Some Christians Give Up Alcohol for Lent

It might be a peculiar call to make in a church, but The United Methodist Church is asking its members to fast from alcohol during Lent.

To be clear, the 7.8 million-member denomination affirms abstinence from alcohol. But "Alcohol Free Lent" is meant to start discussions on "the elephant in the room – alcohol use among our members."

Lent began with Ash Wednesday this week. It marks the 40-day period before Easter. Traditionally, many Catholics and Protestants choose to fast from certain foods and nowadays from technology or social networking.

The United Methodists' challenge, meanwhile, may cause a stir.

"To ask United Methodists to give up alcohol for Lent is provocative because we like to think United Methodists don't drink," Cynthia Abrams of the UMC's General Board of Church and Society, told The Washington Post.

"We decided ... to confront the elephant in the room by doing something provocative and engaging in conversation about it throughout Lent."

Alcohol Free Lent was inspired by Dr. James Howell who issued a similar challenge to his congregation in Charlotte, N.C., for a previous Lent. The call to give up alcohol for 40 days came after Howell heard news about teenagers who were taken to the hospital for alcohol poisoning.

"How do we unwittingly harm our children? It could just be by the way we consume alcohol, and not just that we drink, or how much we drink, but all the fond meanings we attach to drinking," he said, according to the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

Myers Park United Methodist Church agreed to a churchwide fast where money that would have been used to purchase cocktails, wine or other alcoholic beverages would go to the "spirit fund." That money would be directed to help people who are struggling with alcohol problems.

At the end of the period, more than a dozen people signed up for AA and alcohol treatment facilities. And the church gave a check for $25,901 to Hope Haven, an addiction recovery center in downtown Charlotte.

Alcohol Free Lent caught on with other churches in the local community the following year.

This year, the challenge has gone out to the entire United Methodist denomination.

Those who join are asked to pledge to be alcohol free for lent.

A 2007 study by LifeWay Research found that a majority of Protestant pastors and laity do not consider drinking alcohol a sin. Most do, however, say a Christian drinking alcohol could cause other believers to stumble or be confused. Around a quarter of both laity and clergy say people should never drink alcohol.

The United Methodist Church's Social Principles states: "We affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol as a faithful witness to God's liberating and redeeming love for persons.

"Since the use of illegal drugs, as well as illegal and problematic use of alcohol, is a major factor in crime, disease, death, and family dysfunction, we support educational programs as well as other prevention strategies encouraging abstinence from illegal drug use and, with regard to those who choose to consume alcoholic beverages, judicious use with deliberate and intentional restraint, with Scripture as a guide."

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