I Have a Question

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    Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

    Should a Latter-day Saint sell a product when its use violates the Word of Wisdom?

    Henry B. Eyring, president of Ricks College, Rexburg, Idaho The advice from Church leaders of this dispensation has been in the direction of discouraging Church members from “handling, selling, or serving” alcoholic beverages. (General Handbook of Instructions, 1976, p. 104.) They have said less concerning a multitude of related questions: Should we grow hops? Sell tobacco? Coffee?

    If I were faced with such a decision, two questions might help me make my choices. They are simple ones: What is my overriding objective? What business alternatives can I create?

    First, I have no hope of acting wisely if my first and overriding objective is to make money. But if my main motive is to please God, I will be sensitive to the Spirit as it warns me away from what would displease him. Once I have decided I want eternal life more than business success, I will have crossed the great gulf between wanting to know what God would permit and trying to do what he would prefer. That will make me look for different products and services from those I now offer that lead people to violate the Word of Wisdom.

    Second, the alternatives are seldom as stark as “Either I sell a product whose use violates the Word of Wisdom or I go broke.” In those few cases where that must be the choice, my obligation to investors, to business associates, to employees, and to my family may force me to sell the harmful product. But almost always, the “go broke” alternative is a false one. For instance, space occupied by beer in a store wouldn’t be left vacant if beer were not sold. It would be used for selling something else; and, with creative skill and faith, the alternative product might be sold in sufficient volume to offset much of the sales lost on beer. This same pursuit of creative alternatives in choosing what to plant might reduce the farmer’s financial sacrifice as he moved away from harmful crops.

    The only mistake as bad as making the wrong choice ourselves would be to judge someone else’s heart by his product line or by what he grows. We don’t know if he wants to please the Lord more than to get profits. We don’t know whether he has tried to create alternatives. We don’t know whether his lack of power in his company or his obligations to others allow him no chance to try alternative products. The only heart we know is ours. And that’s the one we can examine, and change, if it needs it. Imperfect ourselves, we cannot always make perfect choices in an imperfect world, but we can have perfect intent to please God. We can make constant efforts to conduct our business both to please God and meet our business obligations. When we can’t do both, we’ll feel uncomfortable. And if someone could explain away that discomfort, we’d have lost something precious.

    The Doctrine and Covenants, section 58, verses 26–28, seems to me to describe the opportunity this type of choice presents us: “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; …

    “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

    “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.” [D&C 58:26–28]

    “Can you give me some keys to help me understand the parable of the tame and wild olive tree that Jacob tells?”

    Lenet Hadley Read, Primary president, Tulsa Fourth Ward, Tulsa Oklahoma Stake The Book of Mormon gives its own answer to this question, though it is often missed because it is given long before the full parable is given. In 1 Nephi 15:7–20, Nephi explains to his older brothers that as a family they are a “branch” broken off the main house of Israel in Jerusalem. [1 Ne. 15:7–20] Because Nephi had just seen in vision the coming of Christ and the eventual falling away of his people after their establishment on the American continent, he explains that this “branch” of Israel will eventually be corrupted and temporarily abandoned, whereupon the gentiles will inherit the kingdom. But eventually the Lord will reach out his hand again to gather their seed, as well as the Jews, into full and righteous membership in God’s house.

    The parable is as significant as all similar prophecies concerning these events, for those same prophecies are given again and again in other forms. The Savior himself personally reiterated them during his ministry to the Nephites. (See 3 Ne. 16.) The only real difference in the teachings of the parable is that its symbolism is more elaborate.

    But there is a value behind its symbolism. While other prophecies speak of these same events, the parable gives more detail, and particularly it clarifies the motives and the emotions of the Lord—who is the instrument behind the “breaking off,” the “scattering,” the “grafting,” and the “regrafting.”

    By comparing the Lord to the master of a vineyard who labors with all his might (“But what could I have done more in my vineyard? Have I slackened mine hand, that I have not nourished it? Nay, I have nourished it, and I have digged about it, and I have pruned it, and I have dunged it; and I have stretched forth mine hand almost all the day long”—Jacob 5:47), by showing that he “weeps” at seeing the decay in his vineyard, and by showing his joy as the vineyard begins to produce good fruit, we feel more powerfully the Lord’s joys and sorrows as he labors to make his children fruitful—for most of us have had the experience of anxiously caring for some living thing which we desire to be productive.

    We are given the opportunity to look through his eyes to see why there is a tendency for corruption among his children. “Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard—have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? … behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves.” (Jacob 5:48; italics added.)

    Thus, in addition to giving a clear historical and prophetic overview of God’s dealings with Israelite and gentile, a greater value may come from the emotional impact the parable has upon our hearts. For it does help us to see things through the eyes of a loving and laboring Father in heaven.

    The symbolism the Lord uses in this parable to reach our hearts is symbolism he favors very highly. Throughout the scriptures he quite frequently compares himself to a nourisher of living things. Frequently he has spoken of “sowing” or “cultivating” or “reaping,” or other physical labor with his people. Earnestly he speaks of his yearning for good fruit, a deserved reward for his righteous labors. For me, his usage of such imagery becomes more precious when I remember that the Lord was creator of all these things used as symbols—not just a literary artist adapting them to his use.

    Reflecting upon this truth leads me to the strong feeling that the vines and trees, the process of nourishing with sun and water, cultivation, the bringing forth of fruit, grafting, harvesting, etc.—all provide physical witnesses that help us comprehend the Lord’s spiritual truths.

    There are scriptural references indicating this is so. Among them are Paul’s statement in Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” [Rom. 1:20] (Italics added.) In Moses 6:63, we learn also that all things were created and made to bear record of Christ.

    Believing these things has helped me immensely in appreciating all the symbolism the Lord uses in his scriptures, including that of the tame and wild olive tree. When I sense that from the very beginning the Lord created this physical object or this physical process to teach me this spiritual truth, how then can I not see or not absorb that truth?

    By drawing upon our empathies as cultivators and nourishers of living things, the Lord has helped us feel more clearly his labor, his grief, his joy in fruitfulness. It is clear that through the parable he seeks to humble us. That is the result when Nephi expounds the parable to his brothers. That is the desired effect when Paul recites his shorter version to the gentiles:

    “Be not highminded, but fear:

    “For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.” (Rom. 11:20–21.)

    That is the effect the parable ought to have upon all of us. If the parable alone does not “circumcise” our hearts, Jacob’s eloquent pleadings after he expounds it should:

    “Cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. …

    “For behold, after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit? …

    “O be wise; what can I say more?” (Jacob 6:5, 7, 12.)

    Have the Saints always given as much emphasis to the Word of Wisdom as they do today?

    Leonard J. Arrington, Church Historian Many present-day members of the Church, in reading the diaries, letters, and histories of their grandparents and great-grandparents, have discovered that even those who were staunch members of the Church occasionally mention use of tea, coffee, tobacco, and intoxicating drinks. Even after the publication of the revelation called the Word of Wisdom in 1835, a number of loyal members continued to indulge in some of these habits despite the Lord’s counsel against it.

    We should not be surprised at their doing so, because at that time some of them apparently felt that the revelation meant simply a word of advice and counsel—“not by commandment or constraint” (D&C 89:2)—somewhat on the order of “get plenty of sleep” and “don’t eat too much.” 1

    From time to time Church leaders laid special stress on the importance of the revelation, and in the October general conference in 1851 the Saints agreed by uplifted hand that they would observe it. 2 Obedience to the Word of Wisdom was listed as a requirement to belong to the School of the Prophets, to the United Order, and to fully participate in many of the important activities of the Church. 3

    President Brigham Young strongly urged obedience to the principle in the mid-1860s, President John Taylor and others in the 1880s, and President Joseph F. Smith and others in the early years of this century. President Joseph F. Smith, in a sermon, said, “The reason undoubtedly why the Word of Wisdom was given—as not by ‘commandment’ or ‘restraint’ was that at that time, at least, if it had been given as a commandment it would have brought every man [and woman] addicted to the use of these noxious things under condemnation; so the Lord was merciful and gave them a chance to overcome, before He brought them under the law.” 4 President Smith stated in 1908, “I believe that we are coming nearer to the point where we shall be able to observe that great and glorious law of temperance which the Lord Almighty has given unto us.” 5

    It was in the 1920s, under the inspiration of President Heber J. Grant, that the Church as a whole began to consistently regard the revelation not only as “the order and will of God” but also as a binding principle. From that time forward Church leaders have uniformly and consistently insisted on obedience to the revelation—refraining from the use of tea, coffee, tobacco, and intoxicating beverages—as a condition of holding local leadership positions. And from that time forward, compliance with the ban on coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco has been considered essential to ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood, obtaining recommends to the temple, and participating in other ordinances and responsibilities. 6

    We should not be impatient with the Word of Wisdom lapses of early Church members. Certainly there is no reason for us to be ashamed of them. They lived before the revelation was considered binding, and they acted upon the light and understanding which they had. Some of them observed the Word of Wisdom very carefully; others were less scrupulous in this one area but demonstrated their loyalty and goodness in countless other ways. And the Saints as a whole were much more temperate than nineteenth-century persons generally. Travelers to Latter-day Saint communities in the last century praised the temperance and moderation of the Saints. Extreme abuses, particularly drunkenness, were never at any time tolerated among the Saints.

    The Lord adds to the Saints’ understanding constantly through the prophet and other leaders he calls. The early Saints struggled through terrible adversities and laid the great foundation of faith that is our heritage. They should be honored and appreciated for their faithfulness to the laws that God revealed to them. At the same time we should be grateful for any additional understanding that adds to our happiness and spiritual growth.


  •   1.

    The standard work on Latter-day Saint adherence to the Word of Wisdom is Paul H. Peterson, “An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom” (Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972).

  •   2.

    Journal History of the Church, 9 September 1851.

  •   3.

    Peterson, “An Historical Analysis,” pp. 62–64.

  •   4.

    Joseph F. Smith, Conference Reports, October 1913, p. 14.

  •   5.

    Joseph F. Smith, Conference Reports, April 1908, p. 4.

  •   6.

    The trend toward strict observance of the Word of Wisdom can be traced with the help of references to the Word of Wisdom in the Journal of Discourses; General Conference reports, 1898–present; James R. Clark, ed., Messages of the First Presidency, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75); and numerous letters of the First Presidency to individuals who at different times made inquiries about Church policies with regard to the Word of Wisdom. An influential work which reinforced this trend was John A. and Leah D. Widtsoe, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation (Salt Lake City, 1938).

  • How does one learn to be a good, loving mother?

    Mollie H. Sorensen, mother of eight, Napa, California First, I think that question is not at all rare among mothers—far from it. I’ve felt the same way and I know many other mothers have too, and I understand how discouraging and even frightening it is to realize that the feelings of love you expect to accompany motherhood simply aren’t there all the time. Our careers as mothers are founded upon the premise that we love.

    Yet we all experience times when our supply of love seems to wane. One mother I know put it this way, “Everyone acts as if it comes naturally—but sometimes I just don’t have very much love to give.” I think we all have these feelings, but how can we fill our reservoirs of love when they seem to drain out at the bottom?

    Let me share an idea with you. It’s simple, even though it’s not easy. It’s an hour of my day, set aside for reading the scriptures and praying.

    How can a mother of young children take that time? Well, as one of my friends puts it, “When you read the scriptures, you don’t take time—you add time.”

    I think that’s true, because devoting time each day for the Lord is actually saying to him, “I will put you first in my life—before the washing and ironing—since I know that by doing this I will be blessed to be a better mother, wife, and homemaker.”

    And such great blessings are in store for the woman who does it! When we seek the Lord first, he in return pours out gifts upon us, especially the gift of the Holy Ghost, which, as Elder Parley P. Pratt said, “quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. … It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. … In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.” (Key to Theology, 10th ed., Deseret Book Co., 1966, p. 101.)

    Who needs these attributes more than mothers?

    One sister with six children takes twenty minutes or so right after the last child goes to school.

    Another sister, a night owl, loves to stay up for her study and meditation. She has seven children; her husband serves in the stake presidency.

    Whatever the time, it is important that these moments every day be dedicated for this purpose. And expect some opposition. I noticed the following thoughts in my mind the first week I seriously tried to study the scriptures:

    “What if someone saw my kitchen? I’d be so embarrassed!”

    “I’ll have to answer that phone. It might be something important.”

    “I’m so tired! I think I’m falling asleeeeee …”

    Fight back with determination! It’s worth it. One woman recently confided that after her seventh baby’s birth, she felt miserable, alone, vulnerable, constantly irritated by her children’s play.

    Then after several months, she put her finger on the cause of her depression: illness during her pregnancy had changed her habit of getting up early to study and pray. “Oh, I prayed, but never with the same feeling I had after an hour with the scriptures or conference talks. And I felt justified in skipping it—after all, I was so sick. Nevertheless, I had gradually become spiritually weak. Now, after several weeks of having my early morning study, I feet strong and able to care for my family again. I enjoy my children now!”

    To nourish our hungry spirits we must, for a brief time daily, be a Mary first, a Martha second. (See Luke 10:38–42.) We cannot sit at the Savior’s feet as Mary did, but we can kneel with his words to show that we need him in our lives. And we can converse with him in prayer—pleading that we will catch the vision of our call as mothers in Zion. How can we teach our children the gospel if we do not know it? And how can we instill a love of the scriptures in their hearts if our own behavior communicates that the scriptures are too hard to understand?

    President Joseph Fielding Smith stressed: “Our first concern should be our own salvation. We should seek every gospel blessing for ourselves.

    “Then we should be concerned about our families, our children and our ancestors.” (Church News, January 16, 1971.)

    It is not an easy challenge for most mothers—to care for these kinds of needs first—but my own experience proves to me that it’s worth its weight in love.