Why Mormons Avoid Coffee? Simple Reasons Explained

Navigating through the intricacies of dietary customs and religious edicts, the question of why Mormons abstain from drinking coffee emerges as a topic rich in cultural, spiritual, and health-related dimensions. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the LDS Church or the Mormon Church, adheres to a set of health guidelines known as the Word of Wisdom. This doctrine, revealed to Joseph Smith in 1833, extends beyond mere dietary restrictions; it embodies a comprehensive lifestyle code aimed at enhancing physical and spiritual well-being. This article delves into the theological underpinnings of the prohibition against coffee, examining its historical context, scriptural basis, and the contemporary interpretations that guide the daily lives of millions of Latter-day Saints worldwide. By exploring the multifaceted reasons behind this abstention—from the commandment’s revelation to its health implications and its role in fostering community and identity—readers will gain insights into the complex interplay between faith, health, and modern living. Join us as we uncover the layers behind this intriguing aspect of Mormon life, inviting a deeper understanding and appreciation of a faith that seamlessly integrates spiritual beliefs with daily practices.

Theological Foundations

The Word of Wisdom was received as a revelation from God in 1833 and is recorded as Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which contains modern revelations central to the Latter-day Saint faith.

Origin as a Divine Revelation

On February 27, 1833 in Kirtland, Ohio, Joseph Smith received a revelation from God outlining health guidance and prohibitions on certain substances, which became known as the Word of Wisdom. This occurred during an era when temperance movements were gaining popularity in the United States as a reaction to excessive alcohol consumption. However, the Word of Wisdom stands out for emphasizing wholesome living and preventative health, rather than being a reactionary moral directive.

The Doctrine and Covenants Context

As part of the Doctrine and Covenants, compliance with the Word of Wisdom is a sign of commitment to the faith for Mormons today. However, it was not originally given as a strict commandment and church leaders encouraged temperance and patience in its adoption. Over time, adherence grew as evidence mounted of the health benefits following this progressive guidance.

Specific Prohibitions and Recommendations

Specific Prohibitions and Recommendations
Specific Prohibitions and Recommendations

The Word of Wisdom prohibits coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco. It encourages using wholesome herbs, fruits, vegetables and grains, eating meat sparingly, and practicing self-control.

No Coffee or Tea

Mormons do not drink coffee due to their religious beliefs outlined in the “Word of Wisdom,” a health code revealed by God to LDS prophet Joseph Smith. This code advises against consuming certain substances, including coffee and tea, as they are considered harmful to the body. The Mormon faith promotes a lifestyle focused on spiritual and physical health, encouraging the consumption of nutritious foods while avoiding substances like coffee that are deemed detrimental. The prohibition on coffee consumption is rooted in the teachings of Joseph Smith, who received guidance from God regarding dietary rules, leading Mormons to abstain from coffee as part of their religious observance.

Emphasis on Whole Foods

It encourages eating fruits, vegetables, grains, and herbs. While not strictly enforced, this lays a foundation for the Mormon focus on wholesome foods and home storage.

Food Group Guidance
Fruits Use in abundance
Vegetables Use in abundance
Grains As the staff of life
Meat Eat sparingly

Principle of Moderation

The Word of Wisdom recommends eating meat sparingly and only in times of winter, cold or famine. This principle of moderation pre-dated modern nutritional knowledge.

Holistic Health

It advocates balancing nutritional needs with exercise, sleep, and stress moderation. This holistic view demonstrates both spiritual and physical consideration.

Spiritual and Physical Promises

The Word of Wisdom promises both spiritual and physical blessings to those who adhere to it. These promises create incentive for Mormons to follow the health guidance.

Spiritual Enlightenment

It states that those who follow the Word of Wisdom will receive “great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” and find wisdom and “great mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them.” This connects obedience with personal revelation and closeness to God.

Health Protection

Those who follow the Word of Wisdom are promised good health and protection from “evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” This presciently warns of substance addictions and health consequences now verified by science.

Scientific Evidence

Modern research has uncovered the negative effects of alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea, validating the 200-year-old revelation. Mormons view this as scientific proof of divine foresight.

Evolution and Interpretation

While the textual Word of Wisdom remains fixed, its application and enforcement has evolved over time according to the availability of substances and changing health perspectives.

19th Century Context

Early Mormons would have found complete abstinence from alcohol challenging, as it was commonly used for cooking, hygiene, and medical treatment. Wine for sacrament worship was also permitted. This set the stage for the gradual adoption of the Word of Wisdom.

20th Century Transition

In the early 1900s, the federal government crackdown on polygamy forced the church itself to downplay practices that differentiated Mormons. Emphasis on the Word of Wisdom increased during this assimilation period as a new marker of identity.

Modern Requirement

By the 1930s, strict adherence was required to enter Latter-day Saint temples, formalizing the centrality of the Word of Wisdom in Mormon life. Both substance abstinence and adherence to general health principles are now highly emphasized.

Comparative and Scientific Insights

While unique in origin, the Word of Wisdom bears similarity to health codes in other faiths. Scientific findings on prohibited substances provide modern validation.

Parallels in Other Faiths

The Seventh Day Adventist focus on health and vegetarianism and Islamic avoidance of alcohol reflect similar priorities. This indicates the Word of Wisdom codified timeless spiritual health insights.

Faith Health Practice
Mormonism Avoid coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco
Adventism Vegetarian diet
Islam Avoid alcohol

Coffee and Tea Research

The stimulant and cardiovascular effects of caffeine in coffee and tea validate caution for certain individuals. However, research remains inconclusive on net risks or benefits for moderate consumption in adults.

Alcohol and Tobacco Harms

The addictive and detrimental properties of alcohol and tobacco corroborate the caution against them. Long-term research clearly links these substances to increased disease risk.

Societal and Personal Impacts

For individual Mormons, the Word of Wisdom influences social life, health behaviors, and personal identity. It also has broad social and legal implications.

Social Aspects

Because drinking coffee or alcohol is a common social activity, abstaining can isolate Mormons and affect relationships with non-Mormon family and friends. Accommodating these restrictions requires sensitivity, understanding, and creativity.

Legal Considerations

Public spaces adapted to accommodate Mormon standards, such as Brigham Young University and the Salt Lake City International Airport, have faced legal disputes over individual rights versus institutional freedom. Interpretation remains complicated.

Identity Markers

Abstaining from coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco acts as an identity marker and demonstration of commitment for Latter-day Saints. However, it can also lead to judgment if used punitively rather than supportively.

Diverse Experiences and Perspectives

The Word of Wisdom is interpreted and applied differently based on individual circumstances and perspectives. Understanding this diversity fosters compassion.

Personal Choice

Some members view the Word of Wisdom as an inspired guideline while others see it as an absolute commandment. These different lenses lead to variations in practice of the advice on meat, grains, fats, sugars, etc.

Special Accommodations

In some cases, religious leaders have allowed exceptions to the restrictions for health needs or other circumstances. However, this is not codified and opinions on appropriate exceptions differ.

Struggles and Judgement

While simple in principle, abstaining completely from coffee or alcohol can be challenging in practice. Some members who struggle feel ostracized and pressured due to the cultural standard within the church.

Case Study Examples

  • A woman with low blood pressure and circulation issues found relief by drinking coffee after getting special permission from her bishop.
  • A life-long Mormon man left the church in his 50s when he found the coffee prohibition too legalistic in practice.


The Word of Wisdom stands as a unique and powerful model of preventative health and spiritual living. The prohibition on coffee, while just a small part of the greater revelation, impacts the lives of Mormons in ways small and large as they navigate faith and health in modern society. Gaining a well-rounded perspective on its origins, evolution, and diverse applications fosters intercultural understanding and respect for this unusual but meaningful spiritual practice.

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