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Debate on alcohol use dominates resolutions report time

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–Messengers to the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention adopted resolutions on such currently controversial topics as immigration and the environment June 14, but the debate time was dominated by an issue addressed repeatedly in the convention’s 161-year history — alcohol.

A lengthy debate on a recommendation concerning the use of alcoholic beverages consumed the Resolution Committee’s report in the morning session. In a departure from recent years, the committee needed the evening session to complete its report.

When the back-and-forth on alcohol finally ended, the messengers passed with more than a four-fifths majority a resolution not only opposing the manufacture and consumption of alcohol but urging the exclusion of Southern Baptists who drink from election to the convention’s boards, committees and entities. Like other resolutions, it is not binding on SBC churches and entities.

The resolution’s supporters contended the action was needed because some Christians believe they may drink based on a wrong interpretation of the believer’s “freedom in Christ.” They said abstaining from alcohol preserves a Christian’s purity and testimony, while drinking can be a “stumbling block” for others and has destructive results.

Opponents argued that the resolution promoted a position based on Southern Baptist tradition instead of Scripture, which describes the use of wine in the Old and New Testaments.

The passage of the resolution marked the first time the SBC had approved an alcohol-related recommendation since 1991, according to the records of the convention’s Executive Committee. The 15-year gap is the longest between approved resolutions on alcohol since the convention adopted its first such recorded measure on the topic in 1886. In all, the SBC has approved 57 resolutions related to alcohol since that year.

T.C. French, chairman of the Resolutions Committee, acknowledged afterward that the panel was a “little surprised” the alcohol measure dominated debate, considering some of the other issues addressed in the 15 resolutions.

“We felt like since we had not presented [a resolution] on alcohol in a number of years, we felt like we needed to get that done,” French told reporters.

The committee offered the resolution without recommending any restriction in SBC life for those who consume alcohol. Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and a messenger from First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas, introduced on the floor an amendment calling for abstinence among those serving in the SBC, and the Resolutions Committee endorsed his recommendation.

The amendment, which also passed with about four-fifths of messengers in favor, said: “Resolved, that we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or a member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages.”

“While there may be liberty, we cannot violate [the admonition in 1 Corinthians 8 that] says our liberty can become a stumbling block. … [T]he use of alcohol as a beverage can and does impede our testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ,” Richards said in support of his amendment. “[O]ur leaders should take the high road in our walk with the Lord Jesus.”

Voicing opposition to the amendment, Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., referred to a New Testament account of Jesus at a wedding as his rationale.

“Christ turned water into wine,” Ascol said. He also expressed concern that this could be the start of a “sin list” used to exclude Southern Baptists from service.

Speaking against the resolution, Benjamin Cole, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, said he does not advocate the drinking of alcohol but he feared the convention was in danger of “misstepping” if it adopted “a position that is contrary to what the Bible teaches in the flexibility of the scriptural admonitions as they relate to the consumption of alcoholic beverages.”

Cole’s father died at the age of 39 from a liver disease brought on by alcoholism.

“My father did not die because he drank alcohol; my father died because he drank alcohol in excess,” said Cole, who said as a 13-year-old he cared for his father during the last six months of his life.

In defense of the resolution, committee member Dwayne Mercer, pastor of First Baptist Church in Oviedo, Fla., said while he appreciates “the fact that people become alcoholics because they drink too much alcohol, my parents always taught me, ‘If you don’t take the first drink, you don’t have to worry about taking the last.’”