SALT LAKE CITY -- Mormons are free to down a Coke or Pepsi.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has clarified its position on caffeinated soft drinks, noting the news media often incorrectly states that its members are forbidden to drink caffeine.
This week the church posted a statement on its website saying it "does not prohibit the use of caffeine."
A day later, the website wording was changed, saying only that "the church revelation spelling out health practices ... does not mention the use of caffeine."
Church spokesman Scott Trotter said the clarification was made to provide context to last week's NBC News hour-long special on Mormonism that stated Mormons don't drink caffeine.
But church leaders say that doesn't mean they view caffeinated drinks as healthy. They just don't bar members from drinking them.
Even LDS presidential nominee Mitt Romney has been seen drinking an occasional soft drink, and Mormon missionaries in France routinely drink them, too.
Several earlier LDS leaders considered drinking caffeinated soft drinks as a violation of the "spirit" of the Word of Wisdom.
It was dictated in 1833 by Mormon founder Joseph Smith, and bars consumption of wine, strong drinks with alcohol, tobacco and "hot drinks," which have been defined by church authorities as tea and coffee.
The church's website posting Wednesday reaffirmed that the faith's health-code reference to hot drinks "does not go beyond" tea and coffee.
The clarification on caffeine "is long overdue," said Matthew Jorgensen, a Mormon and longtime Mountain Dew drinker.
Jorgensen, who is doing a two-year research fellowship in Germany, said he grew up in "a devout Mormon household, in a small, devout Mormon town," where his neighbors and church leaders viewed "drinking Coca-Cola as so close to drinking coffee that it made your worthiness ... questionable."
In the end, he said, it's up to individual church members to decide what to drink.
"I can understand why the church is cautious," he wrote by email. "Saying that caffeine is OK might sound like saying that caffeine is healthy, maybe even an endorsement of caffeine.
"Plus, I think members need opportunities to work through questions of right and wrong for themselves. (Caffeine) is the perfect, low-risk testing ground for members to make decisions for themselves," Jorgensen added.