When is a drug not a drug?

When it’s legal, popular and widely used?

Imagine a drug, newly introduced, that can have the following effects on people:
• Impairs judgement, including the ability to drive safely
• Causes people to do things they wouldn’t normally dream of doing
• Creates a tendency to violent behaviour
• Leads to loss of short-term memory
• When used by pregnant women, can seriously and permanently damage the unborn child
• When used to excess (which it often is) and for a prolonged period of time (which it often is) can lead to irreversible liver damage and increase the risk of certain kinds of cancer
There would soon be calls for it to be made illegal.

“Wait,” I hear you say, “I see where this is going. It’s alcohol, isn’t it? But alcohol only affects people like this if they drink too much.” True, but a lot of people in the UK drink too much. In fact, a quarter of British men drink more than eight units on at least one day in the week. So it’s not surprising that doctors are seeing increasing numbers of 30 and 40-year olds with liver disease.

We all know that binge drinking is a huge problem in the UK. It has made ‘no go’ areas of some of our town centres on Friday and Saturday nights. Voluntary groups like Street Pastors are doing an admirable job trying to protect the most vulnerable, but wouldn’t it be great if there wasn’t a problem in the first place?

What can Christians do to be ‘salt and light’ in this situation?

Well, you could set an example of moderate and sensible drinking. But if you are a youth worker, for example, your young people are not going to know that you always stop drinking before you reach the point of inebriation. The message they will get is that drinking alcohol is not inconsistent with the Christian walk. Some of them may find that sensible and moderate drinking gradually turns into something else. After all there is no clear line of demarcation between sensible and excessive drinking – it’s very individual.

But it’s not only youth workers that have a responsibility to model exemplary Christian behaviour. Anyone with a leadership role (including parents) is to some degree ‘looked up to’ by other church members. Some of these members may have a hidden problem with alcohol and will not be helped by a relaxed attitude to drinking.

“But,” I hear you say, “The Bible nowhere forbids the consumption of alcohol. In fact, Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding of Cana.” So He did. And we Christians are very keen to preserve our ‘freedom in Christ’ and very wary of anything that smacks (in our view) of legalism.

However, you may be interested to know that the Bible nowhere condemns slavery or polygamy (though Paul encourages leaders to be monogamous), yet we don’t see any (orthodox) Christian defending the right to own slaves or marry more than one wife.

The Word of God is eternal, but human society and culture is not. Things that may seem acceptable to one generation in one social context may not be acceptable to the next.

The UK has a huge problem with drink. Paul encourages Christians to care for the ‘weaker brother’ by behaving in such a way as to avoid causing him to stumble, even if that means giving up some of our Christian freedom.

Can it be time for Christians to think again about their attitude toward alcohol? To consider what it would mean to the UK if there were many strong role models who didn’t need alcohol to live an abundant life?

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything….” (Matt 5:13)

Marolin Watson is Business Manager at Hope UK, a Christian charity raising awareness about drug and alcohol issues in UK churches.