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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. Angry Inch

    Reaching across the table for the frosty cold schooners, the worshippers drank and sang the praises of God. Then one member of the congregation lit of a joint and was pummeled senseless. Why not marijuana in church? Why?

    February 9, 2014 at 2:39 pm |
  2. tony

    Baccus in excelsis.

    February 9, 2014 at 2:28 pm |
  3. JCS

    That's all we need – Drunk adults with imaginary friends wandering around.

    February 9, 2014 at 2:26 pm |
  4. chad

    having a couple of beers isn't sinful, getting drunk is.

    February 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm |
    • Angry Inch

      It was a marvelous simulation. Consciousness achieved within a completely artificial world, but there was a problem. Some of the algorithms detected discrepancies in their world; unsettling changes to their reality that set certain wheels in motion and jeopardized the project. The "people" had stopped praying. A new project was born and with it a niche industry that caters to religious drunks (people who drink two beers).

      February 9, 2014 at 1:59 pm |
    • JCS

      Getting drunk IS the point. Otherwise they would've been perfectly fine with water instead of wine at that party Jesus performed magic tricks at.

      February 9, 2014 at 2:28 pm |
  5. Mike in SS

    Now, to the author of this piece. Your comment above "“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."

    Guzzling? Really? You couldn't have come up with a better word like "sipping" or "drinking"? Wow. As a life long Christian, someone who firmly believes in God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, I am also a social drinker...but NEVER unto drunkenness.

    February 9, 2014 at 1:35 pm |
    • Austin

      ya people and their idolarty of liberty. its senseless.

      February 9, 2014 at 3:21 pm |
  6. Mike in SS

    Nothing in the Bible about not drinking alcohol; a lot in the Bible about being not unto drunkenness. Huge difference.

    February 9, 2014 at 1:32 pm |
    • Allen

      Unfortunately more people listen to someone who tells them how the Bible readfs, rather then taking the opportunity to read and decide for themselves.

      February 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm |
      • Austin

        the Holy Spirit should direct you in truth, and there is one spirit.

        John 16:13 ►

        But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

        February 9, 2014 at 3:23 pm |
  7. Paul Preiswerck

    So churches are so desperate for converts that they have to bribe people to come. Looks like christianity is on it's death bed. Good riddance to bad garbage.

    February 9, 2014 at 1:31 pm |
    • igaftr

      They have ALWAYS bribed people to come with promises in the "afterlife".

      February 9, 2014 at 1:35 pm |
  8. Steel On Target

    I guess they have to do something to boot their numbers and convince people of their lies.

    February 9, 2014 at 1:28 pm |
  9. frontgate

    Never understood some churches ban on alcohol. The bible is full of alcohol consumption.

    February 9, 2014 at 1:24 pm |
    • doobzz

      The bible is full of "do as I say, not as I do".

      February 9, 2014 at 1:30 pm |
    • igaftr

      The Mormons ban alcohol, but their founders, Joe Smith and Bringham Young both were instrumental in the alcohol trade in Utah. Their bodyguard, Bill Hickman's picture is still on one brand.

      February 9, 2014 at 1:33 pm |
  10. SkepticalOne

    A good brew might make the Christians lighten up a bit.

    February 9, 2014 at 1:02 pm |
    • doobzz

      Yes, but it also might make them dance.

      February 9, 2014 at 1:14 pm |
      • tallulah13

        Nooooooo!

        February 9, 2014 at 1:38 pm |
    • Shipwrecked

      I like your thought, Skeptical One. But why is it that in order to be a "Christian" you have to swear off of all things fun? There is something wrong with those morons.

      February 9, 2014 at 6:07 pm |
  11. One one

    In Colorado they are starting to have weed worships.

    February 9, 2014 at 1:01 pm |
    • doobzz

      Can you provide evidence for this?

      Why would it matter?

      February 9, 2014 at 1:13 pm |
    • igaftr

      The Rastafarians have been smoking weed legally for years in the US. You just have to show you are from Jamaica and are actually a Rastafarian.

      February 9, 2014 at 1:19 pm |
  12. patw

    Another example of Obama's hope and change.

    February 9, 2014 at 12:53 pm |
    • Cal

      Wrong board. Go to the top of the page and click on politics.

      February 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm |
    • SkepticalOne

      Do you blame your hemorrhoids on Obama too?

      February 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm |
    • doobzz

      @patw

      Explain please.

      February 9, 2014 at 1:09 pm |
    • frontgate

      Good, let's have more of it.

      February 9, 2014 at 1:25 pm |
  13. Liberal Iowan

    Keep the lord part to yourself. Just pass me the beer.

    February 9, 2014 at 11:44 am |
  14. nick

    i'm not muslim, but islam make sense than any other religion.

    February 9, 2014 at 11:41 am |
    • igaftr

      nick
      It makes an assumption tat can not be confirmed...just as bad as christianity...how could you possibly think that ANY religion makes sense...they are all nonsensical, irrational and illogical.

      February 9, 2014 at 11:46 am |
    • Reality #2

      From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi----–

      The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

      ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

      Are you ready?

      Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

      The First Five of the 77 Branches:

      "1. Belief in Allah"

      aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

      "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

      Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

      "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

      A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

      "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

      Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

      Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

      Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

      "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
      be upon him) alone."

      Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

      Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

      Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

      Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

      February 9, 2014 at 12:13 pm |
  15. igaftr

    Of course Christians are supposed to support alcohol.
    There is a book in the bible devoted to it.

    He Brews....

    February 9, 2014 at 11:37 am |
    • Reality #2

      A true "groaner" 🙂

      February 9, 2014 at 12:14 pm |
    • doobzz

      Oh. That is terrible. But I laughed.

      February 9, 2014 at 1:28 pm |
  16. stevie68a

    As common sense creeps into their heads, they need to enforce their delusions anyway they can. The Internet: Where religion
    comes to die.

    February 9, 2014 at 11:09 am |
  17. bluebyyou666

    Most christians are drunks, of course... how could they not be...???

    February 9, 2014 at 11:04 am |
  18. Greta

    To those of your mocking Christianity: I sat in bars for fifteen years before I became a Christian. I sat in college for four years before I became a Christian. I sat in psychologists chairs before I became a Christian. ALL left me empty and depressed. I sit in church every week and my life is AWESOME! Mock away….you can have your cynical mind and heart. As for the church and bars…. I think it is a mistake.

    February 9, 2014 at 10:59 am |
    • Greta

      Really miss the edit feature here. To those of YOU

      February 9, 2014 at 11:02 am |
    • bostontola

      Greta,
      No one said religion doesn't work. Some people in all religions have stories similar to yours. All atheists are saying is that religions work without a real God, you just need to believe it.

      February 9, 2014 at 11:08 am |
    • sam stone

      i am happy you found something that works for you

      why do you feel that those who are not christian are cynical?

      February 9, 2014 at 11:10 am |
    • igaftr

      Greta
      To be fair, I don't just disagee with christianity, I disagree with ALL religions. Christianity is just such an easy target given the wildly flawed bible, and most that I encounter are "christians"

      February 9, 2014 at 11:13 am |
    • tallulah13

      Aw, Greta. I went looking for real answers and discovered that there was no proof that any gods exist. What you call cynicism is nothing more me being honest with myself. I was raised to be truthful. Therefore I can't believe in something for which there is no evidence, even if I wanted to.

      February 9, 2014 at 11:53 am |
    • mk

      I sat in church for 30 years, leaving me empty with no answer other than "because God said so". I left church and my life is AWESOME! See how that can work both ways?

      February 9, 2014 at 11:59 am |
      • Allen

        Sitting around any setting will not get anyone much of anything. Maybe, had you made an effort to actually contribute something, you may have experienced some sense of worth for the whole process.

        February 9, 2014 at 12:46 pm |
        • doobzz

          "Maybe, had you made an effort to actually contribute something, "

          And how do you know the poster didn't?

          February 9, 2014 at 1:25 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Yet there are numerous secular organizations now that offer the same things you speak of. Not everyone requires a god to live a good life or be a good person.
      You obviously disagree with alcohol consumption but your experiences don't apply to everyone. Telling people to turn to god when the addiction kicks in isn't the answer, educating them and ensuring that proper counseling in the real world is available does help.

      February 9, 2014 at 12:06 pm |
  19. Good Luck Bill!!

    The Babble and it's fairy tales are just that...fairy tales....BS that's been destroying humanity for 6,000 years....you know since the Earth was magically created...

    February 9, 2014 at 10:32 am |
  20. Ted Tedson

    A church is a criminal enterprise set up for the purpose of robbing the gullible and molesting the innocent.

    February 9, 2014 at 10:17 am |
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About this blog

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.