Credit: Reuters/Stephane Mahe
For Lent this year, one Protestant denomination is calling members to give up something a little more difficult for some: alcohol.
The United Methodist Church's Board of Church and Society has asked its members to participate in an "Alcohol Free Lent," which means that Methodists who choose to participate would give up the habit of drinking alcohol for the season.
"A lack of awareness to the implications and consequences of normalizing alcohol use is an ongoing concern and threat to public health," said Jim Winkler, general secretary of the board, in a statement.
"Consider how much money you spend on alcohol over the 40-day period. Contribute money to a local alcohol-abuse prevention project, coalition or to one of several recommended national groups who work at systemic solutions to alcohol abuse."
The beginning of Lent, a liturgical season observed by many Roman Catholics and some Protestant denominations, starts Feb. 22 with Ash Wednesday. While traditions among those who observe Lent can vary, a common practice – especially among Roman Catholics –is to give up something during the 40-day period, such as sodas or television. Lent is observed from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, but the 40-day period does not count Sundays.
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy and a practicing Methodist, told The Christian Post that he supported the UMC's idea.
"It is a positive trend, both strengthening Lenten observance along with the universal and historic church plus also recalling Methodist temperance beliefs, which were an important and noble part of old Methodism," said Tooley.
Tooley, who recently had a book published on the history of Methodism's influence on 20th century politics, also mentioned how this was somewhat of a reversal from the previous trend of Methodist churches lacking Lenten observances.
"Lent observance for Methodists was not very common until relatively recent decades. Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers at church have become common," said Tooley.
"Methodists of 100 years ago might be surprised, but John Wesley as an Anglican would recognize the observance."
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Methodists were active in the Temperance Movement as well as overwhelmingly in favor of Prohibition. When asked whether he thought this was part of the history of Methodism's opposition to alcohol, Tooley felt that the connection was faint.
"It is a shadow of a memory almost forgotten," said Tooley.
General Secretary Winkler appears to agree with the assessment, as noted in an online column he wrote regarding the matter.
"Don't worry, this is not an attempt by United Methodists to renew the fight for Prohibition. This is a means to glorify God and prepare ourselves for the coming celebration of the Risen Christ," he wrote.