This spring I led a series of events around the greater Boston area called Theology on Tap as part of my role as coordinator of the Quaker Studies Program. These were informal gatherings at various bars for lively conversation about theology and life. A lot of people came out to these events and we had a great time! The themes of the events were:
March 11, 2015 Quakers and Simplicity: How do you let your life speak? Join us for a lively conversation about how we make our choices to make money, spend money, participate in this world, or stay clear away from it. How does Quakerism influence your life and those who you choose to live with?
April 8, 2015 Quakers and Action: How does your faith inform you work in the world? What are you called to do? What actions have Quakers historically been involved with and contemporary Quakers are now still?
May 20, 2015 Quakers and the Interfaith Movement: What religious mosaic do you bring to Quakerism? How does Quakerism fit into the plurality or multiplicity of your faith experience? Are you a Buddhist Quaker, Pagan Quaker, Jewish Quaker, or define yourself as another mix of religious traditions? How do these faith experience speak to your sense of place in the world? Are Quakers involved in Interfaith initiatives? Should they be?
I’ve received some concerned feedback about Theology on Tap’s relationship with alcohol. I think conversations about our communities’ relationships with alcohol as well as addictive and potentially addictive substances should be had more often, here are some thoughts in response to the questions/comment’s I’ve received:
“But Quakers were part of the Abstinence Movement and shouldn’t drink alcohol!”
Quakers were the first Christian group in modern history to take a position against the consumption of alcohol (they started advocating the abstinence of liquor in the early 1750’s and then other forms of alcohol in the 1800s’). However, Friends were not always in favor of the abstinence of alcohol. Friends supported moderation of alcohol instead of abstinence before the 1750’s. In fact, if you visit Swarthmore Hall in northern England, you will find George Fox’s liquor cabinet which the docent of the facility shares was used regularly by Fox, the Fell family and their friends.
The move from moderation to abstinence was not justified by scriptural or spiritual means. Rather many communities of Friends found it difficult to support moderation in a worldly culture where according to Robert Levering in his pamphlet Friends and Alcohol (page 15) “Americans over the age of 15 averaged 7.1 gallons of pure alcohol a year (the daily equivalent of five shots of whiskey, or five glasses of wine, or five cans of beer).” Abstinence was supposed to help Friends led a spirit-led life, and remove the danger of alcohol addiction. In 1920, due to the advocating of many Quaker and Women’s rights groups- particularly because of abuses of alcohol and families of the drinkers-, the Prohibition Amendment was passed. Thirteen years later, this amendment was repealed.
Today Friends are not united on the issue of alcohol. The Bible has been used to validate a wide range of life styles including the consumption of alcohol. While general non-Quaker society advocates for moderation, the capitalist market of the U.S. benefits greatly from excess consumption. Even Friends of similar theology are not united on the issue of alcohol. For example some progressive Friends may see the consumption of alcohol as violence to the body and denounce the consumption of any harmful substance in accordance to their pacifist beliefs. Other progressive Friends see alcohol as a social activity, to abstain from it would alienate them from society, as well as from the people whom their witness as Friends would most benefit.
“Our Quaker meeting hosts AA meetings, they wouldn’t want us to promote Theology on Tap!”
It is easy to say that hanging a sign about Quaker Theology on Tap will make members of AA uncomfortable, but harder to examine the wider communities actions and inactions towards AA and their members. I encourage communities to think about other ways that Friends may be making members of AA uncomfortable; i.e. separation of the AA community from the Friends community, public or semi-public comments about cigarette butts, use of space, or difficult personalities. I have experience working in other facilities that house AA that the relationship between the host community and the AA community is often quite tenuous. Having a conversation with AA members about how and what can be put on bulletin boards and promoted publicly will hopefully help that larger conversation about Friends communities relationships with AA in general.
Other religious communities, without our history of moderation and abstinence of alcohol, regularly run local Theology on Tap events while their churches host AA meetings. I’ve worked in a facility (Episcopal) whose tradition runs Theology on Tap and whose building hosts AA meetings. Catholics, UCC, Methodists are in a similar place. I’m sure some communities choose not to publicly publicize their pub events, but I know that many do. There is usually a wide range of things that make it to our bulletin boards and nothing appeals to everyone.
“Quakers don’t drink alcohol, or at least shouldn’t!”
This is an issue of integrity vs. image. I believe that we Friends are led to live with integrity and not within a constructed image based on a set of values from a particular part of our history (or any history). In truth, many people in our community consume alcohol. Many do so in moderate and social ways. By hiding from the public that many Quakers do consume alcohol, are we being true to our sense of identity and integrity? Is there a false image of who a Quaker is that we expect our members and attenders to personify to the public? I’d like to think that we are a community of living, dynamic, diverse people and that our public image displays that, but I’m not sure. Are we who we portray we are?
“Is this ‘Theology on Tap’ thing new?”
Many religious communities hold Theology on Tap events or things that are very similar. Google “Theology on Tap” and you’ll find hundred of search hits and lots of pictures. Holding a Quaker Theology on Tap intends to create a public space for us to talk about our faith and how it impacts our lives. Many other religious communities are seeking something similar.
“Are people actually attending Theology on Tap?”
The Cambridge and the Beacon Hill events were the most successful of the three events. Ten people from three different monthly meeting attended the Cambridge event and fifteen people from at least three different monthly meetings attended the Beacon Hill event. We had a lively discussion about what theology even is and then went on to talk about how our Quaker faith informs the decisions we make in our lives. At the JP event, a much smaller gathering I think due to the rain that day, someone who was not Quaker came up to seek out more information. I’ve also had countless comments from Friends of a wide range of ages about their hope to attend an event in the future. I believe there is a need and a call for informal, social gatherings of Friends were talking about God, about theology, about call and leadings is prompted and encouraged.
“Are these events going to keep happening?”
I don’t know yet. I’m leaving the role of Coordinator of Quaker Studies in June but I’ve had the encouragement from many friends to keep up these events. I’ll take some time to discern this summer and let you all know in the fall.