Sunday, January 15, 2012

The "Secret" Crunchy History of the Mormon Church

Sometimes I walk into Whole Foods and feel like I'm the only (active) Mormon there. I look around at the couples consisting of two gentlemen and the women with interesting piercings strolling around, and the clerk tells me about the homebirth she and her boyfriend are planning for their baby, and I must admit I feel somewhat out of place. Then I go to a ward social and everyone is eating lots of meat, dairy and sugar and all the women are talking about their hospital births. And I feel like I don't quite fit in there either.

For whatever reasons, "natural" living has become the exact opposite of what the Mormons are associated with. But I don't think Mormonism has ever really been about fitting in. If anything, I think Mormonism is about standing out. And there were a lot of things about the early Church that were downright granola- even for the 19th century:

Midwives- In the early Church, being a midwife was a highly respected calling that came from priesthood leaders. Sometimes midwives even gave health blessings.

Vegetarianism- A number of early Church leaders (including John A. Widtsoe, Brigham Young and Hyrum Smith) advocated a diet low in meat. In many ways this isn't surprising since the first thing the Word of Wisdom mentions that we should eat is herbs (leafy green plants). D and C 89 even inspired John R. Christopher, the legendary herbalist, to eat a plant-based diet. George Q. Cannon was probably the most vocal supporter of the vegetarian diet though. In an 1867 discourse in the Journal of Discourses 12:44-45, he states:

There should be a well settled conviction in the mind of every person belonging to this church that it would be a real benefit for him or her to observe the Word of Wisdom, and carry into effect the counsel God has given on any point. If I do not see the evils that result from…eating meats to excess, and the benefits that would result from abstaining, what anybody else may see would only have a temporary effect upon me. I must feel in my own heart that it is injurious to me to indulge in these things; there must be a well settled conviction within me that this is the case.

And also in 1868 in the Journal of Discourses 12:221-224
In conversation with one of the brethren the other day, the brother remarked “the diet of the poor is principally bread and meat, and if they dispense with meat, they will be reduced to very hard fare.” I reasoned with him…that other articles of food could be raised more cheaply and in greater variety than the flesh of animals… We as a people should turn our attention to the multiplication of varieties of food in our midst. We should not confine ourselves to a few articles of diet…

Herbal Medicine- The early Saints sometimes used herbs to treat ailments (see D and C 42:43), though on the whole their knowledge was not on the level that some practitioners possess today. However, Alma 46:40 makes this interesting observation:
And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land—but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate—

Personally, I've always liked the idea that ancient peoples weren't screwed for healthcare because they lacked modern technology and that God had prepared a way for them to be healthy too.
So I consider myself in good company. I don't expect everyone to live the same way I do and I don't think ill of anyone for having a hospital birth or eating meat frequently. But I do like knowing that I'm not the only Mormon who thinks this way. The great thing about Mormonism is that while there are certain cultural norms, doctrinally there is a lot of room for different ways of doing things.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. What I meant to say was, I don't think ill of anyone for having piercings, live-in boyfriend, etc. May not agree with the choice but doesn't mean you're a bad person. =)