To drink alcohol or not to drink it

Case study of a young believer in France

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 your critical thinking and ethical decision-making skills.

Use this case study to shape your answer to the question: What should I do in those situations where my convictions are in direct opposition to other people's expectations?

It had been a long evening for John. What had started out as a privilege had turned into a disaster.

John seemed to have already insulted and upset the Professor by refusing an aperitif and then some wine. As they sat in the living room after the meal, Professor Piaget set a glass in front of John, ready to pour some of his prized Brittany cider. John wondered if it was right for him to continue on a course of action that seemed to be alienating his host. Or would it be all right just this once to forget all that teaching in Bible College, forget his alcoholic father, and forget even what the Smiths would think and say? Would it be all right to drink a little cider (which did not contain much alcohol anyway)?

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 that alcoholism could bring. In his conversations with the Smiths, John was sad to learn about some missionaries who had started drinking wine to be hospitable to 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 graciously opening his home to them for dinner. John had heard that it was a real privilege for students to be invited to a professor's home in France.

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 Piagets' 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 a 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 to feel awkward and even somewhat angry at this young foreigner for 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 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 except for John and perhaps his host.

John began asking himself several questions:

These questions and more had run through John's mind throughout the meal, 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.

Holding a glass, Professor Piaget paused in front of John. At that moment, John . . .

Some discussion questions:

  1. What should John do or say now?
  2. What should have happened differently for the evening to have gone better?
  3. Should the Smiths have been more proactive in helping John?
  4. What principles should we follow when interacting with people whose position on a particular lifestyle issue differs from ours?
  5. Can you think of examples of similar situations which involve different lifestyle issues?

Seven steps to effective case study discussion

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. 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

    -- Howard Culbertson,

Professor Culbertson's experience

NextHow did Howard Culbertson react when faced with similar situations in Italy? [ story in Rookie Notebook ] [ comments in Pasta, pizza, and Pinocchio ]

Afterword: Some Background Material

Refusing alcoholic beverages in cross-cultural situations can sometimes be challenging due to cultural norms and expectations. However, there are several polite and respectful courses of action for someone committed to a no-alcohol lifestyle:

By employing strategies like these, you can navigate cross-cultural situations gracefully while maintaining your commitment to a no-alcohol lifestyle.

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