Mitt Romney, consumer of sinful ice cream

As all loyal GetReligion readers know, sometimes we see things make it into news print that are simply too good, too strange, too funny, to make up.

When this happens, the best course of action is simply to share the love and laughter.

In this case, here is what we need.

I’m calling out Jettboy (who provided the tip) and company. We need our Mormon readers to join us in, uh, consuming this delightful little Associated Press story about Mormonism and cold caffeine.

We will NOT get into a discussion of Mormons and their potentially sinful addiction to ice cream (which is another part of life in which they have a lot in common with Southern Baptists). Anyone who has ever been to urban Utah knows that, where New York City has world-class coffee shops and bars, the streets of Salt Lake City — at least as I remember them from the 1980s — offer a stunning number of fine ice cream shops.

With no further ado, dig into this sweet little number:

NANTUCKET, Mass. (AP) – Mitt Romney joins other observant Mormons in shunning alcohol and coffee. He apparently draws the line at ice cream.

The Republican presidential candidate ordered coffee ice cream at Millie’s restaurant in Nantucket Saturday when he bought treats for his staff and mingled with diners. His aides selected flavors including vanilla, rocky road, butter pecan and birthday cake ice cream.

It’s not clear that Romney took more than a bite or two as he shook hands and posed for pictures in the crowded and buzzing vacation eatery. Mormons traditionally avoid alcohol and caffeine.

Romney aides shrugged off the selection, saying the candidate can have whatever kind of ice cream he likes.

Where to begin when tackling this complex doctrinal issue? How about a quick insight on this Mormon-menu topic from Dummies.com?

Like many aspects of the LDS religion, the duty to maintain good health has its roots in revelation, in this case a section of the Doctrine and Covenants that Mormons call the Word of Wisdom. The legend surrounding its origin is that Joseph Smith and other early LDS leaders used to chew tobacco during Church meetings, spitting juices on the floor. Joseph’s wife, Emma Hale Smith, was disgusted by this act, and her complaints led the Prophet to ask God whether tobacco use was really appropriate for Latter-day Saints.

The Lord’s response, contained in D&C section 89, covered far more than just tobacco; it also restricted the consumption of wine, liquor, meat, and hot drinks (today interpreted to mean tea and coffee of any temperature). Although many Mormons understand this scripture as suggesting that all caffeine is bad and should be avoided, this idea isn’t official Church doctrine; the Church allows members to decide that issue for themselves, and some members choose to drink cola.

So is coffee-flavored ice cream simply coffee at another temperature?

Speak out, readers.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Seth R.

    I was raised by a devout Mormon mother and father.

    My father would have sternly filed this one under the “appearance of evil” category from 1 Thessalonians. There was a period where he had a bit of a personal period of conflict wondering whether or not he should stop buying “Apple Beer” – one of his favorite beverages. Because it had the word “beer” in the title.

    I respect him from having these trivial sort of silly personal conflicts, rather than less silly and trivial conflicts like beating children, embezzling his boss’s money, or cheating on his wife.

    And to be honest… I probably couldn’t bring myself to purchase coffee flavored ice cream either. In the end, a stupid trip to Baskin Robbins doesn’t seem worth the nagging doubt over whether you just ran afoul of your religious commitments.

    Call me old fashioned, I guess.

  • CarlH

    The most telling–and relevant to this blog–aspect is the fact the Associated Press actually burned time and bandwidth putting this out.

    As Mormon, I would totally agree with Seth R.’s comments above. But is the point of the AP story that, somehow deep down inside, Romney is a hypocrite because now he’s supposedly not “Mormon enough” when their customary itch for their perpetually in-a-bunch-panties is that he’s Mormon at all? You just can’t make this stuff up!

  • PattyH

    I guess as an LDS person, I could care less what type of ice cream he likes. I myself would never buy it, but I’ve found mocha ice cream mixed in with other flavors when I was a kid at parties and just removed it and ate the other stuff. I didn’t like the taste myself. I also didn’t wash off the other ice cream in case it had been contaminated. I suppose it it’s a flavor that he grew up with, he might just not think of it as a problem in ice cream form. If there’s any issues, it’s between him and his bishop in my opinion. If this is the worst that anyone can find out about him after all this time, maybe they should pay more attention to what he says. I’ve lead a clean life, but I sure wouldn’t want all my faults laid bare for the neighbors to discuss. I’m sure the first one on the list would be that I bought Ice Cream at all.

  • Seth R.

    I don’t care if he ate the ice cream either. But it does indicate a more relaxed position on the Word of Wisdom (the Mormon dietary code) over the years. I doubt if I polled the Mormons at my own church on Sunday that many of them would be really concerned by Romney’s “edgy” ice cream preference either. The most I’d get would likely be perhaps a raised eyebrow and a shrug, if that.

  • Jettboy

    My main objection, besides the completely silly idea that the AP (I can understand a less substantial news organization) printed this, is a total lack of understanding of the Word of Wisdom. Designating coffee as the religious offense is secondary to the revelation itself that denotes hot beverages first. Coffee was a non-revelatory clarification of what hot drinks mean. Caffeine as the offense is not even that, but a cultural theory. There is somewhat of an ongoing discussion if hot chocolate should be included in the ban. That said, I drink hot chocolate in winter, Postum is considered Mormon coffee as a joke, would probably not order coffee ice cream in “polite” company a la 1 Thessalonians, and wouldn’t hesitate eating coffee flavored candy. Following the Word of Wisdom has not and still isn’t as cut and dry as some, both in and out of the LDS Church, like to suppose.

    The Word of Wisdom, no matter how it has progressed in LDS history, is *not* the same as religious kosher dietary laws. It can have social and religious consequences, but not following it is not a condemnation sin. That said, it is expected the least a Saint can do while following the more substantial gospel principles. My own lack of tolerance for drinking and smoking is more a personal disfavor than any doctrinal proscription. Its religiously based, but I don’t think much different than those who like to ban smoking or dislike the effects of alcohol on individuals and society.

  • Seth R.

    That’s not exactly a distinction I’d expect the press to pick up on. It’s pretty hyper-technical. Even most members of my local ward (congregation) aren’t aware that coffee was a later clarification on the Word of Wisdom. No more than they are aware that the Word of Wisdom wasn’t a part of the temple worthiness interview until the administration of prophet Heber J. Grant. If plenty of actual active weekly attending Mormons don’t know the distinction, I’d hardly expect a reporter to catch it.

    Look, I know we Mormons are a little touchy about all the one-sided and unfair press we’ve been getting, but I don’t think we need to go borrowing offense in this rather harmless little entertainment piece.

    • Bump_jon

      “Even most members of my local ward (congregation) aren’t aware that coffee was a later clarification on the Word of Wisdom. No more than they are aware that the Word of Wisdom wasn’t a part of the temple worthiness interview until the administration of prophet Heber J. Grant. ”

      Does it matter when a revelation is received? If Thomas S. Monson received a revelatin today that eating pizza violated the WOW, would the my eating of pizza tomorrow be less of a violation of the WOW than smoking a cigarette?

  • Will

    Seth: It was the same with the Village Voice hatchet piece on Dan Halloran*, which apparently simultaneously attacked him for adhering to a “weird” religion and for committing what they claimed was heresy against it.

    But it fits the prevailing narrative, where “hypocrisy” is the only sin recognized.

    * Vote Halloran! Send a REAL heathen to Washington!

  • John Pack Lambert

    David O. McKay on at least one occasion ate a cake with alchohol in it and when confronted about this said that the word of widsom only forbade drinking alchohol, not eating it. Since McKay was president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his attitude was at least through 1970 an acceptable interpretation.

    My biggest issue with the article is that they are wrong in saying the Word of Wisdom forbids caffine. The official position is it forbids consuming alchohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, illegal drugs and illicit use of perscription drugs. However eating coffee flavored ice cream is not eating coffee. I would say most people would say frozen coffee would be out, but coffee flavored ice cream is ok. Personally I would not eat it, but I also try to avoid drinking caffinated beverages. I can see an “avoid apparances” argument, but do not see eating coffee flavored ice cream as a violation of the word of wisdom.

  • Marie

    Most people don’t know this, but most coffee flavored ice cream doesn’t even contain coffee. It may seem odd but ice cream is a lot like those fruit snacks with fruit flavoring but no real fruit. Coffee ice cream (with real coffee) is at most a theological pale gray area in the Word of Wisdom. Nit picking a persons ice cream choice to determine the sincerity of ones faith, on the other hand, seems very beam vs. mote in the eye to me.

    • Goldberg

      Thank you. I was trying to figure out if coffee flavored ice cream even had coffee. I’m not LDS, but find this “gotcha” journalism to be bigotry at its finest.

  • tmatt

    Folks, this is not the place to argue about Mormon doctrines — except in connection with how they are covered IN THE PRESS.
    Take your doctrinal battles elsewhere.

  • Meggan

    You asked “So is coffee-flavored ice cream simply coffee at another temperature?
    Speak out, readers.” So that kind of implies that you want the readers to speak out on this particular doctrinal issue. Unless you really, literally were asking us to tell you whether coffee ice cream is really coffee.

  • Darren Blair

    *looks up from compiling his own personal version of Skippy’s List to read the article*
    People are getting upset over coffee-flavored ice cream?
    Believe me when I say that I’ve done *much* worse in my time and have still been accepted as a regular member of the church.

  • Lyle

    I was always taught that the Lord did not have to command in all things, that being said, coffee flavored ice cream is not coffee any more than rum sauce is a shot of alcohol. Home made root beer has a 1% alcohol content and its pretty popular in many Mormon housholds. I think most Mormons know what coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco is. Beyond these prohibitions is up to your own conscience. If a Mormon has trouble missing that morning Coca Cola everyday, he has a word of wisdom problem. Its about moderation and not being enslaved by any substance.

  • pagansister

    Lyle, you beat me to the thought —it was ice cream—and how much coffee is actually in coffee ice cream? As little as possible, I’m sure since it cost more to produce if there is a large amount of coffee in it. Anyhow, what good is living if on occasion one doesn’t indulge in a bit of “forbidden” fruit or in this case—coffee (ice cream)?

  • Clifford

    I’m a mormon and take an energy supplement with a lot of caffeine in it before I work out every morning. Caffeine has never been and never will be forbidden to mormons. That is silly.

  • SideShowRob

    I prefer to call it mocha ice cream. Just to avoid the appearance of evil. ;<)

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