My congregation lived in denial until the moment our notions of how things “ought to be” were startlingly interrupted when a prominent member offered to lead an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group in our church.
Explaining that she herself needed regular attendance at AA meetings, this church member convinced me to present the concept to our board of elders. Their first response was, “Why? Adventists don’t drink!”
Boldly venturing “where Adventists typically don’t go,” we announced to our members the formation of various 12-step ministries, including Sunday-morning AA meetings in our facility.
Within six weeks we had welcomed over 200 alcoholics attending “the meetings” and discovered that ours was one of only two locations in a metropolis of four million where people could attend AA on Sunday morning when most other church facilities were in use. Within six months, some of my own members began to trust enough to seek help in their own church home.
Some may ask, as did my elders, if temperance is a fundamental belief of Seventh-day Adventists, why would we need to sponsor AA? And here’s the heart of the challenge: What we believe and how we behave are not always consonant.
It’s time for the Adventist Church to come out of denominational denial. We must seriously address the reality that we have members ranging from teetotalers to occasional social drinkers to falling-down-drunk bingers and chronic, unrehabilitated alcoholics. They are in my family, they are in my church, and they are in yours as well.
Despite our long temperance heritage of fighting against alcohol, tobacco, and addictive substances, we discover that the battle has come to our schools, our churches, and some of our pastoral families.
And what a heritage we have. Early Adventists stayed at the forefront of the “temperance” movement by preaching against “demon rum” and lobbying for prohibition. Mrs. S.M.I. Henry, cofounder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), became an Adventist and was strongly supported by the church in her activism. Today’s WCTU world president, Margaret Jackson, is a Seventh-day Adventist in New Zealand.
A century ago, many Adventists strongly supported suffrage so as to register thousands of women who were most likely to support prohibition. Ellen G. White even advocated that Adventists should vote in favor of Sunday blue laws if it meant closing the saloons and taverns for at least one day.
Have we abandoned our heritage? In 1989, Duane McBride published statistics on the drinking habits of North American Adventists. At that time, five percent of those over 65 years of age had consumed wine at least monthly in the previous year, compared with 25 percent of the 18-29 age group. Three years later, the Valuegenesis study confirmed these findings and the trend appears to be ongoing.
Debate if you will—and some spend far too much time and energy arguing over the alcoholic content of communion wine or the cardiac/gastric value of moderate consumption— but reality forces us to concede that alcohol use among our membership exists and is increasing. My colleague, Dr. Peter Landless, Associate Director of Health Ministries, states: “On balance, the hypothesis that alcohol consumption improves health is scientifically unfounded. This is especially so when all aspects of alcohol and health are reviewed.”
And rather than berating our college and academy campuses for not “doing enough to expel students who drink,” as one correspondent recently demanded, we should applaud those schools which take this challenge seriously and provide spiritual programs, group and individual counseling, and 12-step recovery programming. Remember, the child or grandchild who is spared might be your own.
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Col. 3:23"
As you struggle with appropriate responses to these challenges which infect your own congregation, consider the following initiatives:
* Pray that together we will impact the rule of evil and resist the addictive control that alcohol exerts.
* Preach biblical temperance and teach the evil of alcohol abuse.
* Provide 12-step programming for your community and your members.
* Pledge your personal abstinence and encourage your members, especially the young, to follow your example.
* Prioritize relationships which connect your members with Jesus first, and then with one another as encouragement and example in discipleship.
* Promise that by all means you will do something in order to save some!
James A. Cress General Conference Ministerial Association Secretary
THE 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF ELDER’S DIGEST
The Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division started receiving Elder’s Digest in the first quarter of 2007. The information contained in Elder’s Digest has been a source of inspiration and encouragement for elders throughout our territory. There is a diversity of topics, and the letters of encouragement serve to provide a renewed sense of energy and confidence in carrying out elders’ duties. Many have said that the articles are relevant to the time in which we are living.
We hope to increase the number of our elders who receive this magazine. It has become one of the tangible evidences that elders are a significant part of the Ministerial Association. Our particular urgent need is to make Elder’s Digest available to our Portuguese-speaking unions (such as Angola and Mozambique) which don’t receive the magazine at present. Congratulations for your vision!—P. Hachalinga, Vice President and Ministerial Secretary, Southern Africa- Indian Ocean Division.