Talk about a clash between great world religions! Stephanie Simon had a fine Column One feature the other day in the Los Angeles Times about a battle that is brewing -- avoiding this pun is impossible -- down in Alabama between the Southern Baptists and the beer drinkers who view home-based microbrewing as a kind of sacrament. You gotta love the dateline, too -- Harvest, Ala. -- and the lede that takes us into the catacombs of some true beer believers.
Two dozen guys are crowded into a basement, talking loudly over Triscuits, when Scott Oberman breaks the law.
In defiance of Alabama Criminal Code 28-4-20, he pours his buddy a beer. "John Tipton's Chocolate Porter," he announces. It's a dark brown beer, almost black, with a taste that starts out astringent, like cheap red wine, then mellows into a silky chocolate flavor, with fleeting notes of coffee and cinnamon.
Tipton, a big-bellied mechanical engineer, brewed it at home, for fun. That's illegal in Alabama. He estimates the beer is about 8% alcohol by volume. That's illegal, too. But it won't be for long, if the guys in the basement get their way.
Seventy-five years after Prohibition, beer aficionados in Alabama are fighting for the right to brew and chug as they please. That's raised the ire of Southern Baptists, who frown on alcohol in any form. As they jockey for advantage in the Legislature, one side quotes Scripture. The other cites BeerAdvocate.com. One talks morality. The other, malt.
Now this was the easy part of the story.
The hard part is handling the point of view of the Baptists. As always, the best thing to do is to quote them and not to take things too far.
You see, there are nuances on that side of the church aisle. There are, of course, Southern Baptists who believe that consuming alcohol is sin -- period. There are others who believe that consuming alcohol isn't wise. There are others who simply oppose getting drunk. These debates go on all the time, as could be seen a few months ago down in the 146th meeting of the Florida Baptist State Convention
But, on one level, this is not what the Alabama fight is really about. The key is that the Baptists are opposing the bill to permit sales of beer with alcohol content of up to 13.9% by volume.
Once again, here is Simon's reporting:
The Bible contains many references to drinking; Jesus himself famously turned water into wine. But Joe Bob Mizzell, director of Christian ethics for the Alabama Baptist State Convention, prefers to quote from the Apostle Paul: "Be not drunk with wine but filled with the spirit."
Abusing alcohol, Mizzell concludes, "inhibits communion with God."
The Rev. Dan Ireland, a former preacher who leads an advocacy group billed as "Alabama's Moral Compass," has spent considerable time in the Capitol lobbying against the bill on practical as well as theological grounds. He says legislators seem responsive to his warnings that high-alcohol beer will endanger teenagers, making it easier for them to get drunk.
"We're losing too many kids now on the road because of drinking and driving. Why aggravate that?" says state Rep. DuWayne Bridges.
There are arguments on the other side, of course, including the high price people have to pay to drink the unique high-alcohol brews -- which tends to drive away young consumers.
But the point I am trying to make is that the Simon story actually contained the main point the Baptists are making in the debate, which is that they oppose drunkenness. Her story did not turn their argument into a joke. That would have been easy to do.
So, bravo for an informative story. And cheers.