The Green Tea Question

April 9, 2011

We occasionally get the following question:

Is green tea against the word of wisdom?

A simple yes or no question, right? Here are a couple more in the same vein:

Do you have a statement that has been issued by the First Presidency regarding the usage of decaffeinated green tea either as a drink or in a vitamin formula.

I’m a little confused about Green Tea. Some members say they avoid it as it is breaking the Word of Wisdom. Yet others say it is totally fine, a much healthier alternative to soda. I’ve seen other members drinking those popular tall green cans, including my bishop. I’ve wanted to ask him about it, but didn’t really want to put him on the spot. I found this site and thought it a perfect opportunity to ask. What do you think?

Because this website is devoted to answering questions posed primarily by non-latter-day saints, we’ve generally kept ourselves out of debates that take place within the Church. For one thing, if it’s an unsettled issue among Mormons, that usually means there isn’t a definitive answer. We also strive to represent ourselves as “typical” Mormons, which means when we pick a side on some issue, we might be misrepresenting faithful Mormons who believe differently.

Since this is a persistent question and it pertains to the requirements for baptism, I’ll do my best to clear out some of the weeds surrounding this issue, but keep in mind that the truly “perfect opportunity” to discuss it is, in fact, in counsel with your bishop.

Hot Drinks and the Word of Wisdom

The Word of Wisdom refers to the dietary restrictions the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith in D&C 89. It includes a prohibition against tobacco, “strong drinks” (alcohol), and “hot drinks,” as well as recommendations for eating herbs, fruits, grains, and meat (sparingly).

Following this revelation, there was some dispute among Church members about what exactly was meant by “hot drinks.” Tea? Coffee? Soup? Eventually, in 1842 Joseph Smith’s brother and fellow Church leader Hyrum Smith gave a sermon and clarified the matter in this way: “And again ‘hot drinks are not for the body, or belly;’ there are many who wonder what this can mean; whether it refers to tea, or coffee, or not. I say it does refer to tea, and coffee.”

Modern Church leaders have not offered any more definitive interpretations on which kinds of tea might be permissible. The most recent handbook just says, “The only official interpretation of “hot drinks” (D&C 89:9) in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term “hot drinks” means tea and coffee.”

This open-endedness has led Latter-day Saints to speculate about what exactly is in tea and coffee that is harmful. Is it the caffeine? The tannic acid? The high temperature? If it is the caffeine (a common speculation), then should we also shun colas, energy drinks, and chocolate? Is decaf okay?

The First Presidency gave a statement on cola in 1973, “With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.”

Why it Matters

Latter-day Saints know that typically, where there is no specific direction on a given subject, we are left to our own judgment, guided by principles instead of rigid rules. This idea can be seen in the cola policy above; it’s not about setting and enforcing unyielding boundaries, but keeping ourselves un-addicted and healthy.

This would normally be a non-issue, then. Each member has access to personal revelation through the gift of the Holy Ghost and to scriptural principles that would guide them to a self-imposed standard that may legitimately vary from person to person.

But tea is not an entirely personal decision. In preparing to be baptized or to enter the temple, a priesthood leader interviews you for worthiness. One of the questions is about your understanding of the Word of Wisdom and whether you are living by it. A wrong answer could keep you from baptism or temple worship or perhaps make a liar out of you. Additionally, depending on your location, green tea may be a huge part of your culture and a cherished tradition. Abstaining could have significant ramifications on personal and business relationships. It is a pivotal decision for some, and wondering about green tea isn’t necessarily just “straining at a gnat,” as those who dismiss the question might uncharitably assume.

Our task, then, is to discover for ourselves a personal rubric for tea-selection, which must be in line with Church guidelines (note: there maybe more than one rubric that is acceptable, there are definitely many that are unacceptable, and we are not charged with creating a rubric for all members). Developing our rubric involves getting educated: learn what makes tea tea, read this article, study other relevant materials. It also involves searching for eternal principles upon which to build your decision, which can be found in scriptures and conference talks and in personal prayer.

The Practice

In the absence of authoritative direction, I thought I would try to see what Latter-day Saints actually do and learn about their guiding motivations for their tea selections. I created a survey, and asked a sample of 86 people who ran across this site or who are my friends on Facebook to take it (we can therefore extrapolate these findings to the general population of people who frequent this site or who are my friends on Facebook).

I listed as many different kinds of tea as I could think of (with the help of Wikipedia). Here are a few of the statistics. The following were asked of latter-day saints:

The first chart shows those teas that Church members believe to be prohibited for temple worthiness, the second chart shows teas that are believed to be expressly permitted. The clear front-runners to avoid are black, green, and iced teas, while peppermint and chamomile rank pretty high on the allowed list. The lesser-known ones (white, oolong, masala chai, yerba maté, rooibos) were a mixed bag, probably just because they are less familiar. Many surveyees added the write-in candidate “herbal tea” as a permitted type, which actually includes peppermint and chamomile (I couldn’t include all herbal teas in my list because there are infinitely many).

Exactly half of the members I surveyed were returned full-time proselyting missionaries. Missionaries have the unique responsibility of ushering converts into the church and they probably deal with this question of tea-types more regularly than any bishop or stake president. I asked them which types of tea they taught their converts they needed to avoid and which were allowed:

Basically, the same trends as before, but these answers look a little more confident.

Next, I asked how much allure tea had for them:

This is the sentiment that (in my experience) most Mormons have about tea. They just don’t give it much thought. It isn’t on their radar.

I also asked the ten non-Mormons who took the quiz a few questions. The sample size isn’t large enough to draw many conclusions, but I’ll post the results here for your interest.

I also asked members what their guiding philosophy was for selecting the tea that they did. This is where the real insight came. Since this was an essay question, I extracted the basic gist of their reason and categorized them into the following groups:

One thing you might notice from this is that the first two categories (made from the tea leaf and herbal tea) essentially draw the same line in the sand. Of the teas I listed in my survey, black, green, white, oolong, and iced teas are made with the leaf of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis). All the rest are “herbal teas,” according to Wikipedia’s (somewhat limey) definition: “A herbal teatisane, or ptisan is a herbal or plant infusion and usually not made from the leaves of the tea bush. Typically, herbal tea is simply the combination of boiling water and dried fruits, flowers or herbs.”

I got a lot of good, thoughtful responses for this question. I’ll provide a few of them here.

Jethro: “I am not very critical about it, I guess. I generally stay away from hot teas, and ice teas unless they are prepared by a trusted (usually Mormon) lady, who usually accompanies the tea with some kind of reassuring “here, this will make you feel better”.”

Steve: “I just don’t drink tea.  I even avoid wearing tea-shirts.
“I did some searching on for green tea and I only found one article from 1985ish.  It was a story of some missionaries in Japan looking for an apartment to rent.  Spoiler Alert:  They found one.”

Anonymous: “I was told once by someone or other that tea is only forbidden if it’s made with tea leaves; herbal teas and the like are fine. However, this came from a layperson, not from anyone in authority, and trying to pinpoint the forbidden ingredient in tea seems rather like the stance some people take that because coffee has caffeine, caffeine must be forbidden in all its forms. It’s entirely possible that this is true, of course, but the fact is that we simply don’t know. So for me, I drink herbal tea very occasionally when someone else is offering it, when it’s an innocuous-seeming variety like blueberry, and when it would be rude to refuse, but that’s all. My refusal is made easier by the fact that I do not like the taste of any tea I have tried.
“From what I have seen of other people’s tea drinking habits, I’d say a fair number also draw the line between herbal tea and tea tea. I don’t think that any type of tea has been explicitly allowed.”

Orpha: “It must be an herbal ‘tea,’ (which is not actually a tea), which means it will be caffeine-FREE, ingredients clearly listed. I drink herbal tea occasionally, sometimes in spurts, but especially to soothe a sore throat, help clear congestion, or to help me warm up after being outside in the cold.”

Nefi: “If the tea is herbal it is ok.  ‘Herbal’ means if it has a cute teddy bear in pajamas and it says something like ‘sleepy time’ on the box then it is ok. If I have not heard of the name or it sounds oriental with kanji on the box and no cute pictures then it is not ok.”

Willie: “I can’t claim to know which sort of tea is acceptable or not according to the standards.  I have never read the standards.
“As for me, I just stay away from all teas and then I’m sure that I’ll be just fine.  I’ve been healthy enough this far into my life that drinking tea for any ‘health benefits’ isn’t going to sell me on it either.”

Andrew: “I try to follow the promptings of the Spirit. If the tea makes me feel uncomfortable, then I don’t drink it. When I was in Japan I drank a tea that a member said was okay to drink and it felt wrong to me. I took a look at the ingredients and one of them was Green Tea powder, so I stopped drinking it. Following the Spirit has always served me well.”

It was interesting to see the variety of opinions on this, as well as the emergent themes. None of these opinions are authoritative, and they each spoke only for the bar they set for themselves, not what they would impose on the whole Church.

I can’t draw any firm conclusions from this data on how to construct your rubric. As one respondent put it, “popular opinion does not a standard make.” Still, I think it is a good idea to take inventory of this issue once in awhile, and it would be good to use the data in drawing your own personal conclusions.

The Principles

As I mentioned earlier, in the absence of specific proscriptions, we must learn all we can about the issue and be guided by principles instead of governed by rules. Here is a short list of some principles to keep in mind when selecting which teas to avoid and which to accept:

  • Avoid addiction. This isn’t just a good idea, it’s fundamental to the purpose of life. We cannot hope to overcome the tests of life if we have already sacrificed our free will to some unholy Mammon. Bear in mind also, that the addict rarely recognizes his own addiction.
  • Health. This is one of the promised blessings for those who obey the Word of Wisdom, and as I quoted the First Presidency saying earlier, “Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.”
  • Covenant. Another of the blessings promised is that the “destroying angel will pass by them and not slay them” (D&C 89:21). This is a reference to the first passover in Egypt when the Israelites publicly displayed their covenant status and their faith in Jehovah by painting their door posts with lambs’ blood; then the destroyer “passed over” them (Exodus 12:23). Maybe, like painting your house with blood, certain tea restrictions don’t make intuitive sense. And maybe there is something grander at work here.
  • Obedience. The Lord is more interested in seeing our willingness to follow Him than in seeing how smart we think we are (2 Nephi 9:28-29).
  • Sustaining local leaders. If you are concerned about where to draw the line, talk to your bishop about it at your next temple recommend interview. He is a judge in Israel and his judgment is authoritative. Follow his counsel.
  • Unity in Zion. Be careful making yourself the exception. Remember that there are thousands of Japanese converts who took a leap of faith by abandoning a cherished cultural practice (and identity) to qualify for baptism. “For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things” (D&C 78:6).
  • Personal revelation. If you have been baptized and confirmed, you have the gift of the Holy Ghost who “shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance” (John 14:26). Live up to your privilege and ask for revelation!

The great thing about principles is that they are widely applicable! This means you can also use these and other principles to help you in deciding what kinds of restaurants to eat at, clothing to wear, whom to vote for, and what to do with your free time. The Lord has withheld specifying rules in many cases so that we can learn to identify and adopt principles, thus becoming our own governors — becoming free. It also helps us draw closer to Him in prayer, knowing we need His personal guidance; we can’t just flip open the code book and have every eventuality spelled out for us.

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85 Responses to “The Green Tea Question”

  1. Kramer

    I noticed that one of my room mates drank a hot drink every morning. He said it was yerba mate and that he couldn’t start his day without it. That last phrase clicked. I looked it up in the Pharmaecopea (sp) and found tht it cintained caffiene. He was devistated. He said that all the missionaries in his mission drank it.

  2. Dave

    Wait, two people taught on their missions that black tea is permitted?

  3. Ben

    Thad, this was a very good article.  I appreciated the links to various articles, especially the one by the First Presidency in the Priesthood Bulletin.  I think it is interesting that there are many opinions among our church’s membership about this topic; we want to know what we can do, because we feel that our access to the covenants of the temple are partially tied to living this law that the Lord has given to us.  The interesting thing though is that it has been clarified what we shouldn’t drink–tea and coffee.  Unfortunately, the water is muddied because of the cultural definition of tea, herbal teas, etc. 

    I spoke with my mission president who is now a general authority in our church the other day and I asked him specifically about this.  He told me that this discussion had recently come up in the area of the world where he is serving.  He said that what they teach is for members to not drink drinks made from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), whether is black, green, masala, white, etc.  This is what he taught us as missionaries and after asking other people who have served missions, this is what they also taught as missionaries.

    I think the deeper point here though is that abstaining from tea, coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs is the minimum for being able to declare yourself worthy to enter the temple.  As we progress as disciples of Christ, there are yet higher truths that God is willing to teach us about the Word of Wisdom and its benefits, the same applies for all commandments of the Gospel.  However, what I have been taught, through inspiration and revelation of the Holy Ghost, is not required to enter the temple.  It is personal truth that I have received, because I wanted to know and God gave it to me, line upon line, precept upon precept.  If we are so concerned about only doing the bare minimum, we will never receive the higher, more precious truths that God is willing to give us if we will but want to know them and be obedient to his commandments so that he can give them to us.  To not drink tea should be a very simple decision, “oh, I am not supposed to drink drinks made from the tea plant, okay I won’t.” End of story.  

    One last thing, it shouldn’t matter whether our bishop drinks green tea or not, he didn’t make the law, nor was he the one who further clarified that we shouldn’t drink tea. In instances like these, which are rare, we need to hold to the truths taught us by the prophets and not pay attention to what others are doing or saying, because the prophets and God are the ones we should be following.

  4. Thaddeus

    Dave, good catch. I looked at the survey responses more closely and found that the two people who said black tea was permitted also said that black tea was forbidden. Maybe I didn’t make my survey questions clear enough.

    Ben, thank you for shedding some additional light on this topic. Like you said, it’s important to remember that the Word of Wisdom was “given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints” (D&C 89:3). It is a bare-minimum requirement and too many of us are content just to sit at that bare-minimum level.

  5. Andrew

    Ben’s comment reminded me of a story that a friend shared with me. She was just coming back to the church and some members of her relief society were chastising her because of how much Dr. Pepper she drank and that you should avoid caffeine. She wanted to stop because they had convinced her it was wrong. She went to her Bishop in tears because she couldn’t stop drinking Dr. Pepper. Her Bishop said, “As your Bishop, I should tell you that it is a very good thing to avoid caffeine. As your friend though.” he leaned over and opened his small refrigerator and pulled out a red can, “would you like a Dr. Pepper?”

  6. Interesting post and survey.  After we joined the church my parents gave up their evening martinis, coffee and cigarettes, and my mother happily began consuming herbal teas (so instructed by our branch president who became our stake president soon thereafter). 

    When I lived in Japan years later, Japanese members taught our family about which “local” teas were ok or not — seems the ‘source plant’ rule was the key.  (Isn’t peppermint tea made with the leaves or that plant?)

    On my mission in Germany, we taught “schwarten Tee” — black tea — as the forbidden one, suggesting herbals were ok (and they were widely taken). 

    When I was teaching a lesson in Gospel Principles a while back on the Word of Wisdom and clarified that “tea” meant “black tea”, my stake president (who used to be my home teacher) said (in his oh-so-gentle style), “Says who?”

    So I guess there’s plenty of interpreting going on.  As for me:  I miss good old fashioned black tea.  And I hate herbal teas, so I drink no tea.  My wife, on the other hand, loves herbal tea and drinks it all the time. 

  7. I guess I misunderstood what I read above — the key in “forbidden” teas for some is that it is from leaves of the the tea plant, not other (eg, herbal) plants.  Sorry for reading so quickly.

  8. Nef

    So the sermon that Hyrum gave about the word of wisdom is very interesting, I just read some of it and I like how the guy who wrote it talks.

    I do have a question on who is talking on the article? he seems to quote the D&C with quotation marks “” but he makes no distension about what he is reporting Hyrum to have said and what he himself is saying or what the sermon maid him think of.

    Just wandering if it was Hyrum that said that “coffe and tea” were what was meant or it was this brother who wrote on the news paper.

  9. Michael

    “Let men attend to these instructions, let them use the things ordained of God; let them be sparing of the life of animals; ‘it is pleasing saith the Lord that flesh be used only in times of winter, or of famine’-and why to be used in famine? because all domesticated animals would naturally die, and may as well be made use of by man, as not,”

    Nef, I found the part clarifying that the use of meat is to be used very sparingly the most interesting part.  While we cite this talk by Brother Hyrum quite regularly when speaking of the interpretation of “hot drinks” I have never seen this talk cited when we need to clarify the part about eating meat.  I wonder why that is?  Could that be due to the “cafeteria Mormon” mentality that was counseled against in this past general conference?

  10. John

    “Hot drinks” seems pretty clear to me; tea, coffee, chocolate, lemsip, even hot water is out. It’s difficult to see how people could think this is somehow ambiguous; if it’s hot and a drink, then it’s out.
    It’s a separate argument as to whether it’s OK to drink those same drinks when chilled, however, e.g. iced coffee/tea…I guess if you don’t make a habit of it, then maybe.

  11. Michael

    John, you actually bring up a good point.  Initially, it was the “hotness” of the drink which was the issue, not just the tea and coffee definition.  There were a number of general authorities during the 1800s that taught that definition.  There are instances of conference talks in the Journal of Discourses that mention soup and other hot items as falling into this category.  Since ice was a rarity back then I don’t think that the cold versions of the drinks factored into it.  It was only in the late 1800s and early 1900s when fountain drinks came about with all the sugar and “perk me up” ingredients (such as the cocaine in Coca Cola or caffeine) that the more limited interpretation of coffee and tea was emphasized.  This was also the time period when Heber J. Grant proposed making the WoW a commandment to coincide with the country’s prohibition on alcohol in the 10s and 20s rather than just strong counsel from the Lord as D&C 89 was originally worded. While his proposal to make it a commandment was never canonized, it did become the standard practice of the Church to treat it as a commandment.  When prohibition ended in the 1930s (with Utah being the state that made the repeal happen by voting for it) we continued with the interpretation from the earlier part of the century.  We have yet to update the interpretation for the current plethora of drinks available which is what leads to the confusion exhibited in Thaddeus’ post.

    I am sure if his survey included a wider, more global sample of Latter-day Saints (including converts from major tea and coffee drinking countries) he would have received different results.  He cites Japan as a tea drinking nation but leaves out Ireland and England which have many more members that gave up tea.  The South American converts seem to get a pass with their more flexible option of the malt soft drinks or Yerba Mate.

    And what, pray tell, are mild drinks made of barley if not beer itself?

    I hear that non-alcoholic beers are all the rage on BYU campus nowadays.

  12. Thaddeus

    Michael, your tone suggests this topic is the source of some personal frustration. Is it? Why?

    Also, I’d like to mention a principle I meant to include in my article: everything has its ordained purpose: (e.g. tobacco isn’t for smoking, but for healing bruises; alcohol is for washing, etc.) I personally have a hard time drawing the line strictly at caffeine because I have found that caffeine is an effective medicine against migraine headaches.

  13. Michael

    Thaddeus, I don’t think it is a personal frustration. It is just the inconsistency that drives me batty.  Perhaps is the the fact that so many members use the four “no”s in the WoW as a the primary definition without presenting the more important “yes”s such as whole grains, fruits, eating meat sparingly and mild drinks made of barley.  Our actions do not match our words in embracing the wholeness of the revelation.  We use the four “no”s to judge in such a way that prevents us reaching out to those who really stand in need of the Restored Gospel.  To cite a cliche’ we should be smelling more tobacco smell on those in our Sacrament meetings.

  14. Michael, I thought about that very thinig (smelling tobacco) as I passed in the hall Sunday a sister who has been investigating the church for quite some time.  Her teenage daughter was baptized a couple of weeks ago and mom came to church without the daughter this last week (daughter was sick) — a first for mom in a long, long time.  I was thrilled to smell the tobacco smoke as we headed together to Gospel Principles. 

    Excellent reminder.


  15. cindy

    It seems to me as though Jesus cared much more about what comes out of us than what goes in…  Matthew 15…”Do not ye yet understand , that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.”

  16. Kassie

    This is another one of these issues that just cracks me up! I think we LDS get so focused sometimes on what we “can’t do”, we forget to focus on “what we can do!” We CAN enjoy good health if we follow the WOW. We CAN keep our bodies clean and worthy to enter the temple if we follow the WOW. We are blessed that this revelation was given before people even knew these things were bad! As a Bishop my husband says he gets more questions about the WOW than any other topic during temple recommend interviews! He believes the constant focus on the WOW mostly comes from a “rebellious spirit” that is trying to rationalize and justify doing something we know is wrong. HOT drinks are out! Coffee, tea, herbal tea, hot chocolate, you name it. If it’s HOT you don’t drink it! Why? it doesn’t matter why, if you are a member of the Church you accept it and you go on and you quit focusing on it! I understand this is an issue for many converts, having never drank any hot drink in my life, I never think about it, or what I “might be missing!” Our own personal revelation as a couple also includes drinks that contain caffeine, even though he does not withhold temple recommends from people who drink soft drinks. He does however, counsel against it, because we know it is  bad for you. Obviously, alcohol, cigarettes, illicit drugs are OUT always. He was looking over my shoulder a minute ago and reading about the green tea and your great survey and said “I bet he would agree with me that all the focus on “can I or can’t ?” shows often times a “rebellious spirit” attempting to rationalize and justify! Easiest answer in the world is (drum roll please!) if you have to question it at all, that is the Holy Ghost at work in your life telling you that if you are wondering whether it is right or wrong to do something then err on the side of caution and don’t do anything that might jeopardize your health, your baptism, or your temple recommend. then you never have to worry about the “can I or can’t I!!!!”

  17. Thaddeus

    Kassie, seeking to justify sin could be one reason to ask this question (“can I or can’t I”), but I think it’s unfair to prejudge someone’s motivation based solely on this question. There are other reasons for seeking knowledge.

    I also believe that we should hew closely to the words of the prophets and the guidance of the Spirit, but I would caution against applying one’s own personal set of rules on other Church members. You have determined that you will not drink any hot drinks (temperature is your line in the sand) and that is fine. Please be respectful of Church members who have received (through earnest prayer) a line in the sand that differs from yours. A bishop has authority to judge whether we’ve overstepped the bounds, but the rest of us do not.

  18. Kassie

    Thaddeus! You are right and I am wrong! I did not intend to come out so dogmatically against the tea issue. I reread what I wrote and it did sound like I was saying “my way or the high way” and I didn’t intend that. I just notice so many people worked up over this issue–which to me seems such a minor one in the total scheme of things we believe as church members. I know through the years that our focus on the WofW puts many potential converts off because they do want to continue their practice of hot drinks or caffeine or whatever but they feel like they can’t be LDS because of our “obsession” with the WoW. I just don’t think there should be so much focus on what we “can’t do” as Mormons and more focus on all the things we CAN do. Accepted counsel! Thanks!

  19. Cindy

    Thanks Thaddeus for your moderation.  It is so true that we can not know anyone’s motivations.  A person could be seeking to justify sin just as easily as one could be trying to justify exaltation.

  20. Thaddeus

    cindy, I agree. Jesus cares much more about what comes from us (our choices) than what goes into us (our food and drink).

    Part of the covenant we make at baptism is a promise to obey the Word of Wisdom. The primary reason I keep to this code is because I gave my word that I would. The Word of Wisdom is much more about choice (something coming out of me, my promise), than it is about substances being ingested.

  21. Cindy

    I don’t understand how your promise can be something that comes out of you if the actual fruit of the promise is still about what goes in…sounds a little like a confusing use of semantics.
    I prefer to use the words of Christ, (from Matthew 5)  “”Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

  22. annegb

    Yeah, interesting numbers.  Although I really hate this kind of discussion because it leads to judging and condemning and in the long run is just plain silly.  I think God’s gonna smack a lot of people up the side of the head.  Not for drinking tea, coffee or smoking, but for deciding (for Him) that their neighbors who do aren’t worthy of salvation.  We’re all sinners.   Tea drinking may or may not be a sin.  I don’t think God cares half as much as we do.

  23. sunlize

    As a convert, giving up tea was (and still is – to some extent) something very difficult for me. I really, really, really like black tea with sugar and half-and-half. It’s a comfort drink for me. (Starbucks chai lattes are also delicious.)

    HOWEVER, I’ve made covenants – both at baptism and in the temple – that are more important to me than drinking tea. I also value honesty and integrity.

    When I decided to follow the Word of Wisdom, I knew it would be hard for me. So I prayed and told God, “I will keep the Word of Wisdom from now on, but I need you to hold me hand and help me do this.” And I have felt Heavenly Father’s support since then.

    To other Mormons, please don’t minimize the lifestyle changes that are required to be LDS. It can be very difficult for a convert (or someone who is returning to activity) to make these changes. It may not be “simple” for them. Please be supportive and encourage others to study and pray about the Word of Wisdom. Please resist the urge to condemn those who do slip up from time to time. Please don’t look down on people whose interpretation of the Word of Wisdom is different than yours — that is between them and the Lord (and the bishop – to some extent). 

    As an aside, I’ve come up with the following guidelines for myself after much study and prayer:
    Not ok: Anything made with the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) – black, green, chai, oolong, matcha, red or white tea; coffee – hot or cold; energy drinks (i.e. red bull or monster).
    Ok: Yerba mate; herbal teas (peppermint, ginger, sleepy time, etc); hot chocolate 
    Ok, but I don’t like it: Roobios; soda/ pop; herbal “coffee”

    Great post, Thaddeus!

  24. Cheryl

    The first tea I had in Europe was at the Swiss Temple where they served apple tea in the cafeteria. Many places have questionable water systems so water is boiled and since that doesn’t taste so good flavor is added in the form of dried things such as herbs etc. It is generally best to avoid additives that contain harmful substances such as caffeine. I am not sure how we will be judged at the final judgement as far as what we drink but I am pretty sure that we will not be looking great if we are the ones condeming others for what they drink. Just saying….

  25. Interesting discussion! I was just looking it up because a lot of fueling products that I use for running contain green tea. I’m not trying to get as close as I can to a line, but the more natural caffeine products (with added white and green tea) don’t irritate my GI as much as products with added caffeine. And for athletes who may be reading this thread in the future, here’s another interesting discussion: I’m undecided, but I will say that I only use products with added caffeine during long training runs (once a week during training season) and during marathons, not during weekday/casual workouts. Not sure if that makes any difference at all, but thought I’d put it out there. I’m still waiting for them to add Diet Coke to the definitely-no list because that junk is highly addictive, and the aspertame is crazy bad for you!

  26. Kassie

    Good point! I didn’t think much about marathon runners and such. I agree that Aspertame is bad for you. My brother is a doctor and he really believes there may be a cancer link.
    I’ve always been a bit of a “stick in the mud” about “hot drinks”. I was just taught it was not a line to cross, “don’t jeopardize your temple recommend” etc. Grew up with a strict bishop who just said “don’t do it!” Anyhoo……

  27. Tara

    I always thought it was only the black tea that was forbidden because it’s from the highly oxidized, fermented tea leaf. All the other teas made from that the same leaf (Camellia Sinensis) are from the fresh mature leaf (green), the new leaf and buds (white) and the sun withered leaf (oolong). But maybe I’m getting too absorbed by the details…

  28. Chrissy

    I have looked this topic up because the WoW and the church rules is affecting my church membership. I have LDS doctors who tell me to drink coffee to help with medical issues. I am a convert and been wanting my patricial blessing since i converted. Since 2008 my ward says No because this rule or that. I simply think if the WoW is a ‘word of wisdom’ or ‘commandment’ I think everyone needs to be on the same page. And no one is on the same page. Members tell me I am being to honost about the WoW and other members say NO exception to the rule. Well, I no am thinking, Heavenly Father loves me and I am not perfect. I can’t be perfect as my ward expects. So this convert just decided I am not perfect enough and for my blessing I guess forget it. I am a artist and paint and sell paintings of a temple I will never be perfect enough to enter. I was taught when I was baptized that the WoW is just that. Words of wisdom. We should not put anything in our bodies consuming in excess. I bielieve some people eat food in excess. Chocolate, soda. And this is what we should monitor. I do not bielieve we should be chased out of the church because I drink a cup of coffee per doctor orders to help me. Actually as a religious group I think we should love each other and not judge. And this is why I am reading all your thought regarding this WoW chasing everyone away.

  29. Kassie

    Chrissy I am so sorry you feel you are being chased out of the Church. No one expects you to be perfect enough to enter the temple. None of us are perfect if we live on this earth. If your ward expects you to be perfect then that teaching is not coming from the leaders of the Church. The purpose of a Patriarchal Blessing as far as I know is to give you a “roadmap” of sorts to live your life by combined with the counsel of the Holy Ghost. As far as entering the temple, my understanding is that the temple recommend is based on the question “Do you obey the Word of Wisdom?” If you adhere to the WOW in your own mind, after prayer and study, thenI believe you can truthfully answer “Yes.” Just because someone in your ward doesn’t follow your conscience, your personal revelation, or know your inner spirit doesn’t mean they should condemn you for your own standards. Just my thoughts.

  30. Chrissy

    I was called to meet with my Bishop again and got told I am not allowed to drink coffee at all. And I need to repent. I do not feel I am sinning. I am not asking to go to the temple. I just want to be left alone. I am not allowed to partake sacrament but I still attend service. Bishop wants to meet with me again in 3 weeks to see if I repented. I do not feel I need to repent. I do not feel I am doing anything in excess to disobey the wow. I just want to worship in peace.

  31. Adam

    I would say that the Bishop has certain keys of the Priesthood that allow him discernment in allowing a person to partake in the Sacrament, in getting their Patriarchal Blessing, your general worthiness. If the Bishop is being prompted to ask these questions, and persist in his questioning, then he is indeed, being lead by the Spirit, and that should be listened to.

    Finding reasons to ignore the WOW is nothing more than asking God, how much can I sin before I really get in trouble. You’re in an area that the LDS Church has specifically referenced Coffee as being forbidden. It’s not a grey area in regards to Coffee, Chrissy. Your interpretation of the Word of Wisdom does not trump that of the Apostles and Prophet.

  32. Chrissy

    Yeah you have a good point Adam. A very good point. Thank You!

  33. John

    I personally see red a flag when I read or hear opinions about how the W o W is the “bare minimum”. Such thinking I feel was at the core of what resulted in many of the ridiculous Jewish laws and customs practiced (and at times sternly condemned) during Christ’s earthly mission.
    The Lord gave each of us a brain and expects us to use it together with the light of Christ that affords each of us spiritual inspiration and guidance (This is the definition of intelligence).
    For example, there may be certain iced teas or products containing caffeine that provide health benefits (I personally do not know of any, but there may be). Some products like chocolate (caffeine) may exist simply for our occasional enjoyment, are we to throw the baby out with the bath water?
    Obviously we should obey the council given by the prophets. However, in my opinion the undefined issues exist by divine design—they are to be examined, pondered and understood through both spiritual and intellectual means, not just thrown out for fear of being too close to the so called “bare minimum”

  34. Ken

    If your doctor is telling you to drink coffee for medicinal purposes and you do so and it helps you you are obeying the word of wisdom. All you have to say to your Bishop is you are following the word of wisdom. He has no right to ask anything more of you and you do not have to answer him in any specific way. If he is not allowing you to take the sacrament because you use coffee as a medicine, or even if you just drink it and are not obeying the word of wisdom, that is not grounds to be denied the sacrament, he is not doing the right thing or following the counsel of general authorities. He probably hasn’t even researched it enough to know what they have counseled. All you have to do is tell him “I am going to go talk to the Stake President, would you like to be there with me when I do?” If the Stake President gives you the same answer and you are not comfortable with it, then you take it to the Area Authority and on up the chain. If you keep getting the same answer then you should consider that. In this case, I doubt you will get the same answer. If you are being denied the sacrament because of a word of wisdom issue you are being treated wrongly and this Bishop needs to be corrected. This idea that every thing a Bishop says or thinks comes straight from God is a false teaching. They are imperfect and make mistakes. If I believed everything and followed every thing that has come from the mouth of Bishops and even some stake presidents without asking for further clarification, things would not be well at all. You always have the right to ask the Bishop, please show me where it is written in church doctrine and guidance that I can not take the sacrament if I am using coffee for medicinal purposes? Most times that ends it as they soon realize they are preaching something that is not in accordance with church doctrine. They are human and make mistakes. They give counsel; often times it is good, sometimes it is not. If you don’t agree with their counsel then get another opinion on up the chain. That is what they are there for. They serve us, not the other way around.

  35. Adam

    Ken doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Even if it’s medically recommended. Your Bishop is blessed with the authority for discernment and what is best for you spiritually. Ken’s idea to complain up the chain is a military reference, rather than a spiritual one. If your stake president and bishop are in agreement, that’s what needs to be.

    FYI, Coffee IS NOT medicinal. There are several good alternatives that work just as well. I’ll not let facts get in the way of your misguided opinion, however, Ken.

  36. Adam

    Ken you’re also promoting a pick and choose mentality with the Gospel. I can show you exactly where Coffee is forbidden, directly from Joseph Smith and directly from God, himself. That’s like saying if my doctor recommends marijuana or heroin, then it’s not bad for me. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard of as far as promoting gospel values or principles.

  37. Kassie

    Adam- Actually I think Ken has a few good points. As I was raised and still am a lifelong member of the Church, I have seen some bishops not handle certain issues of specific (and fortunately this is rare) lack the “spiritual discernment” necessary to handle all decisions within the ward. My husband is a bishop. He agrees and says “it is sad but true.” He says he would have no problem with a ward member going to the stake president if that individual did not feel he was leading with the proper discernment. Bishops are still humans. They make mistakes. The Church also tells us to use personal revelation in making decisions. If ours differs from the bishop there is nothing wrong, after careful prayer, in going to your stake president.

  38. Adam

    Kassie, you can find every excuse you want to break the Word of Wisdom. Coffee is specifically referenced, and forbidden. Green Tea is a grey area, but coffee is flat out forbidden. You CANNOT hold a Temple Recommend if you are drinking coffee. I’ll continue to follow the Prophet and his leaders, you can find reasons to justify your behavior.

  39. Adam

    John Bytheway calls it how much can I sin before I get in trouble mentality.

  40. Charlene

    All these points are interesting, but sad. One lady, who’s husband is a Bishop mentioned that her husband said he “believes the constant focus on the WOW mostly comes from a “rebellious spirit” that is trying to rationalize and justify doing something we know is wrong.” If that were my Bishop that would make me think he truly doesn’t understand the different thoughts members have. For example, I am not interested in breaking the WOW in any way at all. I am not even tempted to. I don’t drink green tea. I don’t drink anything caffeinated (although that is not even part of the WOW). However, I can truly say that I don’t understand why following it is so important when it comes to tea and coffee. I really don’t think I have a rebellious spirit. I am struggling though with policy that has been implemented over the years that affect members to the point of where some are not even being able to see their family members get married in the temple (if they happen to drink coffee or tea and not be able to get a temple recommend). It seems that we can make mistakes with the 10 commandments and still get a temple recommend but not if we drink tea or coffee. I can go into the Bishop’s office and tell him I coveted my neighbors house the other day, and coveted the way another family lives to where it got me angry, and then proceed to tell him that I also told a lie about something yesterday, but then repented last night and corrected it. But if I go in there and told him I drank coffee or tea yesterday and repented last night, I’m not so sure he would allow me into the temple still. But I could eat tons of meat and never touch a whole grain and be able to get a temple recommend just fine. The Bishop wouldn’t even say, “Now eat at least 3 servings of whole grains per day for 3 months and then come back and we’ll discuss it again.” One prophet says it is a Word of “Wisdom”, then another prophet comes along and makes it a policy to be able to get into the temple, and now about 80 years later President Hinckley says we as a church don’t drink caffeine, and now we put out a notice that says caffeine is not an issue. I just feel like sometimes I am being toyed with. It just all seems so silly to be told what to not drink, or what we can drink(caffeine) just because certain policies have evolved over time. And then to top it off, we are prevented from getting a temple recommend, Patriarchal Blessing, or partaking the sacrament when we do drink tea or coffee. I’m just a lucky one who doesn’t have to worry about it since I’m not interested in those drinks anyway. I sure feel bad for others though. Some people go completely inactive because they fell back into the habit of drinking tea or coffee again. How awful that is, to feel so unworthy and uncomfortable because he/she started drinking again (tea or coffee that is). I use to be a member who felt I shouldn’t even have alcohol in my vanilla extract. I also felt so strong to just obey all these policies. I didn’t understand them but I felt I didn’t need to, I just needed to humbly obey since the Lord’s ways are not our ways. Now I am learning so much about church history and that everything wasn’t always so correct. It just makes me think more about what I am doing. I want to follow my Savior and my Heavenly Father, and respect and sustain my leaders, though I also know that I now have my eyes opened somewhat to where I question things more. Not in a bad way. But in a way that helps me to understand my relationship with the Lord better. I still want to obey the WOW because I want to be safe in following principles that I don’t fully understand yet. but still something just doesn’t feel right with how the WOW can keep people from great blessings. I just don’t see that the Lord sees it the way that we do sometimes. If the Savior was interviewing me I think he would be asking different questions.

  41. Charlene

    I would like torecieve followup comments via e-mail.

  42. Charlene

    My post above still has not been accepted yet. If it is too long of a post or the content of it is unacceptable, please let me know. I would love a follow up on this. I’m just not sure why it is taking so long to have it posted. Thank you, Charlene

  43. Liz

    This thread should be re-titled how to give the church a bad reputation. If I did not have a strong testimony this kind of thing would have driven me out years ago. The church is made of fallible humans. The miracle is not that the perfect get saved, it is that sinners do. We all sin and each differently. We all have a personal and individual relationship with our savior. We are not a church of clones.
    For the record medical marijuana saved my aunt’s life when nothing else kept down the nausea from her chemo and she got down to 75 pounds at 5 feet 7. Her doctor asked what had changed when she got up over 100 a week after starting marijuana. This was before medical marijuana was legal anywhere. Anyone who has taken any opiate has taken the equivalent of heroin. I suggest that anyone who really wants to understand psychoactive drugs better read “From Chocolate to Morphine” by Andrew Weil M.D. It really lays it all out and gives a deeper understanding of drugs legal and not.

  44. Thanks, Liz and Charlene, for your comments. People like you make me feel hope for the future the church.

  45. Adam

    With people like Charlene and Liz, there won’t be any Church because it will then be preaching false doctrine. Your assertion that anyone who has taken any opiate has taken heroin is laughable on it’s face. Not only are there literally hundreds of different opiates, all addictive. FYI, if you suffer from prescription addiction, you cannot hold a temple recommend either. Permissive and empty rhetoric and justification are all you have. Find any reason you want to disobey the laws and commandments of God. The policy hasn’t evolved, your faith in the Prophet’s and Apostles has faltered. That’s why you fail to understand the importance of keep your temple clean. Your questioning of Prophet’s and Apostles puts you plainly on the border of being an apostate.

    Should read and watch the Tolerance Trap by Boyd K Packer.

    You folks all have fallen into this trap.

  46. Wow, some people think peppermint tea isn’t allowed? Also, for all of you who don’t know, rooibos tea is delicous! I don’t think it’s addictive though. I only have it when my dad decides to have some, and that means probably every 4-5 months. We add milk. (:

  47. LDS mother

    Anyone who thinks Hot Chocolate is against the word of wisdom is an extremist. It’s ok, I understand. They are in every group (even if your husband was in the bishopric… My husband was also in the bishopric). I believe we should seek council & pray for what decisions we make in our lives. But, we also need to use a little common sense. My husband personally sat down at a General Authority’s kitchen table with he & his wife. What did his wife serve to everyone?… Hot Chocolate! Common people. Yes. We need to limit caffeine. Remember moderation?

  48. Mike

    As a new member of a year and a half, my frustration is at how difficult it can become to attempt to live this law when the scripture says “hot drinks, but every individual has a different interpretation of what that means.

    If each Bishop has the authority to decide for us, then why is there such an inconsistency among Bishops; and how often do we see Bishops giving different opinions to different individuals rather than just expressing their personal perspectives?

    My first reaction to reading the scripture was that it was OK to eat hot foods but not to drink hot drinks and soups — and where did this change to coffee and tea rather than hot drinks and soups; or if you spoon rather than drink a hot liquid is it then OK? Of course this sound like picky hair splitting; but where really are the boundary lines?

    I think this is one of the frustrations of our Church; that is, we are given mixed messages. If we are being asked to answer a question on our Temple recommends about honoring the WoW, wouldn’t it make sense for Church to define for us what we are being asked to subscribe to. Is it fair to be asked to honor a an undefined requirement? Is the church leadership abdicating some responsibility by leaving this undefined? Our church, like other churches is composed of human beings who have frailties and liabilities and sometimes our human weaknesses become manifest. The fact that God uses weak human beings to his greater glory only demonstrates our ultimate dependence on him.

    Finally, if the solution is that this issue should be one of personal prayer and promptings, then how dare any of us criticize how another interprets this within his or her personal relationship with the Father?

  49. Rich Henkle

    I just wanted to post this. I have been receiving a lot of questions lately and even requests for the Book of Mormon from my friends. I can relate. They know good when they encounter it. Read through the article and go to the link to see the charts.

    It amazes me with all of the sin that goes on in this world of murders, wars, rapes, tortures, abortions, homosexuality, adulteries, beatings, and high heads that we of this LDS church even waste our time on preventing anyone from baptism because of the use of Tea primarily, but also because of Coffee. NEITHER of these drinks are produced by the wicked in order to enslave or ruin man like Alcohol and Tobacco are–which were those items specifically mentioned by the Lord. While a statement has been attributed to Hyrum Smith about Coffee and Tea, I would ask how many statements have been attributed to others that certainly cannot be held to prevent the baptism of those who would enter in at the intial gate of the gospel. Our Expectations of new converts are far too high. We are comatose in our doctrine about Coffee and Tea while our women waste time money and teeth on Diet Coke and every hard carmel color soft drink out there; our men waste time and money on RockStar, Surge, Monster, or some other worthless energy drinks or 5 Hour Energy death pills, while the Good Lord provided us with the wonderful plants which produce simple Teas, herbal derived drinks, and yes…EVEN the greatest of beverages after Chocolate…COFFEE. That is right. COFFEE! Just keep it served a bit cold, heavy on the cream or milk and then as they say in Ootah, pass me that Oolong Tea, or the “Mormon Legal” Milk with Coffee. As for me, PLEASE make mine a Colombian. A Fine Colombiana to be exact!
    Very, very Fine.

    Thank you and while my testimonies are rock solid, I recognize that we have over a Billion daily tea drinkers to teach and baptize and not waste their time with the stumbling block of Tea and Coffee which is wrought upon them by our stiffneckedness. Well, most, but at least not mine. So, don’t worry out there you have an advocate. My neck is doing quite well.

    What Do Mormons Believe?

    “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” -Joseph Smith

    I think Joseph pretty much said it all right there. We had better get on the ball and get on the move before we lose a couple of billion more people because of our ridiculousness over coffee and tea. I will say that to anyone even at HQ itself. We worry more about building shopping malls with our money than we do about getting people into the waters of baptism who have a small cultural difference primarily over tea. We are talking about billions of people, not a few here or there. Go ahead and fight them if you would rather not convert them.

    How Dumm. I won’t even grace that word with a B on the end, this topic is so lame and our leaders and members the same on this issue. If we want a harvest, we must open the gate to let the tractor out of the barn. Somebody keeps pouring coffee and tea into the fuel mix and denys all those billions a better opportunity.


    Rich Henkle
    US Army Retired
    West Point 1989

  50. Adam Gale

    Personal prayer with the Father doesn’t override existing doctrine from the Prophet and Apostles. They have specifically designated Tea and Coffee as completely off limits. I don’t know a single Bishop that has said Hot Chocolate/Cocoa is offlimits. Tea/Coffee, yup, straight up banned.

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