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

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(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. Henri


    February 9, 2014 at 4:32 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      God so loved the world that he murdered his only son to prove it... what?!?

      twisted cult-think.

      February 9, 2014 at 4:40 pm |
      • Austin

        that he GAVE, hIS ONLY SON.\

        to pay the penalty for you.

        John 3:17 ►

        For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

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

          and if you don't believe then jesus is going to burn your a$$ in a lake of fire for billions of years - your loving god

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

          there are 3 unmistakable angels who make declarations about God and the kingdom. after that, if you still choose to worship Satan and take the mark of the beast, THEN , you will get tossed into the lake of fire.

          death, and Hades, is where people go when they die without bowing to the name and blood of Christ. Death and Hades, gets tossed into the lake. I don't know what that means, but it does not say that Death and Hades lasts forever i don't think .

          maybe death and hades and everyone in it is deleted.

          February 9, 2014 at 5:11 pm |
        • sam stone

          jesus had a bad weekend for your sins!!!!!

          seriously, austin, if god is omniscient, there is no free will

          we have been through this before and you got your a-s-s handed to you

          if god punishes people who lack free will, he is a vindictive pr1ck

          February 10, 2014 at 2:12 am |
      • ODI

        Your vocabulary is poor, work on improving it.

        February 9, 2014 at 4:42 pm |
      • tony

        The ONLY SON was entirely god's choice. He could have had (and still have) millions if he wanted to.

        So no particular sacrifice there, except for the individual victim.

        How that "saved" anyone is of course the usual meaningless religious chanting code phrases

        February 9, 2014 at 4:54 pm |
        • Austin

          Tony , He was God, and He died for you.

          that is a sacrifice.

          February 9, 2014 at 4:56 pm |
        • tallulah13

          Except of course, he only died for three days. Then he went off to enjoy his life in heaven. As others have said here, Jesus had a bad weekend for your sins.

          February 9, 2014 at 5:11 pm |
        • tallulah13

          Hm. Did someone put me on a naughty list? Why else would simple comments be waiting for moderation?

          Peace. Love. Understanding. Puppies. Kittens. Ponies and rainbows.

          There. Let them find exception with that.

          February 9, 2014 at 5:12 pm |
        • Austin

          oh. so Sweeeet .

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

        Doesnt' sound like something a loving father would do.

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

        He HAD to do it. the bible says so.
        The allpowerful creator of the universe had no other option.
        Ih He hadn't gotten that married virgin pregnant and killed the child, He wold not have been able to judge us the way He wanted to when we died.

        February 9, 2014 at 5:27 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Sad, that's a child who would have no idea as to what those words mean. His parents should be ashamed of themselves for brainwashing him.

      February 9, 2014 at 4:41 pm |
      • Live4Him

        So, who is guilty of brainwashing you?

        February 9, 2014 at 4:49 pm |
        • igaftr

          The Presbyterians tried it but it did not take. After my parents were asked to not bring me to sunday school because they could not handle my questions, they stopped bothering with church altogether.

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

          You're not brainwashed if you know how your own brain works and stop yourself in your tracks when you have biased thoughts and beliefs. Like, I would be tempted to say that you're a terrible person for being a Christian, but I know you're just fed what you're told about a book every week. I'm skeptical of all of science, that the Big Bang is really how it goes, that evolution is exactly the way we think of it... but I don't believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old because there's definite proof, that I've worked out myself from the steps others also have taken, that there's no way that it can be, given that a year has always been one revolution of the Earth around the Sun.

          I.e., doing things yourself to attain your own knowledge is how you avoid being brainwashed.

          February 9, 2014 at 5:08 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          Don't go making assumptions there. I am a Recovering Christian, 5 years clean and happier than ever.

          When a parent has the nerve to raise a child in a belief system that teaches that hell-this fiery pit of horrible torture, is what happens if they go against that bible-they are not only brainwashing but in a way emotionally abusing their children.

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

      This would have seemed harmless to me a few years ago, but jesus, this is scary. These kids don't have a f%$#ing clue what they're saying. How many of them even know that people are still tortured today? They live such sheltered lives and think it's because a 1st century Jew died. No wonder they'll end up going overseas to fight anybody they're told to. They want to be little Jesuses.

      February 9, 2014 at 5:01 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Look up Jesus Camp...5 minutes in and you'll be wanting to scream, it is horrible example of the brainwashing that goes on within certain sects of christianity.

        February 9, 2014 at 6:33 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          sorry...should have read that it is a good example, not horrible

          February 9, 2014 at 6:34 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          A good example of the horrible brainwashing?

          February 9, 2014 at 6:36 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          TTTOO: That works :-).

          February 9, 2014 at 6:38 pm |
    • doobzz

      It's really creepy to watch those children glorifying human sacrifice without even knowing it.

      February 10, 2014 at 1:24 am |
  2. blue


    February 9, 2014 at 4:30 pm |
  3. To the belief blog editors

    A lot of posts made by theists have been disappearing. What's the point of having the comment section open for comment only to be deleted by some uncouthed poster?

    Can you please fix the issue?

    February 9, 2014 at 4:29 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      non-believer posts disappear at the same rate. you're not special.

      February 9, 2014 at 4:32 pm |
    • igaftr

      a lot of the posts are from trolls as well, especially the anti-atheist trolls that are clearly only hear to attack atheists.
      Who knows what the beliefs actually are, since they never say, just keep attacking with non-logic and non-sense.

      February 9, 2014 at 4:47 pm |
    • Russell

      If you really want this to stop, report every posting.
      That's right, go through and report everyone.
      Maybe then the editors will WAKE THE HELL UP and set some realistic criteria for removing a post.

      February 9, 2014 at 5:30 pm |
  4. BobRoss

    "Protestant Christianity’s relationship with beer was cold or even hostile at times."
    This is at the very least a gross overstatement. Which protestant denominations are you referring to? Presbyterian? Anglican? Methodist? Because most of these churches have long approved of alcohol. Even with Baptists it's not a blanket rule; you would have to look at the individual church.

    It seems like the author very general statements are really directed at "evangelicals" not "Protestants." It's not necessarily the same thing.

    February 9, 2014 at 4:22 pm |
  5. Austin


    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 4:20 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Bored are we? Nothing substantial to add? What was the point in your post, it has nothing to do with the article!

      February 9, 2014 at 4:43 pm |
      • Austin

        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 |
      • blue

        barley is a consecrated harvest for us.

        February 9, 2014 at 5:03 pm |
  6. tony

    CNN could change the name to "the Belief Glug"

    February 9, 2014 at 4:20 pm |
  7. tony

    But Bachus is a pagan god.

    February 9, 2014 at 4:18 pm |
  8. Russell

    They have to do something to stop the younger generation from leaving in droves.

    February 9, 2014 at 4:16 pm |
  9. NorthVanCan

    I always thought religious people didn't need alcohol to get delusional ?
    Imagine what they would think when they'r drunk?
    Probably start to sound sane.LOL

    February 9, 2014 at 4:10 pm |
  10. TheAntiChrist

    Amen. But first lets pray. How about some pale ale. Hugh please bring out the palmate of the month with my pint.

    February 9, 2014 at 4:09 pm |
  11. Mo

    "Because without beer, things do not seem to go as well"
    -Diary of Brother Epp
    Capuchin monastery
    Munjor, Kansas 1902

    My adopted motto for beer, as a protestant Christian myself.

    February 9, 2014 at 4:09 pm |
  12. Stephen Williams

    Looks like our church is among the ranks of early-adopters opening in pubs! Glad to see we aren't crazy to think we can worship God in pubs as well as church buildings. Three Taverns Church meets at Frank's Place sports bar in Ocoee, FL; check it out!


    February 9, 2014 at 4:07 pm |
  13. Angry Inch

    I, for one, am completely against this "enjoyment" while worshipping. Going to church is supposed to be drudgery, not enjoyable. This is a concern.

    February 9, 2014 at 3:59 pm |
    • Doris

      I know! How in the heck are you supposed to get through Lamentations with a Brugge Zot keeping you company for crying out loud??

      February 9, 2014 at 4:08 pm |
  14. applegrow

    "Drinking was, and in many cases still is, outlawed on Christian college campuses and among leadership of many churches and denominations." These tend to be very conservative, fundamentalist denominations and should be referred to as such – not just as "Christian" since most Christian denominations don't prohibit drinking.

    February 9, 2014 at 3:54 pm |
  15. Frank the Tank

    That has nothing to do with the christian religions. It has to do with the people. Whether they drink or not it's between them what they believe in, but Christian religions will never promote alcohol and or even say there is no problem to drink alcohol. The people can say it, even pastors might even say it's okay, but never in the Cristian doctrine.

    February 9, 2014 at 3:47 pm |
    • Angry Inch

      You are incorrect.

      February 9, 2014 at 3:48 pm |
    • Reality #2

      Priests drink wine every day. Of course, they believe it is blood. So what do we have, guzzlers or cannibals?

      February 9, 2014 at 3:49 pm |
      • Angry Inch

        Priests do a lot of things every day that not only would their god frown on, but the police might be interested too.

        February 9, 2014 at 3:52 pm |
        • Alias

          Priests do good things too.
          For example, it is a sin to masterbate. So the priests keep the teen age boys from sinning by doing it for them.

          February 9, 2014 at 4:06 pm |
  16. stephen48739

    "Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy". – Benjamin Franklin

    February 9, 2014 at 3:36 pm |
    • Angry Inch

      I bet Ben toked it up once in while.

      February 9, 2014 at 3:43 pm |
    • igaftr

      That is a very common misquote.
      What he actually said:
      For the record, here, in a letter addressed to André Morellet in 1779, is what Benjamin Franklin actually did say:

      Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.

      February 9, 2014 at 4:02 pm |
  17. tony

    A responsible gun owner would have shot the serpent, fermented the fruit for hard cider, chopped down the tree of Knowledge to BBQ the snake, and stood his ground when asked to leave Eden.

    February 9, 2014 at 3:24 pm |
    • Austin

      I don't like that devil either , Tony. keep your anger in the right place.

      February 9, 2014 at 3:34 pm |
    • tony

      That devil seems to be aligned with the self described conservative element of your religion.

      Watch your front!

      February 9, 2014 at 4:17 pm |
  18. Tea? Totally

    I've never woken up from a night of drinking feeling either exuberant or spiritual. If I go to the green foods market and load up on bottled water and roasted soy oat almond spirulina Pad-thai then yeah. I can do some yoga then.

    February 9, 2014 at 3:04 pm |
    • Angry Inch

      I agree on the tea and yoga part. As long as I can smoke a joint now and then.

      February 9, 2014 at 3:12 pm |
      • tony

        That should count as an OT "sacrifice". God loves rising smoke apparently.

        February 9, 2014 at 3:13 pm |
        • Angry Inch

          As do I. If I believed in god(s), I would be it's favorite.

          February 9, 2014 at 3:15 pm |
        • Austin

          smoking week is not good for me.

          February 9, 2014 at 3:16 pm |
        • Angry Inch

          Smoking weed IS good for many people and should be legal in all 50 states. And it will be.

          February 9, 2014 at 3:20 pm |
        • Austin

          well for me I would rather be set apart and be filled with the spirit so I can take part in the harvest with sobriety, and also if I smoke weed it stops me from dreaming. so for me, I know its not for me for reasons having to do with purity.

          but i will admit that it appeals to my flesh much more than alcohol does.

          February 9, 2014 at 3:28 pm |
        • Austin

          drunkenness and weed smoking are both witchcraft in my opinion.

          February 9, 2014 at 3:29 pm |
        • Angry Inch

          If your god made weed, how in the world could it be witchcraft? What IS witchcraft??

          February 9, 2014 at 3:40 pm |
        • blue

          Joseph, was born through conception with the use of a narcotic mandrake. a fertility option.

          Heroin comes from a natural plant. rubber comes from natural substance.

          smoking anything is clearly not supported in scripture. There is zero example of anything EVER, being smoked. thats because it is obviously wrong to do.

          witchcraft is applied with the definition Pharma Pharma = Sorcery

          February 9, 2014 at 4:08 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          "if I smoke weed it stops me from dreaming"

          Oh please smoke some.
          As for your wish to see prohibition in force, shall we set the record straight for those who don't know your story???
          Austin got drunk one night, got behind the wheel of his vehicle and drove in to a church literally. Ever since he has become christian and delusional.

          I happen to be on the side of Angry Inch here, marijuana does need to be legalized and as was stated it soon will be. Prohibiting it (or anything similar to...including alcohol) is more damaging to society. Prohibition leads to crime; it leads to over-crowded jails that are better used for the real criminals (people who drink and drive); it never stops one from using; it costs tax payers massive amounts of money when it could be earning money instead.

          Now Austin if you have chosen not to use intoxicating substances, so be it but please don't pull the 'holier than thou' stuff and think that because you can't handle your booze means everyone else should be prohibited from partaking-not all are so stupid to get behind the wheel of 3000 pounds of metal and put lives at risk, some people who drink are actually responsible.

          February 9, 2014 at 4:36 pm |
  19. tony

    Hops and Change. . . .

    February 9, 2014 at 3:01 pm |
    • Angry Inch

      I drank an O'doul's at church and got kicked out of the congregation.

      February 9, 2014 at 3:03 pm |
      • tony

        Wine vs. beer is a class thing. . . . Gentilfrication?

        February 9, 2014 at 3:12 pm |
        • Angry Inch

          No, more a drink real booze or get lost thing...

          February 9, 2014 at 3:14 pm |
  20. Angry Inch

    This whole conversation makes me wonder; what percentage of Christians are alcoholics and secondly, how many people go to church tipsy? I bet it is more than we imagine. Church is boring and stupid. I know I would have to get high just to survive.

    February 9, 2014 at 3:00 pm |
    • Angry Inch

      Even if you are a believer, church still sucks. And can certainly see how drugs and/or alcohol would make it more palatable.

      February 9, 2014 at 3:02 pm |
    • tony

      Biblical leanings do not include accurate maths.

      February 9, 2014 at 3:14 pm |
      • tony

        . . . .and absolutely no Physics.

        February 9, 2014 at 3:15 pm |
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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.