Why Mormons Don’t Drink Coffee

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Coffee BannedIn the history of the world, coffee has had a certain place in religion. Sometimes, coffee and religion don’t mix well, as is the case with Mormonism. Perhaps you did not know that Mormons don’t drink coffee or at least, not the reason they don’t. So, let’s start with a little history …

One Fateful Day in 1833

On February 27, 1833, the prophet Joseph Smith received, in a revelatory fashion, the Word of Wisdom, which was later published in a book called “Doctrine and Covenants.” In the Mormon faith, the Word of Wisdom isn’t necessarily looked at as a set of restrictions, but more as guidelines to living your healthiest life. Those who are Mormon consider living by these tenets to be a privilege. One of the myths of Mormonism is that drinking coffee is forbidden because of its mind-altering effects. This is mostly untrue, though the language and evolution of the religion can make it a bit confusing to outsiders. Here’s number 9 in the Word of Wisdom:

“9. And again, hot drinks are not for the body or the belly.”

Coffee and tea aren’t allowed because they are hot and could theoretically burn you, which would be harmful to the body. It is also worth noting that in recent years, evidence has pointed toward hot drinks leading to cancer. Now the rule makes sense. But wait, there’s more …

Mormons were still packing coffee and tea for their travels even after 1833. It was also a suggested item for travel in notable Mormon literature. This is relevant because while attempting to flee religious persecution, the Mormons wanted to figure out how to avoid contact with non-Mormons, and with coffee and tea typically being trade pieces at trading posts, as well as social drinks, they figured they could give them up altogether. This was further aided by the move to Utah, where coffee was simply not available because, at the time, very few people lived there.

In 1921, the church changed its policy on communion wine because they wanted to stop indulging in substances that were “habit-forming.” This would lead one to believe that coffee would be doubly banned, but our research finds inconclusive answers to that question. This leads to the next wrinkle: Can Mormons drink iced coffee?

If you go by the doctrines passed down according to God and Joseph Smith, then yes. But if you go by the rule of habit-forming substances than no. As is the case with all religions, so much of how you live or what you abide by is based on interpretation of religious documents, and when it comes to Mormonism, that includes details like whether you can drink coffee.

We can see that the rules aren’t totally rigid when we look at the results from the Next Mormons Survey, which show that:

  • 40% of millennials and GenX-ers had a cup of coffee within six months of the survey being taken,
  • 38% of all respondents had consumed at least one of the following within six months of the survey being taken: alcohol, coffee, tea, tobacco, or other drugs.
  • Adherence to the Word of Wisdom may be softening, as 52% of GenX respondents did not feel that it was vital to follow it.

There have been rumors that coffee may be made “legal” in Mormonism, but there is plenty of skepticism about that happening. On one hand, if younger generations’ views toward the Word of Wisdom are softening, then coffee no longer being banned may be a possibility. On the other hand, unless scientific findings conclusively prove that there are significant benefits from drinking coffee, it seems unlikely that this rule will change.

There you have it, from 1833 to now — the incredible history of coffee in the Mormon faith.

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