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June 13, 2014

The case for beer evangelism

While he knows that millions of teetotalling Christians disagree, Father William Martin believes he can make a theological case for the moderate consumption of beer through a simple use of evangelistic math.

"Beer is the universal beverage. If you want to sit down and have a friendly, personal conversation with about 90 percent of the people in this world, then that is probably going to take place over a beer -- that is, if you want them to open up and level with you," said Martin, who is -- logically enough -- the author of a chatty book called "The Beer Drinker's Guide to God."

"Think about it. If you're serious about talking to ordinary people about God, are you telling me that you don't want a chance to sit down and connect with about 90 percent of the world?"

Martin is aware that it's easier for an Episcopal priest to make this case than it would be for clergy in many, but not all, doctrinally conservative Protestant flocks. In an admirable demonstration of restraint, he resisted the temptation to open his book with the old proverb that wherever two or three Episcopalians are gathered together, "you will always find a fifth." Instead, he went with Catholic wisdom from St. Bridget of Kildare: "I should like a great lake of the finest ale for the King of Kings."

Then again, the great Protestant Reformer John Calvin took part of his salary in barrels of wine, and the feisty German theologian Martin Luther was, truth be told, a German Lutheran who wrote classic hymn texts -- such as "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" -- to fit the melodies of popular drinking songs.

Since Martin grew up steeped in the traditions of the Church of Christ in Texas, he is very familiar with conservative arguments against the use of alcohol and he is quick to quote biblical injunctions against drunkenness. This is handy since, in addition to leading St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Kauai, Hawaii, he is part owner of a bar called Padre's in Marfa, a West Texas community so edgy and artsy that, despite its tiny size, has been granted its own National Public Radio station.

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