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Op-ed: Mormons should follow both halves of health code

Published January 11, 2014 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I, like most Mormons, was taught from a young age that our bodies are sacred in nature, even "temples of God" and are to be kept clean and healthy. It was for this reason that the Word of Wisdom, which stands as a code of health for Mormons, was given to Joseph Smith in 1833.

But in my view there is a double standard that exists within mainstream Mormonism in regard to the Word of Wisdom and my hope is that we can fix it.

The Word of Wisdom is essentially broken into two halves. The first half covers the don'ts in five verses: avoid tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea and drugs. The second half covers the do's in eight verses: essentially, practice proper nutrition.

Here's the problem: Virtually all active Mormons follow the first half valiantly and wouldn't be caught dead doing otherwise, but feel little or no remorse for periodically or even frequently ignoring the second half. Why is this? Is one half better or worse than the other half?

But the problem goes deeper and herein lies the double standard.

There is a culture within the Mormon church (in this case far from the doctrine), that allows for all of us to periodically or even regularly ignore the second half of the Word of Wisdom when it suits us, with little or no remorse. But it condones quick judgment and talking badly about someone within our faith (or outside) who has ignored one item in the first half of the Word of Wisdom, oftentimes far less frequently than we ignore the second half.

What makes our disregard for the law any less severe than theirs?

As far as I know there is no hierarchy given in the Word of Wisdom. It does not state that to use tobacco products is worse than to eat meat excessively. It does not state that to consume alcohol is worse than consistently ignoring the entire second half of the Word of Wisdom.

Are they not both in violation of the law? In my opinion the major difference is that one has become acceptable within Mormon culture and the other hasn't.

As with other doctrine, there is room for personal interpretation as to how you wish to follow the gray areas of the law. But there should be no room for passing harsh judgment on someone, to paraphrase Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "because you choose to ignore a different part of the Word of Wisdom than I do."

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we should all work diligently to follow the Word of Wisdom to our own best understanding and work to follow both the first and second half of the law. Doing so will bring greater health, energy and protection from chronic disease and illness!

But we need to eliminate this double standard that exists within our culture and not pass judgment on others who fall short on a different part of the Word of Wisdom than we do. As Christ wisely said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone …"

Rich Millar is the founder of HealthMovement.com and holds degrees in dietetics and public health from BYU.