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Mormons can drink caffeine? 'Dew' tell
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Bar owners in downtown Salt Lake City need not gear up to serve the hordes of Mormons who will throng Temple Square during next weekend's LDS General Conference. Starbucks won't need extra staff, either.

Mormons, as most folks around here know, don't drink alcohol, tea or coffee.

But convenience stores and fast-food eateries should brace for an onslaught of conferencegoers craving Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Mountain Dew or other caffeinated beverages.

That's right, caffeinated.

The LDS Church's health code, known simply as the "Word of Wisdom," was dictated in 1833 by Mormon founder Joseph Smith. It forbids consumption of wine, strong drink, tobacco and "hot drinks," which have been defined by church authorities as tea and coffee.

Nowhere does it mention caffeine.

Nor was it added in the church's recent two-volume handbook, which stake presidents, bishops and other local LDS leaders use to guide their congregations.

Simply stated, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes no official position on caffeine. That doesn't mean church leaders view drinks that contain it as healthy. They just don't bar members from, say, pounding a Pepsi or slurping a hot chocolate.

Even so, many outsiders and plenty of insiders get that wrong.

Part of the confusion stems from Brigham Young University. The LDS Church-owned school doesn't sell caffeinated drinks on campus.

Such misunderstandings continue to irk Matthew Jorgensen, a Mormon and self-described devotee of caffeine-stoked Mountain Dew.

"Part of the issue is that nonofficial remarks by certain church leaders get selectively spread around," Jorgensen writes in an email. "Another part of the issue is the general tendency (although there are exceptions) of devout people to be too literal and absolute, while not being rational enough. Plain ignorance on this church policy by all parties seems to rule."

Earlier this summer, Jorgensen was chosen to be "the face of White Out" in one of Mountain Dew's promotions. Since moving to Cedar City to take a job teaching chemistry at Southern Utah University, the LDS professor has "carved out a place for [himself] as 'Dr. Dew,' " he said, proudly displaying the sizable collection of Mountain Dew memorabilia he has in his office.

"My philosophy is simple," Jorgensen said. "The church policy is clear on coffee and tea, and I don't want to make the mistake of inappropriately extending or applying this."

If caffeine were against the Word of Wisdom, he says, it would open the door to lots of questions and judgment calls. Would decaffeinated coffee or iced tea be OK? How about medicines such as Excedrin, which contain caffeine?

And if the argument is against high levels of caffeine, Jorgensen writes, "then the problem is that 'high' is completely arbitrary."

Clearly, the Utah-based faith is leaving such explanations and decisions up to individuals.

That's fine with Jorgensen.

"We have been given rational minds for a reason," he writes, then paraphrasing church founder Joseph Smith. "We don't need to be compelled in all things."

So any churchgoing Mormons wondering whether it's OK — in their faith's eyes — to join Jorgensen for a caffeine fix can heed this simple advice:

Just Dew it.

pstack@sltrib.com

What the handbook says

"The only official interpretation of 'hot drinks' (D&C 89:9) in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early church leaders that the term 'hot drinks' means tea and coffee."

Source: LDS Church's Handbook 1

Sure, the LDS faith's health code forbids booze, coffee, tea and tobacco — but not Coca-Cola, Pepsi or hot chocolate.
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