When we think of temptations related to the Word of Wisdom, we usually think of, you know, being tempted to violate the WoW. But I can think of a few different WoW-related temptations.
The temptation to judge those who violate the WoW.
Former T & S guest blogger Brandie Siegfried wrote this:
When I was ten years old, my mother had been a member of the . . . church for nine years. My father, while a believer in general Christian terms, was highly suspicious of religious institutions. My siblings and I were raised in the church.
As you might expect within our family, the members had the usual Mormon zeal for converting loved ones. We had to temper our enthusiasm, though, for fear of asserting the false premise that there was a simple choice: the Church or the NFL. Anyhow, the year that I was ten, my father surprised us all one Sunday by joining us for church. Instead of waving to us from the couch (Coors in hand, the t.v. tuned to sports, a look of utter bliss on his face), my dad was dressed up in shirt and tie, shined shoes, and a serious demeanor. This was really something, mind you. My dad smoked like a chimney, swore like a sailor, and drank like a fish. We were all happy he was joining us, but also a little nervous about the possibility of a serious profanity breach during sacrament meeting. Anyhow, we arrived at church a bit late and had to sit on chairs in the back of the chapel. There werenâ€™t enough for all of us to sit together, so I sat with my dad on the very back row. The rest of the family sat in front of us.
The talks werenâ€™t bad, and one was quite inspiring. The speaker was elaborating on the importance of knowing that families are forever, that love doesnâ€™t end with death, etc. Like many of his generation, under his rough and ready exterior, my father was a romantic. During this talk he sat forward, clearly interested. He nodded agreement at key moments in the talk. It was looking good . . .
And as he always did when beginning to think deeply, my father pulled his pipe out of his pocket, tamped down the tobacco, clicked open his lighter, put flame to weed, and began contentedly puffing. Still nodding from time to time, he was clearly settling in for much-needed spiritual refreshment. I wasnâ€™t sure what to do. A moment later, my motherâ€™s posture stiffened and she turned around with her mouth open in surprise. Not wanting to cause a scene, and being shy by nature, she turned back around and picked up her hymn book, turned to the closing song, and began fidgeting. Within minutes, as pipe smoke wafted its way forward over the pews, heads were turning our way. Eventually, I could see the bishop straining to see who was sitting at the very back of the chapel. It was looking to be a disaster.
I remember being surprised at how angry the other members were. We were so proud and happy to finally have Dad with us. I guess we expected others to feel the same. After the closing prayer, my dad stood up and looked around, clearly expecting to be greeted; but people literally went far around us, almost dramatizing their desire to avoid my father. Tension galore. But then a charming little old lady (the kind with perfectly blued hair and a pearl-studded purse that matched her earrings) came up to us and said hello. She shook my dadâ€™s had and welcomed him to church. In an old fashioned way, she slipped her arm through his, and gently guided him out the front door. She told him she had always loved the smell of pipe tobacco, mentioned the good memories the fragrance brought back for her, and elaborated on how pipe-smokers always seemed so intellectual and mysterious. Then she led the conversation around to the word of wisdom, and invited my dad to share his views on health and well-being. It was done so beautifully, that it was my father who eventually pointed out that he didnâ€™t want his kids to smoke; he shared his views with her on the evils of tobacco and expressed interest in a little pamphlet the church had on the word of wisdom. [Original post here.]
I think the reason that this story stuck with me is that we often create a false dichotomoy between Judging and Tolerating. Clearly, the little blue-haired lady didn’t tolerate the behavior, but she still managed to act in a non-judgmental manner. This is not an easy thing. A similar experience comes from Elder Nelson’s biography:
The mission president [in Yugoslavia] had arranged for the Churchâ€™s local legal counsel, a young woman lawyer, to assist the visiting Church leaders [including Elder Nelson] in procuring a suitable building for meetings. When the mission president had called her the previous evening to confirm the appointment with Elders Nelson and Ringger the following day, she sounded somewhat inebriated on the telephone. With unsteady speech, she explained that she had lost two court cases that week and was feeling a little down. â€œI will meet you tomorrow,â€? she slurred. â€œLong live Serbia!â€? When the Brethren met with her the next morning, they noticed that she had obviously applied her makeup with an unsteady hand. Nevertheless, they forged ahead with their search. The lawyer had, indeed, done her homework, and the Brethren were pleased with some of the alternatives she showed them . . . Following the search, the mission president apologized profusely to Elder Nelson for having retained a lawyer who was given to drink. Elder Nelson placed his hand on the young mission presidentâ€™s shoulder and said, â€œJust look at her situation. Here she is, unmarried, living alone, and trying her best to compete in a male-dominated society in a male-dominated profession. The Savior has a soft spot in His heart for young women like her.â€?
What impressed me about this incident is that he saw the WoW violation not as a cause of problems as much as a result of problems, and he chose to focus on the underlying problem. This seems to be a good key for avoiding judgmentalism.
The temptation to improve on the WoW.
Two incidents from the life of President McKay are relevant here:
[David O. McKay] gently chided Apostle John A. Widtsoe, whose wife advocated such a rigid interpretation of the Word of Wisdom as to proscribe chocolate because of the stimulants it contained, saying, â€œJohn, do you want to take all the joy out of life?â€? But he didnâ€™t stop there. At a reception [President] McKay attended, the hostess served rum cake. â€œAll the guests hesitated, watching to see what [President] McKay would do. He smacked his lips and began to eat.â€? When one guest expostulated, â€œBut President McKay, donâ€™t you know that is rum cake?â€? [he] smiled and reminded the guest that the Word of Wisdom forbade drinking alcohol, not eating it. [From David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism.]
It is always tempting to build a fence around the law so that we can assure ourselves and others of our own righteousness. But it is a temptation, like all others, to be avoided.
The temptation to limit the WoW to being simply a health code.
If there is nothing in there about fettucine alfredo, then it isn’t strictly a health code. More seriously, though, are two other reasons:
(1) Think about the blessings associated with the WoW:
And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen. [D & C 89:18-21]
My suspicion is that if the blessings have to do with topics in addition to health, then the commandment does as well.
(2) I admit an element of debatability to the argument above, but I think this seals the case:
Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual. [D & C29:35]
The temptation to come up with zoo stories.
(An explanation: the term ‘zoo stories’ entered the Smith Family Lexicon after one of the first dates that my husband and I went on. We went to the zoo. I would ask the normal questions: I wonder why that animal looks that way, eats that way, etc., etc. And my husband would answer them. And I would believe him. Until I happened to read one of the little signs and realized that he was wrong. He explained to me that he wasn’t claiming that what he said was a fact, just that it was a possibility. Hmph.)
The WoW is not as it is because of tannic acid. Or caffeine. Or any other substance. Or even primarily health, but rather because of “evil and designs by conspiring men.” Making up reasons to make the WoW seem logical instead of arbitrary will not reflect God’s design but our desires.
[What's killing me here is that I am so tempted to share My Own Pet WoW Theory, which I think is really, really, good.]
We like to pretend that the WoW is all about the temptation to partake of forbidden things because most of us don’t feel that temptation very often or very much, which means that we can pat ourselves on the back for our goodness and we can put a big check mark next to the WoW box. But do you really think God would waste time on a commandment that is irrelevant to most of the Saints? I don’t. We should pay a little more attention to the WoW-related temptations that plague those of us who would never consider having a drink.