A denominational leader chairing a new pastor's ordination council noted that the young man had failed to sign the abstinence pledge on his paperwork. He hadn't forgotten to sign the pledge. He didn't want to sign it. Why be a hypocrite?

"You do know it is our policy that clergy abstain from alcohol," the elder minister said to the candidate.

"Yes, I'm aware of the policy," the young pastor replied, and the discussion ended. Neither one seemed interested in pressing the issue. The young pastor never signed the pledge. Now, other pastoral candidates have named the newfound loophole in the man's honor.

Their search for a workaround demonstrates a shift in attitudes among Christian leaders, especially younger leaders, toward alcohol. Even in denominations and traditions that championed prohibition and railed against those who drink, smoke, or chew (or go with those who do) many leaders see such restrictions as inappropriate today.

"The doctrines that get nailed down in one generation become the next generation's 'What?'—like a dog turning its head when it hears a strange sound," said Matt Russell, founding pastor of Mercy Street Church in Houston, Texas, a United Methodist ministry that reaches many people with addiction issues. "The emerging church is raising its own generational issues—poverty, illness, disparity of resources. In our time, these are the issues of holiness just as abstinence from alcohol was for our grandparents.

"Sometimes a beer is just a beer," Russell said with a chuckle, alluding to Freud's famous quote about his cigar. But oftentimes "just a beer" is enough to cause a row.

And in the ...

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Spring
Spring 2009: Unhooked: Addiction Recovery  | Posted
Addiction  |  Evangelism  |  Fellowship  |  Leadership Styles  |  Mission  |  Vision
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