Saturday, March 2, 2013

Why Things Change

I just read a Dialogue article written in 1981 by Thomas Alexander about the development of the Word of Wisdom from being a "principle with promise" to a commandment.  Though not comprehensive it's a worthwhile read.  It's not lengthy and provides context for some of the decisions regarding Church policy that were being made at the time.

Diaries, journals, minutes of meetings, and contemporary news articles are great ways to trace the development of individual and group sentiment about matters pertaining to doctrine and policy in our history.  Much of the best information can be found in these sources, and yet it is unfortunately these sources that are underutilized in publications that most members of the Church would be familiar with.  Publications that have done a good job exhausting these resources are viewed by some as antagonistic to the Church.  These same publications, however, are usually the most accurate and thorough.    

Early leaders of the Church held varied personal opinions about the application of the Word of Wisdom.  It's fun to learn about them.  

Lorenzo Snow, for example, believed and taught that members of the Church ought to avoid eating meat, and that this prohibition was a more serious matter than other requirements of the Word of Wisdom.  

George Albert Smith took brandy for medicinal purposes later in his life, while years earlier he advised Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics to no "longer tolerate men in presiding positions who would not keep the Word of Wisdom."  

Wilford Woodruff and George Teasdale believed and taught that eating pork was a more serious offense than drinking coffee or tea.  Brigham Young often taught the same thing.  

Other prominent Latter-day Saints held other views and opinions about this revelation.  Some members even paid their tithing in homemade wine into the latter part of the 19th century, and these tithes were accepted and stored by the Church.  

Growing support of the prohibition of alcohol among Evangelicals and certain political groups influenced the feelings of LDS Church leaders after the turn of the century.  During this time of growing interest in the Prophet's revelation, leaders of the Church began to prevent members from being ordained to the priesthood, from serving in callings, and attending the temple based upon breaches of conduct pertaining to the Word of Wisdom in an effort to encourage compliance.  

Changes in the Church's policies were influenced by what was going on in the political and social world around them.  This was not the first time in our history that changes in policy were implemented because of shifting social opinions.  The Church's consideration of public opinion has only grown since that time.  

This is not to say that many of the decisions on policy aren't made with good intentions and by good men.  It is only to say that many decisions are made without regard for or reference to revelation. 

One thing in particular that caught my attention in his article was the following:

"Late in the 1920s Church leaders urged alternative anti-tobacco legislation, and  in  1927,  Elders  Richard  R.  Lyman  and  Melvin  J.  Ballard  asked  church attorney Franklin S. Richards for information  on the possibility of legislation preventing the advertising of cigarettes on billboards. Even though  Richards believed  that the Supreme  Court would  declare such a law unconstitutional, the  1929 legislature passed  one anyway. The Relief Society Magazine in May, 1929, said  it hoped  that  the courts would  uphold  the law and  regretted  that the Idaho legislature had not passed a similar law. In November,  1929, however,  Judge  David  W.  Moffatt  of  Utah's  Third  District  Court  ruled  the
billboard  law  unconstitutional."

I don't live in Utah, but have seen pictures spread around online of the many billboards advertising City Creek Center.  Some of those billboards portray the consumption of alcohol.  It's ironic to me that in 21st century Mormonism, at a time when the Word of Wisdom has evolved to be among the most defining practices and attributes of Latter-day Saints, we see billboards with alcohol advertising a mall to attract business - for the sake of popularity and gain.  Yet, a hundred years ago when Word of Wisdom adherence was barely in the stages of becoming a requirement to enter the temple under Heber J. Grant's presidency, there were laws being passed attacking the advertisement of the principles the Church claimed it was striving to uphold.  

Money is a powerful taskmaster.  

Political and Social influence have always been an enticement to men.  They influence more of our decisions than they should (1 Ne. 22:23). 

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