Baptist attitudes about alcohol may be shifting, observers say

Baptist attitudes about alcohol may be shifting, observers say

For well over a century, Southern Baptists have supported abstinence from drinking alcoholic beverages, but some cultural observers say attitudes about alcohol use among Baptists may be shifting.

Evan Lenow, an ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, is one of those who has noted the change. He cites the lifting of alcohol bans at two Christian schools friendly to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC): Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in 2013 and Dallas Theological Seminary in 2014. He also recalls a conversation with the former pastor of a notable Southern Baptist church who spoke openly of his own alcohol use.

Following the 2016 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis, a convention goer wrote a blog post titled “Why Baptists Drink but Might Not Want You to Know It.” In the post she recounted her attendance at a lunchtime panel discussion during the convention, at which a well-known Southern Baptist pastor referenced his alcohol use. The blogger said she also “has grown to enjoy a glass of wine now and then.”

Lenow’s conclusion: “I believe we are seeing a change from total abstinence to a trend of acceptance of alcohol among Southern Baptists. The emphasis has moved from warnings about alcohol to highlighting Christian freedom.”
Jenny Morrison, a wife and mother who fell prey to alcohol abuse, said “a whole lot” of her Baptist friends “drink socially.”

“They won’t do it at a sanctioned church function,” she said, but about half feel liberty to drink at a “get-together” with church friends and even post it on social media.

“It’s such a sticky subject,” Morrison said. “… What’s the line?”

Two recent studies seem to support the historic Baptist position. The first, published in August in the medical journal The Lancet, contradicts previous claims that alcohol has health benefits. The second, published in September by the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, claimed 1 of every 20 deaths in the world results from “harmful use of alcohol.”

But Lenow said Baptists’ view of alcohol is based not so much on health but on Scripture, especially passages in Proverbs and Ephesians.

“Ephesians 5:18 is the clearest and least controversial of the passages,” Lenow said. “In that verse, Paul clearly prohibits drunkenness. … He also includes drunkenness in vice lists such as 1 Corinthians 6:9–11.”

The question for some is how much alcohol is too much, Lenow said.

“Some say that any alcohol is too much” and reference passages like Proverbs 20:1 and Proverbs 23:29–35. “Some say that you must stop before drunkenness. The problem is quantifying drunkenness,” Lenow said.

“Personally I fully abstain from the use of alcohol,” he said. “I have seen alcohol destroy people … I have no desire to inflict that pain on myself or those I love.” (BP)