Churches chime in on “brunch bill”

Published 6:04 pm Tuesday, August 29, 2017

It’s 10 a.m. on a Sunday — some can be found getting their families ready for church, and others are getting ready for a Bloody Mary or a mimosa at brunch.

It’s a scenario that illustrates the controversy over the so-called “brunch bill” that Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law earlier this summer. The law allows individual municipalities to enact ordinances allowing the earlier sale of alcohol on Sundays. In the past, retailers could not begin selling alcohol until noon.

The “brunch bill” has caused widespread debate: some say the law will promote business and tourism, and others say it’s disrespecting churches.

Washington and Chocowinity recently approved earlier sales of alcohol on Sundays, allowing restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and other retailers to serve alcohol at 10 a.m. instead of noon. Belhaven rejected the prospect.

Lee Kinney, senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Washington, said the decision to pass the bill emphasizes an invasion of the Sabbath day.

“Just one more example of the invasion of what has traditionally been time to focus on family and rest and faith,” Kinney said.

However, J. Cris Noble, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Belhaven, holds a different view. He said he thinks those who want to drink alcohol on Sundays are going to find a way to do it one way or another.

“My mindset is focused on spirituality. Those who are hungry for God are going to come see the word. Folks who aren’t hungry for God are going to get a drink,” Noble said, adding that his opinion is personal and does not represent the whole United Methodist Church.

Noble said he understands the idea of the bill “downplaying” the importance of going to church on Sunday, but he doesn’t see it as a direct correlation to an attack on churches.

“If you’re not careful, you can find yourself in competition mode, competing for business. The church is not a business,” Noble said. “We’re talking apples and oranges here. Spiritual food and physical food.”

Kinney argued the “brunch bill” could be seen as part of a larger, systematic shift in cultural norms. He said his church isn’t opposed to alcohol in general, but the scheduling of events and consumption of alcohol could show disrespect to a time meant for worship.

“A larger shift can be seen in the increase in sporting events happening on Wednesdays, which used to be traditionally another time for church, as well as on Sundays,” Kinney said.

Kinney said the church can respond to the shift in culture by continuing to preach the core of the Gospel and encouraging church members to carry out their faith in every aspect of life, not just on Wednesdays and Sundays.

“Our job is not to simply have Sundays and Wednesday nights as a time in which the church is the church,” Kinney said. “They take their faith into every day for the rest of the week. They may be invading our time, but our time is supposed to invade their time all the time. We’re supposed to be faithful all the time.”

Jim Reed, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Washington, also said the ordinance seems to be in line with today’s cultural shift, but he doesn’t see the ordinance as a threat to his ministry and church.

“It’s part of doing business in today’s world. … (Selling alcohol) a couple of hours before is not going to make it a whole lot of difference,” Reed said.

Reed chalks the controversy up to a matter of priority — if a church-going individual starts picking a mimosa over his spiritual health, then it may become a problem.

“I have more problems with the soccer games scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday than someone who’s up eating and wants a drink,” he laughed.