Question: Do Mormons really believe that drinking tea (or alcohol, etc.) is "morally wrong"?

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Question: Do Mormons really believe that drinking tea (or alcohol, etc.) is "morally wrong"?

The abstinence from tea and coffee is not a moral issue: It is a sign of covenants and promises they have made with God

Mormons don't drink tea regardless of temperature, because they believe God's prophet and the authoritative interpreter today says, "Don't drink tea." It is a sign of covenants and promises they have made.

There is likely nothing inherently morally wrong with drinking tea or cold tea

There is likely nothing inherently morally wrong with drinking tea or cold tea. We could categorize it as a malum prohibitum instead of a malum in se, that is, it's not inherently "evil," only prohibited. Tea and coffee were identified very early on as what was meant by "hot drinks"; temperature was not really the issue.

Members of the Church follow the Word of Wisdom not because of logical or health reasons, but because God, speaking to prophets, has given these instructions

Members of the Church follow the Word of Wisdom not because of logical or health reasons, but because God, speaking to prophets, has given these instructions. Some LDS are confused at the apparent mismatch between the prohibitions as we follow them today and the text of D&C 89, but the underlying reason has to do with the fact that LDS are not Protestants. We are more like Catholics and Jews, in the sense that authority is not ultimately vested in books, but in living interpreters and the tradition of interpretation. For LDS, these are obviously the prophets and apostles, for Catholics the pope and magisterium, and for Jews, the Rabbis and Talmud. Ultimately, what is binding on LDS is not the text, either of the Bible or uniquely LDS scriptures, but how they are interpreted today by living apostles and prophets.

This perspective is explored in numerous quotations from LDS leaders.

It is refreshing that this point has been understood by at least one Evangelical author:

It is important to underscore here the way in which the Mormon restoration of these ancient offices and practices resulted in a very significant departure from the classical Protestant understanding of religious authority. The subtlety of the issues at stake here is often missed by us Evangelicals, with the result that we typically get sidetracked in our efforts to understand our basic disagreements with Mormon thought. We often proceed as if the central authority issue to debate with Mormons has to do with the question of which authoritative texts ought to guide us in understanding the basic issues of life. We Evangelicals accept the Bible alone as our infallible guide while, we point out, the Latter-day Saints add another set of writings, those that comprise the Book of Mormon, along with the records of additional Church teachings to the canon- we classic Protestants are people of the Book while Mormons are people of the Books.

This way of getting at the nature of our differences really does not take us very far into exploring some of our basic disagreements. What we also need to see is that in restoring some features of Old Testament Israel, Mormonism has also restored the kinds of authority patterns that guided the life of Israel. The old Testament people of God were not a people of the Book as such- mainly because for most of their history, there was no completed Book. Ancient Israel was guided by an open canon and the leadership of the prophets. And it is precisely this pattern of communal authority that Mormonism restored. Evangelicals may insist that Mormonism has too many books. But the proper Mormon response is that even these Books are not enough to give authoritative guidance to the present-day community of the faithful. The books themselves are products of a prophetic office, an office that has been reinstituted in these latter days. People fail to discern the full will of God if they do not live their lives in the anticipation that they will receive new revealed teachings under the authority of the living prophets."[1]

Notes

  1. Richard Mouw, "What does God think about America?," Brigham Young University Studies 43 no. 4 (2004), 10-11.  (needs URL / links)