"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
August 8, 2014
Respect for Animals and the Meat of the Word of Wisdom: It's Not Just About Your Health
by Jeff Lindsay

Respect for animals was part of my upbringing. My mother is a cat lover and we had plenty of cats around. Learning to deal with them and other pets was a useful part of my childhood. Not one of the best parts, though.

After being away from home for my mission and college, it was only when I came back that I learned something important about my health: I didn't have especially bad hay fever, but was allergic to cats. Not all cats, but many.

All those years of suffering from hay fever and respiratory trouble living at home might have been tied to cat allergies. That took some of the glow off my relationship with cats, but I still like them -- especially at a distance.

Human health and respect for animals may intersect in an important and characteristic part of Mormonism, the LDS health code known as the Word of Wisdom. Over at Interpreter, a Journal of Mormon Scripture (MormonInterpreter.com), Jane Birch has an especially insightful article exploring the Word of Wisdom's stance on meat consumption.

In Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, written as revelation in 1833, we statement in verses 12 and 13:

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.

Many Mormons tend to focus on the avoidance of alcohol and tobacco as the real meat of the Word of Wisdom and downplay or simply ignore the statement on meat. It's there for a purpose, but what does it really mean?

Jane Birch explores the wide range of hypotheses that have been put forward in light of modern science and other sources of knowledge, and in the end, concludes that the statement in verse 13 might best be understood in terms of our need to respect animal life.

In other words, the Word of Wisdom isn't just about us and our health. The well-being of other creatures is also contemplated in the urging to use meat sparingly.

Here is a brief excerpt of Sister Birch's excellent and expansive discussion:

Theory: The LDS understanding of our stewardship over the earth and its creatures suggests we consume meat only when necessary.

The first biblical mention of animal flesh as a source of food is the Lord's instruction to Noah after the Flood subsided and he and his family left the ark. God had given Adam and Eve herbs and fruit for meat (Genesis 1:29), but now God tells Noah "every moving thing that liveth shall be for meat" (Genesis 9:3).

Joseph Smith added a qualification to this injunction in 1830, three years before the Word of Wisdom was revealed: And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hand. (jst Genesis 9:11)

The following year, in a revelation given in May 1831, Joseph Smith warned that while the flesh of animals is ordained for the use of man, "wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need" (D&C 49:21).

These and other scriptural injunctions may be one reason why many Latter-day Saints have associated the counsel given in the Word of Wisdom with human stewardship over animals and the injustice of slaughtering them without cause.

Certainly the assertion that it is wrong to kill animals unnecessarily has been a strong and consistent theme throughout much of Church history.36 Historically, it is the second most frequently cited reason (next to better health) for why the Saints should eat meat "sparingly."

Might the Lord's love and concern for his animal creations be a reason why it is "pleasing" to him that we restrict meat consumption?

Some LDS scholars have noted that the LDS doctrine concerning animals is fairly unique among Christian religions in declaring that they, like humans, are eternal beings (D&C 77:2-3), that they are "living souls" (Moses 3:19) who will be "resurrected and glorified" in God's presence, and that they have "an external existence and man is held accountable by God for his treatment of them."

LDS scholar Hugh Nibley suggests that the use of the word sparingly in D&C 89:12 means "sparing God's creatures." He goes on to say, "The family who needs a deer to get through the winter have a right to that. The Lord will not deny them, but [Page 20] he is also pleased with those who forbear."

Apostle Lorenzo Snow said, "We have no right to slay animals or fowls except from necessity, for they have spirits which may some day rise up and accuse or condemn us."

Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith explained, "Although there was no sin in the shedding of their blood when required for food to take the life of these creatures wantonly is a sin before the Lord. It is easy to destroy life, but who can restore it when it is taken?"

How might this perspective help us interpret D&C 89:13? In the context of animals being ordained for the use of man, to slaughter them for food appears to be appropriate under at least these conditions.

  • for meat, to save your lives (jst Genesis 9:11)
  • when there is a "need" (see D&C 49:21)
  • in times of famine and excess of hunger (D&C 89:13, 15)

In light of these restrictions, it may be pleasing to God if the flesh of animals is not used, except in times of necessity, when it is important for our survival. This would suggest that "times of winter, or of cold, or famine" may refer to times when we would go hungry unless animal foods were included in our diet.

This makes a great deal of sense to me. Especially when one examines some of the brutal conditions of our modern supply chain, in which animals are sometimes treated as little more than vegetables to be plucked and sliced when ripe. Seen the inside of massive chicken farm, for example? Brutal.

May we eat less meat and do our part to more fully respect the Creation, including some of its amazing moving parts.

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.


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About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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