Wine, Women, and…

Guest ColumnistCommunity News

by Todd Fearer

The commonplace enjoyment of wine and other forms of alcohol among Christians has come to mirror the pattern of society at large.  This seemingly innocent pleasure has the potential to be a delightful adjunct to celebration and relaxation.  On the flip side, it is a practice and habit that would likely cause some of our austere living forebears to turn over in their graves, and not without cause.

Although alcohol has the potential to impact the lives of both men and women, last month I happened across a thought provoking piece in a secular publication which specifically discussed the rise of wine consumption among women and some of the risks they face.

In an article entitled “Why She Drinks” printed in the Review section of the Wall Street Journal, Gabrielle Glasser combines a variety of startling statistics with her own perspective on cultural changes while heralding her book’s upcoming publication by Simon and Schuster.  She tells us that women buy the lion’s share of the nearly 800 million gallons of wine sold in the US annually.  Gallop pollsters analyzing the drinking habits of 85,000 Americans in 2002 found that 47% of white women reported being regular

drinkers, up from 37% in 1992. Similar growth in alcohol usage was reported among black and Hispanic women, as well.  52% of women say they most often drink wine versus 20% of men.

Ms. Glasser attributes the growing sales of wine among women to a variety of clever marketing decisions by vintners in the 1960s.  Formerly viewed as the beverage of choice among poor immigrants and skid row drunks, wine’s image was gradually reinvented, as winemaking has become a popular and influential industry.  It is now the fashionable substance of choice as the latest mother’s little helper. We learn that currently, almost 650,000 women are followingMoms Who Need Wine on Facebook.

You may be asking the logical question, Is this a problem?  After all, the days of Prohibition ended in 1933.  The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) –renouncing alcohol, tobacco, and drugs– is now a much smaller presence on the national scene despite their status as the oldest voluntary, non-sectarian woman’s organization in continuous existence in the world. So what is the problem? What is the problem for the society in which we live or, more pertinent, what is the problem for us as Santa Barbara Community Church?

Turning again to Glasser’s article we learn that women consuming the same number of drinks as men, while having proportionately more body fat and relatively less total body water, become intoxicated more quickly than their male counterparts.  It seems that in the 9 years between 1998 and 2007, the number of women arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol increased by 30%. During the same interval the arrest of males for DUI fell by greater than 7%.

According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, among young adults aged 18 to 30 there is a relationship between heavy drinking and having sex such that 35% of men were drinking heavily (5-8 drinks) prior to having sex, and 39% of women. The perceived association between alcohol use and unplanned pregnancy appears to be well founded.

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the National Institute of Health, suggests no more than 3 drinks on any single day AND no more than 7 drinks per week for women.  If this is the secular standard, what should our standard be within the community of faith?

Soren Kierkegaard in his 1938 work, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, made the statement, If it be possible for a man to will the good in truth, then he must be at one with himself in willing to renounce all double-mindedness.  Kierkegaard condemns as double-minded the wish to judge others instead of one’s self.  I write tonight as one who has at times overindulged in alcohol –beyond the sipping point.  My article is written not with the intent to judge or prompt gossip, but to promote healthy discussion of a modern way of life frequently taken for granted which nonetheless deserves our scrutiny.

Although our springboard for conversation has been a gender-specific article, its applicability crosses gender lines. While not intending to be proscriptive let me appeal to each of us to ask the questions, What is my relationship to alcohol? Does it in any way own me… own my thoughts… own my moods… own my comfort?

Some time ago, Bonnie and I had a husband and wife to dinner.  As is our custom and practice, in the name of hospitality we served wine with dinner only to discover that the man didn’t drink.  He went on to explain that this represented a change in his habits.  He told us that formerly he would often have a few beers when he got home from work in the evening.  Little by little, thoughts of his cool refreshing friend began to creep in earlier and earlier each day.  He decided to end the relationship.

In the oft-cited passage from 1 Corinthians 10 the apostle Paul tells us, I have the right to do anything,’ -but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’-but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

So how should we best balance the use of this gift of the fruit of the harvest against the goal of true worth, the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus?  As we press on together– men and women alike– let us prayerfully consider ourselves and talk honestly with one another about this and every aspect of the new life we share together in Christ.