On mornings without breakfast, the candy bowl on the bishop’s desk has often been a source of sustenance. But even on a full stomach, that small dose of sugar often does wonders for keeping me alert during early morning meetings while the high priest group leader sits uncomfortably attempting to explain yet another month of poor home-teaching statistics.

Often the selection in the bowl is limited to Lifesaver mints, so you can imagine the collective PEC joy when one morning the bowl was filled with an assortment of individually wrapped chocolates. As the bowl was passed gleefully around the room, everyone selected from among a small variety of flavors: praline, mint, dark, caramel. We should have known that the visiting high councilor would bring the festivities to a screeching halt.

“There’s a coffee-flavored chocolate in here,” he announced with a raised eyebrow. The idle chatter around the room abruptly ended in an uncomfortable silence, with all eyes on the bishop, waiting for a response. The bishop, with a decent sense of humor, responded, “No, actually it’s mocha.” A few nervous chuckles briefly broke the silence. But surely we were on the verge of witnessing a Priesthood standoff. The stake versus the ward. A locking of conservative and liberal horns over Word of Wisdom ideology. This was going to be good. The lines had been drawn. Who would prevail?

Alas, the standoff proved anticlimactic. Despite his initial bravado, the bishop promptly backed down, mumbling meekly, “I guess I should probably take those out of there,” as he carefully sorted through the bowl.

Still hoping to salvage the clash, I tried to point out that a mocha-flavored chocolate is not a hot drink, but the high councilor shot me a disapproving look, and the bishop had already dutifully completed removing the contraband from the bowl.

While a standoff had been averted, the larger issue remains: Clearly, the Church prohibits drinking coffee (and alcohol), but does it prohibit eating it?

The Church Handbook is very limited in its statement about the Word of Wisdom. Here’s the section in its entirety (p. 185):

The only official interpretation of “hot drinks” (Doctrine and Covenants 89:9) in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term “hot drinks” means tea and coffee.

Members should not use any substance that contains illegal drugs. Nor should members use harmful or habit-forming substances except under the care of a competent physician.

In a recently published David McKay biography, there’s a great anecdote about President McKay’s stance on this issue:

At a reception McKay attended, the hostess served rum cake. “All the guests hesitated, watching to see what McKay would do. He smacked his lips and began to eat.” When one guest expostulated, “But President McKay, don’t you know that is rum cake?” McKay smiled and reminded the guest that the Word of Wisdom forbade drinking alcohol, not eating it. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, Gregory Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, p. 23.

I think I’ll go ahead and follow the prophet on this one.