Christian Action League
February 4, 2021
The following editorial was anonymously written and first appeared in The Connecticut Citizen. It would later appear in the 1953 September edition of Tomorrow Magazine, the journal of the Allied Church League of North Carolina, which was the predecessor organization of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. I want to recommend it to my fellow clergy for their edification. The context may be dated, but the principles stated in the piece are unquestionably constant and applicable to the present day.
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the CAL
I wish to speak about the minister and alcohol beverages in our culture. There can be no question that in the United States alcoholism is a grave social menace. Not only are there alcoholics in institutions and others who ought to be, but there are occasional drinkers to excess who at such moments transgress public safety and public morals.
In a high percentage of automobile accidents alcohol is responsible. When unmarried high school girls become mothers, alcohol is frequently the cause of the breakdown of control. Divorce cases in many instances have the same origin. A friend of mine, a college chaplain, remarked that he was spending most of his spare time trying to keep his old friends from breaking up their marriages. In every case alcohol bore the blame. A pastor in this area confided that several mothers in his parish are alcoholics, and I know of two women past middle life who had been pillars of the community who became addicted. Alcoholism is a serious problem.
This is not to say that everyone who takes a drink will become an alcoholic, and on the continent many Germans take their beer and many French their wine with restraint. My beloved Martin Luther felt aggrieved if he had to go to bed without his nightly beer, and John Calvin had his cellar of wine. The prevailing attitude of Christians until toward the end of the eighteenth century was one of temperance rather than of total abstinence, but greater evils call for more drastic cures, and the evil became worse, when the industrial revolution made plentiful distilled liquors.
The drunkenness in England led John Wesley to require complete abstinence of all members of the Methodist societies. In the United States during the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Rush, a Quaker, called attention to the curse of drink. In early New England Lyman Beecher and Leonard Bacon, disgusted by the conviviality at their ordination, sounded a halt. Early in the present century came Prohibition, and in areas where it was supported by public opinion it was successful. The little town in the state of Washington where I was brought up prior to Prohibition was filled in harvest time every Saturday night with drunks. Prohibition ended all that, but in the great cities Prohibition failed and now we are in the cocktail era.
What then? I would suggest certain principles. They are all rooted in Paul’s injunction of consideration for others. There are congregations which will be severely offended if the minister partakes. He should not lightly override the scruples of his parishioners.
I recall that when my uncle 50 years ago came to the United States from England and became the minister of a church in the far west and when he indulged in cigarette smoking, his people were shocked. Although he had not in the least changed his mind on the subject, he thereupon desisted out of regard for the feelings of his people.
But, it may be answered that there are congregations in some localities today where the minister will have a better entrée if he participates in social drinking. He really needs to do this, it is said, in order to be a man among men. To this the answer is that if he drinks merely for the sake of being esteemed and to be one of the crowd, he is lacking either in courage or imagination or both. Not only ministers, but also laymen can be accepted, liked and esteemed if they refrain entirely.
I have a brother-in-law who is an executive in the box industry. He was asked to become a national secretary. He replied that he would accept only on condition that at the annual banquet no liquors be served and wives should be invited. His proposal at first met with derision, but on reflection the men accepted his terms. This was several years ago. They would now not return to the older practice. This brother-in-law goes on business all over the United States and, indeed, over a large portion of the globe, and never has he found his relations impaired by his total abstinence.
Finally there is still more serious consideration. The minister, the teacher, and the counselor of youth are dealing with the immature, who are just old enough to drive cars, and just old enough to become parents. They are emotionally unstable and inexperienced. That they should have all their faculties about them is of extreme importance. Under such circumstances, even though the minister might be able to take a glass himself without loss of control, he has a serious responsibility to those who may not have themselves well in hand.
Again there are older individuals who have discovered their own propensity to alcoholism and would gladly refrain, but are unable to resist the social pressures. One is under obligation to provide them with moral support and to demonstrate in their presence the possibility of conjoining total abstinence with social acceptability. I would therefore strongly urge that in our society and in his position the minister should refrain entirely. I bring this not as a word of the Lord, but as the mature judgment of a brother in Christ who would commend this stand to your serious consideration.