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Baptists May Be Changing Their Position on Alcohol

A Glass of whiskey and empty Bottle of whiskey on a wooden background

Jokes about Baptist and alcohol abound: Why do you take two Baptists with you when you go fishing? Because if you only take one, he'll drink all of your beer. Or, what is the difference between Presbyterians and Baptists? Presbyterians recognize each other in the liquor store. The point, of course, is that we pretty much all acknowledge that Baptists don't drink. At least, they're not supposed to. This makes a recent article from Baptist Press all the more interesting. In his article, David Roach asserts that "the Baptist consensus on alcohol may be shifting."

After detailing how alcohol almost destroyed a woman named Jenny Morrison, Roach points out:

For well over a century, Southern Baptists have opposed drinking alcoholic beverages, in part over concern for the destruction alcohol has brought to people like Morrison. Amid national discussion this fall of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's youthful drinking and a mounting number of news reports on alcohol's negative effects, the reasons for Baptist opposition to drinking have come to the fore.

He's correct, of course, as my opening jokes underline. Southern Baptists and independent Baptists do not, as a general rule, drink alcohol. I was steeped in that teaching growing up (although it never took root). Many Baptists bend interpretative rules past the point of breaking and insist that Jesus turned water into non-alcoholic grape juice. Those in that camp teach what's called a two-wine theory: when the Bible speaks approvingly of wine, it's non-alcoholic; when the Bible speaks disapprovingly of wine, it's alcoholic. So, Roach's article and the research to which he points are of interest to those who are Baptist, grew up Baptist, or know Baptists. If he's correct, we may have to write new jokes about Baptists and alcohol.

In 2006, 80 percent of messengers (delegates) at the Southern Baptist Convention voted to adopt a resolution stating their "total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages." A year later, Lifeway Research reported that "just 3 percent of Southern Baptist pastors and 29 percent of Southern Baptist laity said they drank alcohol. That compared with 25 percent of non-Southern Baptist, Protestant pastors and 42 percent of non-Southern Baptist, Protestant laity."

In his article, Roach goes on to give interesting details about the history of alcohol and the Southern Baptist Convention. He also spoke to Evan Lenow, an ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary. Lenow told Roach that:

Despite alcohol's dangers, [he] suspects the Baptist consensus on alcohol may be shifting. As evidence, he cites the lifting of alcohol bans at two Christian schools friendly to the SBC: Moody Bible Institute in 2013 and Dallas Theological Seminary in 2014. He also recalls a conversation with the former pastor of a notable Southern Baptist church who spoke openly of his own alcohol use.