I thought that this story was interesting. Three licenses to sell wine and beer were granted to high-end shops in the neighborhood of the First Baptist Church in Melrose. If you follow the links to the stores’ websites, you’ll see that they’re all gourmet specialty shops, where people can go to get their fine wines or arts-n-crafts beers, along with gifts and yummy foody things.

Wont someone please think of the children!

Won't someone please think of the children!

The church and its members put up a fight, arguing that the fact that they host both a childcare center and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, makes the proximity of these shops grossly inappropriate. Of course, the argument is as ridiculous as saying that grocery stores should not carry alcohol because children and AA members shop there.  And it’s quite unlikely that granting these licenses will attract a certain element to the neighborhood. I can’t remember seeing anyone sprawled out unconscious with a bottle of chateauneuf de pape in a paper bag out front the local gourmet grocery. These licenses make sense for these businesses.

But, getting back to the church’s using Alcoholics Anonymous as an argument:

Greg Staples, husband of First Baptist’s minister, Rev. Damaris Cami-Staples, and a First Baptist parishioner, stated his concern about how the Lambs’ and Beraldis’ would handle operating a store selling wine and beer in close proximity to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and the Chime Time Children’s Center. Both Gene and Rebecca Beraldi said they have family members and friends who have struggled with substance addictions and are sensitive to the needs of those attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

This seems to go against Alcoholics Anonymous in a couple of ways. The first, most obvious, is that AA does not engage in public controversy such as this — and if there ever was a public controversy, this is it. Second, Alcoholics Anonymous promotes “living life on life’s terms,” which means that members are expected to learn to handle the obstacles they face. If someone is offering free booze on the sidewalk out your front door, and you think that’s going to be a temptation for you, you adjust your behavior; you don’t try to adjust anyone else’s. Go out the back door. Or learn to walk by withouth having a conniption fit. The fact that local AA members, or the ones who meet in the church, have not spoken out about this is true to the letter of their traditions.

But, I also think that this is one of those instances in which people are staying true to the letter of the law, while disregarding the spirit of the law. I don’t believe it’s overly fussy of me to expect that — in the spirit of the traditions — the members would request that the church where they meet desist from using them in this manner, even if it meant that they would be at odds with their host. Either that, or offer a statement saying that, while they appreciate the support and concern of the church, they do not hold a position one way or the other in this public debate.

Not doing either of these things is a sin of omission — they are exploiting a loophole in their traditions, and allowing themselves to be drawn into the debate, using the church as proxy.

Another interesting element to this story is that Alcoholics Anonymous (like churches) take all comers. No one is screened at either door — there are no background checks done (I’m not saying there should be). And both churches and AA are known for embracing every sinner, every broken and lost person that shows up. Not only that, but AA accepts court-ordered offenders — violent offenders, people who are not ready to quit drinking, who don’t want to be there. There are a lot of people in AA who are still drinking.

So, while the church is beating its breast and imploring everyone to think of the children, they are allowing active alcoholics and violent offenders through their very doors. They want to deny someone from choosing a bottle of schmancy wine to go with their schmancy cheese, in the interest of protecting the babies, while they open the doors, where they keep the kids, to criminals.

What on earth is really going on here?