Is the church softening its stand on alcohol? No!

"The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists reaffirms its historic stand for temperance principles, policies, and programs as set forth in the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, and past General Conference actions, upholding abstinence as a commitment of each member.

J. David Newman is the former editor of Ministry

Some may have thought that the Seventh-day Adventist Church hesitated to affirm its historic stand against the use of alcohol at the 1991 Annual Council in Perth, Australia. The General Conference Health and Temperance Department presented a document reaffirming our historic stand on temperance which world leaders tabled.

Here is the statement that was referred back for further study: "The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists reaffirms its historic stand for temperance principles, policies, and programs as set forth in the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, and past General Conference actions, upholding abstinence as a commitment of each member.

"The nonacceptance of monies or other gifts from the alcohol, illicit drug, and tobacco producer or seller has been based on this premise, and such funds are recognized as 'stained with the blood of souls' (Temperance, p. 232).

" 'No one needs to be informed that the drink traffic is one that entails upon its victims, misery, shame, degradation, and death, with the eternal ruin of their souls. Those who reap a revenue, either directly or indirectly, from this traffic, are putting into the till the money which has come through the loss of souls of men' (ibid., p. 231).

"Therefore, we reaffirm these principles, appealing for a revival of temperance among our people, that no individual, congregation, institution, or self-supporting organization among us ignore or counteract these standards.

"Further, we therefore assert that accepting funding from alcohol, illicit drug, and tobacco industries and cartels is unethical and immoral, considering their physical, mental, social, and spiritual consequences to the individual as well as their devastation to society."

Floor discussion

When this statement came to the floor at Perth, discussion centered around accepting money from alcohol interests. No one hesitated to condemn accepting money from illicit drug and tobacco sources but there was some reluctance to apply the same standard to liquor merchants.

One person tried to amend the action by inserting the word "unsolicited" in front of "funding" but that did not pass. Then one of the division presidents stood and said that if this action was passed it would cause problems for at least one of the hospitals in his territory. This hospital was receiving unsolicited money from liquor interests. He then moved that this recommendation be referred back to the Health and Temperance Department for further study which was voted.

By this action it seemed to some that money outvoted principle, right gave way to expediency, and pragmatism replaced idealism. If we as church leaders cannot take stands on clear moral issues how do we expect our institutions to follow suit? Temperance principles have always been part of the bedrock of this church. Society and the world at large are now con firming what we have consistently said about the hazards of alcohol.

This document was resubmitted with a few editorial changes to the Spring meeting of the General Conference for recommendation to the 1992 Annual Council. Church leaders enthusiastically recommended the following as part of the statement:

"1. The Seventh-day Adventist Church reaffirms its historic stand for the principles of temperance, upholds its policies and programs supporting Article 21 of the Fundamental Beliefs, and calls upon each member to affirm and reveal a life of commitment to abstinence from alcohol and tobacco and irresponsible use of drugs."

"2. The 1992 Annual Council calls for a revival of temperance principles within the church, and asks members and church organizations to refuse donations and favors from the alcohol or tobacco industries."

The need to reaffirm our historic stand against alcohol is vital when reports keep surfacing of a trend among some church members to imbibe these intoxicating liquids. Some institutions are alleged to have served alcohol at certain functions.

Alcohol advertising saturates the media in many countries of the world. And although Adventists may consider them selves impervious to such influences, alcohol marketing and advertising are so pervasive and invasive that it is nearly impossible in today's society to escape exposure to their messages. And chief among these messages is the simple but insidious concept that drinking is a normal and harmless activity.

Not only are some church members slipping but some institutions have accepted money from alcohol interests. Ellen White gives this graphic account of the origin of alcohol. "Satan gathered the fallen angels together to devise some way of doing the most possible evil to the human family. One proposition after another was made, till finally Satan him self thought of a plan. He would take the fruit of the vine, also wheat, and other things given by God as food, and would convert them to poisons, which would ruin man's physical, mental, and moral powers, and so overcome the senses that Satan should have full control" (The Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald, April 16, 1901).

When funds are desperately needed for worthy projects it is easy to rationalize, even from a good conscience, acceptance from dubious sources. Other entities in our society have begun to see the impropriety of accepting monies from the alcohol industry. "Would you want the Mafia underwriting anti-crime programs?" asked one columnist (The Wall Street Journal, May 21, 1991). And many of the institutions that have refused alcohol funding have a lot more to lose economically than does the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Since January 1989 Reader's Digest, for example, has refused liquor advertising in response to letters asking it to explain the inconsistency of printing at the same time alcohol advertisement and articles on the dangers of alcohol use.

Some leaders in the music industry have begun to question long-standing relationships with the alcohol industry as sponsors of concerts and other events. Citing a report commissioned by the alcohol industry itself, one columnist points out that nearly two-thirds of American adults view the alcohol industry as "uncaring, not responsible... not a trustworthy source of information, and not honest and ethical" (The Wall Street Journal, August 21, 1991, p. B1).

"In the sponsorship business," the Billboard columnist writes, "any company would likely reject a deal with a per former whose poor public reputation might damage its own. It may be time for artists and managers to look across the table at alcohol sponsors past all the money piled there and do the same" (Billboard, September 7, 1991).

Principle versus expediency Jesus was always motivated by principle, never expediency. Ellen White says of His acceptance of the invitation to the dinner at Levi-Matthew's house that "the entertainment was given in honor of Jesus, and He did not hesitate to accept the courtesy. He well knew that this would give offense to the Pharisaic party, and would also compromise Him in the eyes of the people. But no question of policy could influence His movements. With Him external distinctions weighed nothing. That which appealed to His heart was a soul thirsting for the water of life" (The Desire of Ages, p. 274).

Principle should also never be sacrificed for the sake of unity. "Jesus prayed that His followers might be one; but we are not to sacrifice the truth in order to secure this union, for we are to be sanctified through the truth. Here is the foundation of all true peace. Human wisdom would change all this, pronouncing this basis too narrow. Men would try to effect unity through concession to popular opinion, through compromise with the world, a sacrifice of vital godliness. But truth is God's basis for the unity of His people" (Our High Calling, p. 329).

"It is a grave mistake on the part of those who are children of God to seek to bridge the gulf that separates the children of light from the children of darkness by yielding principle, by compromising the truth" (My Life Today, p. 77).

Principle versus compromise

The Bible tells the story (1 Kings 13:1-32) of a nameless prophet whom God commanded to give a message to King Jeroboam and then to return home without stopping to eat or drink. On his way home, however, he stopped to rest and another prophet caught up with him and invited him to his home for dinner. When the nameless prophet replied that God had commanded that he not stop to eat or drink the false prophet lied and said God had told him otherwise.

So this nameless prophet compromised and disobeyed God. As a result a lion killed him that same day. Are we as a church in danger of emulating that nameless prophet? God has given us a clear temperance message to give to the world. But we have grown weary; like the prophet we have stopped to rest. We hunger for acceptance from the community around us. But we too will suffer the same fate. We too will die as a distinctive church bearing God's special message for these last days unless we ignore the false prophets whispering to us.

As leaders we should be eager to obey the counsel of the servant of the Lord: "We are not to cringe and beg pardon of the world for telling them the truth: we should scorn concealment. Unfurl your colors to meet the cause of men and angels. Let it be understood that Seventh-day Adventists can make no compromise. In your opinions and faith there must not be the least appearance of wavering: the world has a right to know what to expect of us" (Evangelism, p. 179).

There is always a danger that between now and the 1992 Annual Council that some of us will again get cold feet as we fear the loss of needed funds, but now is not the time for leaders to equivocate, vacillate, or appear indecisive. Back in 1903 the House of Commons debated protectionism. The prime minister, Arthur Balfour, said he had no "settled convictions" on the subject. This prompted an opposition MP to write this piece of doggerel:

"I'm not for Free Trade, and I'm not for Protection;

I approve of them both, and to both have objection.

In going through life I continually find,

It's a terrible business to make up one's mind.

So in spite of all comments, reproach and predictions,

I firmly adhere to unsettled convictions."

As church leaders we must have "settled convictions" on temperance. I believe that we will vote this at the 1992 Annual Council and that every member and institutional head will also heartily endorse this action. Is the church softening its stand on alcohol? No!

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J. David Newman is the former editor of Ministry

June 1992

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