Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Asbury's Temperance Policy

As a general rule, I don't respond to completely anonymous comments, but I will to this one as it is of some interest:

So, is this post actually the launch of a quest to have Asbury's temperance policy changed?

Background: Asbury Theological Seminary has an ethos statement that addresses the moral community that Asbury wishes to be. Students, faculty, and staff are expected and required to maintain it. This seminary, though it produces many United Methodist elders and deacons, is not a United Methodist seminary. It originated from the 19th Century Holiness movement, and a holiness emphasis is present throughout seminary life -- at least here on the Florida Campus; I can't speak about the Kentucky Campus.

Among its most controversial requirements for personal holiness is a prohibition on alcoholic beverages. Many students find this irritating and have written and spoken at length about how the prohibition limits witnessing and erects a legalistic concept of the Christian faith which cannot be supported Biblically.

These arguments have merit, but I think that the prohibition should stay in place. There are negative consequences to the ban on alcohol, but there would be even greater downsides to open permission to drink -- and the absence of a ban constitutes permission. What prevents a student or faculty member from drinking himself into unconsciousness in a bar? What recourse does the seminary have to uphold the moral witness of Christians affiliated with the seminary?

Drinking alcoholic beverages is not a sin. Drunkenness, however, is. But banning drunkenness is too vague, too unclear a standard to enforce. Banning the consumption of alcohol is enforceable by the individual student or instructor or the community at large.

What would Asbury life be like if we didn't have an ethos statement? I'm speaking speculatively because I've never attended any other seminary. Dr. Bob Tuttle has told me stories of open, brazen cohabitation among Garrett-Evangelical students. That is unlikely to happen at Asbury without some confrontation by the school, in large part due to the legal mechanism of the ethos statement.

The alcohol ban causes problems, but Asbury is better off with it than without it.


John B said...

Way back when I was in seminary, I thought about transfering to Asbury. During the phone conversation I had with an admissions advisor I asked, "I've heard Asbury is a very conservative school. Just how conservative is it." Ask: "Well, we don't have a dress code." That was enough for me, even the thought of a dress code was way to rigid, so I stuck with the Baptist school I was at.

I hate legalism (man-made rules), though I do think that moral values clearly laid out in scripture, like the evils of drunkness or cohabitation, must be maintained.

Richard H said...

I went to Asbury from a UM school with a "Brown Bag" policy on alcohol (No alcohol allowed on campus. Unless it's in a Brown Bag and we don't see it.). I'm a non-drinker (for genetic and ministry reasons) so the ethos statement in this area was no bother to me.

My problem was with the way they handled Sunday activities. We do our Seminary Studenting all week long and then come to Sunday, a day of rest. After spending all week in heavy duty theological education a nice game of tennis sounded really restful and relaxing. But no. They locked the tennis courts on that day. You could sit in front of the TV in the dorm and veg out WATCHING tennis, but you couldn't do it yourself. At some point (they may have already done it in the past 20 years) they need to rethink what counts as rest for a seminarian (or pastor).

Anonymous said...

So I guess no real wine during communion, ever?

John said...

The Episcopalians are allowed to.

the reverend mommy said...

The co-habitation thing bothers me a whole lot more than the alcohol thing does.

I commented on the Methoblog, but this was a more extensive posting.

In fact, I probably have a higher sense of ethics because of codes like this. I interviewed at a local Christian Academy who had these types of (draconic) rules. I told them I could not sign in good conscience unless they were asking me to give up cough syrup and communion within the Anglican communion.

I was told to sign anyway and just "not tell anybody." I told them to keep the application and that my children would not be attending because I could not (in good conscience) patronize such a morally, spiritually and ethically corrupt institution. They were shocked.

When the code of ethics does not flow naturally from the heart, life and spirit of the person, the greater sin is tempting them to "just sign anyway" -- and the sin will also rest upon those empowered.

A good christian (one who is moving onto perfection) will know what is sin -- and abide by rules of conduct that will allow themselves to not sin or to lead their sister/brother into sin. I believe the greater sin falls on those who sign "anyway" and then drink -- and those who set the system up this way (for they have, by their action, tempted their sisters and brothers into sin.)

Then again, I read this ethos statement -- the word "refrain from" is key. This is not a "renounce all" type statement, but one where discernment should be used.

There have been occasions when I have imbibed and then there have been occasions when I would not -- and it depends on my personal walk, my reasons for drinking and the people I am with. If I have something askew in my walk or if I am drinking because "I had a bad day," I see these as red flags and will not drink. If I am with a recovering alcoholic or a person who has been damaged by the abuse of alcohol, I will not drink.

Long and complicated comment -- I hope you stuck through it.

Anonymous said...

"Legislating morality" is a phrase that means widely different things, depending on who is doing the legislating. For the government to legislate, which carries the force of law, is one thing. But for a voluntary body like a church (or a church-related seminary) it is entirely different.

Here's why: When the government requires something, you have no choice but to follow it. When a church does the same, it is only voicing expectations for its own members.

And do we really want to have a church that does not have expectations of its members? "Live and let live" sounds good on a bumper sticker, but is there anything demonstratively Christian about it? A community must have boundaries if it is to be a community at all. And those boundaries must be defined by expectations, required of the members of the community.

We can debate about whether or not a ban on alcohol should be one of those boundaries at a seminary, of course. But that is a debate about content, not form.

Anonymous said...

What prevents a student or faculty member from drinking himself into unconsciousness in a bar? Their own dignity and sense of moral boundary.

What recourse does the seminary have to uphold the moral witness of Christians affiliated with the seminary? Put the onus on the student to uphold it...these are adults after all.

At Drew, there were people who couldn't handle the pressure of seminary and turned to drinking and other vices to cope. You know what, they eliminated themselves from ministry. And had they not done it in seminary they would likely have done it from the pastor's study. If the "school rule" is the only thing that keeps them from drinknig, then when the fence is down, so will their willpower be. Others, were able to handle the power entrusted to us. Now most of us are reliable and effective pastors and teachers. This is due to, among things, the ability within to handle freedom responsibly.

Anonymous said...

I agree with christopher's point of view. A ban from an institution isn't going to make anyone do anything. While it may be an important witness to what they believe is a moral Christian life, it's not going to prevent students from getting trashed.

I see the same thing happen. Far better to have it happen at seminary where (1) there is a supportive network to help people through their problems and/or (2) the candidacy process works and the person in question is removed from a future in ordained ministry than to have it happen in a parish where far more is at stake.

the reverend mommy said...

I thought it was interesting to note Aquamom's comment on the Methoblog.

One think I had not considered is context i.e. the location of the school. I'm still thinking about that.

Whit said...

I think that Asbury's code is mistaken because it treats graduate students like children.

Like Christopher said, we're going to be pastors. That means that we need to have our own moral codes, with reasons for not doing what we think is sinful.

Incidentally, I drink so little that a no-alcohol rule would have little impact on my daily life. However the thought of the seminary dictating what I can and cannot do is repellent to me. Sometimes I wish MTSO was stricter about some things, but in the end I need to be moral because I am a moral person.