(Photo: Reuters/Lily Bowers)
Starbucks Coffee plans to expand its wine and beer selection to 40 locations throughout the United States by the end of this year, and thousands more in the years to come.
"The concept is a natural progression for Starbucks as we seek to create a new occasion for customers to gather, relax and connect with each other in the evenings," spokeswoman Lisa Passe said, according to USA Today.
The international coffee chain began experimenting with alcohol sales at a lone location in Seattle, Wash., in 2010.
Starbucks already has 26 locations that serve "nightcaps," in addition to morning Joe, in Atlanta, Ga., Chicago, Ill., Los Angeles, Calif., Portland, Maine, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
The Christian Post spoke to one pastor in Atlanta, a city that has four Starbucks locales that serve wine and beer, who said that he has no problem with the company's decision to serve alcohol and to expand its availabilty in more stores.
"I don't see Starbucks expanding their sales options as being a temptation for folks," the Rev. Joshua Noblitt, minister of social justice at St. Mark's United Methodist Church, told CP on Monday.
"What Starbucks decides to do with their business model, I don't see as positive or negative," he said, adding that St. Mark's and the United Methodist Church do not have "an official position" on the issue.
Noblitt further explained that while the Methodist denomination prohibits alcohol consumption on church grounds, members are not barred from enjoying an occasional glass of wine or mug of beer, in moderation.
"I love Starbucks for their coffee," he continued, "when I think about Starbucks, I think about good coffee. I certainly don't think of Starbucks for alcohol."
While St. Mark's and many other Methosit churches and Christian denominations prohibit alcohol on their premises for multiple reasons, Noblitt noted that it's not because wine and beer are inherently sinful.
"I think in every congregation there are folks who struggle with addiction of all kinds," he said, adding that the church should provide a wholesome environment for those in recovery and a place where people can "fellowship and be part of a community that doesn't include alcohol."
According to Noblitt, the church shouldn't be a catalyst for recovering alcoholics who might feels the pressures of temptation.
"We try not to have a barrier for folks struggling with addiction to take part in church programs," he said, which is why St. Mark's does not allow any alcohol at church, even in communion.
The practice of taking grape juice at communion "goes back to prohibition days," Noblitt explained, hearkening back to the time when wine, beer and spirits of all kinds were illegal under the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In the late 1860s, Thomas Bramwell Welch persuaded local churches to adopt his "unfermented wine" for communion. "I think there was a deal between Mr. Welch and the Methodist church," Noblitt said.
Due partly to this connection and also to accommodate recovering alcoholics, the clergy at St. Mark's "don't allow alcohol to be consumed, sold, or passed out on church property."
Noblitt explained that he associates grape juice, not wine, with holiness, due to his childhood growing up in the Methodist church. "Wine doesn't invoke that sense of holiness for me, but grape juice does," he said. "That's what feels authentic to me."
When asked about Jesus' first recorded miracle – turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana – Noblitt emphasized that "we're talking about a different cultural time."
Noblitt suggested that "the point of that story wasn't the wine, it was Jesus' ability to perform a miracle." Jesus was less affirming the goodness of alcohol than he was proving his divine nature.
The minister added that his church does not condemn those who drink wine, however. "There are plenty of folks in our congregation who go out to have a drink with their friends," and "we want them to enjoy themselves in a reasonable way." The Methodist Church condemns drunkenness, but it does not condemn wine.
The Christian Post reached out to Capitol Hill Baptist Chruch in Washington, D.C. for comment about Starbucks' decision to expand its wine and beer sales, but did not receive comment at the time of this publication.