A Stout Faith: The Guinnesses of Ireland
Adapted from a March 17, 2014 article by John Stonestreet posted at http://www.breakpoint.org
Today is St. Patrick’s Day (posted two days ago)… and I’d like to tell you a story about something genuinely Irish that may surprise you. I’m referring to Guinness stout beer. Very few of those hoisting their beer glasses today will know about the Christian vision that animated the brewery’s founder, Arthur Guinness (1724 or 1725- 1803).
The connection between “brewery” and “Christian vision” is the subject of a book, The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World, by Stephen Mansfield, and a new article on the Breakpoint website by my friend Glenn Sunshine. It’s part of his “Christians who Changed their World” series.
As Mansfield documents, for people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, beer was “more than a pleasurable drink.” For instance, the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower, whom no one would characterize as hedonistic, “had plenty of beer for the voyage onboard.” That’s because, like most Europeans, they drank beer “for fear of drinking water.” And for good reason: The water in most European cities well into the nineteenth century was unsafe to drink.
That left people with two options: beer, which was regarded as a kind of liquid food, or distilled spirits, in particular gin, which destroyed both bodies and souls. And that’s where Arthur Guinness enters the story. Guinness was influenced by John Wesley, who taught his followers to “Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” Guinness “recognized that he could use his wealth and the way he went about his business for the glory of God as surely as any money given at church.”
The first part of Guinness’s mission was to produce a beer that could be substituted for the destructive distilled spirits. Plus, his beer was more filling so folks would be less likely to get drunk. The other part consisted on what Guinness did with the money he made from selling his product. He became the governor of Meath Hospital, whose mission was the relief of the poor in the surrounding area. He worked to abolish dueling among his peers. And he “promoted Gaelic arts and culture as a mean of instilling an ennobling sense of heritage among his countrymen.”
Perhaps the cause that best reflected his faith and social concerns was the founding of the Sunday Schools in Ireland. He was convinced that offering a basic education for the poor, including the Bible, literacy and other subjects, offered them the best chance to avoid a life of crime.
Guinness’ descendants maintained his commitment to doing good. For example, in 1900 the brewery’s chief medical officer surveyed the homes of its workers and the people living in the nearby vicinity. Appalled by his findings, he sought and obtained permission from the board to clean up the problems. Hiring nurses, health workers, and providing decent housing cost a lot of money, but it was in keeping with the ideals espoused by Arthur Guinness. As Mansfield reminds us, none of this would have been possible if Arthur Guinness “had not been skilled at brewing beer.”
While craft microbrews may not be the next great mission field, all of us are called to integrate our Christian and professional lives in the way Arthur Guinness did.
For more on Aruthur Guinness and his descendants, go to Dr. Glenn Sunshine’s excellent article on Arthur Guinness at:
Here is Dr. Sunshine’s response to the following question sent in by a reader: “Since alcohol is an addictive substance that is well known to lead many (not all) into tragic life experiences, does that cloud the virtue of [Arthur Guinness’s] generosity?”:
Consider the alternatives: gin, which was worse, or water which was polluted and unsafe to drink. That, I think, is the best answer. Historically, it is worth noting that Christians did not begin being completely against alcohol until Welch figured out a way to preserve grape juice without it turning to wine; he then spearheaded the effort toward total abstinence from alcohol. Prior to that, and prior to water purification methods, complete abstinence was a difficult proposition at best. It’s also worth noting that Scripture condemns drunkenness but not drinking alcohol per se. In other words, like so many other things, it’s the misuse of alcohol that is the problem not alcohol per se.
Colossians 3:23-24 — Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Wine instead of water:
1 Timothy 5:23 — Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
Wine as a gift of God:
Psalm 104:14-15 — (The Lord) makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.
But also some cautions– don’t be led astray, don’t linger over it:
Proverbs 20:1 — Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.
Proverbs 23:29-30a — Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine…
Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor you with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
–1979 Book of Common Prayer