Mormons don’t eat meat?

mormondietbookMy hometown alt-weekly — Denver’s Westword — had a lengthy and religion-infused profile of a local family that recently lost their beloved patriarch. Inventor Timber Dick died in a car crash a few weeks ago, leaving behind his wife Annette Tillemann-Dick and eleven children. The story emphasizes the quirkiness of the family — the kids have great names such as Charity Sunshine, Liberty Belle and Kimber Rainbow and all have their own area of accomplishment.

But the reporter does a good job of incorporating how the Mormon teaching about the eternal nature of family is helping the Tillemann-Dicks deal with their loss. Here’s a portion of the piece looking at how the parents met and married:

That match seemed far from certain when this spirited blonde met the lanky sophomore at a Yale function in 1976. She was in the divinity school, pursuing her second master’s degree. He’d already flunked out of New College of Florida and was only at Yale because of an academic turnaround and a convincingly plaintive seven-page application letter. She was reading the Bible; he was a bit tipsy. When he introduced himself as “Timber Dick,” she felt like responding, “And my name’s Cinderella.” (Though she swears she didn’t grasp his moniker’s giggle-worthy connotations.)

None of their differences stopped Timber from falling hard. He’d always been intrigued by dynamic forces, about fashioning order from chaos, and in Annette he found a force of nature demanding all of his orderliness and rationality.

He pursued her until she felt the same about him — but that still left her father. Tom Lantos, a Hungarian Jew, hadn’t escaped a Nazi labor camp in 1944 and scraped together a new life in San Francisco just to see his princess with some shiftless punk, which Lantos made clear with all the formidable passion that would later mark his nearly thirty-year career in Congress. While their relationship survived his wrath, there was another complication. Annette, following in the footsteps of her mother, converted to Mormonism after experiencing an overwhelming feeling one night that the religion had the power of truth, and she would only marry someone who shared her faith.

Timber had always been a spiritual person, one who believed in divine order, but he’d never had a formal religion. Furthermore, to his friends and family, the rigid belief structures and conservative nature of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seemed at odds with his and Annette’s open-minded attitudes and political liberalism.

The story includes all sorts of quotes and tidbits supporting that last part — they’re good friends with Dennis Kucinich and are interested in a macrobiotic diet he was telling them about and they say a man who married into the family is loved even though he’s Republican.

When I read the piece, I wanted to highlight something that I believed was an error. Here it is:

As followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the family doesn’t eat meat — or partake in alcohol or coffee, for that matter — since they are all discouraged in Mormon doctrine.

I knew that Mormons abstain from alcohol and caffeine but I was pretty sure that there were no restrictions on meat. There’s a passage in Doctrine and Covenants — scripture that the church holds as revelation given through Prophet Joseph Smith — that says to eat meat sparingly. But I’ve never met a Mormon who interpreted that as a prohibition against meat.

But here are the relevant portions (verses 12 through 15) from section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants:

Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;

And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

So it does not seem inappropriate in the least to say that meat is discouraged in Mormon doctrine. Of course, the treatment of meat in Doctrine and Covenants is different than the treatment of coffee and alcohol — the latter of which are banned. Still, you learn something every day on this beat!

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  • jkc

    In addition to the passage cited here from the Doctrine and Covenants, there are other teachings that discourage using meat. Joseph Smith’s translation (or reinterpretation) of Genesis includes a passage where God tells Noah, after the flood, that he will hold humans accountable for wasting animal life.

    It is also true that the Doctrine and Covenants specifically states that those who forbid eating meat are “not ordained of God.” But that has not prevented Mormons from adopting a vegetarian diet. Joseph Fielding Smith, former church president, ate a vegetarian diet himself, though he refrained from preaching that such a diet was required. He believed that, consistent with Mormon beliefs on the millenial return of Christ, that when the “lion will eat grass like the ox,” that humans would also abstain from meat.

    So while it is true that most Mormons today like to gloss over the teaching that meat is to be used sparingly, and while it is true that Mormon teachings do not allow for complete banning the use of mean, a voluntary vegetarian diet is by no means inconsistent with Mormon doctrine.

  • Jerry

    you learn something every day on this beat!

    Indeed and that’s hopefully a fun part of the job.

  • Tom O

    FYI: It looks like the article was published last July.

  • Mollie

    I hate it when that happens. Someone sent the link to me this week so I didn’t even bother checking beyond the “July” part.

  • Maureen

    It’s spiritually in keeping with the atmosphere of upstate New York’s many “new” religious groups back in the day. The Oneida folks (known for silverware, open raising of kids, and free love with everybody but Charles Guiteau, Esq.) were vegetarians, if I remember correctly.

  • KH

    It’s interesting to note that in the original publication of this revelation, in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants the original punctuation of the key sentence about meat omits the comma after used. It reads:

    And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

    It can be argued from this that Mormons should hold that animals were to be used as meat sparingly but not excessively so. They can be eaten year-round; that’s what God intended animals to be used for.

    Of course, the treatment of meat in Doctrine and Covenants is different than the treatment of coffee and alcohol — the latter of which are banned.

    Of course, a closer reading of the Word of Wisdom would reveal that this statement is incorrect. Nothing is “banned” in the actual text. Barley is explicitly listed as being for “mild drinks” (i.e. beer). And Mormons were encouraged to make their own wine for use in sacrament, and Joseph Smith drank wine with those who were with him in the Carthage Jail before he was murdered.

    Neither coffee or tea are actually listed in the text, just “hot drinks are not for the body, or belly.” Later leaders have stated that “hot drinks” mean coffee and tea. However the common teachings found in mid 19th century middle America were more in line with temperature and not specific drinks.

    The dietary “code” or practice of Mormons is unique, but in practice not really based upon the actual published revelation.

  • Tracy Hall Jr

    I suppose it can happen in any religion, but we LDS do seem to have a particular problem with people who become obsessed with some particular teaching, apply a quirky personal interpretation, and take it to an extreme. It is particularly unfortunate when they promote their views to the press as “representative” of the Church as a whole.

    Food being such an important part of our existence, the “Word of Wisdom” is a favorite such hobby. When a fellow Saint tries to preach his “gospel of vegetarianism,” “gospel of stone-ground whole wheat,” or especially his “gospel of no chocolate” to me, I tell him I’ll pay attention when his gospel shows up in the menu in the temple cafeteria.

    I once had the misfortune to serve on a food committee for a ward father and son outing with a vegetarian Mormon. (This one, for totally unjustifiable reasons, even tried to keep the dietary laws of the Old Testament.) He was determined that the menu be vegetarian. I mentioned my dilemma to the bishop, who made an immediate ruling: “I like meat in my chile!”

  • ryanwin

    LDS faith also holds the Bible as the word of God, and since God at times commanded men to eat meat, for example, those who performed animal sacrifice, and more specifically the Levites who officiated at those sacrifices. However, we also know that Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego (sp?) would not partake of the king’s wine and meat, but they chose to eat more healthy food. Certainly there are two extremes to the spectrum, and members of the LDS faith are simply taught moderation.

  • BHE

    There are many active Latter-day Saints who have chosen a vegetarian lifestyle because of the doctrine and the number is growing. In addition to scripture and other documentation of church leaders’ pronouncements on the subject, there is plenty of science and research in support. We are not however, to be commanded in all things and this appears for the moment to be one area where after being taught correct principles, we are expected to govern ourselves and make intelligent choices.

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  • Velska

    Re Shadrac, Meshag and Abed-Nego (sp?): They did not eat the king’s food, because the meat that was offered, was sacrificed to idols. It was the Babylonian habit of ritual slaughter that was in fact a sacrifice to an idolatrous god.

    This practice of eating meat offered to idols was specifically forbidden, and, interestingly, reaffirmed by the New Testament (Pauline Epistle, forget now to whom).

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