Monday, December 30, 2013

Drinking, Culture, and Faith

When we moved to St. Louis from Houston, we had a difficult time finding a church. Houston had no dearth of good churches. St. Louis had a lot of churches, too, but they tended to be mainline Protestant or Catholic, and we tended to the more evangelical. (The four houses of worship closest to where we lived were Catholic, United Church of Christ, and two synagogues.)

We visited a lot of churches. We found one that seemed to have solid preaching and teaching, with friendly, welcoming people (more of a problem than you might imagine). A small group from the church came to visit us at our apartment, and in the course of the conversation the subject of drinking alcohol came up. To join the church, we were told, we would have to sign a no-alcohol pledge.

That would be a problem. We drank alcohol. Not much, and most days none. But we did consume alcohol.

We didn’t join the church. I later learned that the elders at the church occasionally had champagne breakfasts, that many people at the church signed the pledge but drank anyway. After all, this was west suburban St. Louis, one of the wealthiest parts of the metropolitan area.

None of that sat well with me. If you have a no-alcohol pledge, fine. But don’t have a pledge and then blatantly ignore it with champagne breakfasts, by the elders, no less.

What we encountered could be a story out of Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty. Author Brett McCracken, in the final three chapters of the book, focuses on drinking, and the attitudes of Christians about drinking alcohol. Over the years, I’ve heard all the arguments, pro and con, and I agree with McCracken – the Bible doesn’t teach against consuming alcohol, but it does teach consistently against drunkenness.

McCracken provides a good overview of the history of Christians and our attitudes about alcohol (the Puritan Pilgrims in the New World were “largely friendly to alcohol,” he notes, with the Mayflower well provisioned with beer and wine). And he finds five themes in the Bible concerning alcohol and its consumption:

·       Drunkenness is a sin.
·       It is part of the joy and blessing given by God.
·       It is an eschatological (last things) symbol of the bounty of the new creation.
·       Abstinence is a good option, but it’s not mandated
·       Moderation is the operative principle.

What he does point out is that we need to understand Christians’ historical opposition to alcohol within an American cultural context. Drunkenness was common in the 18th and 19th centuries, and associated with family breakdown and crime in general. People could easily see the effects of drunkenness in their communities. We Americans still carry our historical baggage with us. “Ours is a culture,” McCracken points out, “of college binge drinking, keggers, underage drinking as rebellion, and Bud Light commercials.” And how many stories of drunken drivers killing people do we have to read before we say “Enough!”?

It’s easy to ridicule Christians’ historical antagonism to alcohol. But drunkenness wasn’t then and isn’t now simply a personal choice. It’s a personal choice with public ramifications.

Over at The High Calling, we’ve been discussing Gray Matters. Today concludes the discussion. You can read comments by others by visiting The High Calling.

My previous posts on the book:

Photograph by Holly Chaffin via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Anonymous said...

The choice my wife & I have made regarding the abstaining of alcohol is based upon 1 Corinthians 8:13 & Romans 14:21. We are commanded to not be a stumbling block to our brothers & sisters. By choosing to consume alcohol one can inadvertently be the cause of an alcoholic brother or sister to want to partake, where one drop can result in the downhill slide to drunkenness. To us it's like abstaining from pre-marital sex. Paraphrasing former Education Secretary, William Bennett..."it works every time it's tried". You'll NEVER be the proximate cause of a brother or sister to stumble in this area IF you abstain. We like the word "never" in this context.

Robbie Pruitt said...

Solid post! Thanks for sharing!