A few years ago, my boss excitedly said she had a real treat for the two of us to share. It was a special tea from London that someone had bought her on a business trip. I explained that I didn’t drink tea (although I do drink herbal tea). She asked why I didn’t drink tea. I said Mormons don’t drink tea. She was confused and asked, “Are you a Mormon?” I had thought it was obvious since she had worked with me for over four years, having relocated me from Salt Lake City for that job, and I never drank alcohol at work functions. Suddenly I wondered if she just thought I was a recovering alcoholic. Probably.
She asked, “Why don’t Mormons drink tea?” I said it was something we agreed not to do that was referenced in our Mormon scriptures, but at the end of the day I had to confess that there’s not a really specific reason; it’s just something we don’t do. Tea drinkers don’t exactly drop dead early. The longest-lived people on the planet are big time tea drinkers!  Since she was raised in a religious environment, she related to that explanation. Religions choose to do various things that set us apart from other religions.
In a Relief Society lesson about a year ago, one of my friends said that when she was a teenager her mother had told her she could always use her as an excuse if she didn’t want to do something. It might be more socially acceptable to say, “My mom would kill me if I [shot heroine/killed a man just to watch him die/committed treason]” than to give the real reason of “I just don’t want to” which can sound judgmental, depending on the situation.
And yet, sometimes we use Mormonism as a catch-all excuse and a way to avoid owning our own choices. Maybe we worry about what others think. Sometimes we might be trying to save face rather than owning the arbitrariness or peculiarity of our choices. It seems to come up when some of our more peculiar choices are questioned: choosing not to drink, wearing garments or covering shoulders and thighs, observing various aspects of the Word of Wisdom, and Sabbath day observance. Not only do some of these choices seem strange to non-Mormons, but a few are even questionable to our fellow Mormons since we make different choices in how we observe things.
Going back to the conversation with my tea drinking boss, she was still trying to grasp that I was a Mormon. She said she didn’t know Mormon women could work. I said, “Well, obviously I do.” She leaned back and was taking it all in.
A recent SNL video parodies the difficulty of saying what we really think and owning our own choices for fear of being seen as awkward or judgmental.
Here are the explanations I could have given for not drinking tea if I had been a bit more quick on my feet:
- We believe in being a peculiar people, and this qualifies.
- It beats all the crap Catholics give up for Lent.
- Mormons are still protesting British tyranny. (It’s not true, but at least it sounds interesting).
- It’s an ironic choice given how many Mormons are in the Tea Party, but Mormons are all about the irony.
- Mormons have extremely white teeth, and they don’t want to yellow them up with your vile, nasty tea. Why do you think Brits have such bad teeth?
- Mormons only like sweet things, and tea is just a little too funky for our sugary taste.
- Tea is a hallucinogen. (Also not true, but sounds interesting).
- It stems from the great Mormon tea poisoning of 1892. (Not a real event, but sounds like it could be).
- Tea is only used for bathing animals and as a healing salve for burns. (Not true, but it sure sounds like something the Word of Wisdom would say).
- Tea is the devil’s drink. (Said in my best Kenneth Parcell voice).
- Tea is associated with devil worship because mystics read tea leaves. (This totally sounds like something from Mormon Doctrine).
- Because Satan rules the waters and tea is made with water, tea is ruled by Satan. This is why we only shower because Satan can’t get a good saddle position on the water when it comes through a shower head.
What are the Mormon things you do (or don’t do) that you sometimes don’t want to admit you do (or don’t do) just because you’re Mormon with no other really good reason?
 According to the World Health Organization, the Japanese are the longest-lived at 87 years life expectancy. And they are sucking down tea like there’s no tomorrow. Not to mention the tsunamis, nuclear disasters, and Godzilla attacks. tl;dr, the choice to avoid tea is not going to cause you to live longer.