Pubdate: Wed, 16 June 1999
Source: Birmingham Post-Herald (AL)
Copyright: 1999 Birmingham Post Co.
Author: William C. Singleton III


ATLANTA - If you were to join First Baptist Church of Bessemer, you'd be
given a church covenant that encouraged you to abstain from drinking or
selling alcohol.

Abiding by that section of the covenant isn't exactly a requirement for
membership, Pastor Buddy Mohon said. It just lets potential members know
where the church stands on temperance issues.

"We would encourage them to abide by it," Mohon said.

Southern Baptists as a whole reiterated their stand against alcohol and
other abusive substances at their annual convention being held Tuesday and
Wednesday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Hundreds of Southern Baptists
signed cards pledging to make a "commitment to a lifestyle free from
substance abuse."

Many Alabama Baptists, who were among the more than 11,000 messengers
attending the convention, signed the pledge cards.

Making a formal pledge to abstain from alcohol seems almost redundant for
Southern Baptists who have been traditional tee-totalers to the point where
they don't even use wine during Communion.

But such moral declarations are common during Southern Baptist Convention
annual meetings, particularly when the denomination wants to present a
unified front on a matter.

"I think it's important for the convention as a whole to believe that
abstinence from alcohol is the best witness for Jesus," said David
Burdeshaw, music minister at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn.

Furthermore, Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Liberty Commission of
the Southern Baptist Convention, said alcohol has become a more socially
accepted drug even among some Baptists. He said the 15.7 million-member
denomination needs to reaffirm its position on the issue.

"This has been the historic Southern Baptist position when it comes to
consumption of alcoholic beverages as well as other drugs, and that
(position) is total abstinence," Land said.

The pledge launches a campaign by the commission to draw attention to the
dangers of alcohol and substance abuse.

Land said research has shown that those who go on to do stronger, more
dangerous drugs get their start with alcohol. It is also a contributing
factor in the leading cause of death among teenagers, which is automobile
accidents, he said.

Land also said he believes alcohol ought to be included in the government's
anti-drug campaign. "We're not calling for prohibition," he said. "But we
are saying that this drug does untold damage in our culture."

Beyond the obvious dangers, Land said Southern Baptists, and Christians in
general, have a scriptural obligation not to be a stumbling block to more
impressionable Christians.

"Who among us would want to cause by our example of using an alcoholic
beverage, even if it's not going to lead to an addiction on our part, a
weaker person, a young person ... to use alcoholic beverages that will
become a terribly destructive force in their lives?" he said.

"This will be an encouragement to our teenagers and our children for us to
be willing to stand and take that pledge."

Mohon agreed. "If we can reach the young people and stop them from taking
alcohol, that would deter them from taking the hard drugs," he said.

The pledge also targets any illegal substance such as marijuana, cocaine,
heroin, LSD, and methamphetamines. Cigarettes were not included in the
abstinence pledge because it is not a "behavior-altering substance that
impairs judgment," Land said.

The pledge to abstain from alcohol and other drugs is not unlike the "True
Love Waits" campaign in which Southern Baptist youths agreed to abstain from
sex until marriage, Land said.

"There were those who said at the time this is ridiculous; this is naive,"
he said. Critics now credit the program to making "a significant
contribution to the significant decline in the number of teenagers who have
been sexually active."

The convention hopes the same can be accomplished with the newest pledge.

Land credited Tom Stone, a member of a Southern Baptist church in Durham,
N.C., with bringing the issue to the attention of the convention.

Stone, 65, said Southern Baptists aren't immune from the lures of drugs and
alcohol. He was raised in a Southern Baptist family and got hooked on
amphetamine, also called speed, which led him into a life a crime. He shot
and wounded a man during a robbery while trying to get money for drugs.

Stone still spent three years in jail for the crime, but now speaks on the
dangers of drugs. Stone has written two books on the subject and walked
across the nation twice to draw attention to his cause.

The pledge also makes Southern Baptists responsible for helping those whose
lives have been touched by alcohol, Stone said.

"It is not a matter of judgment, it is a matter of reaching out with mercy
and love like our Jesus has taught to those who have the problem and to
those who might experience choices from drug abuse," he said.

In other convention matters, Southern Baptists overwhelmingly rejected a
motion to take a straw poll on a name change. Some messengers felt the name
was too restrictive for worldwide evangelism purposes and for bridging
racial gaps.

Also, SBC President Paige Patterson was re-elected to a second one-year
term. Patterson did not have any opposition.

William Singleton can be reached at 325-3123 or [inset]
Pledge Against Substance Abuse

Southern Baptists reiterated their stand against alcohol and substance abuse
at their annual meeting on Tuesday. Many signed pledge cards to abstain from
such drugs.

Here is the pledge:

"I acknowledge that a sober, self-controlled lifestyle is the best road to
success, happiness, and peace. I acknowledge the dangers posed by the use of
illegal substances such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD, metamphetamine,
and other banned drugs ... I acknowledge that the alcohol problem is
America's number one drug problem, and poses a serious threat to all
Americans young and old alike, therefore, I pledge to abstain from any
substance that will have a negative impact on my behavior. Further, I pledge
to abstain from the use of any
substance that would impact negatively upon my example and my witness as a
follower of Christ. I believe that the lifestyle most consistent with a
Christian witness, in the day and time in which we live, is total abstinence
from any use of alcohol as a beverage and total abstinence from any illegal
substance. ..."

Source: Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist

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