(RNS) Mormons have always been dead set against alcohol, except when they weren’t.

The LDS abhorrence of coffee, tea, tobacco and liquor (“Lips that touch wine shall never touch mine”) was not always absolute — a point to bear in mind as church leaders flex their political muscle to oppose legislation that would ease Utah’s alcohol regulations.

The Word of Wisdom is a dietary code with many head-scratching restrictions, squishy provisos, and openly flouted prohibitions. Don’t take my word for it; read the original passed on to the world via Joseph Smith in 1833 in Doctrine and Covenants section 89, available atwww.lds.org.

Unless you’re willing to drink wine of your own making at sacrament meeting and swear off summertime barbecue, hot chocolate, barley (except for mild drinks), you’re not doing it right.

For matters of simplicity, the modern LDS Church has deigned the Word of Wisdom to be a blanket prohibition on the use of tea, coffee, tobacco and alcohol. But early in their history, Mormons who enjoyed the occasional tipple or chaw could get a temple recommend and enjoy all the privileges of a member in good standing.

Early Mormon settlers built breweries in the Salt Lake Valley almost as soon the wagons were unpacked. The church disapproved of diverting valuable resources to making alcohol — until it discovered passing gentiles who were only too willing to pay hard cash for the stuff. The department store known as ZCMI (Zion Cooperative Mercantile Institution) sold beer, wine and even Valley Tan, a locally produced whiskey.

Hotel Utah, built by the church in 1910, boasted a basement with one of the finest bars in the West. Proceeds from the bar were used to pay off the $2 million cost of construction.

In what became known as the Wine Mission, European converts in the 1860s put their viticultural expertise to work and produced 3,000 gallons of wine a year in southern Utah. Brigham Young lauded their efforts: “I anticipate the day when we can have the privilege of using, at our sacraments, pure wine, produced within our borders.”

The crystal decanters I saw some years ago on a sideboard in Young’s summer home in St. George probably weren’t meant for lemonade.

Young discouraged the use of tobacco at church meetings, but he didn’t forbid it either. Spittoons were installed in the Salt Lake Tabernacle after he complained about the spittle besmearing the floors.

Young was urged to make the Word of Wisdom a test of fellowship, but he said, “I do not think that I shall do so.”

That job fell to Joseph F. Smith. In 1902, he was the first church president to make the Word of Wisdom mandatory. Kind of. He urged local leaders to allow leeway with the old men and their tobacco and the old women and their tea. Many church leaders and members, however, continued to drink their wine, beer and coffee with a clear conscience.

In 1921, Heber J. Grant aligned church policy with the national temperance movement and made absolute abstinence church law. The culture of open warfare on demon rum is at least partly a legacy of that alliance. Grant never forgot or forgave the rogue Utah Legislature that very publicly thumbed its nose at his wishes and repealed prohibition in 1933.

Since then, the church has taken a keen interest in Utah’s liquor laws; witness the extraordinary sight this last week of a Mormon general authority going on YouTube to tell the legislature that Utah’s current laws are just fine and not to worry what others might say.

These days one could almost wish for a little more Brigham Young and a little less Carrie Nation.

(Pat Bagley is the editorial cartoonist of The Salt Lake Tribune.)






  1. Is Mormonism a false religion having an outside form of Christianity most certainly. Having been to Utah many times I love the grid system, impossible to get lost. But it is possible to be lost when you do not have a love for the truth.
    I would recommend anyone to take a look over the Temple in Utah. Look at the inverted pentagrams in the temple square. also the Sun and the and the stars also in the masonry. Most damming is the all seeing eye which has sun rays and a veil. Very much in keeping with Masonry which is the foot soldiers of the great whore you have a handshake also laid in stone. The museum of church history also include inverted pangrams, and include Egyptian hieroglyphs. In the kids corner you have an inverted pentagram which is elongated on the downward point. I do not see why these symbols should be on a church of God or can find them in the bible. If you want to understand you have to find a old version of Morals and Dogma that have them symbols still in them.

    Anyone who after the prophets say angel came to them with new revelation is a wolf plane and simple. Galatians 1:8 KJV

    • Bill, nice rant.
      You obviously do not understand the symbolism on the temple. Just because a symbol means something to one set of people doesn’t follow that it means the same thing to others. The star pointing down is symbolic of the star of Bethlehem pointing to Christ. The celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars) are often symbolic of the afterlife and the “degrees of glory” as they are talked about in the LDS scriptures. The phases of the moon are also depicted for all the phases of the moon that occurred in 1878. The all-seeing-eye is a reminder that God sees everything.

      There is much more symbolism that points to God and the signifies many things in the LDS church. Don’t believe everything you read. Especially if it is not from the source.

      • Any rant that might lead just one person from waking up on the outside of the kingdom is worth more than all the silver the Mother Hen hoards.

        Pentagram is the universal sign of Satan, and symbol of opposition to Christ.

        See “Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God” by Kenneth Grant, p. 12; “A Dictionary of Symbols” by J. E. Ciriot, p.310, and “Magic White and Black” by Franz Hartmann, M.D., pp. 290-291. Also displayed on the cover of the satanic Bible by Anton LaVey.

  2. Mr. Bagley is inaccurate. Prohibition was repealed in Utah by a state ratifying convention, not the state legislature. This fact is easily verified.

    President Heber J. Grant leveled his criticism at the people of Utah for voting for repeal, not the state legislature. This fact is easily verified.

    These inaccuracies suggest carelessness and/or misrepresentation.

  3. Mormons live, on average, 8 to 10 years longer than the general population, and DUIs and alcohol-related deaths are much reduced in Utah as compared to the rest of the country. Criticize the Word of Wisdom all you want. If statistics have anything to say about it, Mormons will literally have the last laugh.

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