I have been thinking about alcohol lately.

A couple of months ago, I was writing an article for a national magazine. Their readership is located primarily in the American South. It was a great project, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process and the editorial staff. I think we were all delighted by how the assignment was turning out. Delighted that is, right up until the end.

After a couple of months of work and revision on the article, a higher-up in the organization got involved with the project. He or she seemed to like the like the article. But the higher-up got a hold of my recent book, Neighbors and Wise Men. After one look, the article was cancelled.

The reason? The book's cover has a picture of a bar. This picture is appropriate since much of the book is about redemptive conversations I've had in a local Portland pub. The editorial staff assured their boss that the book makes no defense of alcohol consumption as a practice, but that didn't matter. My article was killed. They could not be associated with a book that features a picture of a drinking establishment.

Divisive drinking

I have no ill will toward this organization. The editors that I worked with were kind, generous, creative, and professional. If they called again, I would happily work with them again. And they allowed me to retain my work and even paid me for my time.

But my story illustrates how divisive the issue of alcohol still is in many corners of the church. Parts of the divide are along denominational or generational lines. There is also a regional element to the debate. My friend Mark said, "I wonder what would change if the American South's main crops included grapes and hops, instead of tobacco. Would there be a change in the pulpit rhetoric about alcohol?"

I responded, "I wonder if the American West didn't specialize in the wine and beer industries, if we would have become so cavalier about our alcohol usage."

Economics and morality are often linked—but that is a topic for another day.

I grew up in a religiously conservative church/community. There was a high demand placed on us for moral purity that included avoiding PG13 movies and secular rock-n-roll. We were also taught that alcohol was bad.

And so often that is the extent of our theology of wine: "Alcohol is bad!" We reduce it to a good or bad, moral or immoral issue. As a result our faith-family is often left with only one reason to consider alcohol: rebellion. If it is only bad, then under what circumstances would they choose to imbibe? The answer: moments of anger, rebellion, defiance, pain, sorrow, or depression.

So, here is my attempt to start a conversation about alcohol. This is not an argument for abstinence or an encouragement to drink. It is an attempt to simply raise the debate from dogma to discussion. It's far from exhaustive. There will be no behavioral emphasis here, aside from the brief observation that wanton and meaningless drunkenness is clearly destructive (Prov. 23:20, Is. 5:11, Gal. 5:19-21).

Unique impact

Wine has a unique impact on humans. (Talk about stating the obvious.)

Virtually every culture of the world stumbles over fermentation. It is as ubiquitous as musical instruments, feast days, and ceremonial clothing. These cultures soon build an industry around their fermented beverage and integrate it into their societal mores. Humans have made alcohol out of almost anything. Grapes, hops, barley, potatoes, rice, corn, you name it. (It is only a matter of time until someone figures out how to make alcohol out of bacon … and society will never be the same.)

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