I guess you'd call it "Christian liberty on tap:"
A church selling beer for charity.
A church. Selling beer. For charity.
If you're a progressive evangelical, you likely have no problem with such a concept.
On the other hand, if you're somebody progressive evangelicals derisively accuse of being "fundy," or fundamentalist, you're likely sputtering with exasperation at the thought.
My evangelical friends who drink alcohol think I'm pretty fundy for not doing so, and I've gotten to the point where I really don't care if they do. I believe that just because a lot of people do something - or don't do something, that doesn't make it right or wrong, even if contemporary Christianity has abolished most religious taboos on drinking. After all, drinking alcohol is not, in and of itself, a sin. But why you do it, and how much you do it, could still very well be.
This past weekend, I had dinner with some fellow Presbyterians I hardly knew - at least, before we sat down to eat. And I'd noticed our hostess had only served chilled water. No wine. She didn't even ask us if we wanted any. I've become so accustomed to having dinner with evangelicals and having them gush about wines and beers, that it stands out to me now when alcohol isn't on the menu!
During the course of our evening's wide-ranging conversation, one of the other guests mentioned something about the amount of liquor she saw being served at a charity event sponsored by a wealthy member of our church, Park Cities Presbyterian. Not just some flutes of wine, mind you, that might be considered de rigueur at any fancy Dallas fete, but a fully-stocked open bar, the likes of which only raucous Episcopalians used to flaunt at their wedding receptions.
My friend expressed how disturbed she became when she realized she was the only person in the banquet hall who appeared uncomfortable with the amount of booze people with whom she goes to church were consuming.
That's when I commented to our hostess about her sensibilities when it came to the lack of wine during our dinner. I wouldn't have begrudged anybody a glass or two of it with our chicken, but not having it was oddly freeing. None of us could wonder if somebody's loquaciousness was due more to being in various stages of inebriation, or whether they were having a genuinely good time in our company.
Indeed, we all agreed that consuming alcohol is not exactly the issue. It's how we use it. But, as our hostess pointed out, we didn't really know each other, nor did she want to assume that none of us struggle with alcoholism. Jesus' first miracle was the wedding wine, but was His purpose to decree that alcoholic beverages should command a perfunctory role in our dietary and entertainment spheres?
We all seemed pleasantly surprised to find such harmony on this side of what's become a divisive topic - and amongst a group of Presbyterians to boot! A tiny group, of course, but still... maybe we're sobriety's remnant.
Regular readers of mine know that I choose not to drink because of alcoholism that has had a nasty history in my family. In addition, I'm overweight because I battle with my diet, which is an oral problem, and it hardly makes sense to tempt myself with liquor when I'm already struggling with gluttony. For all I know, a glass of wine with dinner every night may be enough for me, but why risk it? There are many worse things in life than not drinking alcoholic beverages.
And that's part of what baffles me regarding Christian groups selling beer for charity.
According to World Magazine, "philanthropubs" are the latest trend in charity funding, and the pastor of The Oregon Community, a hip church in that liberal state, is opening a philanthropub in one of Portland's chic retro neighborhoods. Called the Oregon Public House, ostensibly after Britain's storied public houses, or "pubs," this new venture aims to raise funds for a select group of local charities, including Habitat for Humanity. For each $5 mug of beer, $1 will go to charity, with the rest going for expenses.
Now, as you can see, some quick arithmetic proves that the operators of the Oregon Public House expect lots of people to guzzle lots of alcohol for those token dollars to add up significantly. Wouldn't it be a lot easier, simpler, and more generous of people to simply donate $1 after every meal of their day to charity?
Who do these philanthropubs think they're fooling? Sure, in a down economy, people lower their charitable giving, but they don't reduce their alcohol intake, so getting people to chip in while boozing it up sounds like a logical way to keep charities afloat during hard times. And if each customer only has a beer or two, say, five times a week, that's $10 weekly that they're giving to charity. Get 100 people to do that every week, and that's $1,000. Get 500 people to do that every week, and that's $5,000. Five thousand here, five thousand there, and pretty soon, you're talking about real money.
New Twist to Tax Dodging?
But do the ends justify the means? First of all, take the whole booze thing out of the picture for a moment. I've never liked the idea of throwing a party to incentivize people to be "generous." Generosity happens when you give, not when you receive, and giving people something because you want them to give you something doesn't equate to generosity. The whole charity ball thing society's elites have been throwing for themselves through the centuries is nothing more than a farcical charade of largess. Charity car washes are hardly any better, and church bake sales smack of hypocrisy, since it's likely that people are nutritionally disadvantaged right in the church's very community.
And what's up with abusing the tax status of non-profits? What would happen if non-profits began to make serious inroads into our free market economy? What if churches started running "non-profit" restaurants (already being done in Dallas, New Orleans, and Seattle), where $1 from each dinner check goes to feed the hungry? Or non-profit car rental companies, where a set amount from each rental goes to pay for an impoverished person's bus fare? Or a non-profit... see what I mean?
And don't excuse false charity by saying that God looks at the heart, because indeed, He does! And what might He most likely see? People who begrudgingly wait to see "what's in it for themselves" before they loosen their wallets to help somebody else? People for whom having a good time truly does not involve the "intangible benefits" your church's charitable giving tax receipt describes your financial gifts as?
God expects us to return to Him a portion of that with which He's so generously blessed us, and to do so cheerfully. Now, perhaps it's easier to give to charity when you've got some pseudo-cheer from your alcohol consumption, but is that really what God has in mind for us?
Perhaps it could be argued that, since alcoholism helps to precipitate many of the social ills local charities work to ameliorate, a dose of moderate alcohol consumption evangelical drinkers like to think they demonstrate when they imbibe could provide model behavior to Portland's drunkards.
Or is it too late - are they already in church, and in denial?
Extra: If you think grace releases you from the "tyranny of the weaker brother," please click here.