Alcohol consumption and evangelicals
by Scott Noble

Each month, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) conducts a survey—the Evangelical Leaders Survey—of its Board of Directors, which includes denominational CEOs and representatives from a variety of evangelical organizations. Those organizations include churches, universities, publishers, etc.

The question posed to the group recently was, “Do you socially drink alcohol?” The results of the poll were 60 percent “no” and 40 percent “yes.”

Leith Anderson, president of NAE, said: “Alcohol and its effects have been a major challenge in American society. Just as society has dealt with it, as evidenced in the 18th and 21st amendments, so have evangelicals looked at how to appropriately interact with alcohol.”

What caught my eye more than the results of the poll was the fact that a poll question like this was even asked. Let me explain.

American evangelicals have had a long and sometimes complicated history with alcohol—a much different story than evangelicals in Europe and other places. In America, many evangelicals were strong supporters of the temperance movement some 100 to 200 years ago. Temperance groups were established across the country in order to encourage people and governments to limit or abstain from the use of alcohol.

But with time, those efforts waned, but the issue of alcohol consumption remained a topic of interest and concern within many evangelical circles. For many who grew up in conservative evangelical homes and churches during the middle part of the last century, the issue of alcohol use was often discussed along with whether or not Christians should play cards, or go to dances or attend movies.

Now a generation or two removed from those debates, the issue of alcohol consumption can seem like something from another time. That’s why this survey from the NAE stuck out. I can’t remember the last time I heard this issue being seriously discussed among evangelicals.

That’s not to say the issue is or isn’t important or to take sides on whether or not evangelicals should drink—socially or at all. It just seems like open discussion about alcohol use among evangelicals is from another time—possibly another place.

But thinking back to the debates of the last century—alcohol consumption, card playing, dancing, etc.—I wonder if the essence of those debates, and not so much the specifics of what was debated, could teach us something.

For example, many of the issues evangelicals and others discussed 50 to 75 years ago were what could be described as personal holiness issues—concerns about how to live out the faith and stay true to your convictions in public. The specifics of those debates seem outdated now and maybe they are.

Nevertheless, one of the effects of those personal holiness issues is that others may see there is something different about believers, something that is attractive.

One of my Christian relatives regularly plays basketball with a group of guys. After they play each week, the group heads over to a restaurant for food and drinks. My relative has made a decision not to drink. When other group members saw that he didn’t drink, they noticed it and eventually said to him something to the effect of, “There’s something different about you.”

That statement and those similar to it can often then lead to deeper faith conversations, where the behavior of believers can eventually lead them to discuss their faith in God.

So if the debates over alcohol consumption and other personal holiness issues can seem as if they are from another time, there still might be something we can learn from them. That our actions and behaviors, regardless of the issue, can possibly cause others to see Christ and His uniqueness in us—even if in a small way.

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Published by Minnesota Christian Chronicle —August 2010
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