Should a Latter-day Saint sell a product when its use violates the Word of Wisdom?
April 1977

“Should a Latter-day Saint sell a product when its use violates the Word of Wisdom?” Ensign, Apr. 1977, 30

Should a Latter-day Saint sell a product when its use violates the Word of Wisdom?

Henry B. Eyring, president of Ricks College, Rexburg, Idaho The advice from Church leaders of this dispensation has been in the direction of discouraging Church members from “handling, selling, or serving” alcoholic beverages. (General Handbook of Instructions, 1976, p. 104.) They have said less concerning a multitude of related questions: Should we grow hops? Sell tobacco? Coffee?

If I were faced with such a decision, two questions might help me make my choices. They are simple ones: What is my overriding objective? What business alternatives can I create?

First, I have no hope of acting wisely if my first and overriding objective is to make money. But if my main motive is to please God, I will be sensitive to the Spirit as it warns me away from what would displease him. Once I have decided I want eternal life more than business success, I will have crossed the great gulf between wanting to know what God would permit and trying to do what he would prefer. That will make me look for different products and services from those I now offer that lead people to violate the Word of Wisdom.

Second, the alternatives are seldom as stark as “Either I sell a product whose use violates the Word of Wisdom or I go broke.” In those few cases where that must be the choice, my obligation to investors, to business associates, to employees, and to my family may force me to sell the harmful product. But almost always, the “go broke” alternative is a false one. For instance, space occupied by beer in a store wouldn’t be left vacant if beer were not sold. It would be used for selling something else; and, with creative skill and faith, the alternative product might be sold in sufficient volume to offset much of the sales lost on beer. This same pursuit of creative alternatives in choosing what to plant might reduce the farmer’s financial sacrifice as he moved away from harmful crops.

The only mistake as bad as making the wrong choice ourselves would be to judge someone else’s heart by his product line or by what he grows. We don’t know if he wants to please the Lord more than to get profits. We don’t know whether he has tried to create alternatives. We don’t know whether his lack of power in his company or his obligations to others allow him no chance to try alternative products. The only heart we know is ours. And that’s the one we can examine, and change, if it needs it. Imperfect ourselves, we cannot always make perfect choices in an imperfect world, but we can have perfect intent to please God. We can make constant efforts to conduct our business both to please God and meet our business obligations. When we can’t do both, we’ll feel uncomfortable. And if someone could explain away that discomfort, we’d have lost something precious.

The Doctrine and Covenants, section 58, verses 26–28, seems to me to describe the opportunity this type of choice presents us: “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; …

“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

“For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.” [D&C 58:26–28]