What happens when someone in broad Christian circles today begins talking boldly and unapologetically against alcohol use? Unfortunately, such is often met with reservation or disdain.
Some will argue, perhaps with contempt or derision: "Why not focus on something significantly more important? There's just too much disagreement among Christians concerning what the Bible teaches on alcohol." Yet over and again, one cannot help but see the substantial role alcohol plays in the societal ills Christians often rail against.
For instance, Christians are always decrying the sin of sexual promiscuity – the "hook-up" culture, where teens and college-age youth are participating in casual sex in record numbers. The reaction by believers is most often to extol the virtues of abstinence and condemn the "safer sex" message, which advocates the use of condoms and is believed, at least in many respects, to be a facilitator of such dangerous behaviors.
Certainly, no wise and discerning Christian would disagree with or oppose this response. But alcohol seems to play as much a role, if not a greater one, in the facilitation of "hooking-up" as the promotion of condoms ever did.
In her now famous book, Unhooked, Laura Sessions Stepp extensively researches what "hooking-up" is all about. The book's premise is largely about how a culture of sex without commitment results in much of the present generation's being "unhooked" from an ability to develop intimate relationships. Stepp says alcohol is a major culprit:
"Of the hundreds of young women I interviewed about hook-up experiences, less than a half dozen said they were sober at the time. Some drank for the exhilarating high, others because everyone around them was drinking, others to relax and still others ... to quiet the cautionary voices in their heads .... Plus if you wake up beside someone who is 'coyote ugly,' you can slough it off by saying, 'I was sooooo wasted. I don't remember anything.' A hangover is a small price to pay for exoneration. Alcohol is the social lubricant that fuels the unhooked culture, beginning in high school and particularly in college, where intercourse becomes more common."
Stepp says some college students have called beer "liquid courage." Clarifying her remarks, she adds that "[b]ooze doesn't cause college students to jump into bed with each other, it simply makes it easier for them to do something they think they want to do, knowing it is not necessarily good for them."
The hook-up culture, energized by alcohol, also drives the newest form of sexual assault known as "gray rape," which is becoming increasingly more common on college campuses. Generally, the law holds that any type of vaginal penetration without consent or clearly verbalized affirmation is rape. But what happens when young women are too drunk to communicate what they do or do not want?
An article in the George Washington Hatchet, a student newspaper of George Washington University, tells the story of Nicole Jordon, a student at Howard University, who says she was raped at a party and forced to perform oral sex on numerous men. Jordon says "she was so drunk that she fell in and out of consciousness and was unable to defend herself or say 'no.'" "Colby Bruno," the article continues, "attorney for the Victims Rights Law Center, an organization that provides legal services to victims of sexual assault, said such cases are difficult to prosecute."
Moreover, a recent article in USA Today reported that "56 percent of births among women ages 20-24 were to unwed mothers." Interestingly, the article also noted that the 20s are the time of heaviest drinking. "[T]he University of Michigan's 2005 Monitoring the Future study shows that the highest percentages of those having five or more drinks in a row at least once in a two-week period were those in their 20s. Bingeing was reported by 40.4 percent of ages 21 and 22, 39.2 percent of ages 23 and 24, and 37.7 percent of ages 25 and 26."
Clearly, the Christian position today declares that the best means to avoiding the negative consequences of illicit sexual activity is abstinence. The "safer sex" message is rejected, arguing condoms don't cause sexual promiscuity and consequently its many negative results, but their promotion definitely facilitates and sustains it. This is a reasonable argument.
But one could also say that alcohol doesn't cause the hook-up culture and all its negative effects: emotional disorders, STDs, sexual assaults, unwanted pregnancies and a host of other serious problems unrelated to sex. However, alcohol does unquestionably facilitate and even exacerbate these social problems. So why are many Christians arguing for drinking responsibly instead of abstaining from alcohol? This is neither a consistent or reasonable Christian approach.
The truth is, there are essentially no redeeming qualities about sex outside of marriage or alcohol use, supposed or genuine, that are not countered by the risks of greater negatives. Therefore, messages contending one can be responsible about either should be rejected in favor of abstinence.
Of course, many will counter the Bible doesn't condemn the use of alcohol – only the abuse of it. But a careful study of the Scriptures reveals the Bible treats alcohol somewhat like it does slavery: it doesn't universally condemn the practice, but it clearly undermines and ultimately dooms the custom by the lofty moral standards set forth throughout its many pages.
The wise King Solomon didn't mince words when it came to beverage alcohol. He wrote, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is lead astray by it is not wise." (Proverbs 20:1) Indeed, as the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, James Merritt, once declared: "Just as discretion is the better part of valor, abstinence is the better part of wisdom. Alcohol and wisdom simply don't mix."
Rev. Mark H. Creech is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.