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Wine: Social Gala or Sour Grapes?

by Vicki Bianco-Griffin
Health and Temperance Director, Michigan Conference

Can wine, even a “little wine,” be a legitimate part of a God-glorifying Adventist lifestyle?

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The cultural norm of drinking wine socially is not new to me. As an Italian-American, I was raised in a culture of wine appreciation. What is more, my family is related to a multi-billion dollar wine producer in this country, and my father owned three multi-million dollar wine distributorships for many years. We decorated our home with wax grapes, crystal grapes, grape-laden candles, and oil paintings of women treading grapes.

Though I was only about five years old, my first run-in with non-wine drinkers is as clear to my memory as if it happened yesterday. I had gone next door to have a dish of strawberries with my friend. I looked with surprise as my friend’s mother poured milk over her strawberries, and I promptly asked her to put little burgundy on mine. I was just as promptly refused. I went home upset, and my father, laughing as he pushed at his wavy black hair, said they just didn’t know better.

We gave the Catholic school I attended 14 cases of Boone’s Farm wine every year because the priests and nuns were allowed to drink the berry wines, which were lower in alcohol. I vividly remember my parents’ telling me that this was a treat for them because “a little wine is good for the stomach.” Although we never opened a Bible, and my parents only went to Mass on special occasions, I was satisfied with this explanation.

Gazing out of my relatives’ massive windows overlooking untold acres of vineyard, I listened with fascination to my dad and California wine magnates discuss new ways to market cheaper wines like Thunderbird and Port to poorer classes without tarnishing the image of the wine. “Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more” (Prov 31:7). Isn’t that what the Bible says? That was our take on it—just what every poor person needs—a jug of wine.

In addition, our wine company hired a team of psychologists to explore new marketing strategies to remove the stigma of wine-drinking from a big new market: women. Of course, no one believes in going to excess in drinking. That’s why the producers contribute 20 million dollars a year to alcohol rehabilitation research. “But,” the wine bosses would discuss over grand suppers accented with imported wines, “how can we get Americans to drink more? Sweeten them up—you know Americans love anything sweet! We need to give them what they like.”

Downside. Like anyone reading this article, I have seen the obvious downside of drinking large amounts of alcohol: the fighting, drunkenness, abuse, reckless behavior, automobile accidents, domestic violence, rape, suicide, and alcoholism. Polite society would never condone such goings on.

But as a youth, I noticed a more subtle pattern that occurs with small amounts of alcohol. At social gatherings, or even at the dinner table, after people had drunk a glass or two of wine, the conversation would inevitably get a little louder, a little more irreverent. There was a little more flirting, people would get a little more opinionated, a little more daring, laugh a little too loudly at bad jokes. Many times at our house, a five-bell fight would break out. But other folks would just “retire” to watch a TV movie while capping off the evening with an after-dinner drink or coffee. In all my years of exposure and involvement in social drinking, I have never seen or heard anything brilliant, noble, heroic, or spiritual from the lips of those imbibing wine. We talk about “wine in the Bible,” but let me emphasize that when we drink wine, a Bible is never very near.

When I became a Seventh-day Adventist, I found the testimony of the Scriptures and of Ellen G. White in complete harmony with my past experience. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder” (Prov 20:1; 23:31,32, emphasis mine). For the social drinker the wine cup is deceptive, because for many it doesn’t rear its ugly head until “at the last”—when it is too late.

Scientific Findings. Science testifies to the gradual mental and physical deterioration associated with social drinking. A recent study demonstrated that at levels commonly used in social drinking, alcohol prompts a sharp increase in corrosive free radical activity in the body. Such an increase in oxidant stress could well contribute to the occurrence of a wide array of chronic diseases, the scientists say. “These findings show that drinking alcohol activates a mechanism that has been implicated in a number of illnesses, including diseases of the liver and the cardiovascular system,” says Garret A. FitzGerald, M.D., chairman of pharmacology and senior author of the study. “At blood alcohol levels frequently attained in social settings, . . . damaging pro-oxidant processes are set in motion.”1

The brain, nerves, and muscles are exquisitely sensitive to vitamin and mineral deficiency, and alcohol subtly works to diminish the body’s access to thiamin, vitamins A, C, and E, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. This is partly due to the fact that alcohol impedes the digestive tract in absorbing needed nutrients. It is well known that low levels of these nutrients are linked to cognitive impairment, destruction of executive function (decision-making ability), increased stress-sensitivity, and increased risk of dementia. Learning and memory function seem to be particularly vulnerable.2

But alcohol doesn’t just affect the brain. It is also a significant risk factor for upper gastrointestinal cancer, liver cancer and breast cancers.3

Heart Benefit? What about the much-touted heart benefit, the so-called “French Paradox?” British research has found no evidence that drinking red wine provides any particular protection against heart disease. “The low mortality from ischaemic heart disease reflects the earlier low levels of saturated fat consumption, for which wine is simply an indirect marker,” according to researchers.They added that another factor could make the difference: Some illnesses considered to be cardio-vascular in Britain are not counted as such in France.4

The Bible admonishes us to “watch and be sober,” “be ye therefore sober, and watch,” “be sober, be vigilant,” and “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober” (1 Thess 5:6; 1 Pet 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8; 1 Pet 1:13). If the Bible testimony is not clear enough, consider the following: “Many, as they read this, will laugh at the warning of danger.They will say, ‘Surely the little wine or cider that I use cannot hurt me.’ Satan has marked such as his prey” (Temperance, p. 96). “The Bible nowhere sanctions the use of intoxicating wine . . . either as a beverage or as a symbol of the blood of Christ” (ibid., p. 97).

I can understand how a confused theologian who believes that Christ preached to spirits in hell or consigns disembodied souls to limbo could mistakenly misapply some Scriptures regarding intoxicating drinks. But any Seventh-day Adventist who dares to imply that such a plain scriptural teaching, corroborated by testimony from God’s prophet, is even faintly questionable is showing signs of intoxicated reasoning.

Sound the Trumpet. With 25% of our young people imbibing alcoholic beverages, perhaps it is time to give the trumpet a certain sound on this issue. It was the clear trumpet sound of truth that brought me into God’s remnant church, and I believe it is muffled misinformation by a few self-deceived “scholars” that is sending our young people toward the bottle and away from the Bible!

The Bible testimony is pointed as we take a thoughtful look at what it says regarding the poor and the use of intoxicating beverages: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more” (Prov 31:4-7).

Is God encouraging the down-and-out to drink themselves into oblivion? Could there be worse advice, even from a human standpoint? It seems obvious to me that the “Give” in verse 6 is not an order or inspired advice to follow the practice then mentioned—it is more of a “Leave” strong drink to those who use it! It’s a “Let” the lost, whose practice it is, do it. “Leave the drink to those who have no hope,” is the essence of this passage. Similarly, when Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Fill ye up then the cup of your fathers” (Mt 23:32), He was not urging them to continue in sin but answering them according to the folly of their own reasoning.5

The good news is that all are called out of hopelessness and into the full hope of salvation (Titus 1:2). All such will leave the wine cup behind.


NOTES

1. Garret A. FitzGerald, et al., “Alcohol-Induced Generation of Lipid Peroxidation Products in Humans,” Journal of Clinical Investigation 104/6 (September 1999): 805-813.

2. For the latter point, see Rosanne M. Ciccia and Philip J. Langlais, “An Examination of the Synergistic Interaction of Ethanol and Thiamine Deficiency in the Development of Neurological Signs and Long-Term Cognitive and Memory Impairments,” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 24 (May 2000): 622-634.

3. John H. Cummings and Sheila A. Bingham, “Diet and the Prevention of Cancer,” BMJ: British Medical Journal 317 (1998): 1636-1640; see especially p. 1639.

4. Malcolm Law and Nicholas Wald, “Why Heart Disease Mortality is Low in France: the Time Lag Explanation,” BMJ: British Medical Journal 318 (1999): 1471-1475; quoted portion from p. 1474.

5. “The Bible, the Saint, and the Liquor Industry,” International Biblical Resources Inc., 1977.

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