Two Prohibition Movements

What lessons come from these two prohibition movements? (Perhaps three?)


JohnLDrury said...

I think the analogy you draw is insightful. At least formally, the same process could easily apply to a whole host of issues, and indicates something of the almost natural process that the church undergoes in its relationship with the wider culture.

However, in terms of content, I find the analogy between alcohol and marijuana far more persuasive than the the analogy between alcohol and abortion. The first two are so obviously instances of the "prohibition" of a potentially dangerous substance. In both cases there are larger social implications of the abuse of the substance, but the primary party in danger is the abuser of the substance.

Not so with abortion. Abortion concerns an act which puts in danger a person other than the agent of the act. Both sides agree on this, for most contemporary pro-choice positions (i.e., post-ultrasound technology) have dropped the "it's not a person" argument in favor of a more utilitarian argumentation. On the issue of abortion, the categories of justice, calls for the defense of the rights of persons come into play, and the questions of human personhood and dignity come to the fore. So, on both sides, the issue is one of social concern, not merely personal morality.

This does not mean that churches will not undergo the process you identify with regard to abortion. But it does mean that the issue itself is internally more resistant to the process in the form in which you describe it. It is much more likely that Christians will accept, consciously or unconsciously, the pro-choice position, than merely relegate pro-life morality to themselves. Or, should I say, the relegation of pro-life morality to oneself is identical with the pro-choice position. So, we are talking about a clear change of position, not a slippage with regard to the scope of regulation.

Just some thoughts. I think you are definitely identifying a real socio-historical pattern. What interests me is the differences between certain issues that might affect the manner in which the church undergoes change. Thanks for your thoughts, and for listening to mine!


andrea said...

Without having read anyone else's comments (so I hope this isn't a repeat)... I think the similarities between the prohibitions of alcohol and marijuana carry more similarities than abortion. It is valuable to distingish that alcohol, itself, is not a sin (though I suppose in the bellies of some individuals it can lead to evils... a key argument for prohibitionists). But most evangelicals maintain that abortion, itself, is murder and therefore sin. Pro-lifers aren't working to prohibit the tools used for abortion... but the act itself.

Having said that - you're right - like alcohol, abortion has become the deciding factor for many voters.

Chap said...

I would agree with John.

Keith, I also think underlying your question is an assumption that we live in a Christian-majority culture. It would be instructive to look at how the Jewish-exiles in the OT and emerging NT Christians dealt with these same issues in societies hostile to mono-theistic Jesus values.
My hunch is that Jesus-followers will obey Jesus, nominal ones will absorb culture, and non-believers will really absorb culture and perhaps dictate them for everyone else.

I do wonder however, what will happen when weed is legal...it certainly could be morally equivalent to alcohol for Christians. It will be interesting to see what kinds of arguments will need to be made "internally"???

Pete Vecchi said...

As with the other people who have commented thus far, I agree that there is a major difference between marijuana/alcohol (when a substance has the POTENTIAL to cause a person to do evil acts in society) and abortion (where a human life is taken).

That being said, I want to look at the whole issue in light of regeneration. Do we believe in imparted or in imputed holiness? If we believe in imputed holiness, then we believe that God has simply declared that His children are holy. If however, we believe in imputed holiness (which I believe is the Wesleyan position as well as the Nazarene position), then we believe that when the Holy Spirit indwells a believer, an actual change is made in the person's spiritual condition rather than a change simply being declared.

The point is that it is the Holy Spirit who indwells believers who therefore makes a difference in the lives of the believers. The problem is that sometimes I think we tend to put the cart before the horse when we as Christians (or denominations within Christianity) start to think that we can legislate holiness through civil laws. Isn't it only the Holy Spirit living within we believers who causes us to be able to do the right (Godly) thing? Why then do we try to get non-Christians (those people who have not experienced the Holy Spirit living within them) to try to see things through the eyes of a believer?

Perhaps rather than trying to legislate issue by issue and hope that the culture will slowly begin to see things our way, we ought to first be focusing more and more on bringing people into a relationship with Jesus Christ, who then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can work within the lives of those regenerated people and change their hearts AND minds.

bookworm said...

Concur with pretty much what everyone is saying so far. Regarding any comparison between alcohol and abortion, plenty of people drink without either the intent or result of drunkeness and the harm that follows. There is no scenario in which abortion does not result in harm. Destruction of an innocent human life is in fact the intended result of abortion, even if participants are in denial. So really, no comparison.

I'm not so sure marijuana vs alcohol is a completley fair comparison either. Does anyone ever smoke pot without the intention and result of getting high?

On the other hand a comparison can be made between prohibition and criminalization of pot. Both involve a failed effort to cure societal ills and both in fact end up adding harm to harm. I find myself more and more inclined to apply 1 Cor. 5:12 to the world and take a somewhat libertarian (politically) stance on issues like marijuana and alcohol.

Pete Vecchi said...

I was thinking today, where does the issue of gambling come in when dealing with these thoughts? Is it closer to abortion, which is legal but directly negatively affects (i.e., kills) a human being, closer to marijuana use which is illegal, but doesn't always (but often does) have direct negative affects on a human being, or closer to alcohol use, which is legal (at least for people ages 21 and over) but doesn't always (but often does) have direct negative affects on a human being?

Anonymous said...

It’s interesting to say the least. Last week your column asked the question "Is it a sin to drink beer?" and elicited no less than 33 responses which would put it in the higher end of articles with the most responses. This week the subject is "abortion" (not the first time you wrote on this issue) a subject one would think of more serious consequence for the Church and by Wednesday morning so far only six responses. If numbers are an indication of interest in the subject, got any thoughts Keith as to why the slowness to respond? (By Friday you may have 100 responses, who can say)

Keith Drury said...

Good thought... I have no idea what triggers responses and what doesn't though quite a while ago I noticed that some subjects do and other don't. It is the challenge of the media too--should that "chase ratings" by dealing with those issues that get the greatest response? That is a temptation for bloggers, one which we must at times resist.

Why I am interested in this issue is what I see as a reduced passion on abortion as we have been unable to get a law passed criminalizing it. What triggered this particular article is the following interchange while interviewing a student who plans to come to IWU next fall—she was from a very conservative church and had Wesleyan credentials over the top.
INTERVIEWER: “What social issue are you passionate about?”
APPLICANT: “Well I’m really passionate about abortion, you know, it is murder of a real life and I believe strongly that killing a child is wrong so yeah I’m really passionate about the wrong of abortion.”
INTERVIEWER: “So, what has your passion led you to do—in the way of social action. “
APPLICANT: “Well, you know I really believe abortion is killing but I’m not saying I would be willing to judge other people for having an abortion, like there was this girl at school who had an abortion and I can’t say what she did was wrong, but you know if I had an abortion it would be wrong, I don’t think a good Christian would have one but we should not be judging other people for how they live their life you know.”

Her approach is not isolated—stating belief that abortion is murder but allowing for others to choose according to their own conscience. It has made me wonder if (like Prohibition) there is a shift going on—a shift from attempting to making a thing illegal to the “Christians don’t get abortions” position…

Anonymous said...

Very helpful, Keith.

Duke said...

A couple of years ago I was preparing to preach on 'sanctity of human life' Sunday. I pulled up a number of survey results that suggested that 1/2 of women, 50% of women in the pews in any church, including 'evangelical' congregations have had an abortion.
In the midst of preaching that Sunday, it became clear that we are well beyond, Christians don't do that.
That can come off as depressing. However there's hope amidst the despair. It is the stories of those who grieve these decisions, which are driving efforts of compassion and reducing the abortion rate in America.
I think we're seeing the transformation of the heart accomplishing that which compulsion could only attempt.

Chap said...

"It has made me wonder if (like Prohibition) there is a shift going on—a shift from attempting to making a thing illegal to the “Christians don’t get abortions” position…"

I think the answer is yes as a result of us (America/western civilization) being post-Christian. This same response is coming from politicians as well...except without the 'like, um, abortion is, like wrong':)

This was Joe Biden and Al Gore's response when asked about their view of abortion. Abortion is against my personal (religious) conviction, but I cannot impose my view on anyone else.

This is foolish, but makes sense to most people on the surface. What concerns me most however, is that Christians are doing this with Christ too. I love Jesus, but don't want to impose Him on anyone else...this is much more disturbing.

btw...great new book called "True for you, but not for me" is a great resource for training Christians in understanding the folly of relativism etc...

Anonymous said...

Duke, just what it says, the law is insufficient to change! Imagine that, Scripture was right about one thing.

Erin Crisp said...

What has always bothered me a bit about the typical Christian response to abortion is the single-minded message, "ABORTION IS Wrong! ABORTION is murder!" over and over. Of course it is wrong. Ask any young person if they know that stealing or cheating or killing is wrong and they'll say 'yes' but many times, to them the alternatives seem worse. Instead, why haven't we spent more of our time, money and efforts working to address the heart issues of people seeking abortion. Why couldn't our "picket" signs read, "SCARED? COME TO US!", "NEED HELP? WE'VE GOT IT", "FEELING ALONE? WE'RE IN THIS WITH YOU!" Where our government has failed to pass laws to protect babies' lives, the Kingdom should be ready to step in with open arms, resources and long-term offers of committed assistance. Maybe?

Josh Lewis said...

I, a staunch pro-life supporter who would love to see Roe v. Wade repealed, am turned off by the "Abortion is murder" picket signs. I think Erin had a great idea as far as the Christian response to abortion, and I'd love to see her sign ideas implemented.

The prohibition idea is fascinating to me. Most all of our core laws in this country deal with sins--murder, rape, theft, fraud, but many sins are not backed by law. I've often found myself as the liberal or libertarian argument with my Christian friends who want to see more laws that address sin issues. It sounds good, but I think the result would be much the same as the Prohibition era--no real change. We'd simply be treating the symptoms, not the cause. I agree with Pete that the only real change will come when the Holy Spirit sweeps the country.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that the abortion debate in the US is parallel to the Abolitionist controversies of several generations ago.

Both were debates concerning morality and personal conviction as they relate to law--and the struggle of implementing such laws led to strange "compromise" legislation. Both center, at least to some extent, over the question of exactly who is a "person" (and whether there are classes of "persons"). Both feature passionate advocacy by minorities on both sides with the majority of Americans undecided/apathetic in the center--despite the fact that most people agree with the Christian moral position.

What lessons can we draw from that parallel? Well, that's a long debate--but I find it a useful exercise to compare to the two situations before passing judgment on the evils of the past. Of course, such a comparison just might make you a little more passionate in the present...

TMart said...

The belief that Prohibition did not work should be SERIOUSLY questioned and has been questioned by some very heavy scholarship and historical scholars.

See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470475/