Recently, a church I respect and hold dear in my heart, advertised an upcoming evangelistic event, for men only: Whisky tasting. I’ve been asked what I think of this by a couple of people, and would I write about it. I’ve thought about it, and come to the conclusion that I think this is part of what this blog is for – sharing what I’ve learnt about this killer disease that is so prevalent in our society – and our churches. Despite my fear of confrontation I need to speak out so that people can hear what the issues are.
Before I start I’d like to confirm that I believe that church needs to be relevant. I believe that we need to meet people where they are at, as Jesus did, eating with taxpayers and sinners, talking to those who weren’t Jewish and really… just weren’t all that savoury, or popular, in the culture of their day. We are called to the poor and the sick. I also know that Jesus drank wine. I’ve read those bits too.
I know that mine and other churches use pubs for alternative meeting places, for after-church socialising, and for evangelism.
I think this is part of us being the church in the world. I say part, I think it should only ever be a part, and at times it might be right to meet in such places more, or less. It’s a slippery slope, and I might talk about that another time. This area is all quite grey, but there are three issues with this direct use of alcohol in church social or evangelistic events that I believe are really quite a dark grey. They cross over a bit – but these are my concerns:
Firstly, it dilutes the message given at the event
I’m sure the short gospel explanation will be accurate and heartfelt at this event, as it may be at others like it. But before you get to the gospel message, you get all sorts of other messages, including: it’s not just ok but encouraged to get a taste for alcohol (or already have a taste for alcohol) (as long as it’s something sophisticated like whisky); we really want you to think we’re normal and relevant, we’re just like you really.
How is an event where the main draw to it is alcohol (and I appreciate at a tasting the amounts drunk are negligible, many people don’t swallow it, etc but the focus of the invitation is come and drink) and to gaining a taste for that alcohol with the view to drinking it again, more of it (like a candle-making event, say, encourages people to go away and enlarge these creative tendencies at home) so far gone from the Christian message that it’s not being the church in the world, it’s simply being the world. Are we really so desperate and so unable to relate to the people around us both within and without the church family, and talk to them about spiritual things, and their spiritual wellbeing, that we need to hold an event centred around the world’s most addictive, dangerous substance, that if it were invented today would be a Class A substance? Imagine it – a church evangelistic introducing the most sophisticated way to use crack. If your objections to the above suggestion are greater than simply that crack is illegal, then if your thinking joins up, you should have the same problems as I do with this event, and others like it.
Secondly, the church ceases to look different
Our society has a serious problem with alcohol. This is for another post (it’s in progress) but to summarise – 13% of people have a problem with alcohol at some point in their lives; it’s the second highest determinant of ill health in the developed world (behind smoking) with little respect for boundaries such as class, race, age and gender although, rates are highest amongst the poorest, and men.
Addictive disease is eroding our communities – the big 3 being smoking, alcohol use and obesity, increasingly revealed as a food/sugar addiction. And the church… is silent. When people look at the church do they see a radically different way to live, where they can bring these and other problems, and find the solution to their brokenness? When doctors and social workers admit their powerlessness in the face of so much need, and an inability to save people from themselves, do those people see the church as somewhere they can go, with it’s Whisky tasting and post-church pub socials, and cheese and wine evenings? Or does it see a closed club with people that have absolutely nothing to offer them? This could be a whole post and there are many more qualified to write it than me.
Thirdly, it compounds denial
You know, in those people who are somewhere on the path to unhealthy drinking in your church. Oh, you know the ones. In a big church, there’s bound to be lots of them. You haven’t got any? Haven’t you? How do you know?
You can’t hold out whisky tasting on the one hand, and hold out the hope that is in Jesus Christ to those people who spend endless energy denying their drinking. If you think there aren’t any in your church, you’re probably wrong. And if there aren’t any in your church, it’s likely because of the first two points, they never made it through the door.
Denial is powerful, it’s real, it poisons relationships, and it forms a barrier between ourselves and God. It lasts for years, usually decades, and sometimes for life in an individuals drinking journey. And there are people in our churches, crying out for help inside and putting a brave face on it. Because, we don’t have alcoholics here – we have whisky tastings. And even the preacher, at another local church, had had a heavy night at a party last night before the sermon, but everyone does that, don’t they? We need to let Jesus into every corner – and so rather than being a way in to faith, these evangelistic drinking sessions, they form a barrier.
I’m not offended by alcohol-as-evangelism, personally – my own sobriety is pretty strong these days. But having walked through the denial, I can see it now, and it pervades to all levels. I certainly don’t write to criticise, but to raise awareness and break denial – and I hope I have done so. I am grateful to two friends in particular who have helped me structure my thinking – any errors or inconsistencies are mine alone. Please do feel free to comment, I would really appreciate others views on this whole area.