As you process this case study, don't narrowly focus on the alcoholic beverage issue. Often believers find themselves in situations where others do not share, and perhaps are even puzzled by their lifestyle positions.
Worldview collision: Use this case study to hone critical thinking and ethical decision-making skills.
Use this case study to help answer the question: What do I do in those situations where my convictions are in direct opposition to other people's expectations?
Earlier, John had spent two summers in France. Now, in obedience to what he felt to be the will of God, John had returned to that country and had entered the beginning French course at the University of Nantes. He was living in a dormitory where he hoped to develop relationships with French students. He also made friends with the Smiths, an American missionary family who were starting a church in Nantes.
John had just graduated from a conservative religious College in the U.S. that took a strong stand against drinking alcoholic beverages. That total abstinence stand was OK with John. Because John's father was an alcoholic, he knew firsthand the suffering which alcoholism could bring. In his conversations with the Smiths, John was sad to learn about some missionaries who had started drinking wine with the French and who had wound up as alcoholics.
One day John, along with three other foreign students, received an invitation from his professor. Professor Piaget was very graciously opening his home to them for dinner. John had heard that it was a real privilege in France for students to be invited to a professor's home.
When the night arrived for the dinner, John's missionary friends, the Smiths, loaned him their car so that he could pick up his Japanese friend, Isao. As they arrived at the Piaget's house, the students were excited. Little did John suspect that this dinner would turn out to be a problematic experience.
Dr. and Mrs. Piaget were very cordial. John spoke less French than anyone there, but everyone was patient with him. After all the students arrived, Professor Piaget offered everyone an aperitif (a type of cocktail). Wanting to be a good witness for his Lord, John refused the alcoholic drink. John thought the professor seemed ill at ease, because for a moment Dr. Piaget appeared not to know what to do. After an uneasy silence, the professor offered John some lemon drink. As the awkwardness of the moment passed, John breathed a sigh of relief.
When dinner was served, John partook heartily. But when Dr. Piaget began filling the guests' glasses with the customary wine, John politely refused his share. This time the professor appeared not only to feel awkward but even somewhat angry at this young foreigner who was refusing his hospitality. Though the professor offered John a Coke as a substitute drink, the atmosphere had changed. Due to the length of French meals and to people's thirst, the host had to go get more wine. Again John was the only one to refuse it.
When dinner was finished, everyone sat around the table talking. Mrs. Piaget cleared the remains of dessert and coffee off the table. It had been a great time for everyone, everyone that is except for John and perhaps his host.
John asked himself several questions:
- Is the Lord pleased with the way the evening has gone?
- Will I ever be able to share my faith in Christ with Dr. Piaget?
- Is it really so bad to drink a little wine?
- Which is worse: drinking a little alcohol or erecting a barrier between myself and someone who does not know the Lord?
These questions and more had run through John's mind throughout the meal and particularly now, when everyone else was enjoying the relaxing conversation.
Eventually, Professor Piaget excused himself. After a few minutes, he reappeared carrying a tray. On it was a large flask surrounded by a neat circle of glasses. The professor began to tell his guests how good Brittany cider was. Then, he noted, especially for John's benefit, that the cider contained only a little alcohol. The professor set glasses in front of everyone and began to pour.
As his professor moved closer to him, John became anxious.
- Should he refuse once again, even though the professor had pointed out for John's sake that the cider contained just a little bit of alcohol?
- Should he refuse again and risk building an even-higher barrier between his teacher and himself?
- Did he dare ignore the teachings and warnings of both the Bible College and the Smiths?
Holding a glass, Professor Piaget paused in front of John. At that moment, John . . .
Some discussion questions:
- What should John do or say now?
- What should have happened differently for the evening to have gone better?
- Should the Smiths have been more proactive in helping John?
- What principles should we follow in interacting with people whose position on various lifestyle issues is very different from ours?
- Can you think of examples of similar situations which involve different lifestyle issues?
This case study is a revised version of one by Dennis Teague in Case Studies in Missions, edited by Paul and Frances Hiebert, Baker Book House, 1987. It may be reproduced only upon payment of a 35-cent royalty per copy to Baker Book House, P.O. Box 6787, Grand Rapids, MI 49516 USA
Professor Culbertson's experience
How did Howard Culbertson react when faced with similar situations in Italy? [ story in Rookie Notebook ] [ comments in Pasta, pizza and Pinocchio ]
Howard Culbertson, Southern Nazarene University, 6729 NW 39th, Bethany, OK 73008 | Phone: 405-491-6693 - Fax: 405-491-6658
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