By Jan Shannon
My mom drank Scotch, neat. Someone opined that any woman who drinks Scotch is an alcoholic, which is ridiculous and shows that few people truly understand alcoholism (or my mother). My mom, a lifelong active member of her local Presbyterian church, adult Sunday school teacher and a woman of staunch faith, never ever got drunk. Her two fingers of Scotch, or one glass of wine, was an after-work aperitif, meant to relax from life’s stressor but not to resign from them. My mom, God rest her soul, was my example for adulting, especially on issues like alcohol, but much of the behavior I see around me suggests that my mom’s example is not being followed by many in Christianity, because from what I can see, y’all drink too much.
Have a bad day at work? Go out for drinks after. Have a fight with your partner? Go get sloshed to cool off. Stunned after yet another policeman guns down an innocent Black man? Drink till you can’t feel the anger any more. All this drinking…but where’s the action? Perhaps your bad day at work could prompt you to figure out what the problem is, address your (or your boss’s) issues directly, or find a new job. If your relationship is rocky, perhaps what you need is to spend more time soberly discussing the situation with your beloved. When you see injustice in America, how does drinking help? The use of mood-altering drugs, of which alcohol is just one, perhaps the most readily available one, might alter your mood (for the moment) but the situation that prompted your binge remains until you decide to face it. And it’s not just the heathen who are drinking their lives away, the clergy are no better, and are arguably worse.
The Bible tells us in Ephesians 5:18 “Don’t get drunk on wine” to which many of you might respond sarcastically that beer and whiskey don’t count, and I’d counter that your cute arguments belie an underlying need to drink that your attempt at humor doesn’t dispel. The Apostle Paul calls drunkenness ‘depravity’ which is a great old word meaning loose or lacking restraint – an excellent description of the behavior of every drunk everywhere. Their loose lips sink relational ships and generally wreak havoc in their own lives. When politicians use the “I can’t recall” we vilify them in the press and voice our disdain in private, but for some reason we allow this argument in our personal lives. “I don’t remember…I was SO drunk!” Does alcohol relieve us of personal responsibility?
The Church of the Nazarene, where I used to be Rev. Jan, is a teetotalling group advocating for total abstinence from alcohol. Along with their stance on alcohol, the COTN also advocates against their members participating in social dancing, watching secular movies, and smoking, but of those four activities, the only one that folks react to is abstinence from alcohol. I’ve never had someone ask me how I EVER lived without dancing, not has anyone ever said that the COTN stance on cigarette use was “nuts.” It seems that people could imagine living without movies before they could imagine living without their liquor. However, I find that the COTN language on the use of alcohol is consistent with what I see on a daily basis. “In light of the Holy Scriptures and human experience concerning the ruinous consequences of the use of alcohol as a beverage, and in light of the findings of medical science regarding the detrimental effect of both alcohol and tobacco to the body and mind, as a community of faith committed to the pursuit of a holy life, our position and practice is abstinence rather than moderation. Holy Scripture teaches that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. With loving regard for ourselves and others, we call our people to total abstinence from all intoxicants. Furthermore, our Christian social responsibility calls us to use any legitimate and legal means to minimize the availability of both beverage alcohol and tobacco to others. The widespread incidence of alcohol abuse in our world demands that we embody a position that stands as a witness to others.” Manual, Church of the Nazarene, 2013-2017 revision.
Other faith communities, including Seventh Day Adventists, Islam, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and several other Christian denominations also teach their adherents to refrain from intoxicating beverages. (some even preach against drinking caffeinated beverages, but that’s clearly heresy) With so many religious organizations advising against the use of alcohol, why such widespread abuse in America, a nation where over 75 percent of the population claims some religious affiliation? Why do we turn so readily to the bottle? Where is our faith?
I believe that our belief is intact but our faith is in shambles. I believe it because I have lived it. I understand the feeling of needing a drink: the siren song of one more sip to silence the cries for help, the ease with which I raise my glass rather than pick up the phone, the desire to hide rather than to address the real problem. Human relationships are hard – drinking is easy. I believe that God’s wisdom and guidance are the best way to live, but they are also hard, much harder than mixing up my favorite cocktail – a well-made Irish Coffee. I believe that God’s way is best, but do I have the faith to act on my beliefs? Will I choose the hard road which leads to redemption and restoration, or will I order another round? What will you do? Let’s have a drink and chat.
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