, began to rise across the street. [26]


Response to claim: 474 - Brigham Young broke the Word of Wisdom by taking "snuff and tea"

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:


  • Brigham Young chewed tobacco for many years.
  • Brigham Young broke the Word of Wisdom by taking "snuff and tea."

    Author's sources:

  • The authors list Journal of Discourses, vol. 12, p.404. There is no page 404—it should be page 29)
  • Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 12:29.
  • On The Mormon Frontier, vol. 1, p.75

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Word of Wisdom was observed differently in the nineteenth century. Brigham reported that his use was medicinal.


Question: Did Brigham Young violate the Word of Wisdom by using snuff, tobacco, and tea?

Brigham indicated that his use of tobacco was medicinal

The Word of Wisdom was not enforced as rigorously, or with the same requirements, in Brigham Young's day. Many speakers emphasized the Lord's patience in this matter, as applied to both leaders and members. The Word of Wisdom was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member.

But, some of the events with which the critics wish to shock the modern member probably have nothing to do with the Word of Wisdom at all. They are concerned about medical practice, not the social or recreational use of substances. The critics' tactics are akin to pointing out slyly that President Kimball used morphine—while not mentioning the fact that the morphine was prescribed for cancer pain by a physician. The choices made by the nineteenth century saints and leaders should be seen in their historical context, not ours.

Critics count on "presentism"—they hope readers will judge historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day.

Some forbidden substances were seen as having a medicinal use

Critics also fail to point out that the fact that some forbidden substances were seen as having a medicinal use, for which the Saints were free to use them. Brigham indicated that this was the case with his tobacco use:

It is our right and privilege to live so that we may attain to this, so that we may sanctify our hearts before the Lord, and sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, but it is not my privilege to drink liquor, neither is it my privilege to eat tobacco. Well, bro. Brigham, have you not done it? Yes, for many years, but I ceased its habitual practice. I used it for toothache; now I am free from that pain, and my mouth is never stained with tobacco. It is not my privilege to drink liquor nor strong tea and coffee although I am naturally a great lover of tea. Brethren and sisters, it is not our privilege to indulge in these things, but it is our right and privilege to set an example worthy of imitation. [27]

Strange as it seems, tobacco was seen as a medication for some conditions in Brigham's time. (To learn more about medical beliefs and the Word of Wisdom substances, see here.)


Response to claim: 474 - Brigham Young told Church members to "make beer as a drink" and sponsored a bar in Salt Lake City

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Brigham Young told Church members to "make beer as a drink" and sponsored a bar in Salt Lake City.

Author's sources:
  • John D. Lee, p. 116
  • Herbert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah, p.540, footnote 44

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Beer was not forbidden under the 19th century application of the Word of Wisdom; it was a "mild drink."

See Michael R. Ash, "Up In Smoke: A Response to the Tanners' Criticism of the Word of Wisdom," FAIR Conference, 2000. off-site

Response to claim: 475 - Brigham built a whiskey distillery

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Brigham built a whiskey distillery.

Author's sources:
  1. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 10:206.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Brigham did build a distillery, but he stated that the distillery was needed for "rational purposes". Critics fail to point out that the fact that some forbidden substances were seen as having a medicinal use, for which the Saints were free to use them.


Question: Why did Brigham Young build a whiskey distillery in Utah?

Whiskey was seen as having a medicinal use

Critic charge that this was hypocritical, thus encouraging others to violate the Word of Wisdom.The Word of Wisdom was not enforced as rigorously, or with the same requirements, in Brigham Young's day. Many speakers emphasized the Lord's patience in this matter, as applied to both leaders and members.

But, some of the events with which the critics wish to shock the modern member probably have nothing to do with the Word of Wisdom at all. They are concerned about medical practice or other legitimate uses, not the social or recreational use of substances. The choices made by the nineteenth century saints and leaders should be seen in their historical context, not ours.

Whiskey had legitimate uses—for medication, for the cleaning of wounds, and for the cleaning of the body

Critics also fail to point out that the fact that some forbidden substances were seen as having a medicinal use, for which the Saints were free to use them. Said Brigham:

When there was no whisky to be had here, and we needed it for rational purposes, I built a house to make it in. When the distillery was almost completed and in good working order, an army was heard of in our vicinity and I shut up the works I did not make a gallon of whisky at my works, because it came here in great quantities, more than was needed. I could have made thousands of dollars from my still, which has ever since been as dead property. [28]

Whiskey could have legitimate uses—for medication, for the cleaning of wounds, and for the cleaning of the body. Furthermore, the application of the Word of Wisdom did not necessarily require complete abstinence, as Brigham taught on another occasion:

I have no fellowship for men who are guilty of breaking the Sabbath, of drinking spirituous liquors to excess.... [29]

This message was echoed elsewhere:

Brigham Young
"You have read that piece of excellent advice called the "Word of Wisdom." I shall not say you must obey it; you can read it over again and refresh your memories, and I give the privilege to the Elders of Israel to cease using tobacco, and if they will not cease using it, then raise it; and then, also, to cease using spirituous liquors to excess....If you will cease drinking spirituous liquors you will thereby be benefited individually and benefit the community. A man who indulges in any habit that is pernicious to the general good in its example and influence, is not only an enemy to himself but to the community so far as the influence of that habit goes. A man who would not sacrifice a pernicious habit for the good it would do the community is, to say the least of it, lukewarm in his desires and wishes for public and general improvement. Tobacco is not good for man; spirituous liquor is not good for a beverage, but in many cases it is good for washing the body." [30]
Heber C. Kimball
"If any of you have been in the practice of drinking spirituous liquors to excess cease at once the wicked and destructive practice." [31]
Erastus Snow
"If a person having a strong desire for stimulants, such as spirituous liquors, tea, coffee, tobacco, opium, &c., that stimulate the nervous system to excess, and continues to gratify this appetite, will soon destroy the elasticity of his nervous system, and become like a bow that is often bent almost to breaking....We must neither indulge in excessive eating, excessive drinking, nor in excessive working, whereby to overtax our physical energies or our nervous system. [32]
Joseph F. Smith
We do not want these things here; but we are not supreme; we cannot govern as we would wish. Not that we desire to rule with an iron hand, oppressively. It would not be oppression to me, for the Proper authorities to say,—"You Shall not take intoxicating liquors; you shall neither manufacture nor drink them, for they are injurious to your body and mind," nor would it be to any Saint,—but what oppression it would be to a certain class! Yet I hope to see the day when, within the pale of the kingdom of God, no man will be allowed to take intoxicating liquor; and make—I was acing to say, a beast of himself. But I do not name it, rather to make a degraded man of himself. Beasts would not degrade themselves as men do. The habits of the brutes are decent in the eyes of God and angels when compared with the conduct of drunken, debauched men, who pollute mind and body by the commission of every species of vice and crime. I want to see the day when no man in the midst of this people will be allowed to touch intoxicating drink to become drunken.
Do the "Mormons" drink it? Yes, to their shame, disgrace and the violation of their covenants, some of them do; and while on this subject I will say that no one supposes for a moment that a confirmed and unrepentant drunkard will ever be permitted within the gates of the celestial city. We all understand this, but I want to bear my testimony that those who prostitute mind and body by the debasing use of intoxicating drinks and the crimes and evils to which it leads will never have part in the celestial kingdom. "But," says one, "did not some of the ancients get 'boozy' once in a while?" If they did they had to repent of it. I do not excuse them any more than I would you or myself, for taking a course of this kind. Yet God sees as we cannot [p.285] see. He takes all things into consideration, He does not judge partially as we are liable to do. When He places a man in the balance He weights him righteously, but when we judge a man we are apt to judge un-righteously, because we are not omniscient. But what necessity is there for a healthy person to take intoxicating liquor? Does it ever do him any good? No, never. But does it never do any good to use liquor? I do not say that. When it is used for washing the body according to the revelations God has given, and when absolutely necessary if used with wisdom for sickness, it may do good, but when it is used to the extent that it destroys reason and judgment it is never used with impunity. All who thus use it then violate an immutable law, the penalty of which must inevitably follow the transgressor. It is against this practice that I am speaking. If there be any guilty of it here this afternoon, and I have no doubt there are, I wish them to take warning (italics added, underline is emphasis in original). [33]
Franklin D. Richards
I am not asleep to, nor unaware of the fact that many of us coming from the world have brought with us a deep craving for spirituous liquors, and for other things which are not good for us, but which we may have dabbled in to gratify a wicked appetite. Parents afflicted with these propensities ought to take warning not to breed them into the natures of their children, and if possibly they have done so, to use diligence to preserve them from being thrown in the way of temptation until they come to years of understanding, judgment and firmness of purpose, which will enable them to practice self-denial, and live as men of God. These are matters that need to be looked after. [34]

Brigham was prepared to produce a limited amount for such uses—the Saints were isolated in Utah and had to either produce or import everything they needed. He was not pleased, however, at the influx of whiskey and attendant over-use which accompanied the U.S. army.


Notes

  1. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 148.
  2. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, 38. The cited material is [Letter from BF Johnson to George F. Gibbs, 1903.]
  3. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972. Page numbers cited within text.
  4. October 1895 entry in theDiary of Abraham H. Cannon, Volume 19
  5. [citation needed]
  6. [citation needed]
  7. Millennial Star 21:283
  8. Joseph Smith, An American Prophet's Record:The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott Faulring, Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 331, entry for Saturday, 11 March 1843.
  9. Joseph Smith, An American Prophet's Record:The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott Faulring, Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 331.
  10. J.U. and C.G. Lloyd, "Life and Medical Discoveries of Samuel Thomson, and a history of the Thomsonian Materia Medica, as shown in "The New Guide to Health," (1835) and the literature of that day, &c." in Bulletin of the Lloyd Library of Botany, Pharmacy and Materia Medica No. 11, Reproduction Series No. 7 (1909): 26. off-site (italics added)
  11. Lester E. Bush, Jr., "The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth Century Perspective," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 no. 3 (Autumn 1981), 49.
  12. Lloyd, 12. (emphasis added)
  13. Bush, 55
  14. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, 23-24.
  15. Joseph Smith, An American Prophet's Record:The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott Faulring, Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 294.
  16. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 2:214.
  17. Tom Standage, A History of the World in 6 Glasses (New York, Walker Publishing Co., 2005), 135, 179.
  18. History of the Church, 2:252. Volume 2 link
  19. John C. Bennett, "Inaugural Address. City of Nauvoo, Illinois, Feb. 3rd 1841," Times and Seasons 2 no. 8 (15 February 1841), 316. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) See also History of the Church, 4:288. Volume 4 link
  20. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 413. See Anonymous, "Great Moral Victory!," Times and Seasons 2 no. 8 (15 February 1841), 321. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) See also later law, which read: "That no auctioneer or auctioneers shall sell by auction dry goods or groceries, in lots or parcels of less value than five dollars, or liquors of any kind in less quantities than five gallons...." - Anonymous, "An Ordinance Regulating Actions, in the City of Nauvoo," Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 March 1842), 717. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) Still later, "That all keepers of ordinaries or taverns, shall be, and they are hereby prohibited from selling spirituous liquors; and any keeper of a tavern or ordinary, who shall sell or permit to be sold, any spiritous liquors, in violation of this prohibition, shall, on conviction, for the first offence, be fined in the sum of twenty dollars, and for the second offence, forfeit his license, which shall be annulled by the Mayor...." - Anonymous, "An Ordinance to regulate Taverns and Ordinaries, in the City of Nauvoo," Times and Seasons 3 no. 12 (15 April 1842), 766. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  21. History of the Church, 4:383. Volume 4 link
  22. Robert Bruce Flanders, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1965), 246.
  23. History of the Church, 6:111. Volume 6 link
  24. History of the Church, 6:178–179. Volume 6 link
  25. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 178–179. citing Joseph Smith III, Joseph Smith III and the Restoration, edited by Mary Audentia Smith Anderson (Independence, Missouri: Herald House, 1952), 74–75.
  26. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 179.
  27. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 12:29.
  28. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 10:206.
  29. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 6:319.
  30. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 10:202.
  31. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 7:348.
  32. Erastus Snow, Journal of Discourses 7:353.
  33. Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses 14:284-285.
  34. F.D. Richards, Journal of Discourses 24:328.