In a previous post, I expressed mild astonishment that some very conservative Baptists have embraced the moderate use of alcohol, at least while evangelizing in bars and taverns.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Back in the nineteenth century, whiskey was a popular tonic among Baptists, and not just for medicinal purposes.
Indeed, while researching an article on Primitive Baptists for the next issue of Baptists Today, I learned that missions was not the only thing dividing missionary and anti-missionary Baptists. In his contribution regarding Primitive Baptists in The Baptist River: Essays on Many Tributaries of a Diverse Tradition (ed. W. Glenn Jonas, Jr., Mercer University Press, 2006), John G. Crowley noted that “the marriage of the temperance movement to the missions cause further alienated many rural and frontier Baptists” (p. 163).
Crowley, an ordained Primitive Baptist minister who teaches at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, cited the case of Isham Peacock, a North Carolina native and Primitive Baptist pastor who despised the anti-liquor societies so greatly that he would not preach in churches that included members who had pledged abstinence from alcohol.
When he was 100 years old, Crowley writes, Peacock would drink from a hollow cane filled with whiskey while preaching, “both to recruit his flagging energy and also to demonstrate the bounds of Christian liberty in regard to the ‘creature'” (p. 164).
History reports that Peacock died at age 107, when he fell from his horse (click here and scroll down to “Elder Isham Peacock”).
Maybe I have less cause for embarrassment regarding my own family tree, which included several bootleggers back in prohibition days. Family lore recalls a Saturday when my paternal grandmother’s brothers ran off some moonshine behind the house. They returned the portable still to its hiding place and had filled a quantity of jugs when they saw the local sheriff turning into the driveway. Thinking quickly, they poured the fresh moonshine into a tin tub of dingy water that had warmed in the sun and in which several family members had taken their weekly bath.
After “the law” left empty-handed, the brothers regretfully poured out the booze with the bathwater, much to the chagrin of an alcoholic in-law named Cliff, who moaned “I coulda drunk that!”