The town of Cardston, Alberta, made national headlines this past week when residents overwhelmingly voted to keep alcohol from being sold within the town limits.
Cardston, which is 240 kilometres south of Calgary and has a population of 3,500, was originally established by Mormon settlers in 1887 and has been a “dry” town for over a century. As the majority of Cardston residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, media outlets have been quick to point to the health code that Latter-day Saints follow as a determining factor in the decision.
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Representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often asked whether the Church is becoming or will become more “mainstream” over time.
If the term “mainstream” means that Latter-day Saints are increasingly viewed as a contributing, relevant and significant part of society, then of course the answer is yes. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded in 1830 with just six members, now totals over 190,000 members in Canada and 15 million members worldwide.
If being described as mainstream means the Church loses the very distinctiveness of the beliefs that are at the heart of its message, the answer is different. While respecting the divergent views of other people of faith and remaining politically neutral, Church leaders want to be clear about the beliefs that help define Latter-day Saints.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are known for their healthy lifestyles. A health plan for the Church was first written down in 1833 by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and he presented it to early members specifically as a revelation from God. Today Latter-day Saints refer to these health guidelines as “the Word of Wisdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 89).
Abstinence from alcohol among religious faiths is not unique to Latter-day Saints. However, among Latter-day Saints, abstinence from alcohol is not all that the Word of Wisdom encourages. The Word of Wisdom also outlines foods that are healthy and substances that are not good for the human body. Accordingly, alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee are forbidden due to their addictive and harmful effects. “Wholesome herbs,” along with fruits and grains, are specifically recommended. Meat is to be used sparingly. The Church also interprets the misuse of drugs — illegal, legal, prescription or controlled — as a violation of the health code.
Cardston Mayor Maggie Kronen says she is not surprised with the outcome of the vote. “It is really difficult to determine what motivated people one way or the other, but I'm sure their faith and their values has something to do with it.”