This week, I blogged on the controversial topic of same-sex marriage, and expressed my view that marriage is a human institution and not exclusively a Christian one. Thanks to everyone who wrote and shared this post – the conversations have been most interesting. This issue is one which will no doubt continue to grab headlines and stimulate debate in the community and in the church, which is a good thing. It’s also not going away any time soon, now matter how much the church wishes it would; in fact, the issue will be around as long as increasingly liberal attitudes exist both in society, and in the church.
Whilst news providers and social networking have run hot with opinions on the former topic, this week another news story appeared which caught my attention, but which hardly ruffled one hackle as far as I can tell amongst the folks who probably need their hackles ruffled. The story is this one:
“A VISITING American evangelist who claims healing powers has walked from a NSW court without even a fine despite driving 110km blind drunk and crashing into a parked car.
“Self-claimed “prophet of God” Jason Hooper – touring with Hillsong protege Ben Hughes – declared God had forgiven him for his double-shot whisky binge that ended in a mangled wreck on the Mid North Coast.
“ “I’ve worked it out with the Lord. I was wrong,” Hooper told The Sunday Telegraph.
“It was a miracle the Christian revivalist, with a huge following in the US, didn’t cause further turmoil on the Pacific Highway earlier this week after driving with a blood alcohol level of .206.
“Hooper not only had God on his side but magistrate Wayne Evans who let him go, saying the preacher was a “person of good character” under a lot of “ministerial pressure”.”
Now before you assume I’m about to subject this young man to some kind of character crucifixion for his stupid actions, I’d like to say that I have looked Mr. Hooper up and sent him an email offering my support. I also suggested he seek some profession help. It’s my belief that this kind of behaviour is rarely isolated, and Mr. Hooper, who is married with young children, clearly needs help, both with his “ministerial pressure” and the measures he is taking to alleviate it.
Many may assume I am mentioning Mr. Hoopers recent infraction to prove some snarky point about pastors being hypocrites and evangelists being flakes. While the former and the latter may be true in some cases, I think this could hardly be considered a revelation, and hypocrisy and flakiness is fairly prevalent amongst humans generally. We expect far too much from ministers when we hold them to higher moral and behavioural codes than we lesser mortals are capable of, with or without God’s help. I guess what really rankles with the general populace in light of news reports like the above is the fact that many ministers are no longer preaching the gospel of “all have sinned and fallen short”, but are instead teaching their own unique self-improvement course, in which Jesus acts as merely as a co-facilitator; a program of self-help and behavioural modification which is meant to bring about a kind of character evolution excluding vice and all appearances of evil, stupidity and weakness. I have never heard Mr. Hooper preach so can’t comment on his specific angle, but most people have seen and heard enough to help them form a general opinion. I agree, it’s hard to swallow any pill which hasn’t seemed to cure the snake-oil salesman spruiking it. But I digress.
The story of this young preacher and his close shave with the Australian courts, and some may argue with death, triggers in me some fairly strong feelings. I am less concerned with casting aspersions on this particular young man than I am with asking both the church and the community to look beyond his specific actions, however foolish, to see an underlying issue which urgently needs to be addressed by the Church and by the church, perhaps even more urgently than that of same-sex marriages or even homosexuality per sae. This issue is one which almost weekly is brought to my attention through conversations I have, messages I receive and comments people make on my blogs, and 95% of the people who want to talk to me about this problem are church-going Christians. Most are also women.
They want to talk to me about alcohol.
They find out via my writing that my husband Ben is an alcoholic. They find out that our marriage fell apart. They find out that this happened despite the fact that we both have been Christians most of our lives.They find out that a few years ago now, he went to rehab and stopped drinking, and how our marriage was restored and our family healed. And they want to know what to do about their partner, their parent, or their child, who drinks.
Most often, I am asked by women how they can get their husband to realise he has a drinking problem, because he refuses to see that his drinking is actually a problem. That’s because often it’s his drinking that prevents him from being able to see how his actions affect anyone other than himself. These women want me to tell them how they can convince their husband that his drinking is affecting them, and their children, and to seek help, because he doesn’t, and he won’t. In his view, the only drinking problem he has is that she keep banging on about it. The financial, social, medical and relational problems are invisible to him, because he has effectively anesthetized himself against them. The temptation for wives and partners to become similarly numbed is fairly substantial, however, most often the spouses, friends and family members resort to the necessary fallback position of fixer – they cover, rescue, lie for and prop up these men until either he falls part, or they do.
When I started having anxiety attacks that made it impossible for me to work, oh, and breathe, I asked my husband to leave the family home. I was not prepared to become physically ill and rendered unable to protect my children from the consequences of his actions and inactions any longer. I had no money, I had no job, I didn’t know how I would pay the rent, I didn’t know what I was going to tell our family or our friends at church. But I was going to have to find a way, because the alternative was intolerable. It was many years before I could see a way forward, and for a long time I believed it was going to be without the husband of my youth. Thankfully, Ben got the help he needed, and so did I. We’ve been reconciled, and non-drinkers, for only 18 months. I am blessed to have a loving husband and a united family once again, but we know full well it is not just a few months that separates us from the consequences of those actions. God’s grace is really all we have, and that is as tenuous or as solid a foundation as we choose to make it.
When he was drinking, my husband was a textbook alcoholic. He drank consistently during the day, and seldom if ever presented with symptoms of intoxication. However, there is another, perhaps even more insidious, use of alcohol – alcohol abuse. This entails the avoidance of alcohol for the majority of the time, with large amounts consumed at one sitting in order to achieve intoxication. It’s commonly know as “binge drinking” and is probably the more socially acceptable form of alcohol consumption. We largely dismiss this type of drinking as being anything other than immediately dangerous, we accept it as a rite of passage for the young and seldom see it as the pathway to alcoholism and mental/physical illness, or the cause of much of the alcohol-related risk-taking behaviour, that it is. We see it as a part of growing up and a part of being grown up, even though the behaviours and actions it elicits are rarely signs that maturity and responsibility are in fact present.
The consumption of alcohol in our society has become so accepted that churches have been forced to gradually soften their position on it or risk losing social relevance, and miss out on a bloody good time to boot. Most Christians seem to believe that their Christianity acts as a kind of immunisation against things like alcoholism, and that it is impossible for someone who is properly “saved” to become addicted to alcohol. Many Christians also believe that alcoholics have a particular character flaw which gets repaired when you “become a Christian”, and that once you’ve been “set free” you can then drink in moderation without fear of addiction or relapse. However, I think that telling an alcoholic they can be set free from their addiction and then go back to imbibe the substance which imprisoned, poisoned and threatened to destroy them, but only sometimes, is like telling someone they should stop smoking because they have lung cancer and are going to die, and after they’ve had a lung removed, telling they can go actually back to the occasional puff without causing any harm. Or like telling a person addicted to pornography that once their addiction is broken, they can still buy the occasional porno mag, just as long as they don’t open it. Pardon the expression, but oh my God.
Ben and I never realised how many Christians actually drink pretty heavily until we stopped drinking. I can tell you now, a lot of Christians drink pretty heavily, and they will tell that you it’s okay, because they don’t have a problem with alcohol. Yes, they do. If they didn’t have a problem with alcohol, they wouldn’t drink at all, and they wouldn’t argue about it. I have a problem with alcohol, and I freely admit it, that’s why I argue about it. My problem is that our thinking we were okay with it and it couldn’t control us was stupid and a lie. My problem with it is that if we start doing it again, we stand to lose everything we love and treasure and have worked so hard for, and we act against God’s grace in our lives. My problem with it is that it’s unnecessary and ruins people. I think those are pretty good reasons, and I won’t apologise for them, even though I’m expected to justify them. By Christians.
I challenge every single person, every Christian, who thinks it’s okay to drink alcohol to visit a rehab like the one my husband went to and see what people’s drinking really does to people just like you. Not just the alcoholic, but their family – their parents, their children, their partners and their communities. If seeing what drinking does to people just like you isn’t enough to make you not want to drink at all, you really do have a problem with alcohol. A drinking problem has nothing to do with the liquid in the bottle – a drinking problem is an attitude to alcohol. It’s an attitude that says I can do it when others can’t, I will have victory over it when others don’t, I won’t be affected, yet others are.
Want to know why Christians believe they can drink and not be harmed, while others cannot? Pride. They don’t believe they are like other men. They don’t believe they are susceptible. Weak and stupid – that’s what pride tells us alcoholics are. I know a lot of alcoholics and I can tell you weak and stupid they are not. Arrogant, yes. Cunning, absolutely. In denial -always. They don’t believe it’s ever going to do to them what it’s done to others. They believe it’s a flaw in that other person that caused the addiction, and that they don’t have that flaw, whether it’s because Jesus took it away, or they are just superior as a human being, or whatever.
In the rehab, the one thing that had to be dealt with every single time before the men could be healed is their pride. “I’m not one of these dickheads.” “I don’t belong here.” “I can control it, it doesn’t control me.” Just about every single guy that goes through the rehab says the same thing. And you know what else we observed? The hardest cases were inevitably the Christians. They believed they were super-beings, above it, unable to be brought down by the same things that hobbled these mere mortals. In their opinion, their alcoholism – the alcoholism that ruined their marriages and their finances, estranged their children, wrecked their health and got them into the rehab – was all in other peoples minds. You don’t understand. I’m called to ministry. I’ve been to Bible college. I’ve been a Christian my whole life. I know the Bible better than you do, pal. I just drink now and then. It was all self-deception, because in the end, these man had to face the fact that despite being saved, healed, delivered, called, set apart, sanctified, special and everything else they’d been programmed to believe about themselves by church and other Christians, they were really also just another alcoholic. How do you think you ended up in rehab, buddy? Once their pride and self-identification as being a special (i.e.: Christian) human being in possession of special (i.e.: Christian) qualities fell down in a screaming heap, and they were able to see they were actually just one more sinful creature who needed salvation. Then the healing could begin. Thinking they were not fallible specifically because they were Christians was just another part of their denial about being an alcoholic
Many churches now have themselves a church culture which includes the acceptance of alcohol consumption, and promotes it’s use and sale at church organised events. I recognise that they view this as something which increases their relevance in the community, and acknowledge that perhaps it does. What it also achieves is acceptance by your church members that alcohol is a safe family activity. People may be more likely to come to a church where they feel they can hold onto their destructive behaviours, but we deceive them if we say we don’t expect them to change once they get there, because we will, one way or another. One of those changes might be training them to justify their alcohol consumption with a whole new set of convenient excuses. It will no longer be “But I only drink socially.” now it will be “But I’m a Christian, and I’ve been set free.” If we think anyone outside of the church is fooled by this, it is we who are deceived.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Now, that’s a lot to ask, isn’t it, laying down your life for your friends? But no one is asking you lay down your life; merely asking that you not partake of the same poison that kills your brother, your sister, your neighbour, your friend. Again, I say, if drinking isn’t a problem for you, why not just stop? Let’s just say that a certain man says he abhors slavery, yet he refuses to advocate for its abolition, and even keeps a few slaves for his own convenience? What kind of Christianity allows this? There was a time when Christianity indeed did allow it, yet instinctively, we know this attitude to be wholly wrong, and wholly un-Christ-like.
If we have assumed Mr.Hooper’s drunken binge, and the dangerous behaviour resulting from it, are a once off event , I doubt it. I am more than open to being corrected n this, but one does not randomly enter a bar because one feels a little bit of work-related pressure and proceed to slam down enough neat liquor to kill a small child, just because it seemed like a good idea at the time. This is a man who is experienced in drinking alcohol. The heavy intoxication resulting from a binge such as this would certainly surprise someone the first time it occurred, if not render them unconscious. However, Mr. Hooper was sufficiently non-plussed at to believe he could control a vehicle travelling at 110km pr hour on one of our major highways. One would think a man with so strong a sense of Christian obligation that he was prepared to travel all the way here to save Australian souls might also have had enough of the same to keep him from driving drunk towards us while he was here. But sadly not. I believe there are two possible reasons for this – 1) he didn’t realise he was drunk and wasn’t able to drive 2) he’d done it before and nothing bad had ever happened. Which do you think really happened here? While it’s a relief and perhaps even a miracle no one was killed, the fact this man binge drinks often enough to form a pretty relaxed attitude to driving whilst blind drunk is of deep concern, firstly because this young man is a professional Christian minister, but also, and maybe even more so, because he is a husband and father.
When women ask me what to do about the alcoholics in their lives, I first ask them if the person they mean actually believes they have a problem. Not because I think the women are making it up, but because there is no way their loved one will get help until they have admitted they need it. The first, and biggest hurdle to overcoming alcohol addiction is and always will be denial. Denial means we can maintain the status quo and never be required to change, even if that change means something better will come – eventually. The something better rarely comes before something, or many things, which are truly awful, shameful and destructive, and denial is definitely the best thing for avoiding all of that. There hopefully comes a time when an addicted person, and the people attached to them, are willing to accept the set of problems that come with being healed of the addiction, by giving up the set of problems that come with holding onto it.
It is my belief that the Church’s increasing permissiveness concerning the use of alcohol is far more a more practical and pressing issue than homosexuality or same-sex marriage or many of the other things it’s getting itself in a lather about. Let’s for a moment ignore the fact that there are people in your church that are both gay and who are alcoholics. It’s statistically impossible for it to not be so. If you think to the contrary, it’s simply because you just don’t know about it, and that is not their fault. Most Christians struggle to even name one single homosexual person they know of, yet feel they can make judgements on whether their homosexuality is inherent or not, and whether they should be permitted to get married. Yet alcohol is destroying families and people in your church, today. I put money on it. Yet everyone wants to talk about what God thinks of gay people, and not what God might think about alcoholics. Why? Because for a Christian to admit he can’t hold his alcohol is anathema. It would be like admitting we can’t manage or bring under control something we think we should find very easy, and in fact, which we find to be pleasurable. However, when Christians drink they are claiming they have something that helps them to not become a slave to alcohol that others do not have. What is this magical thing? Freedom? Strength? Power? Salvation? What exactly is it we are prepared to claim over and above God’s grace that we have which the alcoholics in our church do not?
I would like to be a part of the set of problems that come with someone giving up their addiction, rather than be part of any set of problems that contribute to it. Christian charity ought to be as simple as the act of grace which saved us all in the first place. It should come without the expectation that the recipients perform great acts of conscientious gyration to comprehend it. If we would set captives free, we ought to be also opposed to captivity on principle, and not continue to dabble with it as a kind of light entertainment. Again, my challenge – keeping in mind that one of the first signs someone has an alcohol addiction is denial such an addiction exists- if you have no problem with alcohol, and yet claim to have compassion for those who do, simply stop drinking alcohol. You need prove nothing to me. Perhaps your response to my challenge will serve to prove something to you.
If you or someone you love has a problem with drinking, please seek help. The following organisations may be able to help you. (Australia only.)