Ale Hell Breaking Loose: The Millsaps Beer Garden

by Garrett Coble
opinions editor

How hard is it to enjoy a good beer in peace?

Well, that depends on whom you ask. Judging by his Sept. 4 opinions piece in the Clarion-Ledger, Mike Steen believes it far too easy. Specifically, the Baptist pastor has a “major” bone to pick with the newly instituted beer garden. In his writing, Steen leans heavily on biblical verses and John Wesley’s own writing to condemn the sale of beer at football games. Paralleling his own position, Steen argues that John Wesley stood strongly against the “poor miserable drunkards” that alcohol consumption creates. Furthermore, Steen believes “arrests, accidents and possible deaths” are the obvious and unavoidable outcome of selling alcohol at college functions.

However, Reverend Chris Donald, the college’s chaplain, finds numerous faults in Pastor Steen’s arguments and writing. In Donald’s view, “the letter was irresponsible with Wesley and with Scripture.” He says the letter “proof-texted the Bible and proof-texted John Wesley, making no attempt to understand the context in which the Bible verses were written or the Wesley pieces were written.”

Photo Credit: Millsaps College Flickr
Photo Credit: Millsaps College Flickr

According to Donald, “proof texting” amounts to pulling a verse from a text to support one’s argument without acknowledging the author’s intent, the historical context or the overall tone of scripture. Moreover, he believes it is “hard to boil down Wesley’s view on alcohol to a few quotes in a newspaper.” While Wesley was staunchly against alcohol production/distribution and how it disproportionately affected the poor, he received and drank a quart of ale a day during his high school and collegiate days.

Donald does acknowledge that the Methodist church continues to support abstinence from alcohol, but he also sees an issue with Steen’s application of this principle. Donald notes, “that teaching is not authoritative in the sense that churches are not bound by it and individual Methodists are not bound by it. Most significantly, Millsaps College is not a church.” According to Donald, while the school celebrates and highlights its Wesleyan heritage, its job “is not the formation of Christian disciples, but rather it is the promotion of freedom for the mind and heart to grow.” Taking a broader view, Donald believes that Millsaps follows the underlying principles of Wesley, such as intellectual inquiry and continual work towards a better, and more moral, society.

Then again, we cannot let facts, logic and history rule opinions pieces, especially those bent towards broad condemnation. Moreover, given the reputation I’ve worked hard to build for the Opinions Section, I cannot defer all sarcastic commentary regarding these claims. Beer inevitably leading to accidents, arrests, and deaths? Seems logically sound. Perhaps bold strategies, such as proclaiming those who struggle with alcohol as “poor miserable drunkards” are exactly what is needed to re-instill morality into our decrepit society.  Per usual, most of our societal depravity stems from the relentless pursuit of cash. Pastor Steen appears to agree, citing the beer garden as proof that our beloved college is forsaking its Methodist ideals, all in the name of a few dollars. According to Steen, “the dollar seems to be more important to those making the decisions for the school.”

Indeed, a response piece written by President Robert Pearigen reveals just such an intent. Speaking to motivations such as supporting locally owned businesses and providing responsible avenues for of age adults and students to enjoy alcohol in a mature manner, Dr. Pearigen revealed his sole focus on the college’s bottom line. The long-standing partnership between Lucky Town brewery and the Else School only further underscores how long this malicious capitalist plan has been in development.

Given my typical suspicion of all things administrative, I felt personally compelled to enter into this hive of sin and debauchery to conduct some personal field… well, we’ll call it research. After extensive inquiry and journalistic activities regarding the beer options available, my findings put me, surprisingly, in line with the administration. In particular, the decision to serve craft beer rather than the run-of-the-mill barley water makes me conclude that the beer garden cannot be held responsible for the root of all societal evils.

After all, as my personal hero Hunter S. Thompson once said, “Good people drink good beer.”