Monday, November 18, 2013

Drinking Christians


11 Experimental Theology by Richard Beck  
I like dark beer, red wine and whiskey.

When I drink, that's what I like. I like Guinness (or local stouts), Merlot, and sipping whiskey (no ice or water).

That said, I don't drink a lot. Mainly, to be honest, because it's so expensive. Sort of like playing golf. I can't justify it economically. Especially since I'm just as happy having a glass of sweet tea.

Anyhow, this is a post about drinking Christians.

A lot of post-evangelicals drink. And many of them drink a lot. Freed from the "don't drink" prohibitions of their conservative upbringings, these are Christians who are now enjoying the freedom they find in Christ to drink alcohol.

And yet, perhaps you've noticed this, a lot of this drinking has a neurotic edge to it. This manifests in two ways.

First, when the drinking is emotionally reactionary--a sign of emancipation from a painful past--the drinking can be aggressive, angry and excessive. Drinking a lot, even getting drunk, functions sort of like a big "f--- you" toward the past. And that's not healthy and can be symptomatic of drinking that is being used to numb some unresolved pain that needs to be dealt with. When you are drinking to mask, numb, or cope--when you are drinking to cover up the pain of an evangelical past--you are self-medicating. And that doesn't end well.

A second way post-evangelicals drink neurotically is when the drinking becomes a sign of superiority, even a large part of your identity. Drinking, in this instance, is a sign of theological sophistication. When you drink you signal that you are more enlightened than those conservative Christians with bad atonement theology. These feelings of theological superiority can become such an important source of self-esteem that we begin to intellectually invest in our drinking, cultivating a peer status of connoisseur--from mixed drinks to wine to beer. For these Christians, it's not just that they drink, it's that they drink well.

Consequently, in a lot of progressive, post-evangelical circles there is a lot of drinking going on. And everyone, it seems, wants to have church in a bar. That conflation--church in a bar--is sort of a sign that you've reached escape velocity from your evangelical past. Drinking is a way to put those conservative ghosts to rest.

And to reiterate, I have no problem with drinking. One of the things I love more than just about anything is good conversation over beers.

And yet, I'm still environmentally and socially sensitive about drinking. And I wish more progressive, post-evangelical Christians were as well.

Many years ago Jana and I were a part of an Easter passion play, a cooperative effort put on by a few local churches. After the last show we all went to the cast party being hosted by some cast members who were progressive, post-evangelical Christians. So there was alcohol there. This was only a problem because a young couple who were members of the cast were also new Christians. They had each come out of a past full of heavy, heavy drinking. In becoming Christians they had turned their backs on that lifestyle and had given up drinking. So they were really looking forward to their first "party" with their new Christian friends. On arrival they were disillusioned and confused to find alcohol there. Which bothered Jana and I. So to make them feel comfortable and to honor their choices and new lifestyle Jana and I didn't drink that night.

The point of my telling this story is that I don't ever want my Christian liberty to be a cause of stumbling for others. And new Christians aside, I think it's important for progressive Christians to have hard conversations about alcoholism. That's a downer, to be sure, but in our enjoyment of drinking I fear we have occasionally failed to give our attention to the darkness in our churches associated with alcohol abuse and dependence.

In my estimation this blindness is the biggest problem with the sorts of reactionary drinking I described above. When you come out of a stifling, guilt-ridden evangelical past drinking is so emotionally and theologically liberating. It's a deep and visceral breaking free. And in the flood of those positive feelings--that first drink is sort of an Emancipation Proclamation from a troubled, Puritanical past--the risks and dangers associated with drinking, for yourself and for others, can become eclipsed.

We can all see the tension: you've finally been set free from the guilt, fear, and shame associated with drinking (among other things) and you're supposed start worrying about it all over again? Isn't that going back to a past that you swore you would never return to?

That's the dark side of post-evangelical drinking. Given that drinking is a sign of liberation from a troubled past, many progressive Christians find it emotionally difficult to address alcoholism, or to put the drinks away because of a "weaker brother" in our midst.

And yet, I do think progressive, post-evangelical Christianity needs to start having a hard conversation about drinking. Church in a bar isn't always a good idea when there are people struggling with alcoholism. I spend some time mentoring men struggling with addictions. I can't imagine inviting them to church in a bar or for theological talk over microbrews. Sometimes what seems cool and hip can actually be hurtful. And we get confused about this because evangelical ghosts are still haunting us.

There are times, perhaps, to let those spirits rest.

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