Monday, March 23, 2009

Issues: Conservative Protestants and Alcohol

When it comes to alcohol, conservative Protestants used to divide along denominational lines.

Now they're dividing by age.

At one time, evangelicals split between "wet" and "dry" denominations
  • Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and the Reformed said it was okay to drink in moderation.
  • Methodist, Pentecostal, Holiness and most Baptist churches argued for abstinence.
Now Out of Ur reports a growing number of younger clergy in "dry" denominations see nothing wrong with moderate drinking. The result has been a flame-war between two groups I'll call "Herodians" and "Pharisees."
  • Herodians take a pretty literalist approach to the Bible; they argue it condemns drunkenness, not drinking per se.
  • Pharisees are moralistic; they acknowledge the Herodians' point viz. Scripture, but point out that alcohol kills more Americans than homicide, car accidents, and AIDS combined.
Both sides have a point. Pace Bacchiocchi, but Titus 2:3 does not seem like a plea for abstinence so much as moderation. Then again, Americans have never been known for their moderation -- and this is especially true of our youth.
To say "the Bible condemns drunkenness and not drinking," in other words, is beside the point. Most young Americans who drink are doing so in order to get drunk.

Myself, I suspect one of the factors driving this debate is upward mobility. As Iain Gately points out in Drink: A Social History of Alcohol, 51% of Americans who have nothing more than a high school diploma are "dry" -- but when you survey Americans who've finished college, that's true of only 20%.

If you're fresh out of seminary, in other words, there's a good chance temperance seems "downscale" or even tacky -- the kind of thing you associate with your Uncle Joe (who works in an auto-parts store and listens to Merle Haggard on the radio).

But if your kind of people -- people who look like you, vote like you, and listen to the same kind of music . . . well, if those people love to kick back after work with a cold one, then what does that suggest?

And no, Adventists are not immune to this kind of pressure. My gut-feeling is that we're at roughly the same point today viz. drinking that we were in the 1960s viz. movies, i.e. it's still not something that "good" Adventists do -- but by and large, even "good" Adventists are not passing along this value to their children.

In short, we need to talk about this.


Otherwise, it's going to get personal.

1 comment:

David Hamstra said...

From a newspaper article about the Adventists killed in the Montana plane crash:

"She said Amy’s reserved nature complimented that of her more gregarious husband [Erin], who, despite being raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, was known to have a glass of wine on occasion and a filet mignon cooked well-done."