Sharp About Your Prayers

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Temperance — Virtue #4

March 24th, 2017 · No Comments · Faith and the City

A few years ago, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns turned his attention to a fascinating thread in the tapestry of American history: Prohibition.

With an eye for quirky characters and an ear for the idiom of the age, Burns’ series unpacks the events leading to the adoption of the 18th amendment to the Constitution (1920) — banning the production, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages — and its subsequent repeal (1933).

It is a fascinating film.

Central to this American story is the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Formed in 1870, the WCTU would (within 20 years of its formation) become the largest women’s organization in the world.

The WCTU’s expressed purpose was to embody the counsel offered by the ancient Greek thinker Xenophon, who wrote, “Moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful.”

Some criticized the Temperance Movement for being led by killjoys advancing prudish doctrines. The reality was far more complex.
Burns describes the historical context:
By 1830, the average American over 15 years old consumed nearly seven gallons of pure alcohol a year — three times as much as we drink today — and alcohol abuse (primarily by men) was wreaking havoc on the lives of many, particularly in an age when women had few legal rights and were utterly dependent on their husbands for sustenance and support.
In the late 19th century, the ravages of alcohol abuse were devastating American families. The WCTU provided fed-up women with an avenue of hope, a way to resist the rot that was eating away at their towns and families. Together they worked toward a ban on “sin substances” like alcohol and tobacco. They also joined forces with those working for women’s suffrage.
The president of the WCTU, Frances Willard, frequently argued that women were “the morally superior sex” and needed to be able to vote, so that they could act on their natural inclination to safeguard families and cure society’s ills!
This Sunday, in our ongoing study of Christian virtues, we are going to turn our attention to Temperance. What does it mean to seek moderation in this life? Is this an antiquated goal, a prudish instinct? Or is Temperance still wise counsel when it comes to dealing with alcohol (and a whole lot more)?
See you in worship,
SBJ
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