Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sunday Alcohol Sales

Here it comes again. Sunday alcohol sales. The liquor lobby is out in full force and it sure looks like the issue will be headed toward a state-wide referendum. The bill currently before the state’s general assembly would not necessarily open the flood gates for booze peddlers. But it would make the issue one of local control rather than state mandate.

It has often been said that 3 parties rule in Washington:  The Republican Party, the Democrat Party, and the cocktail party.  It is increasingly clear these 3 parties are alive and well under the gold dome as well.

For the record, my conviction on Sunday alcohol sales is actually the same as my view on the other 6 days of the booze business. You would be hard-pressed to find a more fervent and vocal critic of alcohol than I am. I despise alcohol. I really do. Hardly a week goes by that I do not have to minister to an individual or family ravaged by drugs and alcohol. That’s why I have preached old-fashioned “temperance sermons” in the Emmanuel pulpit no less than 3 times in 8 ½ years. My utter hatred of alcohol is well-known by my friends and critics alike.

Nevertheless, I am amused by the apparent shock of my friends and colleagues on the Christian right. They seem flabbergasted by the notion that this bill could make its way through a Republican-controlled state assembly and be signed by a Republican governor. While I share their desire to see this legislation die a decisive death I cannot for the life of me share their dismay. In other words, I am shocked that they are shocked.

The only reason members of the religious right would be surprised by the actions of the general assembly is because they have made a fatal miscalculation. They forgot that "Conservative Christian" and "Republican" are not synonymous labels.

For the last several election cycles, the Christian right has been in bed with the Republican Party. The problem is they’ve been in bed with no marriage. No covenant. No commitment. To a large degree it’s been political fornication that would rival that infamous tryst between David and Bathsheba.

Granted, there are some wonderful Christian leaders in the GOP. But for the most part, the national and state-wide relationship between Republicans and the church has been anything but mutually-exclusive. It’s been more like the unwritten contract between a wealthy mobster and his mistress. Oh he comes by to see her alright…but only when the need arises. And like clockwork, the GOP rings the church’s doorbell every 2 years.

This dirty little aspect of our relationship explains the Grand Old Party’s deafness to the concerns of religious conservatives regarding Sunday alcohol sales. We just scratched their itch in 2010. They’ve got nearly 2 years to play the field, sow their wild oats with other lovers, knowing we will still be here in 2012.

The state GOP has nothing to lose and everything to gain by climbing in the sack with the liquor lobbyists. Where else will conservative Christians go in 2012? And let’s be honest. We have notoriously-short memories. By the time these politicians run for reelection in 2012 and 2014, we will have completely forgotten about Sunday liquor sales. Besides, they weren’t in favor of selling booze on the Lord’s Day, just local control.

They want to say "no" to Sunday liquor sales but they believe the "no" should come locally instead of from Atlanta.  That’s why they will vote for the issue to be placed on the ballot and then rush back to their home precincts to champion the defeat of the referendum.

Right.

If you believe that, perhaps you've already been drinking a bit too much.

Maybe the temperance movement in Georgia would be better served to take advantage of this delicate relationship we have with the Republican Party. Instead of spending money to lobby against liquor legislation maybe we should go to the hometowns of the state’s elected GOP leadership and recruit good strong Christians to run against them as Democrats. That, my friends, would be a game-changer.

If the top Republicans in this state thought their own seats were vulnerable, they’d start railing against alcohol sales with the fiery rhetoric of an Independent Baptist preacher. Honestly, if some influential state legislator were in a tight race that would hinge on conservative Christian turnout, that legislator would become president and founder of “Georgians Opposed to Drinking.” That’s GOD, for short.

We'd have websites, Facebook pages, and get-out-the-vote campaigns. There'd be yard signs and bumper stickers predicting that "Sunday alcohol sales will usher in the unveiling of the antichrist!"  Church bulletin inserts would show the statistical connection between Sunday alcohol sales and increases in alcohol-related traffic fatalities.  This would help make the case that running to the polls to defeat Sunday alcohol sales (and voting for the GOP while you're there) is, in reality, a Sanctity of Life issue.

Following their reelection, all emphasis on the issue would disappear, the crisis having been averted. Not the crisis of Sunday liquor sales but the "crisis" that they were on the verge of losing an election.

For the record, the timing of this legislation is not as much the lack of lobbying from the Christian right as it is about having a governor who will sign this bill.  He was not a perfect man (nor am I) but I miss Sonny Perdue more and more every day.

Yes sir. The main reason there is a deafening silence on the issue is no particular politician sees any direct benefit from grandstanding. And they see a definite benefit from keeping their mouth shut. If state Republicans perceived a personal political benefit from opposing Sunday alcohol sales it would be "Katie bar the door!" And the liquor cabinet.

But do not worry Christian friends. The GOP will be back. So keep the lights turned down low, the soft music playing, and the sheets turned back. The doorbell will ring again in 2012. Only next time, he’ll be bringing the booze.