During my growing up days practically all my relatives were total abstainers. There was an uncle out in B.C. who was probably an alcoholic, according to my Dad’s tales. The only memory I have of this uncle is of a time when I was very young and he was trying to unload a gun at our kitchen table. The gun went off, necessitating the replacement of the glass in one of our windows. I think alcohol was a factor in that.
Despite their divergence in views on the consumption of alcohol, my Dad still had a soft spot for his oldest brother and kept up a written correspondence. He had a similar warm spot for his nephew Clarence, the only son of my Dad’s only sister. The feeling was mutual, Clarence faithfully came to visit us once a year, beginning the two hour drive after the bar closed in Mossbank and knocking at our door at 3:00 AM. He had enough sense to get someone sober to drive his pickup.The driver would ask for a place to sleep while Clarence visited with my parents.
My Dad always received him warmly and they would settle down in the living room for a long visit. Clarence had a powerful voice and it was next to impossible for me to sleep during those visits. I remember one occasion when Clarence walked in with a twelve pack of beer and placed it in front of the easy chair he sat in. When he got up to go to the bathroom, my Dad moved the case of beer to the side of the chair, where it was hidden by the overstuffed arm. When Clarence returned, he looked for the beer, then concluded that he must have just imagined that he had brought some with him.
When I grew up, I decided to try out various alcoholic beverages and found that I liked them all. I liked them far too much and far too often. Despite that, I managed to do a fairly creditable job of managing prairie grain elevators in several locations. During those years I watched other men drink their businesses down the drain.
I got converted when I was 28 and my taste for alcolic beverages diminished to simply having an occasional drink with a meal. Eventually even that began to trouble me. I was no longer controlled by my thirst. If I had one drink, I didn’t need another, and another, and . . . But I saw people around me, both men and women, with the kind of thirst that I had once had and it began to trouble me. Could my example cause someone else to stumble? The Apostle Paul thought so: ” It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak” (Romans 14:21).
Many in Christian circles today appear to be unaware that this concern for the weak was the basis of the temperance movement. It seems far too easy nowadays to look down on those who have been overcome by their need for alcohol and to congratulate ourselves on our clean lifestyle. Does that sound uncomfortably like the Pharisee who stood in the temple to thank God that he was better than other people?
Today we can look at the political aspect of the temperance movement, account it to have been a failure, and dismiss the whole movement as a worthless exercise in demagoguery. But the temperance movement was much more than its public, political activist, face. They were people who were actually involved with the victims of alcohol abuse: men who could not stay sober long enough to do a day’s work; neglected, beaten and abandoned wives and children. If the problem is not as severe today as it was one hundred years ago, it is largely due to the efforts of the temperance movement.
Would it be so bad if we would learn some of their compassion and seek to exercise it in helping today’s victims?