Saturday, August 19, 2006

Alcohol, Christianity, and Truth

I'm always amazed at how people turn Christianity into something it isn't, and how they can selectively read Scripture to draw predetermined conclusions.

I belong to a genealogical and historical society called the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). The SCV was founded in 1896 by the sons of the men who made up the Unived Confederate Veterans (UCV), an organization that took care of aging veterans, widows, and orphans of the men who wore the gray.

The SCV is (to the surprise of many) a very diverse group. We have country folk and city slickers. We have members who are white, black, brown, and yellow. We have members from all parts of Christianity, as well as some representatives of other religions. Though mostly of a right-wing stripe, we also have left-wing members. Some of our members are extremely wealthy and influential, while others live in extremely humble circumstances (though most of us are in the middle somewhere).

The thing that binds us together is our descent from specific soldiers, sailors, and marines who were Confederate veterans.

Any time you get such a diverse group together, there will be conflicts among ourselves (especially among Southerners, who just love to fight with one another. If you want to see fireworks, get a bunch of Southerners arguing about who has the best barbecue!).

Anyway, one point of contention involves our magazine, Confederate Veteran. Every now and then, there are ads for commemorative collectors' items (guns, swords, belt buckles, busts, etc.). One such commemorative item is a special edition of Rebel Yell whiskey emblazoned with the SCV's logo.

Of course, many Southerners are of Baptist and Methodist sensibilities, and frown upon alcohol. Some believe even one sip of alcohol is sinful (which is why many Protestant churches replace the biblically mandated wine with modern grape juice in their version of the Lord's Supper).

On the other hand, the most famous whiskey distilleries in the U.S. are in Kentucky and Tennessee. Beer and Southern NASCAR are not strangers to one another (though hopefully the drivers aren't mixing it with the Gatorade!). Here in New Orleans, we have daiquiri shops by the dozens. Episcopalians in Virginia and South Carolina have never been known as teetotalers. Margaritas are more common in Texas than Unitarian churches are in Boston. My friends in Georgia enjoy the legendary mint julep, and North Carolina moonshine has been known to be sipped at SCV conventions. (Interestingly, the temperence movement was originally a Northern phenomenon, not a "Bible belt" thing. It was the dour 19th century New Englanders who determined that Southerners were having too much fun, and needed to be more like them - gloomy, miserable, and feminist).

So, predictably, there was a barrage of letters in Confederate Veteran magazine about the ad. I wrote my own contribution (in response to readers whose argument consisted of explaining that Jesus (not to mention Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson) didn't drink, the Bible condemns drinking as sin, and that if children saw an ad for Rebel Yell in the magazine they would soon be getting tattoos, shacking up with heroine users, and voting for Hillary Clinton. I'm kidding about the last part (I think), but the level of hysteria, and the appeal to Jesus and the Bible was just too much.

Anyway, my letter was printed, and here it is...

As an SCV member and Lutheran pastor, I must respectfully disagree with Compatriot xxxx xxxx’s complaint about the ads for Rebel Yell whiskey which appear in Confederate Veteran.

The Bible not only approves of drinking alcohol (which is, after all, a gift of God), Holy Scripture lauds its use (while condemning its abuse). See Ps 104:15, Prov 31:6-7, Isa 25:6, 1 Tim 5:23, etc. It was regularly used in Old Testament feasts. Our Lord Jesus Christ turned water into wine, used illustrations involving alcoholic beverages in his preaching, and employed wine at the Last Supper. He Himself was accused of being a drunkard (Luke 7:34) – precisely because he enjoyed drinking wine with us sinners. He promises to drink it with us sinner-saints again in eternity (Matt 26:29). Meanwhile, Christians all around the world continue to follow our Lord’s example by celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

Abstinence from alcohol is a choice one may well make – and for some people it is the right choice. But let’s not forget that alcohol has certainly been traditionally enjoyed by Southerners. The "temperance movement" and federal prohibition were products of dour, self-righteous, do-gooder, big-government, feminist, Yankee left-wingers. Mint juleps and margaritas are not typically associated with Massachusetts.

Like Compatriot xxxx, I have an infant child. And when my son Leonidas - perhaps observing daddy enjoying a beer, wine, or daiquiri – "asks me about it and wants to try it," I will simply tell him the same thing as when he wants to drive, get a credit card, or join the SCV: "You may when you are old enough!" Meanwhile, I can teach him to be responsible about alcohol by drinking responsibly in front of him.

There is nothing immoral, scandalous, un-Christian, or anti-Southern about the SCV’s advertisement of Rebel Yell.

Though we Lutherans are traditionally beer-drinkers, I may have to enjoy a jigger of Rebel Yell (or Pritchard's Confederate States rum) after this Sunday’s Divine Service in honor of our dear Lord’s resurrection!

The debate has raged on for (literally) months! Some of the arguments have just been beyond belief.

Now, I want to be clear here. If a person does not want to drink and doesn't want his children exposed to liquor ads, I respect that. In fact, if such folks make up a large contingent of SCV members, and they are genuinely scandalized, I am in favor of abolishing the ads. There is no reason to become a stumbling block to a person who doesn't want to fall into sin. But on the other hand, when such people adopt a militancy that condemns those of us who are not teetotalers, when they equate drinking with sin and falsely enlist our Lord and the Word of God to do their bidding, I can't let that one go.

In the latest issue, a Confederate Veteran reader from Oklahoma wrote (and this is only an excerpt)...

Reverend Larry Beene [sic] said that alcohol was a gift from God, and that he wanted to teach his son to drink in moderation. Now, Reverend, I really don't mean any disrespect, but you show me one person that drinks in moderation and I'll show you ten that intended to drink in moderation but ended up alcoholics.

King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived and in Proverbs 20:1, it says wine gives false courage and hard liquor leads to brawls. What fools men are to let it master them, making them reel drunkenly down the street. Also, 1 Timothy 3:3 says a pastor must not be a drinker.

Alcohol and the decline of morality are destroying our nation, which also destroyed Rome. Why don't we wake up before it's too late?

Again, it may be a wise decision for certain individuals to abstain from alcohol, and it may also be a wise decision for our organization to steer clear of liquor ads, but there is the problem of truth. Is this compatriot's letter "true." He is entitled to his opinion, but are the facts he promulgates "true"?

First of all, I did not say alcohol is a gift from God, God says it is a gift from God! I cited Scripture, I was not merely putting forth a personal opinon. This is a subtle way of reducing my argument to one opinion among many. But once again, God's Word declares that the use (not the abuse) of alcohol is a divine grace.

Next, the argument that there is a ten to one ratio of alcoholics to moderate drinkers, is there any proof of this? Frankly, there are billions on the planet who drink alcohol (including a couple billion Christians who still believe in the Bible and still use real wine at communion). There would have to be tens of billions of alcoholics for this argument to be true. Even in America, it is ridiculous to claim that only one drinker in ten is not an alcoholic. Such made up statistics don't help a person's argument, they just make one look silly.

Third, King Solomon was certainly a font of wisdom, but he was most certainly not the wisest man who ever lived - that would be our Lord Jesus Christ. And this Truly Wisest Man did indeed drink alcohol, often enough in fact for the leaders of the "temperence movement" of the day (the Pharisees) to spread rumors that He was a drunk. Jesus drank wine repeatedly in Scripture, and established the sacrament of the Lord's Supper using God's gift of the fermented grape, and bids us "do this in memory of Me."

Fourth, King Solomon is decrying the excessive use of alcohol. One or two drinks does not give false courage, encourage brawls, and cause people to reel. Solomon himself drank wine - as did pretty much every person in the ancient world. In Proverbs 31, we see the right use of alcohol being praised.

Fifth, 1 Timothy 3:3 says a bishop must not be "paroinon" - translated as "given to wine" (NKJV) or "a drunkard" (ESV). It does not mean he must never drink wine, rather that he be self-controlled, in the same way that the same verse says that he must be "aphilagoron" translated "not greedy for money" (NKJV) or "not a lover of money" (ESV). The text certainly doesn't say the pastor must be destitute. The pastor must be a man of self-control, and must manage himself and his household reasonably. Besides, two chapters later (5:23), Paul specifically instucts Timothy, who is a pastor, to drink wine!

Finally, alcohol did not destroy Rome. The Romans had been drinking wine for centuries - even at the apex of their power. They weren't all teetotalers until the fifth century when they suddenly began to drink, to then be punished by God for their imbibing. If someone thinks alcohol destroyed the Roman society and empire, that person needs to read more history.

In this brief excerpt of his letter, the writer said six things that are demonstrably wrong (in addition to getting my name wrong in his citation). Christians are called upon to speak the truth, not to distort. Opinions can be, and are, varied. Some of my best SCV pals disagree with me. But facts are facts. To draw a conclusion and lie about the facts in order to get there is simply sinful.

While I'm sure the Lord smiles on alcoholics who practice self-control, on fathers and mothers who try to instill a sense of decency in their children, God will not be mocked. He no more appreciates his Word being distorted by believers than by unbelievers. Jesus is still being decried as a glutton and drunkard by those Christians who see any form of pleasure, and moderate use of God's gift of alcohol as sinful. Every time a church celebrates their form of the Lord's Supper using grape juice, they mock God, by claiming to know better than he, by subsituting a technological solution (grape juice is a chemically created substance) as a Tower of Babel over the clear testimony of God's Word. In so doing, they claim to be holier than Jesus - for Jesus was (and is) one of those "drinkers."

There is nothing wrong in abstaining from alcohol for medical, psychological, and even spiritual reasons. It is a fine discipline, and certainly one way to avoid abuse. But to decry those who do use alcohol properly and work toward its abolition for the sake of the few who abuse it is to adopt the philosophy of the gun-grabber, who seeks to disarm the vast majority of those who use firearms properly, for the sake of the few criminals who abuse them. It's the same mentality as those who seek the abolition and banning of Confederate symbols (the vast majority of which are displayed honorably) just because a handful of miscreants and fools misuse it. There's a very old saying "abusus non tollit usus" - which means that abuse doesn't preclude the proper use. Now that is a very Solomonlike (and even Christlike) sentiment (as opposed to the heavy-handed, big-government philosophy of limiting or curtailing the freedom of all instead of punishing the excesses of the few).

Finally, none of the ten commandments prohibit drinking, but the 8th commandment certainly condemns playing loose with the facts - even when (and perhaps especially if) person is convinced of the righteousness of his cause.


Preachrboy said...

Well argued, Fr. H! When I finish my beer, I will link to this post!

Xrysostom said...

Thanks, Father Hollywood. I just updated an old column on drinking vs. pot and the like and was happy to be able to use this post as a citation in Christian Use of Drugs and Alcohol.

sandy said...

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Renee said...

I appreciate this article very much. One point not mentioned though is that I think most unbelievers have heard enough about this to know that Jesus drank. So when they walk into a church that condemns alcohol they see the hypocrisy. How does that help us bring them to Christ?
Also, many Christians going to such churches (mine included) feel they have to keep their drinking as a secret. I wish I knew how to better deal with this issue.