Our little town of Spruce Pine recently voted to turn “wet” by allowing the sale of beer and wine inside the city limits. Needless to say, this was major news. Many of the churches of the area banded together and put up a real fight. In the end, though, the vote passed by a slim margin.
One of the primary reasons why it passed was the fact that the entire county hadn’t been truly “dry” for a long time. For decades, bootleggers prospered in these parts. Then came a couple of restaurants that were located close enough to the Blue Ridge Parkway to get special exemptions to sell spirits. Finally, our local golf course erected a pitiful looking little tennis court that allowed it to claim the coveted title “sports club.” That title carries with it the legal permission to sell beer and wine on the premises. It didn’t take long for a package store to be built in the course’s parking lot and become one of the region’s top money-makers. Of course, we’re still waiting for someone to actually play a tennis match on that court.
And so Spruce Pine now has beer and wine running out its nose. The Walmart Supercenter stocks the stuff, as does the Ingles grocery store. A vacant building has been chosen as the site for an ABC store, and some of our restaurants have begun offering beer and wine on their menus. This is where our local pastors’ conference comes into the story.
Most Monday mornings I attend the conference. We meet at 10:00 a.m., shoot the bull for a few minutes, take some praise reports and prayer requests, have a time of prayer, and then listen as one of us preaches a sermon. We dismiss after the sermon, choose a place to eat, and meet at that restaurant. We vary where we eat because no one wants to eat the same food over and over again.
A few Mondays back I couldn’t attend the conference, but I found out later that the guys had eaten at the Mexican restaurant in downtown Spruce Pine. We’d gone there plenty of times before, but this time was different. This time the restaurant offered beer and wine on the menu. The fellows didn’t think too much about it, but somehow the word got out that the local pastors didn’t mind patronizing joints that served booze. This is where our local paper comes into the story.
Our paper features a controversial section called “Rants and Raves.” The idea is that any anonymous person can use that section to register a complaint or a compliment. The complaints seem to outnumber the compliments about four to one. I guess if you want to compliment someone you don’t mind leaving your name.
Well, one “Rants and Raves” piece was a rant about the local pastors frequenting a restaurant that offered beer and wine. I don’t know how the person spotted the guys. Did he or she see them going in or out of the restaurant? Did someone else pass along the information? I certainly hope the person wasn’t in the restaurant himself or herself when the pastors were in there. That would be hypocrisy.
Anyway, this is where one of the pastors comes into the story. An elderly gentleman, one we all genuinely like and respect, was scheduled to preach the following Monday morning. Before he began his sermon, he commented on the rant and, from everything we could tell, agreed with it. I figured he could do so because he hadn’t eaten at the restaurant. (All the pastors don’t always come along for the after-conference meal).
The man quoted from 2nd Corinthians 6:14-18, parts of which say: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?…’Come out from among them and be separate’, says the Lord. ‘Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.'” He also quoted from 1st John 2:15: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
To really drive home his point he told us that he no longer shopped at the local Ingles because of the beer and wine on the shelves. He didn’t mention the Walmart Supercenter, but some of us were dying to ask if he still shoped there. No one did, though.
After the conference, we got together to decide where to eat. Even though the elderly pastor didn’t plan to go with us, you can imagine that it didn’t take long for someone to say, “I guess the Mexican place is out!” We ended up eating at a little “mom and pop” spot where the burgers are great and there is no beer and wine. Over the course of the meal, the conversation naturally turned to the question of whether or not a Christian should frequent a business that sells alcohol.
None of us at the table that day took the position that a Christian should totally boycott such establishments. To us, that was being too extreme. Consider these facts:
#1: While it’s true that we Christians are not to be “of the world,” we are still very much “in the world” (John 17:14-18). Paul said that the only way to totally get away from sinful people would be to go “out of the world” (1st Corinthians 5:9-10).
#2: Since Jesus frequently ate with and associated with those whom the legalists considered “sinners,” Biblical separation obviously doesn’t mean monk-like isolationism.
#3: The truth is that many good students of the Bible (including this writer) do not believe that it totally forbids all alcoholic consumption. Drunkenness? Certainly. All partaking of alcohol? No. I could cite several examples here, but I’ll limit myself to one. In 1st Timothy 5:23, Paul says to Timothy, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine for your stomach’s sake because of your frequent illnesses.” If the wine was just grape juice, Paul wouldn’t have advised drinking just a “little.” (By the way, please don’t read into this that I’m glad that our town now has legal beer and wine. I’m simply trying to interpret the Bible as accurately as I can.)
Here’s something else to consider: the incredibly complex and interwoven nature of America’s companies and corporations. Many years ago, when I was the pastor of a Southern Baptist Convention church, the denomination formally called upon its churches to boycott the Walt Disney company because of Disney’s homosexual CEO and its increasingly troubling products. However, since Disney also owned ABC, ESPN, and movie production companies such as Touchstone, Hollywood, and Miramax, boycotting it meant boycotting a fairly large slice of life.
For example, our local news is broadcast on channel 13, which is an ABC station. The biggest basketball game in our state is Duke-North Carolina, and ESPN always carries that game. Touchstone Pictures produced the wildly popular kids’ movies “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Santa Claus.” Hollywood Pictures produced one of my all-time favorite movies, “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Miramax, under its Dimension Films subdivision, produced the “Spy Kids” movies. You see, if you are truly going to boycott Disney, you’re going to have to work at it.
The same applies to a thorough boycotting of alcohol. My two boys love to watch Albert Pujols hit, but I guess they would have to stop watching. Why? Because Pujols plays for the St. Louis Cardinals, who for years were owned by Anheuser Busch. As a matter of fact, the home stadium Pujols plays in still bears the name Busch Stadium. (Along the same lines, the Colorado Rockies play on Coors Field.) Do you enjoy watching NFL games, NBA games, college football games, and Nascar races? I hope not because they are all built around money from beer companies. Any ideal boycott must take all of this into consideration.
And what about that “mom and pop” burger place where we ate? Do they buy their hamburger buns, soft drinks, napkins, or ketchup from Ingles or Walmart? Even if they buy their buns directly from a bread company such as Sunbeam, Sunbeam sells its bread at Ingles and Walmart. Doesn’t that require what some preachers call “secondary separation”?
You see, we get into a real quagmire when we start boycotting every business that we categorize as “bad.” If I want to go to a movie theater and see an uplifting, Christian movie such as “Flywheel,” “Facing The Giants,” or “Fireproof,” I can’t. Remember, that same theater shows some movies of which I disapprove. If I want to take my son’s baseball team to a minor-league game as a reward for a good season, I can’t. That minor-league park sells beer at the concession stand. Do you understand what I’m getting at? To use an Ernest T. Bass word from the Andy Griffith show, you just can’t hermatize yourself.
Now let me tell you how this story ends. After the pastors’ conference yesterday, we decided to go to the local Japanese restaurant and enjoy their lunch buffet. I thought, “That’s a good choice. I’ve never seen any beer or wine in there.” As soon as we got in the door, though, I read a sign that offered an inexpensive glass of wine as a part of the lunch special. Then when the waitress took us to our seats, I noticed a hallway where several empty beer boxes were stacked up next to a wall. Clearly, beer and wine had come to the Japanese restaurant. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the next edition of the paper to find out if we got busted.
Maybe, from now on, my fellow pastors and I just need to eat at McDonalds. I do love Big Macs. Oh, wait, Busch Stadium has a special section of seats called “Big Mac Land.” If a home-run lands there, everyone in the section gets a free Big Mac. To make matters worse, that section got its name from Mark McGwire, the former Cardinals slugger who hit so many balls up there. McGwire is highly suspected of using dangerous steroids to increase his home-run power.
So, if McDonalds associates itself with an alleged cheater and a stadium named for a beer company, I suppose we shouldn’t let them have one dime of our money. Besides, some of those toys they put in their happy-meal boxes are promotional products for kids movies, and many of those movies are made by Disney. Boy, it all sure does get confusing, doesn’t it? It makes me want to say, “Hey, Ernest, how exactly does one go about hermatizing one’s self?