Word of Wisdom/Brigham Young/Violations

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Did Brigham Young violate the Word of Wisdom?

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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. [1]

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.)


Notes

  1. ↑ Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 12:29.