There may be places where Christians can talk to each other about drinking alcohol without any theological or emotional baggage — like maybe certain regions of France, or the Klingon homeworld, or other places that are equally foreign to me.
But here in the Deep South, and in other places where evangelicals roam, conversations about drinking carry all kinds of subtext. If conversations about religion are awkward, conversations among the religious about drinking are 180-proof awkward.
This is not really a surprise to anybody. Christians have been keeping bottles of wine in their crisper drawers for as long as there have been crisper drawers. According to the stereotype, the religious guy who likes to take a drink now and then works hard to keep it on the down-low to avoid the judgmental stares of teetotaling nags on Sunday.
However, I’m starting to notice a shift in expectations for Christians of my generation and younger, but I don’t think it’s making things any less awkward.
I’m finding a lot of my peers who, even if they don’t drink, measure their maturity in their faith by, among other things, how much they are “cool with drinking.” Here’s how that conversation between a couple of Southern Baptists typically goes:
Baptist 1: “I ran into Ray, the new youth minister at CrossBreezePointWindsRoad Church at Brook Crossings of Riverdale.”
Baptist 2: “Cool. Where did you see him?”
Baptist 1: “At the ballpark. He was there with his family. He was having a beer. AND I AM TOTALLY OK WITH THAT!”
Baptist 2: “Oh, yeah! TOTALLY OK! It’s cool!”
Baptist 1: “TOTALLY cool.”
Baptist 2: “Absolutely!”
Baptist 1 and 2: (Awkward silence)
Clearly, everybody’s working very hard not to seem like the preacher from Footloose, but the whole drink/don’t drink thing remains a touchy issue.
I don’t drink, but I never say, “I don’t drink,” because in any situation where I might need to say that, saying it so forthrightly is usually the conversational equivalent of snatching the toupee off of someone’s head. If I do say it, I’m going to get one of two responses: If I’m talking to someone who does drink, then I’m going to be taken as a member of the Temperance League, just itching to get my ax on some bottles of Skinnygirl margarita mix or Michelob Ultra. That’s pretty much been the typical reaction as long as I can remember. But now, if I’m talking to young, hip Christians, then as often as not they’re going to assume that my soul is the prisoner of legalism and will try some kind of reverse-intervention on me until I confess that mojitos really are delicious.
So, I don’t find that the weight of social acceptance comes down particularly hard in favor of non-drinkers anymore, even among your harder-core evangelical Christians. But I also don’t find that the subject carries any less emotional weight.
The reason it continues to carry that weight, though, is because so many people have decided that their decisions in that area of life should be, one way or another, a way for them to glorify God. In the great, cosmic scheme of things, it may not matter that much, but if people want to view even small parts of their lives through a lens of godliness, I AM TOTALLY OK WITH THAT!