The other day we went out with some friends for ice cream. I ordered a sundae with hot fudge and caramel, my husband and daughter each ordered a blizzard. And two of our friends got a large order of hot fries with their ice cream. I wasn’t really hungry, but the entire time we were there the sight and smell of those fries was distracting me. It was all I could do to keep from ordering some for myself even though they were the last thing I needed.
I tell this story to preface some thoughts that have been stirring in my head about the place of alcohol in Christian community. Like many people I know, I was raised in the ‘all drinking is SIN’ branch of the faith and, also like many people I know, have rejected that stance for its un-biblical and un-reasonable position. Among those who condemn all drinking, I will staunchly argue against their position. But I’m feeling uneasy about a growing trend that I’ve observed in the emerging church at large, but also among my own friends – emerging or not. When shots of Jager were offered at a gathering among Christian friends recently, it really gave me pause to think. There’s just a lot of drinking going on these days, and I’m not always sure how to feel about it – especially because I am related to quite a few addicts and people with genetic predispositions for addiction, including my own daughter. I also hope that the church we are preparing to plant will be equipped for ministry among people dealing with addiction. A fellow student at my seminary has told of seeing young adults he knows developing alcoholism after becoming Christians as a result of sitting around talking about God with the beers flowing among Christian friends.
And so I am conflicted about the role and place of alcohol within the church. The power of distraction that those French fries had over me the other evening is nothing by comparison to someone struggling with sobriety in a social setting where people are drinking. Can a community that accepts a lot of social drinking be a safe place for people in recovery? I’m sure most would say that they would refrain from drinking around someone they knew to be a recovering alcoholic. But what about those among us who are addicts in denial? And what about those among us who are addicts in the making? Until we are already trapped, we all tend to carry around a sense of personal immunity to addiction. But for many people, addictions wait to manifest themselves until mid-life and it’s not easy to predict who may be susceptible.
So there is this great tension between personal freedom and social responsibility in community. I don’t know how to resolve this tension. I will not make this black-and-white when it is a gradient issue. But I think we need to be talking about this and wrestling with it, rather than running with our freedom to drink down a road with an unknown destination. Your thoughts?