I don’t want to sound like some poor soul locked into a constraining fundamentalist religion that keeps me from enjoying life; nor do I want to sound pious or preachy. It’s just a fact of my life–I’ve never drank a beer. I’ve never had a swig of Jack Daniels. I tasted a strawberry daiquiri once.

When I was a boy I mistakenly got into some of my grandfather’s blackberry wine. I have on occasion had a little wine at a meal but I’ve never finished a glass. I guess I never developed a taste for it.

Alcohol has just never been appealing to me. I grew up associating alcohol with evil and was taught more by example than anything else that I should stay clear of it. When the Bible was quoted on this subject, I was likely to hear a verse like Proverbs 10:1: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”

Yet one would be hard pressed to make abstinence from alcohol the Bible’s only position. Take Proverbs 23:20-21, for example: “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” This verse clearly teaches moderation of both wine and food.

In the New Testament, the criterion for choosing deacons includes the command not to choose those who are prone to “indulging in much wine.” (1 Timothy 3:8) Once again, moderation is the key.

Jesus changed water into wine as his first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. He used a parable to refer to himself as the new wine which should not be poured into “old wineskins,” a phrase referring to the rigid religious structures practiced by the Pharisees. Wine was shared at the Last Supper with his disciples. In all of these examples, wine is associated with that which is good.

However, the society in which Jesus lived wasn’t faced with the same problems regarding alcohol and its abuses as ours. We do have biblical stories of wine being used in excess, and the Bible is very clear that drunkenness is always wrong.

Once the Ark settled on Mount Ararat, Noah planted a vineyard, grew some grapes, made some wine, got drunk, and lay naked in his tent. He was discovered in this shameful state by his son Ham, who told his brothers Shem and Japheth. To restore their father’s dignity and so as not to see him naked, they walked in the tent backwards and covered their father.

When Noah awoke from his stupor and discovered that Ham had seen him incapacitated and unclothed, he cursed Ham’s son, Canaan. In essence, he disowned Canaan, cut him off from the family, even though he had done nothing wrong.

That’s so typical of what happens to family of alcohol abusers. As an abuser of alcohol makes poor choices, a domino effect begins, knocking others down physically and emotionally, and sometimes the choice is so bad, death is the result.

The Bible is very clear about the excessive use of alcohol: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” Ephesians 5:18. Debauchery is a word we don’t use very often. The Living Bible says it more clearly. “Don’t get drunk on wine because that will ruin your life.”

Recognizing a case can be made for moderation from the Bible, I don’t try to convince people that my abstinence is the only right choice. I believe abstinence is the best choice for me, but it’s not the only one.

What is more important is to bring as many on board as possible who will hold teenagers and young adults responsible for underage drinking, who affirm that excessive drinking is wrong all the time, and who will work to implement changes that curb the abuses of alcohol in all areas of society, especially among the most vulnerable, the young.

According to the Feb. 26, 2003, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, underage drinking amounted to 19.7 percent of alcohol sold, or $22.5 billion.

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth states that alcohol use among young people under 21 is the leading drug problem in the United States. Their most recent statistics from a 2004 study show that more than seven million underage youth, ages 12 to 20, reported binge drinking–having five or more drinks on at least one occasion in the past 30 days–in 2004.

Want a little evidence of how this kind of behavior can ruin lives? CAMY provides these chilling statistics. “Every day, three teens die from drinking and driving. At least six more youth under 21 die each day of non-driving alcohol-related causes, such as homicide, suicide and drowning.

More than 70,000 college students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape each year. Recent studies have found that heavy exposure of the adolescent brain to alcohol may interfere with brain development, causing loss of memory and other skills.”

What really happened with the Duke lacrosse players? Did they rape the stripper hired to perform for the team? That question is still unanswered but what seems very clear is that the college lives of these young men and their accuser have been ruined and that the common denominator that tied them all together was alcohol.

In fact, alcohol use among the Duke lacrosse team is epidemic. Newsweek magazine reported that 15 of the 47 players on the roster have been cited by police at some point in the last three years for public underage drinking.

College presidents and administration have been guilty of turning their heads, willing to see underage drinking as a passage of life, unless behavior spilled out into other forms of lawbreaking. With evidence that problems are epidemic, a few brave leaders are finally addressing the issue.

Leaders at the University of Georgia have publicly admitted that the school has an alcohol problem. Under President Michael Adams’ leadership, the university recently implemented a new policy that if students are caught more than once for underage drinking, they will be suspended for the current and following semesters.

The university will find it difficult to turn the current campus culture around, because they are fighting against a larger culture where alcohol education is lacking and the attitude among too many adults toward this problem is apathy. Just last week a 43-year-old ForsythCounty woman and her boyfriend were arrested for hosting a prom party with a keg for the woman’s 18-year-old daughter and friends.

Unless UGA gets support from families of their students, support from a society which inundates these students with messages that life cannot be lived and enjoyed without alcohol, or enjoyed moderately once a person is lawfully of drinking age, changing the on-campus culture will be difficult.

But they’ve started. Listening sessions and brainstorming ideas like Coach Richt’s idea of an alcohol-free night club is a good start.

These approaches may keep a Duke fiasco from happening at UGA. They may keep a young college student from becoming addicted to a powerful drug at an early age. They may keep a young woman from being sexually assaulted.

They might even save a life–but only if the new policy is applied equally with no passes for the privileged. The privileged die young too and their alcohol induced behavior can also be harmful to innocent lives. When the domino effect begins, it knocks down whoever is in its path.

Hats off to the University of Georgia for trying to make students believe that life can be lived without alcohol and still be fun and exciting. I may be a bit odd, but I am one example that this is true.

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. His column appears in the Moultrie Observer.

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