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February 8th, 2014
12:48 PM ET

Praise the Lord and pass the beer, change is brewing among American Christians

By Brett McCracken, special to CNN

(CNN) - Something is brewing among American Protestants, and it has a decidedly hoppy flavor.

For much of the last century in the United States, Protestant Christianity’s relationship with beer was cold or even hostile at times. Protestant organizations such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League led the campaign to make alcohol illegal.

Even after Prohibition ended, many evangelicals defined themselves by their abstention from alcohol, called “the beloved enemy” by televangelist Jack Van Impe.

Drinking was, and in many cases still is, outlawed on Christian college campuses and among leadership of many churches and denominations.

But in recent years, change has been fermenting. Taverns and beer halls, once dismissed as the domain of the “worldly” in need of reform, are today the meeting places for churches

Consider the following:

● “Bar Church,” a self-described “nontraditional church,” which meets at Memories Bar in Abilene, Texas, and is an offshoot of Southern Hills Church of Christ.

● North Brooklyn Vineyard, which meets at Trash Bar in Williamsburg, New York.

● Fort Worth’s “Kyrie,” which advertises itself as “Church in a Pub” and meets at Zio Carlo bar on Sunday nights.

Other churches are starting beer-friendly Bible studies or ministries, such as:

● “Beer and Bonhoeffer,” at Southlands Church in Brea, California, which meets to discuss German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship,” while parishioners share their favorite craft brews. “I feel that real and honest discussions between men happen when we have a nice IPA or stout in our hands,” said group founder Pastor Kevin Meisch.

● “Beer & Hymns,” a gathering at First Christian Church in Portland, Oregon, where 100 or so mostly young people sing hymns like “Be Thou My Vision” while guzzling home-brewed beer from plastic cups. Similar “beer and hymns” events have occurred at churches in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Cincinnati.

● “Beer, Bible and Brotherhood,” an Oxford, Connecticut, group launched by the Rev. John Donnelly of Christ Church Quaker Farms, which studies Rick Warren’s "40 Days in the Word," while quaffing Sam Adams brews.

● “What Would Jesus Brew?” Valley Church in Allendale, Michigan, sponsors gatherings for craft beer enthusiasts, designed to “reach out to people in a loving, grace-filled way that meets people where they are and as they are.”

And all this is on top of the dozens of Catholic “theology on tap” events taking place at taverns across the country.

In the Protestant world, the trend toward tolerance of alcohol reaches beyond churches into conservative college campuses as well.

Last August, Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute — which just last year lifted a ban on long hair for men and nose stud earrings for women — dropped its ban on alcohol and tobacco consumption for its faculty and staff.

In September, Southern California’s Biola University — founded as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles in 1908 — lifted its ban on alcohol and tobacco for of-age graduate students, noting that the changes “shift the responsibility of conduct from the institution to the individual.”

Even though they are still banned from consuming beer while students, many recent graduates of evangelical colleges are starting to make an impact in the craft beer industry.

Several recent graduates of Indiana’s Taylor University launched the website ThePerfectlyHappyMan.com, which offers craft beer reviews and tips for beer tasting and making.

Tom Smillie, Christian beer maker and writer for The Perfectly Happy Man, says his love of good beer has allowed him to build relationships with nonbelievers.

“Sometimes I’ll go alone to a bar and have a great conversation with a person about sports, politics and most often religion,” said Smillie. “Beer is communal and appeals to the common man. Interestingly the gospel message is, too.”

The communal value of beer also appeals to Scott Sullivan, an alumnus of evangelical Calvin College who owns the Greenbush Brewing Company in Sawyer, Michigan.

“We are the community gathering place,” notes Sullivan, whose pastors are regulars in his taproom.

“Conversations and debates go on all day and people trade ideas. … I’ll often have a pastor sitting next to an atheist talking about all sorts of things, which isn’t something that can happen in a conventional church setting. How can you beat that?”

Christian craft beer aficionados like Smillie and Sullivan are also quick to point out that beer history is closely tied to Christian history.

St. Patrick reportedly used beer as a way to lure in Irish heathens before he converted them to Christianity. In the Holy Roman Empire, beer lover Charlemagne promoted improvements in brewing at monasteries throughout the empire, gradually making the church the primary wholesaler of beer in society.

Some brews today — such as Weihenstephan (founded 1040 AD) and Leffe (1240 AD) — originated in medieval monasteries. Famous nun Hildegard von Bingen was a brewer and is sometimes credited with the discovery that hops add preservative qualities to ale.

Despite their sometimes dour reputation, America’s Puritan founders were also big beer fans.

The Mayflower and other ships to the Massachusetts Bay Colony were stocked with ample wine and beer. In 1620, the ship carrying John Winthrop to the Massachusetts Bay Colony contained three times as much beer as water. In 1630, the Arabella brought Puritans to New England with at least 10,000 gallons of beer in tow.

Beer — then safer to drink than water — was such a necessary staple for the Pilgrims that a brewery was the first permanent building constructed in Plymouth.

Among colonial Christians, “no one felt any tension between Christianity and the moderate use of alcohol,” notes historian Mark Noll. Rather, most believers in America before 1800 “regarded the moderate use of alcoholic beverages, particularly beer and wine, as a privileged blessing from a gracious God.”

Perhaps today’s “beer Christianity” is not so much a new trend as it is a return to the posture toward alcohol that characterized much of Christian history?

Certainly vestiges of the temperance and Prohibition movements of 19th and 20th century American Christianity remain.

Many conservative denominations — Southern Baptists, for example — still discourage members, and particularly leaders, from consuming any alcohol.

In 2011, well-known pastor John MacArthur minced no words in chastising the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement of young Calvinists for their fondness of beer.

“Cultivating an appetite for beer,” wrote MacArthur, “is not merely bad missional strategy and a bad testimony; it is fraught with deadly spiritual dangers.”

The dangers are real, to be sure. No one disputes the fact that drinking has its fair share of downsides, spiritually, physically, emotionally or otherwise. But so do a lot of things.

As I argue in my new book “Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism & Liberty,” there are many perfectly good things in the world that can go wrong when we consume them recklessly.

The answer for Christians is not to demonize the good gifts of culture and wholly avoid them; nor is it to consume indiscriminately or immoderately.

As Martin Luther once said, “Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?”

Luther viewed beer as a gift from God — something with the potential to be misused, but also something that could be used to honor the creator.

That’s how I hope Christians today see it as well — not as a lightning rod of the culture wars, to be avoided or embraced as some sort of statement, but as a pleasurable gift of a good God, who made water, yeast, barley and hops, and human beings with the creative capacity to brew up something wonderful.

Brett McCracken is the author of "Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism & Liberty" and "Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Church • evangelicals • Protestant • Sacred Spaces • Spirituality

soundoff (970 Responses)
  1. Salero21

    So... let's see again... atheism, evolution, idolatry are all Total stupidity. Then this churchianity religion a la carte, a la cartel, a la redneck, a la hillbilly, a la beer-belly or a la Americana is 999.99% stupidity.

    February 9, 2014 at 5:42 pm |
    • Salero21

      Next!!

      February 9, 2014 at 5:43 pm |
      • Alias

        Aren't you just Topher's alter ego?
        Or one of its many personalities?

        February 9, 2014 at 5:46 pm |
        • Salero21

          And who are you among someone else's many personalities?

          February 9, 2014 at 5:51 pm |
        • Alias

          I'm rational enough to know this is an anonymous site.
          The only reason to post under different names would be to try to make us think different people had your opinion.

          February 9, 2014 at 5:55 pm |
        • Salero21

          So then... you are an expert at that don't you? How long you've been doing that, posting under different monikers? Atheists are extremely Hypocritical and compulsive pathetic and pathological liars!! Just so you know!! 😉

          February 9, 2014 at 5:58 pm |
        • The Truth

          Salero21 is extremely Hypocritical and a compulsive pathetic and pathological liar!! Just so you know!! 😉

          February 9, 2014 at 6:01 pm |
        • Salero21

          So... now we know? Alias the lying Truth!! 😀 😀

          February 9, 2014 at 7:30 pm |
        • Alias

          Just like Topher. Figures.

          February 9, 2014 at 9:00 pm |
  2. Alias

    This reporting abuse thing really has gotten out of hand.
    I'm not sure if there is a reational pattern to it, becuse not all deleted discussions are from theists or atheists.
    However, ther was an excellent idea on the last page – we need a few people to report EVERYTHING.

    Maybe then CNN wil fix the problem.

    Or we could just all run away like children and let the terrorists win. (sarcasm – for those of you a little slow this weekend)

    February 9, 2014 at 5:42 pm |
  3. tyurtuy35463456

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    February 9, 2014 at 5:36 pm |
    • Thirsty

      Absolutely!

      February 9, 2014 at 5:46 pm |
    • His panic

      Clearly this poor soul is in a State where anxiety, hysteria and Panic reign. That is because they don't trust in God and in Jesus Christ God's Only Son. Panic has been the cause and effect of many brawls, revolutions and stampedes both among animals and people. If these people would Trust in God and in Jesus Christ God's Only Son they would not Panic.

      February 9, 2014 at 5:49 pm |
  4. children of Israel

    Abraham is the Africans, Isaac is the Arabs and Christ comes out of Jacob seed the Hebrew Israelites 12 tribes. *Psalm 59:13 and let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth. Selah.

    February 9, 2014 at 5:35 pm |
    • Austin

      ustin

      Contents

      1 Background
      2 Paternal lineage, Y chromosome
      2.1 Y-DNA of Ashkenazi Jews
      2.2 Y-DNA of Sephardi Jews
      2.2.1 Y-DNA of Jews from North Africa
      2.2.2 Y-DNA of Portuguese Jews
      2.2.3 Y-DNA of Oriental Jews
      2.2.4 Y-DNA of Roman Jews
      2.3 Y-DNA of Kurdish Jews
      2.4 Y-DNA of the Jews of Yemen
      2.5 Y-DNA of Mountain Jews
      2.6 Y-DNA of Jews from Ethiopia
      2.7 Y-DNA of Bene Israel
      2.8 Priestly Families
      2.8.1 Cohanim
      2.8.2 Levites
      3 Maternal line: Mitochondrial DNA
      3.1 Mt-DNA of Ashkenazi Jews
      3.2 Mt-DNA of Jews from North Africa
      3.3 Mt-DNA of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula
      3.4 Mt-DNA of Jews from Iraq
      3.5 Mt-DNA of Jews from Libya
      3.6 Mt-DNA of Jews from Tunisia
      3.7 Mt-DNA of Jews from Ethiopia
      3.8 Mt-DNA of the Jews of Turkey
      3.9 Mt-DNA of the Jews of Georgia
      3.10 Mt-DNA of Jews from Yemen
      3.11 Mt-DNA of Bukharan and Persian Jews
      3.12 Mt-DNA of Moroccan Jews
      3.13 Mt-DNA of Cochin Jews and of Bene Israel Indian subcontinent
      4 Autosomal DNA
      5 Comparison with the genetic heritage of non-Jewish populations
      5.1 Palestinians
      5.2 The Samaritans
      5.3 The Lembas
      5.4 Inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula

      February 9, 2014 at 5:58 pm |
      • Science Works

        Austin

        Resonance on Flooded Planet Earth – BY – M.E. Clark and H.D. Voss (ICR/Genesis Research Lab) ?

        February 9, 2014 at 6:10 pm |
        • Austin

          science, can i show you my materialns concerning my spiritual gift? I can meet you at the airport this summer.

          February 9, 2014 at 6:17 pm |
        • Science Works

          Austin

          Prehistoric Village Found in Downtown Miami ? Is that the airport ?

          February 10, 2014 at 8:47 am |
    • Austin

      youtube operation moses. DNA experts say that there is a lost tribe with paternal chromosome in india.

      the diaspora is real. and the effects of this slavery and dispersion have shown that people adapt to their surroundings .

      Israel has a place in the book of revelation. God has promised.

      Christ is the savior of "all the world"

      do you agree?

      February 9, 2014 at 6:04 pm |
  5. tyurtuy35463456

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    HAN ESTADO ELIMINANDO A TODOS LOS NEURÓLOGOS CON CONOCIMIENTO EN PROGRAMACIÓN HUMANA CON DAÑOS EN ÓRGANOS.

    Y APARICIÓN POR MANIPULACIÓN DE MÉDICOS DE ENFERMEDADES EXTRAÑAS.

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    February 9, 2014 at 5:33 pm |
    • Thirsty

      You said it!

      February 9, 2014 at 5:47 pm |
  6. TrueReality

    I'm glad they threw in the Luther quote – some Christians in America (specifically Lutherans) have never been anti-alcohol. The fundamentalist Southern Baptists do not represent Christianity as a whole, or even American Christianity in general.

    February 9, 2014 at 5:28 pm |
    • Russell

      But they do represent the values of the KKK fairly accurately.

      February 9, 2014 at 5:32 pm |
      • Ahem

        The claim that God does not exist is going to be ALOT easier for you to support than the claim that Southern Baptists (Like Dr. King for example) value white supremacy.

        At least in the first example you don't have a lot of evidence working overwhelmingly against you.

        February 9, 2014 at 6:04 pm |
        • Alias

          Let's see .... this is the group that split from the northern baptists because they refused to condemn slavery, and you think try to use MLK as a representative member ???

          February 9, 2014 at 9:03 pm |
    • Shipwrecked

      Southern Baptist do not represent anything or anybody but some stupid behind the moon believes they don't even know where they come from or while they are still around in this world.

      So, cheers.

      February 9, 2014 at 6:01 pm |
  7. tyurtuy35463456

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    February 9, 2014 at 5:25 pm |
  8. Saraswati

    The Trappists are opening a brewering in the US. A different kind of change, but likely a Good Thing.

    February 9, 2014 at 5:25 pm |
  9. twalk

    That is the religious RIGHT for you.

    February 9, 2014 at 5:12 pm |
  10. red

    someone hacked the editors system. you cant moderate a comment the second it arrives unless you are hacked!

    February 9, 2014 at 5:08 pm |
  11. lindaluttrell

    "...when to or more of you are gathered in my name...
    Guess these folks are taking it literally to heart.

    February 9, 2014 at 5:06 pm |
  12. kyzaadrao

    Once again, CNN goes the Enquirer route with the religion topic.

    February 9, 2014 at 5:02 pm |
    • Thirsty

      Then go somewhere else.

      February 9, 2014 at 5:49 pm |
      • Shipwrecked

        Why don't you, Thirsty?

        February 9, 2014 at 6:03 pm |
        • Thirsty

          Nah...I'm happy here. Besides, I'm not the one b!tching about a religious article on the 'Belief' blog.

          February 9, 2014 at 6:16 pm |
  13. blue

    you people are communists.

    February 9, 2014 at 5:01 pm |
    • blue

      my comments were arriving moderated with no one pushing abuse. how is that happening?

      February 9, 2014 at 5:02 pm |
      • white

        maybe there's a crap detecter

        February 9, 2014 at 5:11 pm |
    • blue

      blue
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      hey my comments are coming up as moderated and no body had the chance to hit the abuse button.

      thats the editor.

      February 9, 2014 at 5:02 pm |
      • Hops n soda

        Everyone's comments are at the moment.

        February 9, 2014 at 5:21 pm |
        • Alias

          Yeah, this is cutting edge technology after all.
          You have to expect a few minor glitches sometimes.

          February 9, 2014 at 5:58 pm |
  14. blue

    hey my comments are coming up as moderated and no body had the chance to hit the abuse button.

    thats the editor.

    February 9, 2014 at 5:00 pm |
    • Science Works

      Creationists Scenario for 3the Origin of the Universe – BY Gerardus D. Bouw Ph. D – Insti-tute for you know who blue ?

      February 9, 2014 at 5:31 pm |
  15. Austin

    Austin
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    the barley harvest is a big part of our tradition.

    1 Samuel 15:23 ►

    For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king."

    willful disobedience=witchcraft in God's eyes

    February 9, 2014 at 4:59 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Your god is a nasty piece of work.

      February 9, 2014 at 5:14 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Buy a dictionary Austin...you are clueless about witchcraft.

      February 9, 2014 at 5:45 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      In this case willful disobedience was Saul not doing a thorough job of genocide. Actually, was it even genocide? What do you call it when you're to kill every living thing in some place? Holocide?

      February 9, 2014 at 6:50 pm |
    • sam stone

      austin: your god is a vindictive, petty pr1ck

      get back on your knees

      February 10, 2014 at 2:02 am |
  16. EvinAR

    Pfffffffff, of course. As American Christianity becomes more backwoods and uneducated, you're not going to separate them from their beer. Just like in a few decades, there will be AR-15 rifles as part of the ceremonies. What a bunch of tools.

    February 9, 2014 at 4:55 pm |
    • Russell

      Huntin' rilfes are a part of our church.
      What church do you go to?
      And do they have fresh venison?

      February 9, 2014 at 5:36 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Actually, in Texas there was debate not long ago on whether concealed handguns could be lawfully excluded from church services. Long guns had always been allowed.

      February 9, 2014 at 6:52 pm |
  17. Keith

    The "Church of Christers" are drinking? Wow, I got kicked out of that church for gossiping. Embracing sin may be the way to go.

    February 9, 2014 at 4:53 pm |
    • doobzz

      Well, you know god, changing his mind all the time.

      February 9, 2014 at 5:32 pm |
      • Keith

        LOL, I guess you are right, because those folks know exactly what "god" wants.

        February 9, 2014 at 10:57 pm |
  18. Barry

    There are so many things that irritated me with this article.

    There was the cheap gimmickry of churches attempting to boost their numbers through beer, instead of actually touching people's lives, like churches are supposed to do.

    There was the drawn out historical perspective, i.e. Luther, 17th century American puritanism, the modern evangelical movement.

    More than anything else, however, I was most irritated by the use of the paragraph space between each and every sentence.

    February 9, 2014 at 4:52 pm |
  19. Hops n soda

    The irony of all this is we are worrying about what we do to our mind, and what we do to our body, all to try and prepare for that moment that we are a good fifty feet away from both our mind and body.

    February 9, 2014 at 4:50 pm |
  20. Bootyfunk

    people don't like to admit alcohol is a drug
    beer, wine and spirits are drugs
    when you buy a bottle of wine, you're buying drugs
    when you have your kid get a beer from the cooler for you, he is getting your drugs for you
    christians especially seem to have a problem with calling alcohol what it is - a drug
    getting high on alcohol is called getting "drunk"
    the difference between alcohol and other drugs is that alcohol is legal
    gotta love the hypocrites that rail about pot while guzzling a beer, lol
    just admit you drink to get high

    February 9, 2014 at 4:38 pm |
    • Y'know

      I am pro legalization, but I had an argument with someone on this same topic and the argument was that you can not test a pilot or a cab driver or a bus driver for weed. You'd have to use a urine test and I don't know how time sensitive those are plus you can't smell it on them y'know? It made sense in a way.

      None the less the prohibition didn't work out so...

      February 9, 2014 at 4:41 pm |
      • Austin

        smoking is not good for the lungs.

        February 9, 2014 at 5:13 pm |
        • sam stone

          vaporizing is fine and brownies are tasty

          February 10, 2014 at 2:05 am |
    • jlacke

      Differences:

      Alcohol can be used without intoxication. I have a drink or two regularly, but rarely get even buzzed, much less drunk (years ago was a different story, but I no longer find intoxication pleasant). Recreational marijuana use is entirely for intoxication.

      Second, marijuana use causes permanent brain damage, while alcohol use only causes temporary brain damage. Marijuana smoke is as high or higher than tobacco smoke in carcinogens. I only learned both of those recently; it shouldn't take long to find on google if you're curious.

      Regardless, I'm fine with the federal government backing off and states being permitted to make their own choices on legalization. But there are legitimate differences in alcohol and marijuana.

      February 9, 2014 at 5:12 pm |
      • Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

        I've seen people drink a 12 of beer at a sitting; I've never seen someone smoke 12 joints at a sitting. I've seen countless drunken idiots get into alcohol-fuled rages. Marijuana? Never.
        How many illnesses are directly attributable to alcohol consumption? How many deaths? Ask the same question about tobacco.
        The answer – millions.
        Now, ask the same about marijuana use. The answer is minuscule. This isn't to say that marijuana if free from hazards; it isn't.

        But give me a society where people don't drink or smoke tobacco, and only consume marijuana, and I will show you a society that is happier, healthier, and more productive.

        February 9, 2014 at 5:37 pm |
      • sam stone

        you can drink yourself to death in one night.

        you cannot smoke enough pot in one night to kill you

        February 10, 2014 at 2:09 am |
      • doobzz

        There is no safe level of tobacco smoking, nor is there any benefit to it. It's a shame that the churches don't jump all over that one.

        February 10, 2014 at 3:28 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.