Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Politics, Pepsi, and Evolution

Last month, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney experienced a painful reminder about the Church's strict policy of Political Neutrality.  In an article titled "LDS officials distance church from Romney," the Deseret Morning News said, "Church members across the country were also reminded Sunday, as is the case in every election year, to vote for candidates that support their views of good government, but that the church itself is neutral in politics" (see third paragraph from the bottom, here).

And speaking of neutrality, it is sometimes claimed that the Church is neutral on evolution (although I dispute that claim on this blog).  But I think we can all agree that the Church tries to be neutral on politics.  The Church's political neutrality helps us see what Church neutrality really looks like.  And I challenge LDS evolutionists to produce a list like this one on political neutrality that says the Church is neutral on evolution.  It can't be done.

Neutral on politics, not neutral on Pepsi

Lets look at neutrality another way.  Let's consider Pepsi Cola.

Reluctantly (but to make a point), I confess that I regularly enjoy Diet Pepsi with my lunch.  I drink Pepsi even though I'm aware that many Church members and leaders frown on the practice.  In other words, I drink Pepsi even though I believe the Church is not neutral on cola drinks.  (A friend has pointed out that this might be my first step on the road to apostasy.  He warns, "I myself started out with a little Coke and eventually became an evolutionist.")

The most authoritative Church statement I've seen against caffeinated cola drinks is found in the "Policies and Programs" section of the June 1972 Ensign (p. 46):

Cola Drinks and the Word of Wisdom. "The Word of Wisdom, section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 89], remains as to terms and specifications as found in that section.  There has been no official interpretation of the Word of Wisdom except that which was given by the Brethren in the very early days of the Church when it was declared that hot drinks meant tea and coffee.

"With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit.  Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided."—Priesthood Bulletin [February 1972]

This same statement is also found in the "Policies and Procedures" section of the May 1972 New Era (p. 50) and has been quoted in other Church literature as well (see, for example, Lesson 38:  Good Health Habits in the current Young Women Manual 3).

On a number of occasions, I've visited the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, where four of my children went to school.  I've also visited the BYU—Idaho and BYU—Hawaii campuses.  To my knowledge there is no caffeine (coffee or caffeinated cola drinks) sold anywhere on any of these BYU campuses.  Now it seems to me that if the Church were neutral on caffeinated soft drinks you could buy one at BYU. And the same is true of vending machines in the Church administration building and in temple cafeterias world wide.  Clearly, when I drink my Diet Pepsi, I am out of sync with my Church.

However, a January 1981 Ensign article titled "Staying Healthy:  Welfare Services Suggests How" (p. 10), which also quotes the Feb. 1972 Priesthood Bulletin article on cola drinks, points out (reassuringly) that "There is no current Church policy that would preclude a bishop issuing a temple recommend to a person who consumes cola beverages."

Whew!  I'm off the hook, sort of.

And so are LDS evolutionists (off the hook, sort of), because neither is there a Church policy against issuing temple recommends to members who believe in evolution.  Am I saying the Church is neutral on evolution? No.  But neither is being an evolutionist like breaking one of the Ten Commandments.  I think being an evolutionist is more like drinking Pepsi.  And I think we creationists and evolutionists should gladly home teach each other, participate together on ward temple trips, and in all other ways enjoy full fellowship with each other as Church members (just like Pepsi drinkers and caffeine purists do).

The larger point is this:  It's one thing to drink Pepsi but it's another thing entirely to argue that the Church is neutral on cola drinks.  The Church is not neutral on cola drinks (just like the Church is not neutral on evolution).

The Church is neutral on politics.

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