There's an old joke that Jews don't recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Protestants don't recognize the pope as the leader of the Christian faith and Baptists don't recognize each other at the liquor store. I thought of that tidbit of religious humor as I read a Religion News Service feature on some United Methodists giving up alcohol for Lent.
The top of the story:
(RNS) The Rev. James Howell knew he had a problem on his hands when several teenagers arrived at a church dance drunk and had to be taken from the church by ambulance for treatment for alcohol poisoning.
Starting in 2009, he urged his flock at Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C., to give up drinking for Lent and donate the money they would have spent on booze to a "spirit fund."
It's a timely, interesting story filled with excellent history and background on Methodists and their positions and beliefs on drinking and temperance.
However, the 800-word piece falls short when it comes to explaining how other faith groups treat the alcohol issue:
From teetotaling Baptists to Episcopalians who uncork champagne in the parish hall, what to do with the bottle can be a tricky question for religious groups to answer -- especially during holy periods or holidays.
Catholics are not supposed to drink on Fridays in Lent, while Muslims are called to abstain from alcohol during the holy month of Ramadan. But to celebrate Purim, Jews are encouraged to actually get silly drunk, and what Christmas Eve would be complete without spiked eggnog?
Unlike prohibition-minded Mormons or Catholics who belly up to the bar at a Friday fish fry, Methodists -- the nation's second-largest Protestant denomination -- have a more ambiguous stance. Now, the denomination's General Board of Church and Society is following Howell's lead and is pushing a churchwide Alcohol Free Lent campaign.
Overgeneralizations seem to plague that section of the story.
I wish the report had included more details from named sources (actual Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, etc.) on what the various faith groups teach -- and practice -- concerning drinking.
I am a lifelong Church of Christ member and don't drink. Our fellowship is pretty united on the belief that the Bible forbids drunkenness. We are less unanimous on whether social drinking that does not lead to drunkenness is a sin. In fact, in my travels to different parts of the nation, I have found myself at social gatherings with Church of Christ ministers and elders who drink wine with meals. In other cases, Church of Christ members take the Baptist approach. (See joke above.)
Given the nuances in my own faith group, I can't help but suspect that there's more diversity in other religious circles on this issue than the RNS story indicates.
Among my questions:
-- Are most Baptists really teetotalers, or do they face the same issue as the Methodists in that the church officially frowns on drinking but many congregants do it anyway? (See joke above.)
-- Unless I'm wrong (wouldn't be the first time), aren't Muslims called to abstain from alcohol all the time, not just during Ramadan?
-- Is "silly drunk" the actual term a rabbi would use in relation to the Purim celebration? (If so, then I think that would make a terrific direct quote!)
-- And why are Catholics bellying up to the bar at a Friday fish fry if they can't drink on Fridays during Lent? (Must be a non-Lent fish fry ...)