The Word of Wisdom and the Prevention of Human Exploitation

Nicotiana tabacum, cultivated tobacco leaves and buds.

The older I get, the more I think the actual wisdom behind the Word of Wisdom wasn't as a health code, even though that's how we've been billing it for decades now. Health concerns make sense as a justification for why not to consume alcohol and tobacco. But that logic doesn't necessarily hold for tea and coffee, and I've found that young people don't find those compelling enough as justifications.

I think it makes more sense when viewed through the lens of climate change and the prevention of human exploitation.

How much carbon capturing rain forest land has been destroyed forever for coffee plantations?

How much slave labor, historical and current, has gone into producing tea, hops, and barley?

I descend from a long line of tobacco growers in Virginia. I've seen the records of slave ownership that supported that industry in the American South up until emancipation. A lot of people remember cotton as the cash crop of the American South, when tobacco relied just as much on unpaid labor to produce. My family benefited from that slave labor to produce their tobacco. Refusing to use them, in my mind, is a form of reparations and penance for enslaving other human beings by acknowledging the harm and refusing to engage in it anymore.

Slavery for crop production is still happening today all over the world. Tobacco is a global industry that relies on modern slavery to produce profit. The same can be said for teas, hops, barley, and other ingredients that go into producing the products forbidden by the Word of Wisdom.

If we view the Word of Wisdom through the perspective of preventing human suffering and the proper care of our planet, the rationale behind not consuming alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee is nothing short of pure revelation. It's the action of a loving God seeking to prevent suffering in the world.

Abstaining from these things isn't just a social marker of religious identity. It's the acknowledgement that there is no ethical way to consume them in markets that use exploitation and abuse to produce profit. If there is no way to ethically consume them, then it makes sense why the law would be to forgo them entirely. And while these aren't the only products that fit this description, the Word of Wisdom teaches a principle we can then extend to other items with these same impacts, like cocoa beans and palm oil.

I don't think it's possible or necessary for God to reveal a complete list of products to avoid for us to learn how to prevent human suffering and to be careful, wise stewards of the earth that has been entrusted to our care. I like the Word of Wisdom much more as a guide on how to be an ethical consumer in a global economy rife with exploitation.

Do I need that as a justification to obey the precepts? No. But it's definitely more personally meaningful to me that way.

There are No Small Offerings

I received a thank you card this week for my ward bulletin.

It was from a senior who wanted to let me know that she appreciates having all the information I provide in it because "not everyone is comfortable with smart phones."

It's going in my collection of notes, cards, and letters that I keep forever. Not only because it was so sweet and honest, but because it reminds me of something I remind myself of often. 

There are no small parts. Just small actors.

There are no insignificant, unimportant, inconsequential offerings in the Church. 

What a bishop does is not more important than the person who puts their name on a clipboard in Relief Society to bring meals to someone who is sick.

It's not. Period.

The person who makes the flower arrangements for the podium.

The person who shows up for cleaning the building.

The person who brings their extra garden zucchini and puts them on the foyer table to share.

They're all important in building the kingdom of God.


Because they all can answer someone's prayer. They can all be just the thing somebody needed. They all can be a blessing to someone.

If you're phoning it in, but don't want to give up whatever you're doing because you might be asked to do something that "isn't as important"... Nothing you do is unimportant. Not in comparison to anything else. And especially not in comparison to the thing you could be doing instead of phoning it in.

Do the simple thing with earnestness without telling yourself that a simple thing can't be important.

It can be important to someone, even if the only person it matters to is you.

Another Easter During COVID-19

Arm of Mercy, Kevin Figueira
The same family that took my family's sacrament access away, with their ultimatum to return in person or go without, used the pulpit today during Easter to chastise those of us who continue to social distance by admonishing us to return.

One of the costs of being in community with others who are seeking divinity is having your worship, your communion with God, the prayers you were looking to have answered, derailed by others who place their own issues in your lap.

Especially from former leadership who will not fight the compulsion to steady the ark, to relinquish authority they no longer possess to correct the congregation, this can be especially difficult. It can leave you asking, "Why do I bother to try?"

Here is the answer I find myself giving today on Easter Sunday: because sin is not the only thing I need Jesus Christ to save me from. And it is was always part of the divine plan for me to pray for my God to also save me from anything that devalues my safety and threatens my peace, including this.

The Saints in the pews beside me are not my judges. They do not know my heart or my circumstances.They have not seen what disease and illness has already done to my family throughout the pandemic. They do not know our risks. They do not know our struggles. It is not for them to read irreverence or disobedience into my motives. It is not for them to decide that my worship, my contributions, or my offerings in my home are subpar in comparison to theirs because they attend Church in person and I don't.

That kind of behavior is the real irreverence. They've distracted themselves from their own worship to worry excessively about the behavior of others. That is not what church meetings are for.

So on the day when I needed God to assist me in deepening my love, patience, and desire to serve those in my family whose behavior in life made them difficult to love, I now have to spend time dealing with this. 

My Easter message is: Never be the person who does this to others. Celebrate the power, the majesty of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice by never becoming the opposition someone else needs to pray to be saved from.  

And if you find yourself in that position today, I pray in the holy name of Jesus Christ that we can receive the spiritual gift of faith sufficient to be unbothered, undisturbed by such people. May we be blessed not to believe what those fools are gonna say about us today. May we find and claim the comfort and peace that passes all understanding. It's what we all need and what you deserve, no matter what anybody says.

Happy Easter, my friends.

The Unimpressive Origins of Anti-Queerness in the LDS Church

"Sister Collins, why don't you believe being queer is a sin like the rest of the righteous, obedient Mormons?"

Because despite what you've been told, the rejection of LGBTQIA+ people is not a foundational gospel principle to Christianity. It's not part of some consistent, eternal sexual ethic that has been passed down to us unchanged since the dawn of time. There is no such consistent sexual ethic taught in scripture. Any biblical scholar with a decent grasp of Hebrew and Greek would be able to tell you that. What the Old Testament teaches about sex is not what Paul teaches in the New Testament, is not what the Book of Mormon teaches, is not what the Doctrine and Covenants teaches.

Sexual ethics change. They're one of the things in scripture most likely to change and morph according to the man-made cultures surrounding them. They've changed drastically within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints alone over the nearly-200 years the institution has been in the earth. The idea that Latter-day Saints would advocate for a strict sexual ethic that isn't subject to change is comically ridiculous. It's an untenable position for anyone in a religious community community that went from not polygamy, to polygamy, and back againall in a 70 year period.

The idea that the current sexual ethic as it exists in the Church isn't subject to change to become inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community is nonsense. We have less authority than anyone else in Christianity to make that kind of assertion, which is why I'm continually baffled that our community has even tried at all.

The idea that homosexuality is sinful didn't enter the Church until after it showed up in the rest of Christianity in 1952 with the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. An edition, I'll point out, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not use. It was the first edition of the Bible to ever assert that the Bible explicitly condemned homosexuality. Before this point, no edition of any Bible that has ever been published interpreted or translated any of the texts to refer to homosexuality. While these perceptions existed culturally before this time, no one had ever gone so far as to translate the Bible in this way because such assertions and translations are completely inconsistent with the text.

Once the RSV team did include such a translation, an error they later tried to disavow, it became the source of these interpretations throughout the rest of Christianity. The Living Bible, the New International Version, and the New American Standard Bible all adopted this perspective from the RSV. While such doctrinal drift can't be traced through Latter-day Saint use of the King James Bible, we can review general conference talks to see how these line up with these perspectives and who introduced them. A full collection of indexed conference reports was uploaded by the Church History Museum to the Internet Archive in 2011, so this is not a difficult question to examine.

The first instance of this kind of queer condemnation, beginning with J. Reuben Clark in 1954, is in lockstep with conforming with the RSV's translation error. (Clark, Conference Report October 1954, pg. 79) It's also worth noting that the second condemnation, also from Clark in 1957, asserts that scriptural injunctions against "fornication" relate to men engaging in homosexual relationships, with a simultaneous admission that he isn't sure if those same passages included queer women or not. (Clark, Conference Report April 1957, pg. 87)

The idea that the Church's condemnation of its own queer community is an organized, ancient message that has been consistently taught and enforced throughout time the same way we do now is objectively false. We can point to our own conference reports and see the image of past church leadership guessing and speculating as to how to apply these condemnations from the rest of Christianity to our community. 

The question no one has been able to answer for me is why, if such messaging were inspired by God, there would be a need for guesswork or speculation on the part of J. Reuben Clark or anyone else.

I fully believe this is exactly the kind of Biblical mistranslation and manipulation we preach against. This is the apostasy I personally left evangelical Christianity to avoid. I don't believe in the rationalizations for anti-queerness in the Church for the same reason I don't believe the racial priesthood and temple restrictions were inspired, regardless of what any prophet or person has ever said about it: 

Because God is not a bigot.

God does not endorse bigotry. He doesn't endorse violence. He doesn't endorse division, ostracizing, indifference to suffering, the abandoning of children, bullying, and excluding people from his community because they are different. He doesn't participate in human rights abuses. Humans do that. God does not.

Jesus taught that it's "by their fruits" that we can know the truth of anything. We have had decades to see what the fruits of LGBTQIA+ exclusion from the Church have been. From mixed orientation marriages that fail to child abandonment, homelessness, conversation therapy, violence, and suicide. To say nothing of bullying and divisions in families throughout the Church.

The fruits of these policies of LGBTQIA+ exclusion have been evil because the policy is evil. The policy is evil because it came from the selfishness and ignorance of man instead of God.

And in that same breath, it needs to be said that you cannot collect good fruit from an evil tree. You cannot expect to teach people to love and accept queer people non-violently at the same time you close off participation to them in our community. Those two things cannot coexist together. You either follow the admonition of Peter when he taught that the command to take the gospel into all the earth includes all people, to call none of them unclean or common by condition off their birth, or you don't. (See Acts 10:14-15 and Acts 11:17) There is no room to negotiate people out of God's kingdom based on man-made prejudices. This is a lesson God has already taught.
I was in evangelical Christianity before I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I left that community because I didn't want any part of their teachings anymore. I have no loyalty to queer hatred any more than I have for original sin, infant baptism, or biblical inerrancy. My loyalty is to Jesus Christ—not the dungheap of human errors people have done in his name to justify their own actions, to amass power for themselves, or to lift themselves above others in vanity and pride.
I don't need a cafeteria lunch table to exclude people from to feel good about myself or to convince myself that God loves me. If that's something you need, that's not because of anything queer people have ever done to you. So stop blaming and hurting them and go to therapy.

More Posts from Me

The Unimpressive Origins of Anti-Queerness in the LDS Church

"Sister Collins, why don't you believe being queer is a sin like the rest of the righteous, obedient Mormons?" Because despite...