New report recommends liberalized policies on drinking
Proposals advanced in the recently released Alcohol Problems: A Report to the Nation are enough to drive churchgoers to drink. In fact, if the recommendations of the Cooperative Commission on the Study of Alcohol are followed, drinking in America will almost surely increase. The hope of the seventeen-man commission of scholars, scientists, and lay experts is that its comprehensive plan for prevention and treatment of alcoholism will lead to modifications of attitudes toward the use of alcohol. But if the report seeks to reduce problem drinking, just as surely does it encourage more casual drinking.
The major objective of the $1 million, six-year study federally financed by the National Institute of Mental Health is to work for control of alcohol consumption through individual judgment rather than legal restrictions. The report’s most astounding recommendations call for immediate lowering of the legal drinking age to eighteen years, promotion of drinking within the family setting, liberalization of liquor advertising policies, and even encouragement of imbibing by teen-agers at social and church gatherings under adult supervision. Asserting that fewer problem drinkers are found in Jewish and Chinese ethnic subcultures, where alcohol is regularly consumed but drunkenness is strongly disapproved, the commission reasons that the integration of drinking with other activities, such as eating meals, will help young people develop a responsible attitude toward it. The report contends that drinking patterns can be changed and drinking abuses lessened if the emotionalism associated with alcoholic beverages is reduced, distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable drinking are clarified, drinking “for its own sake” is discouraged, and young people are helped to adapt themselves “realistically to a predominantly ‘drinking’ society.”
Along with its preventive measures, the document recommends new approaches to the care and treatment of alcoholics. “Public drunkenness should be approached as a medical-social rather than as a legal-criminal problem,” claims the commission; present policies are “inhuman as well as ineffective.”
The report, pre-released at a luncheon sponsored by its publisher, Oxford University Press, and by the National Council of Churches and the North Conway Institute of Boston, elicited strong reactions. Dr. Jon L. Regier, NCC asssociate general secretary for Christian life and mission, called the document “more of a watershed than the Surgeon General’s report on smoking” and said solutions to the problems of alcohol and alcoholism in America will “tend to be wet rather than dry ones.” Despite Regier’s statement and the NCC’s co-sponsorship of the pre-release luncheon, NCC general secretary Dr. R. H. Edwin Espy later disclaimed official NCC endorsement of it. In a blistering statement the previous day, Dr. Samuel A. Jeanes, legislative chairman of the New Jersey Council of Churches, had urged the U. S. senators from his state to investigate the report, charging, “The liquor business has never had a better boost for its business than has come through this report paid for by the taxpayers of America.” In a curious twist of logic, Dr. Thomas E. Price of the Methodist General Board of Christian Social Concerns said that the commission’s approach “in no way conflicts with the abstinence position of the Methodist Church.” Seventh-day Adventist temperance director Miller Brockett objected to all parts of the report except the recommendation that problem drinking ought to be handled by “prevention, not cure.”
Despite the good intentions of the commission, adoption of their sweeping recommendations would make a tragic situation in America even worse. The increase in liquor consumption resulting from legalizing alcohol for eighteen-year-olds, scrapping our all-too-few restrictions on liquor advertisements, and promoting more widespread drinking at home, church, and social gatherings would not lead to enlightened attitudes and greater control of drinking. Instead its result would predictably be more drunkenness, shattered lives, and a greater highway death toll. If drinking has been moderate in certain cultural settings, the reason has been, not easy access to alcohol, but commitment to religious or ethnic values that exert profound influence on behavior. It is irresponsible folly for the commission to relax deterrents to alcoholism on the assumption that its recommended cooperative efforts in society will be able to supply the necessary deep-seated human regulative controls. Every day we see new evidence of the erosion of protective moral values in home and society. To encourage policies that will lead to greater drinking in America, where social disruption is increasing, is to hasten the disintegration of human lives.
Legal restrictions and educational and rehabilitative programs are necessary in our communities to help restrain men from succumbing repeatedly to the sin of drunkenness. But the solution to the alcohol problem lies only in an internal change in individual lives. Men driven to drink can find a lasting release from their problem only as they are driven by the Word and the Spirit to Almighty God. It is sad to find some churchmen more concerned with the relaxation of liquor laws than with the proclamation of God’s commandments.
The Church must realize anew its responsibility to confront the problem of excessive drinking. Christians must work for feasible legal safeguards against the misuse of alcohol. They must not lend support to programs such as that of the Cooperative Commission that would weaken legal controls on drinking without developing adequate spiritual controls. But more important they must fully recognize that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only sure cure for alcoholism and every other sin. To those who find solace only from spirits in a bottle, Christians must humbly, sensitively, and compassionately offer the message of Christ. Christ himself will provide for them the true solace they seek: the joy of the Holy Spirit in the innermost being.
A MISLEADING STATEMENT ON MARIJUANA
In their crusade to legalize the use of marijuana, the hippies may have found a new friend. Dr. James L. Goddard, director of the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, recently stated that he considers smoking marijuana no more serious physically and mentally than drinking a cocktail. He denied that smoking marijuana leads to addiction to stronger drugs and advocated removal of legal penalties for its possession (though not for its sale and distribution). “Society should be able to accept both alcohol and marijuana,” said Goddard. He called for more research on chronic use of the hallucination-inducing drug.
Dr. Goddard’s views fly in the face of the World Health Organization’s expert Committee on Drug Dependence, which categorized marijuana along with heroin as “particularly liable to abuse and to produce ill effects.” Marijuana is now prohibited on a worldwide scale as a result of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, a treaty signed by fifty-eight nations in the 1960s.
Although marijuana does not become “a monkey on the back” of a user as does heroin, it often has an adverse effect on certain persons. Even Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld, medical adviser to the “turned on” community and an advocate of marijuana legalization, admits in his “HIPocrates” underground newspaper column: “Emotionally unstable individuals may freak out after using the drug even in small quantities.” No conclusive studies have been made of long-range effects of marijuana. But the threat it poses to many persons on a short-term basis plus the possibility of lasting damage from habitual use should lead individuals to steer clear of “grass-blowing” and governmental bodies to continue strict enforcement of laws prohibiting its sale and possession.
Although Dr. Goddard’s concern for a healthy America is well known, his views on marijuana unfortunately, and perhaps unintentionally, tend to embolden present and potential users of the drug. We urge public-health officers to consider carefully all available evidence and forthrightly warn the American people of whatever dangers are inherent in marijuana-smoking, so that needless damage to human minds and bodies will not be unwittingly encouraged.
DISSENT BY VIOLENCE
The massive anti-war siege of the Pentagon was not even over before David Dellinger, chairman of the National Mobilization Committee, called for protests that would be “more militant, more persistent, and more insistent.” Persistent perhaps. But militant? What less justifiable sequel could there be to the two-day demonstration?
The Washington protest called for peace, but violence was its outstanding feature. Calling for “direct action” and “disorderly conduct” even before the protests began, many intentionally made this the most violent non-violent peace protest yet against the war in Viet Nam. At least forty-seven persons were injured in clashes between the crowd and soldiers. Nearly 650 were arrested, including Dellinger, Yale chaplain John Boyles, and novelist Norman Mailer. As thousands streamed across the Potomac to the Pentagon Mall, the tranquil spirit that had prevailed at meetings earlier that day yielded to one of ugly provocation. President Johnson was vilified. Troops were goaded. Some militants spit on soldiers. Many more threw stones, sticks, and garbage. At one point demonstrators observed a moment of silence for slain Communist guerrilla Che Guevara.
Not all those present would condone the violence, of course; many were probably distressed by it. But let them learn from what happened. Let the more responsible dissenters learn that mass demonstrations tend to take on the character of the more militant minority. And let no one obscure the fact that the Washington protest marked an ominous step in the revolt against non-violent persuasion and legislative processes, and accelerated the already noticeable decline of American society toward the anarchy of mob rule.
There is no excuse for lawlessness. Shortly after his arrest Mailer argued that the war in Viet Nam “will destroy the foundation of this republic.” If it is destroyed, the cause will more likely be mob action. If it is preserved, as all good men desire, it will be preserved by the grace of God through the exercise of spiritual leadership, moderation, law, justice, and responsible dissent.
STATE FUNDING OF PAROCHIAL SCHOOLS?
Separation of church and state is at stake this week as residents of the State of New York go to the polls to vote on a new constitution. The document being presented to the electorate would repeal a provision of the present New York constitution that bars state financial aid to church-related schools. The vote is crucial because of this state’s traditional influence upon the rest of the United States in legal matters. If New York opens the door for the use of public funds in parochial schools, it could set a trend toward further expunging of the moneyline separating church and state.
Ever since famine drove Joseph’s brothers to Egypt in the second millennium B.C., and probably also before that time, crop failures and consequent starvation have been a chronic problem of mankind. Drought, wars, and plant disease have swept through history, leaving a trail of misery and death behind. And little could be done to stop their rampage. Famine came to Rome in 436 B.C., causing thousands to throw themselves into the Tiber. Famine struck England in 1005. All of Europe suffered in 879, 1016, and 1162. Even in the nineteenth century, with its great advances in technology and commerce, hunger stalked many countries—Russia, China, India, Ireland, and others—and many perished. Famine, like war and pestilence, has always been a bellicose neighbor to large sectors of the human race.
It still is today. Tonight in India thousands will die of malnutrition and accompanying diseases, and hundreds more will perish in the nations of Latin America and other emerging countries. Millions will awake hungry and go to bed unfed. “Two-thirds of the world’s people live in countries with national average diets that are nutritionally inadequate,” reports the latest government study on the World Food Situation, conducted under the leadership of United States Secretary of Agriculture Orville L. Freeman. And the situation does not seem to be improving. In fact, the most startling development in recent years is the serious prediction by population and agriculture experts of widespread famine by the end of the century—possibly by 1985.
Many popular predictions of intensified famine are highly sensational and are designed to sell newspapers or specific economic programs rather than to give an accurate account of the hunger problem. When Esquire publishes an article maintaining that “The Human Race Has, Maybe, Thirty-five Years Left,” that is the worst sort of sensationalism. And one suspects that the concern to involve the Church in various political programs, particularly in an advisory capacity, has led various ecun enical bodies to exaggerate the world hunger problem.
But even with allowances, there is ample cause to consider suffering through hunger a great moral issue for governments, churches, private foundations, and individuals who live in favored lands. It is hard to overlook the report that food will inevitably become a problem for a race whose numbers are increasing geometrically—now doubling in less than forty years—while production of grain and other foodstuffs seems to increase arithmetically by small and regular proportions. Hunger is now widespread and often acute. And by all reasonable estimates it seems to be increasing.
Secretary Freeman’s report is generally optimistic. It speaks of adequate food supplies for the world well into the 1980’s. But even this is disturbing. What about 1990? What, for that matter, about those who will be starying in 1968? What can be done? What can Christians do? Is the problem too removed from us to be our responsibility? Or is it our concern? Do biblical principles apply to a need this great? One may certainly point out that the poor will always be with us, that men will never succeed in wiping out world hunger, and even that the Bible sometimes views famine as the judgment of God upon masses of people. But these truths do not excuse inertia or a basic lack of Christian compassion.
The one thing Christians may not say in answer to these questions is that biblical principles do not apply to the problem of world hunger, for they certainly do. In the first place, the Bible teaches that material possessions are ultimately not our own; they belong to God. This view is inherent in the opening chapters of Genesis, where man is placed in the garden, not as an owner, but as the custodian of God’s creation. It is also basic to the biblical conception of tithing. For the tithe is not merely that which belongs to God, though in a sense it is that. Rather, it is a tangible acknowledgment that all we have comes from God and belongs to him. “Freely ye have received, freely give,” Jesus commanded. Vatican II was right to conclude that “a man should regard his lawful possessions not merely as his own but also as common property in the sense that they should accrue to the benefit of not only himself but of others” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Chapter 3).
Secondly, the Bible teaches that our attitude toward the needy should be motivated by genuine compassion and that this compassion should transcend such factors as race (the Pauline collection for the Jews at Jerusalem), nationality (the Good Samaritan), and social status (Philemon). Christians should give because of their love for those who are suffering, and not any less because they are suffering 10,000 miles away. For us to be concerned with multitudes in India whom we have never seen is no different than for the Christians of Asia Minor to help starving Jews in Palestine in Paul’s day. If this fact were taken seriously, it would eliminate several unworthy and ultimately ineffective motives often put forward in popular debate—“We must overcome food shortages in order to avoid universal unrest and war” and “The United States must do the job because it is the most wealthy nation.” Actually, all Christians everywhere must do the job, together with unbelievers who share their concerns. And they must do it simply out of a God-derived compassion.
Finally, the Bible teaches that a successful transformation of society can come only from within, through the transformed lives of individual men and women. The Bible does not advocate a political blueprint for the renewal of society; it proclaims a Gospel for the spiritual transformation of persons, which leads to increasing moral sensitivity and the birth of true compassion. And the biblical method works. When the Christian ethic is actively appropriated by individuals, it can make significant contributions in the underdeveloped nations even where believers are a small minority. A large-scale turning to Christianity, like that which seems to be occurring in Indonesia, can eliminate fatalism and the much-publicized socio-religious barriers to complete nutrition and agricultural development.
Even secular study in its own way supports the need for individual-by-individual action. The Freeman report notes a basic shift by the United States government as a result of its own experience: outright grants of food are minimized in favor of efforts to increase food production in the developing nations through technical aid and the training of local leadership. The shift is not based merely on the fact that the United States’ food surplus is diminishing while its population increases. (Population of this country will probably increase by 50 per cent in the next thirty-three years.) It is based on the recognition that large food grants tend to depress food prices in the recipient countries and thus deprive individuals of a major incentive for increasing their own food production. A similar shift is also taking place across the wide spectrum of American philanthropy—private funds, foundations, and so on.
Any solution to the hunger problem calls for a body of adequately financed men able to communicate both a knowledge of agriculture and an enthusiasm for social progress to their potential counterparts in emerging lands. But social progress cannot occur in a moral and spiritual vacuum. Here lies the great challenge for the Christian churches.
Measured against the current population of Latin America and Asia, the United States today is now giving about one-sixtieth as much money to poor nations as it offered to Europe under the Marshall Plan. The foreign-aid percentage of the national budget is decreasing; today it is less than 1 per cent. The amount is about one-tenth of what American citizens spend on alcoholic beverages. Still the Western nations together contribute between $5.6 billion and $7 billion annually in outright grants or easy loans. In contrast, American Protestants spend only $7 million a year on food programs and another $7 million in agricultural development, and they dispense few workers for these programs. These figures must be weighed against the estimated $3.3 billion income of the forty-four largest Protestant denominations last year ($1.25 billion was applied to church construction) and the fact that the average church consistently spends four-fifths of its income on its own support.
It must be pointed out, of course, that the basic task of the institutional church is spiritual and moral, and also that multitudes of churchgoers give generously as individuals to local and national benevolent projects—the efforts of some individual believers have been astounding. Moreover, few will deny that the churches have been socially active in many problem areas, including hunger. Yet much more could be done.
1. Churches could increasingly recover the Reformation emphasis upon vocational stewardship and call upon qualified Christians to use their training in other lands. Of America’s agricultural specialists, many of whom must be Christians, fewer than 1 per cent are directly involved in foreign projects. Let the churches appeal to these men and to successful farmers and support them for short terms abroad through missionary agencies.
2. Denominations could also use a percentage of their income—perhaps money that would normally be spent for bigger and better facilities—to operate training programs in crisis areas. The Rockefeller Foundation reports that progress in agriculture has caused a 60 per cent increase in the world production of corn in the past decade and has enabled India to plan to double her wheat production in the next eight years. Gains of 50 to 200 per cent in rice production through improved varieties of seed are being reported in Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Let the churches apply such gains to other underprivileged lands, thereby serving physical needs while they minister the Gospel. Such programs could enable missionary churches to become self-supporting.
3. American churches might also strive to heighten sensitivity to human need among all believers, particularly on the local church scene. For the churches merely to shift the responsibility to government would be blatantly immoral.
4. Most significantly, the Church should double its evangelistic efforts, realizing that the Gospel can do its liberating work only in and through those whose lives are transformed and guided by the indwelling presence of the risen Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, new birth properly leads to new energy, new initiative, and new abilities, as well as to new sensitivities toward those who are in need.
In its approach to hunger as in other areas, the Church has far too often looked outside itself rather than to its own responsibility under God and its own potential. Most church conventions pass resolutions written by a few and heeded by still fewer. Too often these hastily prepared statements are little more than a salve to Christian conscience. They pass the buck to government and are content to recite facts that responsible sources have long known. All this must cease if the Church is to respond effectively to the growing problem of world hunger. If this problem is as bad as churchmen say, then the Church must quickly put its tithe, time, and talents where its mouth is.
The Depth Of Famine
Politically minded ecumenists are appealing to the Barmen Confession (in which German Christians repudiated Nazi pretensions to state sovereignty) to justify expanding pressures by the National and World Councils of Churches upon government for politico-economic goals. In recent years these ecumenical pressures have embraced such objectives as getting Red China into the United Nations and getting America out of Viet Nam. Now a new ecumenical motif is gaining emphasis: world famine.
Within a few years, we are told, the expanding population will exhaust all available food resources; the prospect of global famine is therefore very real. What can be done? Those aware of the ecumenical mind-set will find fully predictable the proposed “solution”: mammoth U. S. expenditures abroad. Christian conscience, so the argument runs, practically requires that President Johnson and the U. S. Congress extend unprecedented foreign aid to underprivileged nations. In short, famine threatens mass genocide, and only U.S. intervention can prevent world hunger.
Is this emotional plea of the political ecumenists trustworthy? And if world famine is indeed a probability, is the proposed “solution” necessarily the most efficient, most effective, and most durable?
Ever since Thomas Malthus (1766–1834), demographers have warned of impending imbalance between human population and food supply; today’s pronouncements are hardly something new.
We might properly ask, therefore, whether modern technology cannot cope with the need for increased food productivity. In enlightened areas of the world, improved agricultural techniques already enable one farmer to produce what a few generations ago required the labor of a hundred workers. Technical and methodological promises for the future are even more staggering. Should the Church, then, by encouraging outright food subsidies, go into the business of what amounts to perpetuating non-enlightenment? If, instead, just for one example, the truth of revealed religion were to revise the Hindu idea of the sacredness of cattle, a major factor in India’s food crisis would be corrected. Working together, Christian evangelism and scientific technology can and do help to close the famine gap. The “solution” of political ecumenism promises merely to postpone the problem, adding the illusion, moreover, that an ecclesiastical agency has socio-political omni-competence.
The fact is that much arable land remains to be put to productive use. Russia, for example, could produce more wheat, but Communist control stands in the way. It is no secret that the United States could produce more food; the fact is that the government currently pays farmers $1.6 billion annually not to grow it. Another case in point is Burma, once a major source of rice for India and China; now fallen under socialism, it exports only a tenth of the food it used to export. Why do political ecumenists neglect such facts and problems? And why, if they venture to speak of a “Nazi-Christian” mentality, do they not mention the staggering distributions of American dollars and surpluses that have already proved the United States unequaled in world benevolence? Between July 1, 1945, and December 31, 1965, alone, total U. S. foreign aid (apart from military supplies and services) amounted to $66 billion.
Moreover, why should the American response to world hunger be left so onesidedly to the government? Private agencies like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations have contributed significantly to improving world agriculture, not least in India. The appeal to voluntarism and the private sector should be kept in the forefront.
Toward world famine, as toward many other issues, political ecumenists continue to show the wrong prejudices. One need not long study NCC-WCC political-economic pronouncements to sense two tendencies; theological raïveté, and an oversimplification in which a problem that has profound technical implications is seen as only a mora issue. The “solution” political ecumenists propose would, in effect, rely on government relief to perpetuate the problem while impoverishing the United States, on which the NCC-WCC leadership makes its main economic demands.
A Washington economist and prominent Episcopal layman, Dr. Elgin Groseclose, has protested that “at times the State Department, fearful lest foreign aid be pared by the Congress, has rounded up claques of clergymen, priests, and rabbis to testify that we must vote these sums of money as a religious duty and as a national charity.” A conspicuous instance of such tactics was the formation in 1961 of the Citizens Committee for International Development—‘at the request of the White House to mobilize public support for the foreign aid program.” Statements by this group were then supported by 257 Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergymen and laymen, the implication being, as Dr. Groseclose puts it, that “religious leaders of all faiths in America are overwhelmingly behind the President’s new foreign aid program.…” On the list, predictably, were such familiar names as Blake, Cushing, Dahlberg, Niebuhr, Oxnam, Pike, and Sherrill.
In January, 1967, the United Church of Christ set up a Washington office, with six other Protestant denominations (American Baptist, Christian, Church of the Brethren, Episcopal, Methodist, and United Presbyterian) on an advisory board, to lobby for an $18–20 billion increase in American foreign aid in the next five years as an “alternative to war.” Neither the dubious success of the foreign-aid program nor the evidence of its adverse effects seems to deter these churchmen from promoting the program under the guise of Christian charity.
Many influential religious leaders increasingly concur with the Marxist notions that society is best changed from without and that individuals are transformed by environmental conditioning. These unbiblical views enjoy a wide hearing. Fortunately even some secular observers are asking whether the ultimate interest of the free world is really advanced by the conditioning of the loyalties of whole societies through economic means, and whether politically mature nations can be developed through ongoing material subsidy. Events at home and abroad show that dollar subsidies often create expectations of increasing aid, and that when these hopes can no longer be fulfilled, the spirit of dependence changes to one of animosity.
In the final analysis, political ecumenism seems to ignore the great resources offered by redemptive religion to relieve the spiritual impoverishment of men and to change human nature. Political ecumenism is, in fact, itself guilty of a kind of human genocide—one that evangelical Christianity finds intolerable. For evangelical Christianity, the problem of human nature and character continues to be the irreducible core of every social concern, including famine. It is double tragedy to perpetuate the problem of physical hunger while ignoring the global famine of the Word of God. For this famine no stone of political ecumenism will suffice.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingA Tale of Two New York City PastorsOne formed me. The other entertained me.
- From the MagazineEve’s Legacy Is Both Sin and RedemptionThe first woman tried to get free of God. But when she aligned herself with God’s purposes, she became the ‘Mother of All the Living.’
- Editor's PickTheological Education Can’t Catch Up to Global Church GrowthUnless seminaries leave the ivory tower for local leaders in the public square. Like these ones have.