Does the Word of Wisdom Require Vegetarianism?

Early on in this journey I promised that I would discuss the LDS Word of Wisdom in the context of vegetarianism.  Many people know that Latter-day Saints (Mormons) don’t drink coffee, tea or alcohol, or use tobacco. These prohibitions come from what is known as the Word of Wisdom, which can be found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 89.  What many people don’t know is that the Word of Wisdom contains a lot more than abstinence from coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco.

Verses 12 and 13 of Section 89 hint that vegetarianism is preferred by God, and can even be read to require abstinence from meat:

12. Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man, nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

13.  And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter or or cold, or of famine.

Taking Verse 13 literally, one might conclude that the Lord is NOT pleased if meat is eaten frequently (not “sparingly”) or at times other than winter, cold or famine. How many of us, the reasoning goes, are subject to famine or really suffer from the cold? Therefore, it seems that the Word of Wisdom prohibits meat consumption except in these rare circumstances.

Such was the thesis used by a teacher in church once a few years ago. He is a former stake and mission president and has medical training. He is also a dedicated vegetarian. He used these verses and scientific research that shows that meat consumption is linked to nine of the top ten causes of death in the United States. These include heart disease, some cancers, high cholesterol and others (the other of the top 10 causes is accidental death, which can’t be blamed on meat). While he didn’t come right out and say it, his point was clear: You’re not keeping the Word of Wisdom if you eat meat.

I disagree. First, saying the Lord is “pleased” if you do something is not the same as a prohibition against the opposite. God knows how to give commandments, as in “Thou shalt not …..” It doesn’t even mean the Lord is displeased if we don’t do something. I’m pleased when Nancy makes my favorite dinner. That doesn’t mean I’m displeased with everything else she cooks.

Secondly, other verses in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 49, verses 18 and 19, seem to clear up the issue:

18. And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;

19. For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have an abundance.

It seems to me that while the Word of Wisdom counsels eating meat sparingly, a practice that medical science is now promoting, it does not require one to become a vegetarian. So all you carnivores, go ahead and indulge without fear of spiritual retribution.

By the way, if you’re interested in the historical context of the Word of Wisdom, you can find it here.

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