alcohol

Have most Protestants in the United States gone soft on drinking alcohol?

Have most Protestants in the United States gone soft on drinking alcohol?

THE QUESTION:

What do today’s U.S. Protestants believe about the use of alcoholic beverages? Have attitudes softened?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Yes, without question. And there’s been a bit of soul-searching about this in America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. Its press service reports ongoing concern especially about teen alcohol abuse has increased somewhat since recent Senate testimony about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Catholic prep school experience.

Further, just afterward USA Today reported a study showing from 2007 to 2017 U.S. deaths attributed to alcohol increased 35 percent, and 67 percent among women (while teen deaths declined 16 percent). These fatalities well outnumber those from opioid overdoses that have roused such public concern.

Not so long ago, total abstinence predominated among many or most Protestants, who effectively mandated this for clergy and expected the same from lay members. (Other faith groups such as Muslims and Mormons elevate abstinence into a divine commandment.)

In a 2007 survey of Southern Baptists, only 3 percent of pastors and 29 percent of lay members said they drink alcoholic beverages. This survey showed that across other U.S. Protestant denominations 25 percent of pastors and 42 percent of lay members said they drink.

A 2016 Barna Group poll showed 60 percent of adults who are active churchgoers (both Protestants and Catholics) said they drink, compared with 67 percent for the over-all U.S. population. Among evangelicals there was a nearly even split with 46 percent who drink. (Barna defines “evangelicals” by conservative beliefs, not the loose self-identification political polls use.) Only 2 percent of evangelicals admitted they sometimes over-indulge.

Otherwise, Barna found, regular churchgoers consume smaller amounts on average than others. Asked why they don’t drink, 10 percent of abstainers acknowledged it’s because they are addicts in recovery. Notably, 41 percent of the population said alcohol causes trouble for their families.

The Bible does not teach total abstinence, and says wine can be a blessing (Psalm 104:15) and helpful medicine (Proverbs 31:6 or 1 Timothy 5:23).

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Assumptions instead of voices and facts: Anti-Catholic bias in The Guardian?

Assumptions instead of voices and facts: Anti-Catholic bias in The Guardian?

Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrils carry the day’s wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realisation, Guillotine. And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.

-- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859) Book 3, Chapter 15.

The tom-toms announcing the death of Chief Wahoo, the logo of the Cleveland Indians, may not immediately bring to mind the arts carrying aristocrats to their deaths in Revolutionary France, but for Dickens the creek of the tumbrils’ wheels hurrying to the guillotine sounded, as do the drums from Cleveland, the death of an old way of life.

The mob must be satisfied with their choice of victim. Be it a king or a smiling, cartoon Indian warrior. Vox populi, vox dei. The voice of the people is the voice of God.

In principle I have no objection to the smashing of idols in a good ideological rant. But it is somewhat trying to see these rants presented as journalism.

The newspaper of Britain’s chattering classes, The Guardian, never ceases taking a hammer to the Catholic Church. As an Anglican I don’t mind a good kick in the Vatican’s shins from time to time, but when fairness, balance and context are replaced by conventional wisdom and bigotry, even a good Protestant like me can feel aggrieved.

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What does Christianity teach about protecting yourself (think motorcycling)?

What does Christianity teach about protecting yourself (think motorcycling)?

BARBARA’S QUESTION:

My son is in his 20s. He’s a devoted Christian. He also loves motorcycles. I hate them, and have seen too many young people killed on them. He says ‘Mom, if it’s my time, it’s my time.’ How can I caution him and make him take me seriously? I think the Lord gives you the good sense to make good decisions.

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

“Religion Q and A” usually avoids personal issues on which mere journalists have little to offer. But Barbara raises an important topic to examine: What in fact does Christianity say about protecting yourself from physical harm?

Mom certainly has a point, given National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. On a per-mile basis, U.S. motorcyclists are killed in traffic 27 times more often than those using other vehicles, and they’re 6 times more likely to suffer injuries short of death. The latest report last August said 2015 motorcycle fatalities jumped 8.3 percent from the prior year, to 4,976, with 1,365 of these involving alcohol impairment. The proportion of motorcyclists among all traffic deaths was 11 percent in 2006 and increased to 14 percent in 2015.

As politicians and the media popularize expanded marijuana usage, on top of the huge and lethal problem of drunk driving, all categories of highway homicide may well increase. A 2013 report showed 10 million people age 12 and up admitted driving under the influence of illegal drugs. We lack good numbers on how often pot or other drugs cause deaths with motorcycles or otherwise because police lack a reliable roadside test, and those who die often combine drugs with alcohol so it’s impossible to say which substance was to blame.

One thing about motorcycling, though. At least the hands are engaged so riders aren’t distracted with text messaging, an increasing and deadly plague.

All of the above, combined with the son’s cavalier and immature remark about death and danger, bring us to the broader theme of what his Christian religion teaches.

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This Bible Belt paper just discovered some interesting folks -- they're called 'evangelicals'

This Bible Belt paper just discovered some interesting folks -- they're called 'evangelicals'

Just more than a week before the election, The Oklahoman — Oklahoma City's daily newspaper — has identified a group of Oklahoma voters who could play an outsize role in my home state's balloting.

These voters — "made up of mostly white members of Protestant churches that profess a born again-centric theology" — have a special name.

They're called "evangelicals."

OK. OK. I'm being a little facetious about my local newspaper — to which I subscribe and for which I worked nine years as a reporter and editor. But Sunday's front-page story has a certain "go to the zoo and see the evangelicals" feel to it.

Let's start with the lede:

The path to victory in an Oklahoma election goes through the pews of the state’s evangelical churches. And while the number of self-proclaimed evangelicals has declined in recent years, it remains one of the state’s largest voting blocs and is instrumental in deciding everything from the result of state questions to Oklahoma’s seven presidential electoral votes.
As a part of America’s Bible Belt — if not the buckle — Oklahoma’s likely voting population on Nov. 8 is estimated to be 55 percent evangelical, according to SoonerPoll’s analysis of likely voters.

According to a pollster quoted by The Oklahoman, the Bible Belt state has a total of 1.1 million voters expected to participate in the Nov. 8 general election. That includes "over a half million people identifying as evangelical."

Apparently — and amazingly — none of those evangelical voters were available for comment for the newspaper's story. That is, unless you count the Republican congressman quoted toward the end. He, presumably, will vote for himself.

Then again, if you were writing a story about giraffes at the zoo, would you actually quote any of the giraffes at the zoo? I mean, really. 

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Social drinking, Wednesday night youth sports and Southern churches' waning influence

Social drinking, Wednesday night youth sports and Southern churches' waning influence

Not everybody drives a truck. Not everybody drinks sweet tea. Not everybody owns a gun, wears a ball cap, boots and jeans. Not everybody goes to church or watches every NASCAR race. "Southern Comfort Zone," song by Brad Paisley

• • •

I'm not sure what to make of a just-published Associated Press story making the case that the once-dominant influence of churches in the South is waning.

On the one hand: Duh.

I mean, haven't we all read enough about the "Rise of the Nones" to know that a societal shift has occurred?

On the other hand: I'm not certain that the small town of Sylacauga, Ala., allowing Ruby Tuesday's or O'Charley's to sell beer on Sunday afternoon is a sign of the End Times — or the best example of churches losing their dominance.

The top of the AP story:

SYLACAUGA, Ala. (AP) -- Prayers said and the closing hymn sung, tea-drinking churchgoers fill Marble City Grill for Sunday lunch. But hard on their heels comes the afternoon crowd: craft beer-drinking, NFL-watching football fans.
Such a scene would have been impossible just months ago because Sunday alcohol sales were long illegal in Sylacauga, hometown of both the actor who played TV's Gomer Pyle and the white marble used to construct the U.S. Supreme Court building. While the central Alabama city of 12,700 has only one hospital, four public schools and 21 red lights, the chamber of commerce directory lists 78 churches.
Yet few were surprised when residents voted overwhelmingly in September to legalize Sunday alcohol sales. Churches lacked either the heart or influence to stop it.
That shift is part of a broad pattern across the South: Churches are losing their grip on a region where they could long set community standards with a pulpit-pounding sermon or, more subtly, a sideward glance toward someone walking into a liquor store.

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Life after the DUI bishop: Deseret News listens to Episcopal voices talk alcohol

Life after the DUI bishop: Deseret News listens to Episcopal voices talk alcohol

I imagine that faithful GetReligion readers noticed that in the past I have paid very close attention to the story of the DUI Episcopal Bishop in Maryland -- now simply Heather Elizabeth Cook, after she was defrocked.

It was, after all, a local story since I was living in Maryland at the time. This was also a story with the potential to have a strong impact on regional and national leaders in the Episcopal Church, even if Baltimore Sun editors didn't seem all that interested in that side of things.

With the trial ahead, it is also clear that this story is not over. Several Maryland Episcopalians and former Episcopalians kept raising an interesting question: If it is true that Cook was drunk AND texting, might she have been doing church business on a work cellphone when she struck and killed that cyclist? If so, what are the implications for the shrinking Maryland diocese?

Then there is the issue of the Episcopal Church and its love/hate relationship with alcohol. This is the stuff of cheap humor (insert joke about four Episcopalians here), but it is also a serious topic linked to substance abuse and people in power looking the other way. 

So during the recent Episcopal General Convention in Salt Lake City, the Cook case made it impossible for church leaders not to talk about alcohol. To their credit, it appears that they took this issue fairly seriously. With gay-marriage rites in the news, however, the coverage of the topic was light.

Thus, I want to point readers toward a major feature story on this topic that ran in The Deseret News. It is somewhat awkward to do this because it was written by former GetReligionista Mark Kellner, who now works on that newspaper's national religion desk. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Besides, how can you pass up a story with an anecdotal, on-the-record lede as devastating as this one?

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Pod people: Did journalists (and clergy) take Robin Williams seriously?

Pod people: Did journalists (and clergy) take Robin Williams seriously?

I don't know about you, but I am still thinking about that soft, disturbing voice inside the haunted head of superstar Robin Williams. That's why Todd Wilken were still talking about that topic in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

As I discussed in my first post on the actor's suicide, Williams was very open -- during his entire adult life -- about the troubling nature of the voices he heard that made his improvisational genius possible, along with the voices that urged him to end it all -- either slowly, through substance abuse, or quickly, through suicide. Remember the quotes that were included in so many of the mainstream obituaries?

"You're standing at a precipice and you look down, there's a voice and it's a little quiet voice that goes, 'Jump!' " he told ABC News.

Or maybe this one:

 "The same voice that goes, 'Just one.' … And the idea of just one for someone who has no tolerance for it, that's not the possibility."

Now, one does not need to leap into religious talk-radio land, where some people oh-so-compassionately suggested that Williams was possessed by demons, to recognize that Williams was being quite candid about the presence of evil and temptation in his life. It appeared that he took that very, very seriously.

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These Christians have found a way around Obamacare, but is it a good deal?

These Christians have found a way around Obamacare, but is it a good deal?

Nice lede. Interesting subject matter. Variety of sources.

I enjoyed a recent San Jose Mercury News feature on health care sharing ministries. (Hat tip to the Pew Research Center's daily religion headlines email for highlighting the story this week.)

Let's start at the top:

Go to church, be faithful to your spouse and shun tobacco, booze and drugs.

Promising to adhere to that "biblical lifestyle," more than 300,000 Americans are taking advantage of a little-known provision in the nation's health care law that allows them to avoid the new penalties for not having health insurance.

Long before Christian groups and Obamacare opponents cheered last month's Supreme Court ruling that allows many private businesses to stop offering certain types of birth control they find immoral, the 4-year-old law gave its blessing to Americans to opt out of the insurance mandate if they object on religious grounds.

So many instead are enrolling in "health care sharing ministries" that spread medical care costs among people of similar beliefs. Participants make monthly contributions to help cover each other's major health care costs, but forgo coverage for most routine care.

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