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.

Meatless August

Broccoli crepes

Our youngest daughter, Leah, is always on the lookout for ways to eat healthier. A couple of days ago she issued a challenge to the rest of the family to join her in going meatless for the month of August. I’ve been aware of the health risks associated with eating too much meat, especially red meat, and have half-heartedly tried on several occasions to cut down or eliminate meat. Each time I’ve given in after a few days because….. Well because I just love a juicy steak or burger, fried chicken, and bacon. Especially bacon, the divine swine.

But I keep hearing anecdotal evidence that vegetarianism is not only healthier but makes you feel better, too. So with Leah’s challenge as motivation I’ve decided to give it a try. I’ve also decided to put this out here for all seven of my followers to see, hoping that the fear of public failure will kick my butt into following through.

First, some definitions. There are lots of ways of describing what a vegetarian is. For my purposes, it means no meat of any kind, including fish, but it allows eggs and dairy products. This is sometimes called ovo-lacto vegetarianism. One who avoids eggs and dairy is sometimes called a vegan. Vegans avoid any animal product, such as eggs, milk, butter and even honey. Purists may disagree with my definitions but that’s what I’m calling it.

I’m not doing this as any kind of protest against the meat industry. I’m not a religious nut (in a later post I’ll talk about the LDS Word of Wisdom as it applies to meat). I’m not a zealot about the global warming effects of meat consumption. I am interested in ways to improve my health so that I live longer. However I don’t want to take all the pleasure out of life and, as I noted, I love meat! I’m just conducting an experiment.

Veggie sandwich: tomato, lettuce, mushrooms, onion, cilantro, mayo, mustard

So for August I’ll post daily, I hope, about what I ate, how I feel and share some recipes that I found especially good. For today, here are a few website about the health risks associated with meat consumption.

W.H.O reports meat linked to increased cancer risk

CNN says that each daily serving of meat can increase risk of dying

National Institutes for Health refer to studies showing that red meat consumption increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

I should note that none of these advocate complete abstinence from meat. I’m just trying to go cold turkey (pun intended).

LDS Church on Religious Freedom

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) held a press conference today. The LDS Church rarely holds press conferences so when it does, most news organizations take note. Today it addressed the issue of nondiscrimination and religious freedom. Leaders of the Church reiterated that the LDS Church believes that people of all beliefs and lifestyles should not face discrimination in any form because of their beliefs or the way they choose to live their lives.

So far (about three hours after the conference ended), response has been generally positive. Following the conference Equality Utah  issued its own new release in which it praised the LDS position and called for cooperation between “people of faith and the LGBT” lifestyle. The Catholic diocese of Salt Lake City issued a statement supporting the Church.

There were two points to the news conference, however. In addition to the call for nondiscrimination, the Church made a plea for recognition of religious freedom. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church, cited several examples of how religious freedom is being eroded in the name of equality. In California, two dozen Christian student groups have been denied recognition by the University of California system because they require their own leaders to share their Christian beliefs. In one city pastors of several churches had their sermons and notes subpoenaed and face not only government intimidation but also criminal prosecution for speaking out against a proposed city ordinance on gay rights and arguing that it should be put to a vote of the people. And we all remember the call to boycott Chick-Fil-A because the owners hold certain beliefs, among them being that they want their stores closed on Sunday. Elder Oaks full statement can be read here.

It is a sad commentary on the state of society that a major religious organization feels compelled to make a plea that its rights and those of its members be afforded the same respect the rest of the nation takes for granted. Some time ago I ventured the opinion that there may come a day where someone tries to forbid any religious organization from proselytizing on the grounds that trying to convince others of the benefits of that particular religion is a form of hate speech. It appears that others share that opinion and are trying to prevent that day from coming.

December 22

What It Means to be a Christian on Christmas Eve

Ezra Taft Benson

Being a Christian means to do what Christ would do, even when it is not convenient.

There was a little crippled boy who ran a small newsstand in a crowded railroad station. He must have been about twelve years old. Every day he would sell papers, candy, gum and magazines to the thousands of commuters passing through the terminal.
On night two men were rushing through the crowded station to catch a train. One was fifteen or twenty yards in front of the other. It was Christmas Eve. Their train was scheduled to depart in a matter of minutes.
The first man turned a corner and in his haste to get home to a Christmas party plowed right into the little crippled boy. He knocked him off his stool, and candy, newspapers and gum were scattered everywhere. Without so much as stopping, he cursed the little fellow for being there and rushed on to catch the train that would take him to celebrate Christmas in the way he had chosen for himself.
It was only a matter of seconds before the second commuter arrived on the scene. He stopped, knelt, and gently picked up the boy. After making sure the child was unhurt, the man gathered up the scattered newspapers, sweets and magazines. Then he took his wallet and gave the boy a five dollar bill. “Son,” he said, “I think this will take care of what was lost or soiled. Merry Christmas!”
Without waiting for a reply, the commuter now picked up his briefcase and hurried on his way. As he did, the little crippled boy cupped his hands together and called out, “Mister, Mister!”
The man stopped as the boy asked, “Are you Jesus Christ?”
By the look on his face, it was obvious the man was embarrassed by the question. But he smiled and said, “No, son. I am not Jesus Christ, but I am trying hard to do what He would do if He were here.”
And that, my friend, is what it means to be a Christian, even on Christmas Eve.

Ordain Women, Part II

Conference weekend ended with the Ordain Women not being admitted to the Priesthood Session just like they weren’t back in October. At that session Dallin H. Oaks addressed the issue of women holding the priesthood in no uncertain terms. It is not God’s plan, he said. He repeated that while certain administrative tasks, such as when temples are built and where, what the Church does with it’s property and how it is run day-to-day has been delegated, certain matters, such as who may hold the priesthood, remain the sole province of Jesus Christ because this is his church.

Now the Ordain Women’s movement has an answer and the answer is “No.” They now face a choice. They can accept the answer as an answer to their prayers, although not one that they wanted, and move one to fulfill their unique responsibilities. That would be the preferable path. The other choice is to take their rebuff and Elder Oaks’ talk as further evidence that “men just don’t get it” and further marginalization of women. As I said in my last post, if you accept that this is the Lord’s church and that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are His apostles, then you take that latter position in open defiance to the God you profess to love and follow.