Bring me a lemonade!

Graham Stanton

The Sydney Morning Herald this week had an opinion piece by Joshua Blake, a 19 year old from Queensland decrying the culture of alcohol consumption in Australia, particularly among young people. His article came on the back of new research by the Australian Education and Rehabilitation Foundation that has estimated the total economic impact of alcohol misuse in Australia at $36 billion per annum.

Blake describes a culture among young adults where getting drunk is seen as a rite of passage and the only way to have fun Where regular binge drinking has become a social expectation.

Yet the heart of his critique is not leveled simply at youth culture, but Australian culture in general.  His article comes with a clear sub-text that adults ought to stop pointing the finger at the young and start with some self-awareness.  He says "we accept drinking as an integral part of our national identity and culture, society has normalised and continues to legitimise binge drinking."

Last week at Youthworks College we looked at the anti-drinking advertisements produced by governments in Australia and overseas as a way of engaging with this aspect of Australian culture. 

To aid the analysis we watched the 'How do you sell. non-drinking' segment from the ABC's The Gruen Transfer (Season 3, episode 6). 

It was striking that while the panel were discussing advertisements promoting the idea of not abusing alcohol, their banter between one another was laughing about and generally affirming their own experiences of alcohol misuse. Normalisation and legitimisation at work.

Drinking alcohol is deeply engrained in the Australian culture, and drinking alcohol to excess is firmly established as a feature of young adult Australian culture in particular. 

Blake does us a service by bringing the topic into a prominent forum. But his article is self-confessed to be short on solutions (other than the encouragement to admit we have a problem and the assertion that prohibition would be both unreasonable and ineffective).

As Christians our concern is for the three million Australians engaging in risky levels of alcohol consumption, for the 70,000 victims of alcohol related assault, the 20,000 children who will be victims of alcohol related child-abuse and the 450,000 children who live in households where they are at risk of exposure to binge drinking by at least one adult. As church communities we are also concerned for the way Christian youth and young adults are imbibing this culture to their physical and spiritual harm.

The way to combat a culture is to uncover the motivating story and tell a better story. What's the story that underlies Australia's addiction to drink? 

I suspect it's a story that knows only one way to celebrate, a story that has no way to deal with pain and a story that finds identity in going along with the crowd. If we're going to change the culture we need to speak about how the gospel of Jesus Christ gives a more compelling view of the world.

To combat alcohol abuse among young adults one of the most effective things our churches could do is to teach the Psalms. 

With the psalms we can explore and enact the shared celebration of praise and thanksgiving to God in the fellowship of God's people with the enjoyment of God's gifts. With the psalms we can also give voice to our sadness in the brutal clarity of honest lament to God.  With the psalms we can affirm and pursue a shared identity as the people of God set free to enjoy this creation and stand against the crowd.

Of course, the problem we face is bigger than one teaching program can solve.  But we recognise that the Psalms are fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. Our salvation lies in being united with him. The promise of the psalms is the opportunity of exploring the rich dimensions of what that united-with-Christ life looks like in the midst of a world like ours.

But one more thought that's sure to generate some conversation. 

I am confident that drinking alcohol is permissible for Christians when consumed in moderation. 

Actually, more than just permissible, there are verses in Scripture that appear to affirm alcohol's benefits (Psalm 104:15; Proverbs 31:6-7; 1 Timothy 5:23). 

Those who know me are aware that I'm no teetotaller. But I also suspect that Australian culture, at least among young adults has said more than drinking is 'permissible' or 'sometimes beneficial.' Our culture is saying that alcohol consumption is compulsory, necessary, essential as a mark of maturity and Australian identity.

Michael Jensen on this site recently applied the principle that when the society says 'you must not' about something that is not forbidden by the gospel, then Christians ought to stand up and say 'I will'.

Applying a corresponding principle: if Australian society is saying of alcohol consumption, 'you must' about something the gospel does not say is essential, is it time for Christians, or at least Christian young adults to stand up and say 'we won't'?

Bring me a lemonade?

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