My congregation lived in denial until the moment our notions of how things "ought to be" were startlingly interrupted when a prominent member offered to lead an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group in our church.
Explaining that she, herself, needed regular attendance at AA meetings, my church member convinced me to present the concept to our board of elders. Their first response, "Why? Adventists don't drink!"
Boldly venturing "where Adventists typically don't go," we announced to our members the formation of various 12-step ministries including Sunday morning AA meetings in our facility.
Within six weeks we had welcomed more than 200 alcoholics attending "the meetings" and discovered that ours was one of only two locations in a metropolis of four million where people could attend AA on Sunday morning when most other church facilities were in use. Within six months, some of my own members began to trust enough to seek help in their own church homes. Some may ask, as did my elders, if temperance is a fundamental belief of Seventh-day Adventists, why would we need to sponsor AA. And here's the nub of the challenge. What we believe and how we behave are not always consonant.
It's time for the Adventist Church to come out of denominational denial. We must seriously address the reality that we have members across a broad range from tee-totalers to occasional social drinkers, to falling-down drunk bingers and chronic, unrehabilitated alcoholics. They are in my family, they are in my church, and they are in yours as well.
Despite our long temperance heritage of fighting against alcohol, tobacco, and addictive substances, we discover the current battle has come to our schools, our churches, and some of our pastoral families.
And what a heritage we have. Early Adventists stayed at the forefront of the "temperance" movement by preaching against demon rum and lobbying for prohibition. Mrs. S. M. I. Henry, co-founder of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) became an Adventist and was strongly supported in her activism. Today's WCTU world president Margaret Jackson, is also a Seventh-day Adventist in New Zealand.
A century ago, many Adventists strongly supported suffrage in order to register thousands of women who were most likely to support prohibition. Ellen White even advocated that Adventists should vote in favor of Sunday blue laws if it meant closing the saloons and taverns for at least one day.
Have we abandoned our heritage? In 1989 Duane McBride published statistics on the drinking habits of North American Adventists. At that time, five percent of those over 65 years of age had consumed wine at least monthly in the previous year compared with 25 percent of the 18-29 age group. Three years later, the Value genesis study con firmed these findings and the trend appears to be ongoing.
Debate if you will—and some spend far too much time and energy arguing over the alcoholic content of communion wine or the cardiac/gastric value of moderate consumption—the reality forces us to concede that alcohol use among our membership exists and is increasing. My colleague, Dr. Peter Landless, Associate Director of Health Ministries, states: "On balance, the hypothesis that alcohol consumption improves health is scientifically unfounded. This is especially so when all aspects of alcohol and health are reviewed."
And, rather than berating our college and academy campuses for not "doing enough to expel students who drink," as one correspondent recently demanded, we should applaud those schools which take this challenge seriously and provide spiritual programs, group and individual counseling, and 12-step recovery programming. Remember, the child or grandchild who is spared might be your own.
As you struggle with appropriate responses to these challenges which infect your own congregation, consider the following initiatives:
- Pray that together we will impact the rule of evil and resist the addictive control that alcohol exerts.
- Preach biblical temperance and teach the evil of alcohol abuse.
- Provide 12-step programming for your community and your members.
- Pledge your personal abstinence and encourage your members, especially the young, to follow your example.
- Print and distribute the temperance pledge (sample on page 30). Lead your members in pledge signing. Our world president, Pastor Jan Paulsen, led the General Conference Committee in signing the temperance pledge last April.
- Prioritize relationships which con nect your members with Jesus first, and then with one another as encouragement and example in discipleship.
- Promise that by all means you will do something in order to save some!