Alcohol, Sugar and Stewardship

I often wonder about the ways our church collectively defines abuse of the body, as enshrined in various policies and legislative decisions. It’s very much a rules-based or topic-based approach, as opposed to a principle-based one. We seem to focus on alcohol a lot. Particularly for priesthood holders, as far as policy dictates, this is a big no-no.

It’s reasonable to say that these policies are based on respect for ourselves, our bodies, our spirits, our families, good stewardship so on and so forth. Without getting into the details of what we think about these policies, I’d like to throw another bodily-abuse in there for discussion. Food. Or more specifically, over consumption of food, and in particular today, sugar.

We talk about over-consumption of alcohol and its subsequent abuses as one of the factors in avoiding it all together. Personally, and within my cultural context, I can easily and happily enjoy one glass of red wine without feeling the need to polish off the entire bottle. Sugar, however, is a total different story.

I cannot eat one square of chocolate without wanting to demolish the whole block (particularly if it’s not dark chocolate). I cannot open a packet of lollies and just have a couple. I cannot bake a tray of biscuits and only have one. I polish off the lot. The entire tray. In one day.

Sugar is an addictive substance. Sugar puts me in a foul mood. Mood swings. Appetite fluctuations. General inflammation inside my body. It messes up hormones and enzymes that impact my ability to be healthy. It makes me over-eat. I experience an overall decrease in my general well-being. I get physically ill from too much. I get a daily afternoon slump where my brain can’t operate without another hit. Sugar has been my drug of choice. (I’m not just talking about the refined stuff either. I reason with myself that honey is okay, ‘just one teaspoon’. That’s not even thinking about the hidden sugars in sauces and breads).

Sugar is literally destroying our bodies – many would argue as much as alcohol is – and the ‘sugar-free’ movement is growing. Coinciding with Lent, I’m breaking up with sugar (and blogging about it here). This abuse of my body, wonderfully and wondrously created, cannot continue.

  At church (including standard Sundays, church activities etc), we almost never talk about over-consumption of processed foods and sugars that lead to the abuse of our bodies – or physical health at all for that matter. It’s all about no alcohol. We’re more than happy to judge on alcohol consumption, but I’ve never heard anyone say, “put down that muffin!” at a pot-luck, or be outraged at a cheesecake on the table as though it were a bottle of whiskey.

To be clear, for me, being a good steward of my body is as much about what I eat and how much I move as it is about watching my alcohol consumption (and I am imperfect at both).

In our priesthood call guidance documents, one is caused to consider “Does the person avoid using alcohol, tobacco, and other addicting substances?”

I think some positive movements have been made by the inclusion of ‘Responsible Choices’ and ‘Sacredness of Creation’ in our Enduring Principles that help direct us to think more broadly about health and the choices we make about what (and how much) we put into our bodies.

Do we need a no-sugar policy? Or should we advocate a more principle-based approach to the kind of decision making that applies to many aspects of healthy living (including food and alcohol)?

What are your thoughts on stewardship of the body?

8 thoughts on “Alcohol, Sugar and Stewardship

  1. If you’re interested in finding out a bit about the greater contextual circumstances with our church’s prohibition, I recommend a book by Eric Burns called The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol. In it, he talks of the temperance movements in the early 19th century that started up as a way to rein in out of control drinking. Their positions on alcohol varied from group to group (complete abstinence to refraining from only strong drinks to moderate consumption). These groups did not typically impose their policies on outsiders, but were rather more akin to accountability groups were people imposed the rules on themselves.

    This changed, however, when the American Temperance Society (founded in Boston) grew beyond its community and, for a variety of reasons, adopted a policy of complete abstention. It gained influence in communities and set the tone of the culture that brought forth the Word of Wisdom and subsequent resolutions (1868 “Intoxicating Drinks and Tobacco”, 1898’s GCR 463, 1936’s reaffirmation of the Word of Wisdom through GCR 933 as “basic in the health program of the church.”)

    I don’t know of this book just out of happenstance, but rather because I wrote a paper for my Ethics course a few years ago. I also looked at C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity), Leonard Tolstoy (Forbidden Words: On God, Alcohol, Vegetarianism, and Violence), and Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung (Savor). Through my research I discovered that what our policy originates in – a statement on health found in the Word of Wisdom – evolved (or devolved, depending on your perspective) into a proscription against “evils” (GCR 463) and “grosser sins”. (D&C 152.4b) It became an issue of morality rather than an issue of smart health. We know a lot more about consumption of alcohol and other substances that the Word of Wisdom addresses today than we did 180 years ago.

    As far as the other writers, Tolstoy insisted on complete abstention, Lewis supported moderation (the original meaning of temperance), and Hanh and Cheung fell somewhere in the middle, encouraging abstention but also suggesting that, if one must drink, that they do so by practicing “mindful consumption.”

    All three books opened the conversation up far more broadly than just individual morality, too. Lewis, Hanh and Cheung considered the impact and influence that we have on others who might witness us drinking, raising the concern of how one who does struggle with alcohol might think that, if they can do it, so can I. This refers to Paul in Romans talking about causing others to stumble. (Rom 14) Tolstoy, Hanh and Cheung also bring up the impact that one person’s consumption of drink could have been another person’s bread or grapes (or corn, or rice, or…), which brings up an entirely different social justice issue. (Likewise, how my typing this on computer parts made by factory workers in slavish conditions is a social justice issue.) This rightly brings to mind our commitment to our enduring principles – is it fair for me to enjoy a beer or wine (which the former has no health benefits and the latter has negligible benefits), when others in the world could have used materials for food? I realize that this conversation could quickly spiral out of control (is it fair for me to have a computer? a house? clothes?), and that’s usually when my wife starts to get worried about that crazy glint in my eye (“Sell it all! Give it to the poor! We don’t need any of this stuff!”). Even still, however, these kinds of questions should also be part of our conversation as we consider the sacredness of creation and the worth of all persons. Yes, cultures the world over have figured out a way to consume alcohol in a manner that affirms the sacredness of their bodies – a manner that has thus far eluded us Americans. However, is there something that happens in that consumption of alcohol that takes food off of a table of another? (This, also, is a global economic question. Much of the grain that is produced and used in the making of drink is subsidized in the US, and the argument is oft made that the US produces enough grain to feed the world a few times over – yet we don’t.)

    Ok, that turned into more of a rant than I intended. Anyway, I do have that paper if you would be even remotely interested in it.

  2. karlijo says:

    Hi Bob – your reply is exactly my line of thinking. Potlucks and morning teas are like this untouchable sacred event for us. But they are the perfect example of how the discourse could easily be applied to something we all partake in. I absolutely agree that our consumption related policies are far too limited and misdirected – they may have been developed at a time where alcoholism was the primary consumption factor facing members of the church – I haven’t looked into that. But they certainly do not reflect the current issues.

    The purpose of a principle-based discourse reflected in policy would overcome the time-relevant factors. I’d really love to see more discussion on this at the World Church level.
    In June, Australia will have it’s Mission Centre conference (and national conference) as I mentioned above. One legislation that will be brought forward has to do with this issue of wellbeing and healing, and it encourages the church to discuss more on modern issues facing our health, wellbeing and ability for our bodies to heal. Overconsumption is a read-between-the-lines in this one I think. I’m looking forward to the discussion that will take place there, and would be happy to fill you in on how it goes.

    Thanks heaps for your reply Bob. It’s always good to know that one isn’t alone in one’s thinking on these types of things =)

  3. Bob says:

    Karli, I really enjoyed reading your post. A few years ago, one of my coworkers became good friends. He is a Lutheran and I am CofC. He gave me a different perspective on how alcohol could be used (dare I say enjoyed?) in appropriate settings. Martin Luther’s written edicts often had a few sloshed words in them, he would tell me, and often Luther’s thoughts came out of lively discussions held in German beer houses.

    Often the CofC rhetoric surrounds alcohol with a misinformed, albeit, cautious apprehension. I write misinformed because I think a number of people have either observed or experienced poor discretion while drinking alcohol. I write cautious because sometimes their anxiety is warranted. The issues that often fail to enter the conversation pertains to how a beverage can bring people together and act as a social lubricant. People can be edgy and groups can benefit by being more forgiving. Frankly, I think the church’s discourse against alcohol could just as easily be used for our over consumption of food and especially potlucks (yes potlucks). Americans’ over consumption of food is directly related to our rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer, etc–outnumbering alcohol related deaths by far. Sure alcoholism is bad, but have you visited a hospital lately? In this sense, if our consumption policies were intent on pragmatism, then they would focus more on healthy living through exercise, moderation, eating healthfully, and driving less.

    Karli, I’m really glad you wrote this post because it’s so true. And perhaps with a little bit of pushing, this will be another policy/culture that will change for the better.

  4. Carla Long says:

    What an awesome message! Thanks so much for being who you are and not being afraid to talk about it. You’re amazing…
    I am inspired!
    (And I went to read your blog! Well done!)
    Much love to you!

  5. karlijo says:

    Hi Sydney – yes, you guessed it, I am from Australia 🙂 Good pick. Your experience sounds like an interesting one, and without trying to speak for others, I would imagine that your experience may mirror that of others in our church in parts of Europe – even Australia actually, by and large, this is not an ‘issue’ for us on the whole. Definite culture shock for you!

    Ratchy, I agree with you guys on applying a sense of moderation and balance to many aspects of our lives – shopping even etc. I do remember our days of sorbet with ice magic for dinner though, haha, good times, but definitely couldn’t stomach that now 🙂 X

    I really hope that we collectively as a church move away from a rules-based approach, toward one that causes us to think more deeply about our connections and interactions with what we consume, in a way that doesn’t apply a blanket band aid. In Australia we will have the opportunity to discuss this at upcoming National and Mission conference in June.

  6. You make a good point, Karls. I also agree with Sydney’s comment about taking all things in good proportions and balance. I think all these things, alcohol, sugar, coffee, etc.. don’t have to be bad for you if you can set limits for yourself before it becomes unhealthy and negatively impacts your life and also balance it with other things that are good for you. I know I am not anywhere near to perfect in any of these areas – I love sugar, chocolate, coffee, etc. and I know myself well enough to know that I’m not sure I have the will power to cut these things out of my life completely. But knowing that it does work for you and others, and the reminder that too much of these things affects my well-being, happiness and health, helps inspire me to make a genuine effort to cut down or say no every once in awhile. Thanks for your thoughts. xx

  7. Sydney says:

    I really appreciate your honesty and insight. I am guessing you are from the UK or Aus. from some of your terminology (biscuits! 🙂 I had a culture shock when I moved from the south (nashville, tennessee) to Manchester, England during high school. My whole family has been part of Community of Christ and when we moved to England I got highly involved with an AOG church and they (including the pastor and leadership) would drink IN the church at events. Coming from the south, this was unheard of and I could remember thinking how crazy it all seemed. Now, I am back in the “Bible Belt” and been ordained Priest and highly involved in COC ministry. I have often struggled (especially when I turned 21 and was legal to drink) why we emphasize such a rule when I ministered with highly effective and loving Christians across the world who enjoyed a drink or two. I would like to say that with everything there must be some type of balancing act- food, drink, ministry, shopping etc. etc. Too much or too little of anything can be bad. We must be also discern individually what is good and bad for ourselves and in your case it would be sugar. It wasn’t too long ago that our church banned COFFEE (oh, I am so glad I wasn’t alive during that rule) for priesthood members. Perhaps, this rule for alcohol will become less rigid as time goes by and maybe a more general guideline about excessive use of anything will be put in it’s place?! Who knows.
    Anyways, thank-you for sharing. I really enjoyed your post!

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