New Freedoms at Moody

Alcohol consumption has a history in the USA — including the prohibition movement — and a history in some churches. Alcohol consumption was connected to holiness and holiness to not consuming alcohol, and they wrap it all up into communities who commit themselves to such a view and out comes social pressure … and this is how social formation and spiritual formation get wrapped into one bundle.

Anyway, Moody Bible Institute changed its rules for faculty on alcohol consumption. Notice the non-changes in Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s report… but here’s the question: What is your response to news like this? 

(RNS) The Chicago-based evangelical Moody Bible Institute has dropped its ban on alcohol and tobacco consumption by its 600-some faculty and staff, including for those who work in its radio and publishing arms.

The change in August reflected a desire to create a “high trust environment that emphasizes values, not rules,” said spokeswoman Christine Gorz. Employees must adhere to all “biblical absolutes,” Gorz said, but on issues where the Bible is not clear, Moody leaves it to employees’ conscience.

Employees may not drink on the job or with Moody students, who are not allowed to drink while in school.

Students must abstain from tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs and “sexual promiscuity” for at least one year before they enroll and during their time at Moody.

“In addition, students are to refrain from gambling, viewing obscene or pornographic literature, and patronizing pubs, bars, nightclubs, comedy clubs, and similar establishments,” the catalog says. “There will be no on- or off-campus dances sponsored or organized by Moody Bible Institute students or personnel.”

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  • I went to Wheaton and we had our own dancing and alcohol bans while I was there. And while I never really felt much loss. I do think it is important that they are considered culturally based bans and not biblically based bans. Because scripture clearly does not ban either dancing or alcohol (no matter what ludicrous arguments about ‘biblical wine’ and Jesus turning water into grace juice people make.)

    But I do think it is interesting that Moody is culturally able to ease up on the alcohol before dancing. People die from alcohol addiction and drunk driving, but I am unaware of anyone dying from dancing addition or from too much dancing.

  • jhurshman

    I’m going to say it’s not a typo, and Jesus really did turn water into “grace juice.” 🙂

    I think it’s good for Moody to change its policy regarding faculty/staff. Treating faculty and staff as trustworthy adults who can disagree on disputable matters creates a better culture than dictating the result of the decision, particularly since the restriction on students is of limited duration (just for the duration of their enrollment), whereas a restriction on faculty and staff is open-ended and potentially decades-long.

  • Pamela C. Fitkin

    good morning, hm, first question that comes to mind is why the difference in “high trust environment that emphasizes values, not rules,” between staff and students? If faculty can be trusted to abide by “biblical absolutes” (do not get drunk) why can students not be offered the same trust? Second, what is the difference between a statement of faith/creed verse a list of rules for staff to follow? Is it wording, for example, ” May not drink alcohol” as a rule or ” We abstain from various forms of unholiness eg. alcohol consumption”— At the end of this I don’t think Moody is wise in making this change, it’s confusing and what do they do with a faculty member who breaks trust? Thanks for making me think this morning!

  • Dirtbeard

    Good for them. Since the Bible does not prohibit those behaviors, neither should MBI.

  • I think you make a good point. Faculty and Staff are both adults and long term members of the Moody community. I do think that when people are treated as if they can’t make a decision on their own they often end up not being able to make a decision on their own when unforseen situations arise.

  • Robin

    It’s funny that dancing is stll prohibited, David danced before the Ark of the Covenant and people thought it was offensive back then (he was half naked too!). If your eyes are dark then all you see is darkness.

  • “It’s funny that dancing is still prohibited . . .”

    I know . . . right? I wonder if they can play cards, since that was banned by Puritan-minded thinkers as well.

  • I think it’s good for Christian schools to have some boundaries in place. Otherwise, these Christian schools are going to look no different than any secular school where anything goes. After all, we Christians are held to a higher standard. But, when rules become legalistic or dogmatic, then that is another issue to contend with. I think it’s time for Moody and other similar Christian schools to drop the Puritan and fundamentalist views and move into the more progressive 21st century. After all, some of these rules (i.e. alcohol, tobacco, dancing) really are just leftovers from a bygone era of dated theological views (i.e. Keswick/Higher Life Movement).

  • Phil Miller

    It’s a good thing they still ban sexual promiscuity… That could lead to dancing… 🙂

  • DMH

    I attended Moody in the early 80’s. This probably feels like a quantum leap to them. Way too little, way too late.

  • I think that if they do that, the next step should be to openly tolerate the consumption of Cannabis, at least in a drinkable or eatable form.

    Alcohol often causes deaths if a too great quantity is drunk.
    Cannabis never causes death.

    The long term use of Alcohol destroys the body and causes liver diseases ushering into death.
    In a non-smoked form, Cannabis is not harmful at all for the body.

    The alcohol withdrawal symptoms frequently lead to deadly epileptic attacks.
    The withdrawal from cannabis is only psychologically harmful.

    I am dumbstruck by the fact that while getting drunk is completely accepted in the American societey, many people are in jail for just having smoked a joint.

    Can someone please give me RATIONAL reasons why this is good so?

    Friendly greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • DMH

    I can’t.

  • AHH

    In a non-smoked form, Cannabis is not harmful at all for the body.

    While I would not defend the specifics of the ways laws in the US treat alcohol and other drugs, this statement isn’t true. See for example this story about people getting sick from eating cannabis-laced brownies:

  • Okay I was being provocative and over-generalized.

    Replace “Cannabis” in all above sentences by “Some forms of Cannabis” and this will work.

    Friendly greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • Tiffany

    Moody allows it’s students to dance as of last year I think.

  • Tiffany

    Moody doesn’t take the stance that drinking is a form of “unholiness” since that is not stated specifically in the Scriptures. They are asking us as employees to adhere to biblical standards and use wise judgement in grey areas such as drinking.

  • Tiffany

    Dancing isn’t prohibited. Where is everyone getting this idea?

  • Tiffany

    Ah, I see. I just read the full article. It’s all in the details: Moody students may dance, but Moody itself will not organize any dances whether on campus or off. So, students can dance at weddings, etc, but Moody isn’t into organizing such events.

  • What a surprising development!

  • DMH

    Why is this same grace not given to students?

  • Paul

    Now I can go back and teach at Moody again. Wait, MBI still requires a rejection of all evolutionary progress among species, the subordination of women to male church leaders, the cessation of revelatory gifts of the Spirit, public support of political Israel and my personal favorite, an imminent expectation that the world will end soon in a 7-year period of global war centered in Jerusalem that Christians will not get to fully witness because of being raptured up into a spiritual dimension in the sky. No wonder the faculty members need a drink or two.

  • metanoia

    I don’t see it as a good or bad thing. There are broader issues involved of which the alcohol, tobacco, and dancing issues are only a part. These issues may be holdovers from a previous time, but the history of the holiness movement was concerned with communicating that there was a different lifestyle between those who were believers and those who were not. Just as many of the Levitical prohibitions had a historical context, these issues point to a time where these kinds of rules served a purpose. The pendulum swing from legalism to liberty is healthy, but it rarely stops there. It most often goes to the other extreme of licentiousness. What are the societal issues that are the 21st century counterparts to tattoos, eating lobster, social dancing, and drinking alcohol, which would be a testimony to the our generation that we are different than the culture we are immersed in?

  • DMH

    “these kinds of rules” never served a good purpose. Rules might work well with young children but as one grows up there are better ways to teach about what to embrace, what to avoid, and why.

    How about this for something which makes us different than the culture around us; “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

  • Susan_G1


    Cannabis is not a benign drug. It may be less harmful physiologically than alcohol, but it is not without deleterious effects. Furthermore, the effects on young people (who are most likely to consume) are worse than on older folks.

    Also, withdrawal from alcohol can be awful but is (relatively) rarely fatal, including from seizures before delerium tremens. Few (1-5%) alcoholics develop DT on stopping, and a percentage who do, die, from high BP, ect., not seizures. When citing facts, it’s helpful to be sure they’re correct.

    AHH, being a stickler for fine detail, I need to state that the ill-effects of untainted cannabis consumption don’t really make one sick. It’s the unexpected symptoms and concern over them that sent people to the hospital. The worst side effect I’ve ever seen in the ER from cannabis is anxiety attacks, which are helpful to the patient to treat, but do not cause true illness. I have read that in rare instances cannabis can cause psychosis in people predisposed initially. The real problem with cannabis is addition of other drugs. A safe source is most helpful.

  • Susan_G1

    Again, is hyperbole helpful in discussions (unless clearly understood, e.g., sarcasm or satire)?

  • Susan_G1

    Living quite close to and interacting often with a community of believers well known for being separate from this world, I question it’s validity on any level. They may have separate dress codes, etc., but add poor education, low immunization rates, utter lack of concern for the quality of life of “livestock” (they run the puppy mills of the country; I’ve seen the sickening conditions and piles of dead dogs behind the barns) and often for their own children (this is widely known to doctors in this area; I had one father tell me to stop life-saving treatment on his son on the chance that “he won’t be much use to me if he can’t work,”) and more, and I’ve had it up to here with that hypocrisy.

    If anyone wants to appear separate from this world, let it be for their Godly actions, not their appearance (including abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, or dancing.)

  • mark almlie

    Comedy clubs? Comedy clubs are banned??? Hmmmm maybe Jesus never laughed after all 🙂

  • metanoia

    You may be missing my point. Even unbelievers have a capacity to love, and it doesn’t translate into being a disciple of Christ. God Himself enacted outward signs of an inward work, and dress codes, and certain social restrictions that demarcated the “people of God” from those around them was part of the testimony to the nations. I’m not talking legalism here, I am simply making a case that it is almost expected by the unbelieving community that practitioners of a certain religion look and act a certain way. It is the liberty of which I spoke but which is often taken to the extreme of license. Which is why I don’t think the lifting of the restrictions at Moody is either a good or bad thing.

  • DMH

    I apologize if I did, I was perhaps responding to some sub-points, which for me gets in the way of your main point. I get that your main point was that Moody’s decision was neither good or bad- visible lifestyle differences will naturally change with historical context. (right?) What I was addressing was spiritual formation issues and what should “mark” us as Christians.

    You said- “Just as many of the Levitical prohibitions had a historical context, these issues point to a time where these kinds of rules served a purpose.”

    I disagree with the idea of spiritual formation here. Rule making and obeying is rarely good for spiritual maturity. It encourages immaturity and unhealthy dependence on authority. Again, there are better ways. Also, perhaps you don’t see this as legalism but Moody certainly practices it that way (at least when I was there).

    You bring up OT examples of God demarcating his people. Is God still doing that? Hasn’t he done a new thing in Christ? From what I can tell the only thing that God wants to mark us with is love.For the purpose of identification and witness love is it. It is love on every level- love God, love neighbor, love self, love one another. No doubt love will have real world effects that can be seen, but it will look different from the effects that rule keeping produces. And if we are busy loving, the furthest thing away from us will be “the extreme of license”.

  • metanoia

    I certainly agree that these rules have no place in spiritual formation. I thought I was clear that it didn’t have to do with that. Spiritual formation is a work of the Spirit working itself out in love. I too am a Moody graduate and I didn’t take those prohibitions as legalism but rather as a point of reference for what kind of behavior may damage our witness. The rules weren’t heavy handed for me. I grew up understanding that whenever I was in someone else’s house, I was to respect the rules of the house. I found a genuineness on the part of the faculty and staff in having some “house rules” that would allow us to stand as a unified whole. Certainly there were a number of my classmates that cringed under the “burden” of those rules, but more often than not it was not because of theological fidelity as much as it was about wanting to do something that was prohibited by contract when the student agreed to attend Moody. Once I left the house, I was free to exercise my liberty according to my understanding of the Word of God, the dictates of my conscience, and my willingness to submit my liberty to Christ if there was a chance it would make it difficult for me to bear witness to salvation by grace through faith. I still think it is prudent, particularly in a local church environment, to agree to some parameters that would enhance our witness, but in the age we are living in, I’m not sure what those parameters should be. Perhaps my biggest concern is the lack of unity in the body of Christ about anything. We are a divided church

  • DMH

    What years were you there? I was there in the early 80’s.

    I have no doubt that the faculty, staff, and most students were/are genuine and sincere. I just think they are misguided, both in the topics we have been discussing and theologically (that’s another discussion).

    I am glad to hear that you don’t think rules have anything to do with spiritual formation but I have to question that when you link the rules to “a point of reference for what kind of behavior may damage our witness.” and “…allow us to stand as a unified whole.” I would suggest that any kind of rules we make are intimately connected to spirituality. Essentially, we are saying that to be a good and Godly witness (or whatever) you should do this and not that, dress like this and not that, etc… This is spiritual formation at a deep level. Again, I think there are better ways.

    Unity in the church is a problem but I don’t think setting up “parameters” are the solution. Unity might be achieved by this but at what cost? (I would say spiritual stagnation at the very least) I would rather see a unity based in love. “love covers a multitude of sins” Perhaps it could also cover some disagreements 🙂

  • Susan_G1

    I’d go a step further and say that rules divide us, separate believers from each other, and encourage a feeling of superiority instead of humility.

  • Amanda B.

    I think I don’t have nearly enough insight into MBI to know if this is a positive change.

    On the whole, alcohol is a neutral entity, and not a sin issue. I think it’s important to maintain that in any formation of policy for a Christian organization. It’s foolish to try and be stricter on any given discipline than the Bible is.

    But I have been part of an organization that asks its staff not to engage in social drinking (e.g. bars, pubs, having a party with alcohol involved, etc.–as distinct from, say, having a glass of wine with your spouse at dinner). We were comprised of a large number of very young adults, both on staff and as students. The drinking policy only was established after a series of incidents suggested it would be a good idea.

    But the ministry leadership has always been very clear that this was not about alcohol being “unholy”, but simply that we wanted to go the extra mile to avoid being a stumbling block to a weaker brother/sister. It was never set forth as a biblical guideline for everyone, but only a practical policy for us.

    MBI may ultimately find it needs to maintain a tighter guideline, or it may find it does better with a looser one. As long as it’s not treated as a core biblical issue, I think it’s very good for them to experiment and find out what works best for them.

  • DMH

    Yes, good point, because we’re talking “holiness codes” here (even if it’s not presented in such a way it’s the unspoken assumption), not the more practical rules of safety and functionality.

  • metanoia

    I was there in the late 70s and then went to NPTS in the early 80s. I think we’re focusing on two separate sides of the coin. I tend to think of rules as a means to facilitate the reaching of a goal. My involvement in sports, the military, church ministry and missions teams. have shown that rules can be beneficial at keeping us all on the same page. I’ve also found the opposite. With the absence of rules there is often confusion. Whether one wants to admit it or not, the rules are there whether spoken or unspoken. I prefer to have the rules articulated and agreed to for a team to be effective. A loving environment allows for review of the rules and adjustments to be made where necessary in order to keep everyone on track. And that is why I don’t think it’s either good or bad for Moody to “change the rules.” Obviously a review of rules took place and revisions were made in what the leaders thought would be best to accomplish the mission of MBI. Incidentally, I didn’t see eye to eye at the time with the rules in place when I was there, but it was painless to submit my freedom to following their rules for a time while I benefited from the excellent instruction and guidance I got while I was there.

  • metanoia

    It depends on what the “rules” are. There is a myriad of rules that govern church life. What many bristle at is who gets to make the rules. 😉 If the rules are tied to some sort of litmus test as to how a person can be saved, then that rule needs to be challenged. But I’m sure we’d all agree that in order to serve on a church board a person should be a believer and disciple of Jesus, a profession of faith in Christ is necessary prior to baptism, a church may “dictate” the kinds of qualifications for clergy ordination, etc.

    In my experience at Moody, I never encountered any instance where the rules being discussed on this thread had anything to do with a person’s redemptive status. I viewed them as “house rules” for maintaining a level of equilibrium among 1300 students and hundreds of faculty and employees who came from a very diverse theological pool. I suspect that the rules in that circumstance actually served to unite rather than divide. And if any one individual saw themselves as morally or spiritually superior, I suspect that they would still find a way to feel that way even if those rules weren’t in place.

  • metanoia

    I’m pretty sure the kind of dancing David was doing and the kind of dancing we have in modern American culture are quite different. There is certainly room for lifting the prohibition on some of the “tamer” kinds of dance expressions which were included in Moody’s rules, but would anyone here endorse twerking and other suggestive kinds of dance moves that are currently in vogue?

  • DMH

    Responding to this and what you wrote Susan
    I have no problem with practical and safety type of rules, it’s the holiness code type of thing that i have been writing against. People who involve themselves in these types of rules probably don’t tie it in with redemption but it certainly is about holiness. Rules such as no alcohol- ever (while you attend), by anyone. Your hair can not touch the top of your collar and must be above your ears, you must dress a certain way for class, a certain way to get into the cafeteria, etc…

    I felt the same way you did when I first started going there- willing to make some “cultural” changes for the excellent bible teaching. After a couple of years there I came to think better of that decision. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on that one… lovingly I hope.

  • metanoia

    Of course. I see your point clearly and have no qualms with calling out legalism. I just don’t see all “rules” as legalistic, and I think you understand me there. Peace

  • Susan_G1

    I wonder at this. Of course, it’s the same rationale with serving grape juice rather than wine at communion. But what difference does it make if you and your spouse have wine at dinner or beers in a sports pub? When it becomes a rule, people lose freedoms they have in Christ, albeit with good intentions initially, but I have seen it go all wrong too many times, where people become so legalistic that brides and grooms are toasted with grape juice and the parents are very proud of their choice to go against the grain. I have no investment here (I’m not a wine or beer distributor), but when people have rules in order to be a light in the darkness, it often seems to be at some point divisive. But so be it. The same spirit has been used to blame women for men’s lust. I personally have chosen modesty for myself, because I’ve been uncomfortable otherwise, but I would not make it a rule.

    I would far rather we stand out as a light in the darkness for what we *do*, not what we don’t do.

  • Susan_G1

    As DMH said, love one another. How about starting with taking care of our own poor, our jailed, our orphaned, our sick, our homeless, each other, and our planet? Living below our means in order to do so, not with 10% of our income, but whenever the need arises, who cares what percent it is? I wish we were more prominent in these areas. Maybe we will never be prominent enough. Maybe that is the way the world is. But I won’t fool myself that I’m an example of godliness if I don’t drink.

  • metanoia

    While there is plenty of room for improvement, I don’t paint that grim or glum of a picture of the church. All of what you have mentioned is being addressed by large numbers of Christians. I would venture to say that Christians are at the forefront of ministering to the poor, jailed, orphaned, sick etc. My point has been that those “standards of holiness” maintained by Moody started in a historical context in which they were meaningful. While it is certainly true that a segment of the Christian population swung to legalism, this past generation has moved the pendulum back. There are still groups who cling to total abstinence in some of these issues, but that is changing. I would venture to say that I see a time where there will be Christians who will become “legalistic” against those Christians who are not perceived to be doing enough about taking care of the planet, not doing enough to stop human trafficking, going overboard in consumer consumption etc. Self-righteousness has many faces. While these issues are the prime issues of the 21st century church, the previous generation was addressing the excesses of a 19th and 20th century Epicureanism that was devasting individuals and families. In my mind they are similar principles, different specifics.

  • Amanda B.

    Well, for us, this wasn’t a “rule” of holiness. Alcohol, whether it’s at a bar or a wedding or at home, was not considered a sin. It wasn’t a biblical command for all believers; it was a policy just for our staff for the sake of the young adults we were leading. Here were some of the factors that led to the decision:

    1) We have a lot of 18-20 year olds, who are not legally allowed to drink anyway.

    2) We have a lot young adults who are a bit too excited to be away from their parents for the first time, and are getting into trouble.

    3) We have a small but significant number of young adults who are struggling with, or have struggled with, alcoholism.

    4) We had a series of incidents with our interns/new staff getting drunk and out of control at parties, bars, etc.

    Refraining from social drinking as a staff, then, was about purposefully not putting a stumbling block in front of those particular people.

    It’s like Paul’s discussion about eating meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Cor 8-10. There’s nothing wrong with eating sacrificial meat. In fact, believers are specifically warned not to make a big production about it. Food (or drink) does not commend us to God.

    But Paul also says, “beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak”. He goes so far as to say that “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat.” Not just meat sacrificed to idols–he would refrain from eating meat altogether.

    That was the idea behind our staff policy on alcohol. We knew that we had people in our midst stumbling. So we gave up a legitimate liberty for the sake of helping out those who were still finding their feet as far as drinking responsibly. It wasn’t about being a light in the darkness of the world, but a strength to our fellow believers. For us, it worked well. There could easily be other groups for whom it wouldn’t work at all.

    Some sister ministries of ours (esp. those in other countries) did not have a drinking policy, and that has never been a point of contention between us. We viewed these policies as contextual and practical, not universal or moral.

  • Robin

    Dancing and drinking are neutral behaviors, these can be done in a joyful manner giving thanks to God and celebrating His goodness, also these can be done to show our evil destructive nature.