Moody Bible Institute Lifts Ban on Alcohol: Evangelical College Lifts Alcohol Ban, in Culture Shift

The New York Times ran an article today about Moody’s decision to lift the ban on booze:

Insiders say that this change at Moody, founded by the 19th-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody and a pillar of the conservative wing of evangelicalism, is, above all, a smart business move. The old, restrictive rules made it more difficult to recruit faculty members and staff.

Jerry B. Jenkins, the co-author of the best-selling “Left Behind” novels and the chairman of Moody’s board of trustees, said that J. Paul Nyquist, who became president of the school in 2009, first floated the idea of a new policy. According to Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Nyquist discovered that some potential Christian employees were put off by Moody’s strict code.

“He said that in the hiring practices, they had been running into people responding to the fact that it was kind of pharisaical of us to have a bunch of lists of rules,” Mr. Jenkins said.

“Pharisaical” refers to the biblical Pharisees, believed by Christians in the Bible to prefer systemic rules to general principles, like forgiveness and love.

So about a year ago, Mr. Nyquist convened a committee to explore a change.

“They brought back a report,” Mr. Nyquist said, “and we decided that this was an area where we wanted to change the standard to reflect no more or less than what God requires. We know the Bible tells us that God gives us our food and gives us our drink. So use your biblically discerned conscience and do what God wants you to in these areas.”

Mr. Nyquist was alluding to the fact that there is drinking all over the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. At the wedding at Cana, for example, Jesus turns water into wine.

Yet in the New Testament, the apostle Paul teaches that our bodies are our temples, and many Christians infer from this and other passages that drunkenness is an affront to God. Proponents of total abstinence conclude that, given humans’ fallen, sinful nature, it is prudent for Christians to avoid alcohol altogether.

Molly Worthen, the author of “Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism,” said that in recent decades some evangelicals have put distance between themselves and what they see as a censorious, conservative Christian culture.

“Particularly younger evangelicals and fundamentalists are disillusioned with their parents’ version of the Christian right,” Ms. Worthen said. As part of their attempt to develop a fresh take on evangelicalism, some of them have decided that they can trust themselves to drink.

“For example,” Ms. Worthen said, “I know young Nazarenes” — a conservative Christian denomination — “who are beginning to drink a little bit, but still have a lot of anxiety about it. What’s happening just now at Moody and at other schools, with the loosening of bans on drinking and dancing, is that conservative Protestants are kind of at a crossroads.”

Of course, at Moody it’s the grown-ups who now have permission to drink, not the students. But the school is part of a clear trend, in which evangelical colleges try to stay in step with the culture, however gingerly. And these small changes are often prompted by students. For example, both Wheaton College, outside Chicago, and John Brown University, in Arkansas, ended dancing bans in part because of pressure from students.

I find it funny that the professors can drink but the students can’t. I also find it interesting that the decision to lift the ban was made on pragmatic concerns about attracting staff members and faculty (not because it’s a dumb rule).

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