No, drinking a Coke isn't a sin for Mormons — and that was true before BYU welcomed caffeine

It's a sin for Mormons to consume caffeine.

Everybody knows that, right?

Not so fast.

Given today's big headline involving Brigham Young University and Coca-Cola, it's probably not a bad time to remind readers of the actual facts.

But before we delve into specifics, let's catch up with the news, via this fantastic lede from the Salt Lake Tribune:

Don’t cue the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and no, Brigham Young University is not on a slippery slope to tapping kegs of light beer in its cafeteria.
But yes, the LDS Church-owned school has decided to end its more than half-century ”caffeine-free” policy on the Provo campus, at least when it comes to soda.
Based upon what church officials recently declared a long-running misunderstanding of the Mormon faith’s “Word of Wisdom,” BYU had banned caffeinated beverages — coffee, tea, and other than caffeine-free soft drinks — since the mid-1950s.

The Associated Press took a more straightforward approach, befitting its role as a national wire service:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mormon church-owned Brigham Young University ended a six-decade ban Thursday on the sale of caffeinated soft drinks on campus, surprising students by posting a picture of a can of Coca-Cola on Twitter and just two words: “It’s happening.”
The move sparked social media celebrations from current and former students, with many recalling how they had hauled their own 2-liter bottles of caffeinated sodas in their backpacks to keep awake for long study sessions.
The university never banned having caffeinated drinks on campus, and many people remembered how faculty mini-fridges were the only place where the drinks could be found.
“I drank a lot of caffeinated beverages while I was here but none of them was purchased on campus,” said Christopher Jones, 34, a visiting BYU history professor and former student. “I never thought I would see the day so it’s exciting.”

So what exactly do Mormon church leaders teach concerning caffeine?

From the Tribune:

That health-related revelation, which appears in the faith’s scriptures (Doctrine and Covenants 89), prohibits “hot drinks” — specifically tea and coffee — along with alcohol and tobacco, but does not specifically prohibit caffeine, church leaders pointed out in 2012.

And from AP:

The Utah-based Mormon religion directs its nearly 16 million worldwide members to avoid alcohol and hot beverages such as coffee and tea as part of an 1833 revelation from Mormon founder Joseph Smith.

Both the Tribune and AP do a nice job of explaining the beliefs in a concise amount of space.

That part of the story, however, isn't exactly breaking news. This fizz has been bubbling for about five years now. Godbeat pro Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Tribune noted in 2012:

Maybe now, reporters, bloggers, outsiders and even many Mormons will accept that the Utah-based LDS Church does not forbid cola drinking.
On Wednesday, the LDS Church posted a statement on its website saying that "the church does not prohibit the use of caffeine" and that the faith's health-code reference to "hot drinks" "does not go beyond [tea and coffee]."
A day later, the website wording was slightly softened, saying only that "the church revelation spelling out health practices ... does not mention the use of caffeine."
Same goes for the church's two-volume handbook, which stake presidents, bishops and other LDS leaders use to guide their congregations. It says plainly that "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."

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has an interesting op-ed on the subject:

There's an old joke that Jews don't recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Protestants don't recognize the pope as the leader of the Christian faith, and Baptists don't recognize each other at the liquor store.

I'm curious: Do ordinary Mormons adhere to the rule on hot tea and coffee? Or is this a Baptists-and-beer type of thing?

Who knows — it might make a good story for an enterprising journalist. 

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