By James E. Copple
Alcohol has become a “hot topic” in circles of faith – the absolutes about alcohol consumption that kept us sheltered in the moralistic teachings of our ancestors are all but gone or at least ridiculed, and young people ask, “why not?” Therefore, the issues and consequences of alcohol use are surfacing in strange places, like Christian college campuses; at young-adult retreats; and with an increase in Celebrate Recovery chapters, in local congregations. Campus administrators are finally admitting we may have a problem.
Alcohol advertising has a rapt, receptive audience in the millennial generation with its multimedia promises of excitement, sophistication, fun and glamour. The biblical messages about alcohol consumption are confusing at best, and the few passages that assert abstinence are often misquoted and taken out of context. Therefore, I no longer anchor arguments for or against abstinence by proof-texting scripture to support my cultural biases. Rather, I challenge the faith community to evaluate our relationship to alcohol in the context of living out the life and love of Jesus. That evaluation is personal and demands some accountability, but it is an accountability tied to our views of mercy and justice.
Force yourself to think about the following issues:
A question of justice: The alcohol industry and the “human person”
Corporations are specific types of entities with peculiar views of the “human person.” We, the people, are a little more than a profit-driven marketing demographic, our humanity reduced to mere “consumer” and bound to corporate efforts to produce a successful brand. Offsetting the costs of doing business is an inherent and insidious part of strategy which, in the case of alcohol, means enabling dependency; abuse of human relationships; and stratification in society. The church has historically sought to care for human relationships, the poor and the local community, so our mission as disciples must include confronting these efforts to reduce our humanity.
Advertising and the student
Corporate marketing strategies shamelessly target young people and college students for the purpose of creating replacement drinkers. Advertising is a powerful tool that affects how individuals, groups and even communities make decisions, and it has substantial influence on societal perceptions and behavior around alcohol. To make informed, healthy decisions, we must recognize the latest alcohol advertising strategies and increase alcohol-related knowledge and awareness.
Alcohol use and abuse
Each of us has had some experience with the devastating effects of alcohol- and substance-abuse and the significant, destructive challenges for individuals, families and communities, including our faith communities. We need to be aware of alcohol’s effects and learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of dependence and abuse.
Alcoholism is a disease
Dependence isn’t just a behavioral issue and must be viewed as a disease. The research is clear and shows the brain is altered and can be permanently damaged if alcohol is consumed at consistent or persistent levels. Neuroscientists have identified permanent effects of teen drinking on brain development and have confirmed that alcohol consumption retards brain growth. Further, alcohol addiction is a major contributor to heart and liver disease and a leading cause of cancer. Every alcoholic begins his or her relationship with alcohol believing he or she can handle it.
The issues around alcohol consumption are complex. Alcohol isn’t inherently evil, but one must ask if the associated social injustices and social evils can be ignored. Yes, you can be a follower of Jesus and drink. However, does a follower contribute to injustices created by an industry determined to create a steady stream of consumption and consumers? Does the follower of Jesus tolerate a disproportionate number of retail alcohol outlets in communities of poverty? Does the follower turn a blind-eye to realities that show 80 percent of domestic-abuse and violence is a result of alcohol consumption? Does the follower of Jesus ignore more than $185 billion in workplace productivity and absenteeism lost to alcohol use and abuse?
The questions about a relationship to alcohol are endless. If you choose to drink, and you choose to claim a relationship to Jesus Christ, then address alcohol’s relationship to the preponderance of cultural and systemic injustices found in disease, poverty and abuse.
Understanding our relationship to alcohol is challenging. For many of us, it’s cultivated by the past and experience with parents, friends and in our communities. We see the public face of alcohol in the homeless veteran sleeping on our streets. We see it in the emergency room, where a victim of an alcohol-related traffic accident fights for life. And we see it in the face of a spouse or a child recently beaten by a drunken husband or father.
These are the relationships that don’t make the glossy pages of magazine advertising; the snappy, 30-second television spot or viral YouTube campaign; or the allure portrayed in movies. The glamour suddenly disappears. Alcohol use – why not? If you are honest with yourself and the gospel you claim to live, then find an answer that is anchored in living a life of mercy and justice.>
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