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Early in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith held classes in his home to teach members the doctrines of the Gospel. Many of the men who attended the classes smoked pipes and cigars, and chewed tobacco, spitting tobacco juice directly on the floor as was standard practice. Afterwards, as you can imagine, there was quite a mess to clean up. Emma Smith, Joseph’s wife, felt that such a messy and disgusting environment couldn’t be appropriate for discussing God and she asked Joseph to query the Lord about it. As a result, Joseph received the revelation canonized as Doctrine & Covenants section 89 – what we now call the Word of Wisdom.
Many early Saints — including Church leaders — used tobacco and drank alcohol, coffee and tea. Recognizing the addictive nature of those substances, the Word of Wisdom started off not as a commandment, but as counsel to the Saints. In the early 1900s, it started shifting from a suggestion to an expectation that faithful members of the Church would abstain from smoking, drinking alcohol, coffee and tea. Today, our tee-totaling ways are one of the more obvious markers of Latter-day Saints.
Latter-day Saints believe that our bodies are gifts from God and how we take care of our bodies is an indication of our gratitude for that gift. We also believe that our bodies are temples for our spirits and that our physical health can have an effect on our spirits. Along with the abstentions mentioned above, the Word of Wisdom also includes counsel to eat healthfully and “with prudence and thanksgiving,” and it promises blessings of physical health as well as “wisdom and great treasures of knowledge.”
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