The latest issue of a prominent Christian magazine includes a cartoon in which a self-satisfied man stands next to a wall with a no-smoking sign. He’s saying to his companion, “Don’t forget: we Christians were intolerant of smokers years before it caught on with the rest of society!”
I’m not sure what the editors’ purpose was in including this cartoon. Were they lampooning smug Christians who highlight their long-standing tobacco prohibition as a badge of honor, now vindicated? If so, the lampoon falls flat. I don’t see the point of making fun of someone who’s been right all along about a major social issue, regardless of his or her attitude. Would that more people would be right about such issues, despite popular trends!
I grew up as the son of a minister and college professor in a major Protestant denomination. Our church circles weren’t evangelical, by any means. In fact we belonged to the “modernist” wing. But there was a residue of piety in our ecclesiastical environment that ruled out the use of tobacco and, for that matter, alcohol. During my preteen and earlier teen years we didn’t even know people who smoked or drank. My parents wouldn’t patronize a restaurant where alcohol was served.
Once my brother and I found a pack of cigarettes someone had dropped on the sidewalk. My mother let us go upstairs in our garage and smoke the stale things, just to see what they were like. That was the end of it. And, through the years, my use of alcohol has been pretty much limited to receiving Holy Communion in liturgical churches, or perhaps sharing half a glass of wine with my wife once a year at an Italian restaurant.
These habits — or the lack thereof — go back to my childhood in that non-evangelical denomination where, at least, we got a few things right about healthy living. That was the 1950s, and that denomination has since moved even further away from Bible-believing faith. I’ve changed denominations since then, seeking an evangelical environment where our tithe money didn’t go to support Marxist revolutionaries in Africa. But the old no-smoking, no-drinking life style stays with me.
You can lampoon that no-smoking, no-drinking mentality if you want to, and call it hypocritical because it overlooks some other important issues. But that’s a shallow response. I remember debates in college where the question of hypocrisy came up in relation to these strictures. Somebody finally pointed out that few people are killed by drivers who are hypocrites, compared with those who die at the hand of drivers who drink. As for the harm that comes from the use of tobacco — you may not smoke yourself, but when you pay your taxes or your medical insurance premiums you’re paying for the societal costs generated by those who do.
Make fun of blowhards who pat themselves on the back because of their intolerance of smoking? Go ahead, but I wouldn’t call it a laughing matter. Christians, evangelical and otherwise, got some things right a half-century ago.