Attitudes regarding coffee differ across different cultures though there seems to be little to no religious restriction regarding the globally popular wake-me-up beverage. However, followers of the Latter Day Saints church abstain from drinking coffee, which is curious for most Americans.
Mormons do not drink coffee because their scripture (Doctrine and Covenants 89:8–9) prohibits the use of tobacco and hot drinks. Following the Words of Wisdom, Mormons opt-out of using coffee, tea, and other habit-forming beverages like alcohol. They do not even drink cold or decaf coffee.
In this article, we will look at the Mormon rationale for not drinking coffee and the pragmatic outsider interpretation as to why the followers of the LDS church opt-out of social beverages like coffee and alcohol. This post also goes over the attitudes of Mormon youth regarding Words of Wisdom and Doctrine and Covenants 89:8-9.
The Mormon view
Mormons have been grilled by peers and outsiders regarding their very public avoidance of coffee. Though the answers were previously confined to the religion’s texts, the internet has made the rationale public. The Mormon position against hot drinks doesn’t target coffee only but also affects tea. Here are the two explanations from the LDS church’s doctrine.
It is a hot drink
As revealed to the LDS church’s prophet, Joseph Smith, hot drinks are not for the body or the belly. This is interpreted as being a directive to opt-out of consuming hot drinks. Apologists have reasserted this point citing sources that show that hot drinks can cause cancer. Still, the fact that coffee actually helps avoid cancer doesn’t seem to matter. In other words, this is about the drink’s temperature, not its potential to cause or prevent cancer. Or so one might think!
The same directive has also put tea on Mormons’ list of prohibited beverages. It is interesting that despite having the same temperature, herbal teas are okay for Mormons to consume, while iced coffee still remains on the church’s ‘must avoid’ list. The hot beverages directive is selectively applied against coffee and tea, not because of their temperature alone but also due to their tendency to form habits.
It is a habit-forming substance.
The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t practice classic communion associated with the Christian tradition because wine is a ‘habit-forming substance.’ Mormons are against having coffee for the same reason. Caffeine’s addictiveness leads to its prohibition. Technically one could argue for decaf iced coffee as a permissible beverage since it is neither hot nor habit-forming.
However, the Mormon faith and its current reigning interpretation keep members of the faith from even going to coffee shops. This fuels outsider speculation that goes beyond the church’s own alleged rationale.
All in all, the Mormon leadership primarily cites Doctrine and Covenants 89:8–9, where the use of tobacco and hot drinks is prohibited. This also aligns with the church’s transition away from Communion wine, which is a habit-forming substance. But what do outsiders make of the inconsistencies, like having herbal tea while abstaining from cold coffee?
According to social commentators and historians, the doctrine came into practice around the same time Mormons were moving to Utah, which didn’t have coffee. Both the moves, at least pragmatically, helped Mormons disconnect from the culture at large.
Such a divide helped incubate the LDS view of Jesus without influence from the mainstream Christian tradition. Coffee and tea were used to facilitate discourse and dialogue, which could introduce critiques to the Mormon views too early into the Church’s journey.
Back then, tea packers and coffee importers were led by a handful of decision-makers. In such a situation, any group being aggressively ostracized would not want to rely on substances controlled by less than a dozen people.
Whether the leaders of the faith wanted their followers away from substances that could be controlled later or simply wanted to isolate the core believers before the church had found its footing, the current religious consensus among Mormons remains that the prohibition is timeless and is more than an era-specific pragmatic directive.
Mormon adherence to the doctrine.
While the church’s leadership stands firmly against hot or cold coffee and even recommends avoiding coffee shops altogether, the community’s youth culture indicates what the relationship between Mormonism and coffee will be like.
Next Mormons is an organization that studies the next generation of the followers of the LDS church. In its survey, a section dedicated to coffee was quite revealing regarding Mormons’ attitude towards coffee.
52% of Gen-Xers don’t believe Words of Wisdom are mandatory to follow.
The Mormon stance regarding LDS scripture has always been that the prohibitive statements in the religious texts are more like suggestions for a better life than restrictions. Gen-Xers seem to take that literally, with more than half of them asserting in the Next Mormons’ survey that adhering to Words of Wisdom is not mandatory. Since coffee is prohibited within words of wisdom, one can make a case for the next generation of Mormons being more open to coffee.
38% of respondents have consumed an otherwise prohibited product within six months of the survey.
The substances listed include alcohol, tea, tobacco, and coffee. While this number is far from a majority, the Mormon youth’s openness to experimenting can push the church to get more tolerant of habit-forming substances in the future. But for a clearer picture regarding youth’s attitude towards coffee, the other items must be omitted from the question.
40% of millennial and Gen-X respondents had a cup of coffee within six months of the survey.
This is by far the most insightful piece of data as it solidifies the fact that Words of Wisdom aren’t as influential in inspiring coffee abstinence among the Church’s young crowd. To stay relevant and compelling for its gen x and millennial members, the church might have to reinterpret its attitude towards coffee, tea, and tobacco.
Mormons abstain from consuming coffee, tea, and alcohol. The constant thread between these beverages is that they’re all consumed socially and are habit-forming to an extent. Mormons maintain that their avoidance of these drinks is due to their habit-forming nature, but outside skeptics believe the attempt is to keep Mormons from socializing outside their religious community.