Tag Archives: Scot McKnight

On Alcohol: Jarena Lee, Moderation and @ScotMcKnight

No, This is not a Wish to Return to 1920’s Prohibition

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”– Barry Goldwater, at the 1964 National Republican Convention

Around this time last year, biblioblogger Rob Kashow finished a series on Christians and alcohol. Today, Scot McKnight responded to a letter with questions about alcohol and Christianity. Here is the letter McKnight responded to.

He says, in part, “These, to me, are biblical facts. Anyone who says abstinence is required for Christians is simply not in accord with the Bible; but we also are encouraged by the Bible to think that abstinence is a genuine if not also important option.”

He continues, “Mature Christians ought to trust others to act wisely in these matters; mature Christians don’t need to censure the wise decisions of others. Having said that, alcohol ought to be consumed in moderation and wisely. That is, in a way that does not lead to drunkenness and in a way that is not intentionally scandalous or reckless with others.”

McKnight’s position is the mainstream one, it is the balanced, sound view, while the prohibitionist believers of days past are considered to be “the Zealots.”

As I continue in search of a 4th or 5th etc., way Christianity, I cannot see myself accepting the virtue of moderation at face value. What is the mature Christian position? I would argue the mature Christian position is to know the historical context of Prohibition politics, that in considering as part of a particular history linked to specific human bodies, our analysis outlook may be changed.

First of all biblical speaking, no where is moderation linked to the consumption of alcohol in “social situations”; and in the second, McKnight is correct, “the alcohol was not as strong as ours is today.” The talking point of moderation that comes from Ephesians is at best a half-hearted attempt to proof-text, leaving out a significant portion of the passage: Ephesians 5:18– “Do not get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery, instead be filled with the Spirit.” Only the first half of that passage is cited by advocates of “moderation.” It is this being filled with the Spirit, from the Greek verb plero, is not only to be full, but also to be rendered perfect and complete. The Holy Spirit perfects our sanctification, conforming us to the holiness of Christ.

It is this reading of the passage, being made perfect in the Holy Spirit, that I wish to examine the theology behind one pro-Prohibition voice in the late 19th century–Jarena Lee, a Holiness preacher from the African American tradition. in fact, her theological biography (highlighted in J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account) is shaped narrative by drunkenness and alcohol. Her parents kept liquor in the house, allowed their children to drink, “for all to drink freely of wine, brandy and gin.” In fact, at the age of five, Jarena drank from a bottle, and she was “stupidly drunk”–her terminology. Her plea for abstaining from drinking alcohol at all, comes at the end of this chapter 1 of her biography, begging us to listen to the “wailing of the poverty stricken women and children.” What we can tell already from Jarena is that, the texts that matter are the bodies in which are inscribed with the markings of oppression and abuse, rather than some “Solo Scriptura.”

When we reach Chapter 4, an astonishing argument is made: the existential crisises that Lee found herself in as both a Negro American and a woman–class, race, and gender oppression, lead her to read the New Testament more and more. It was in the course of her studying it that her teacher, John Van Paten, murdered a person who mocked his intelligence. Over the course of due time, after he accepted Christ as Savior, he was hung from a scaffold. “Oh what a barbarous thing is the taking of human life,” writes preacher Lee. Christians, in our resistance to evil, in the journey of perfection, Jarena Lee, at the height and time of alcohol consumption and the mob violence that lead to the lynching of thousands of blacks each year, prayed, “Christian men, vote as you pray, that the legalized traffic in ardent spirits may be abolished, and God grant that capital punishment may be banished from the land.”

The question is: why this politically charged prayer that would obviously be banned in the Baptist Christian land of Texas? What has the consumption of alcohol to do with the death penalty? Might I suggest that it is in the biotexts of the lives of the Crucified populations of society that our pastor for this moment, Jarena Lee, tends to as the sheep of her flock? The term “biblical” has become somewhat of a polemic, just as much as the term “zealot.” I always have this suspicion that the term “biblical” has been hijacked by some believers as a power move to place themselves over other Christians, when in reality, its just a particular kind of receiving the Scriptures.

Going back to libertarian thinker Barry Goldwater’s quote, the second half of it, moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue. Jarena Lee fights Goldwater’s paradigm in that she was an extremist for justice in her ethics of the Resurrection. She herself had been to the other side, having had even at one point contemplated suicide. Only in her conversion experiences, and her call by God to preach the Good News of the Risen Savior, did she know her place in the world, and her place in the world would take her many places like the apostles of old. (I know you are shaking in your head now, considering how a black woman fits the mold of a white man’s philosophy, especially a white man who voted against important Civil Rights legislation)

Politically speaking, if the federal government’s duty is to protect the lives of individuals, then Prohibition was right for ITS time–to protect women from domestic violence. By doing this (while avoiding the extreme economic justice of the Robber Barons at that time–sigh), the Temperance movement as the most successful feminist political achievement in U.S. American history effectively made alcohol less desirable. The problem is not alcohol in and of itself; grapes are not intrinsically evil. It is when alcoholic beverages become a controlling desire that it does its damage. For Christians, it may take us away from the path of sanctification.

Once alcohol was not seen as the looming threat that it was, and once women received the right to vote, Prohibition ended. Unfortunately, in 1972, the death penalty was challenged and put to a hault but then reinstated in 1976, and today American Christians act like its been around for the longest of time, as if it was THE norm. Abstinence in accordance to a written mandate is not a “biblical fact” but what is required is the perfect love for God and for neighbors and a rejection of anarchy, moral or otherwise.

What is the solution for today?

With my experience during my undergraduate years, I found that the desire for fellowship had at its controlling factor, alcohol in most of the social situations. At the same time, for the most popular conservative Christian groups calling for moderation, a few of the members took the liberty to even attend church services hung over– right because if you use just half of that Ephesians passage, for example, you wind up with just that result.

Therefore, I think Christians should work to make alcohol less desirable, by promoting first and foremost the supremacy of abstaining from alcoholic beverages. Second, there needs to be a healthy discussion on the limits of “moderation” language as THE mainstream norm, and I do believe that this excludes churches from meeting in bars–since it works to make alcohol that much more desirable, among other things. Thirdly, Christians should work with politicians at the local, state and federal level to LOWER the drinking age. If we lower the drinking age to 18, this will be more likely to take the punch out of bing drinking when those in college or wherever when they turn 21 years of age.

And yes, I have consumed wine during communion and at weddings (it’s okay, its in the Bible, remember, so my position is “biblical”). But I refuse to drink beer or anything else. Just not going to happen. Oh, and I have had the time of my life at both wet and dry weddings.

Just Sayin’!


Is The Future of Evangelicalism For Whites Only?


I have been thinking over the recent events in evangelicalism the past 2 weeks, from the Farewell Tweet to the Gospel Coalition’s early reviews of Rob Bell’s Love Wins to the emerging church’s defense of Rob Bell, and I have been thinking about the future of evangelicalism as well.

Rachel Held Evans and Scot McKnight both shared their thoughts, and I can see where they are coming from.  But at the same time, both posts were written from privileged standpoints, with a failure to recognize what exactly that privilege might be.

I submitted to you that the emerging church is playing the role of white liberal protestantism in the 1920s, while evangelicalism, the fundamentalists of that time. Well, if these two groups are replaying that history, the persons who get left out, the ones traditionally on the margins, racial minorities get the short end of the stick. This is a battle for the leadership of American Christianity. In this Armageddon which we have seen over and over again, it is white liberal (predominantly male) debating conservative white male leaders. The concerns over which are truly destroying the church, the failure to engage in racial reconciliation as well as overcoming the DESTROYER OF FAMILIES, the Prison-Industrial complex. The Emerging Church/Evangelical divide is what the apostle Paul called a FOOLISH controversy to brother Timothy.

I do sometimes wonder how convenient it is for the Emerging church and conservative Evangelicalism to marginalize the Azusa Street revival movements of last century. It was in that movement, where there was evangelical theology being preached, races being reconciled as God was using people who were poor, who were going through racial segregation and war (the Mexican Civil War) to bring God’s glory, yes God’s glorious presence into the here & now. The suspicion by the Neo-reformed movement and emerging circles have less to do with an opposition to Pentecostal practices and theology (prooftexting, who doesn’t, that’s really the question?) but it is a matter of economic status and bias (I submit). The notion that God could provide a renewal of the church by the power of the Holy Spirit through the bodies of the economically & racially oppressed seems impossible for the bourgeois sensibilities of the emergent and neo-reformed movements.

Cessationism, therefore, is a political doctrine, and a very very convenient one at that. Imagine if the Spirit did move, from the outer edges of our police-statist society, on death row. It could happen. I don’t think however, renewal will be possible from racially segregated portion of Christianity that continues to dismiss the suffering of the disinherited.

I invite you to read Drew Hart’s post on the Evangelical Split.

Drew said it best,

“In the end, neither Piper and his peeps, nor Bell and the boys represent me, and billions of other Christians globally.  We have absolutely no stake in this growing feud (that is just heating up in my opinion). No stake, because for many it still leaves us in the same place (except with fewer tokens) of not being heard or taken seriously, and not being treated with dignity as though we lacked the Imago Dei in us.  It is now more than ever that we need to take our attention off of superstars like Rob Bell and John Piper… and begin learning from those who have been crying out from the margins with a very different gospel.  A gospel that is good news to the poor and oppressed.”