The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a union of several predecessor denominations. These denominations have different histories on the issue of alcohol use.
The former United Presbyterian Church in North America was a temperance church — advocating total abstinence — right up until its absorption into the new UPCUSA in 1957. The PCUS and UPCUSA in the 1940s and 1950s supported the goal of voluntary abstinence as a worthy goal in relation to alcohol. The 1961 statement of the UPCUSA Assembly on “The Church and the Problem of Alcohol” provided the first comprehensive statement on the subject to recognize the fact that many presbyterians do drink and suggests that the problems of alcohol could be resolved by responsible drinking for those who choose to drink and abstinence for others.(1)
In 1986, the reunited church adopted the following statement:
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) does not advocate the prohibition of alcohol, a policy which would appear to attribute the entire problem to alcohol itself. Responsible and non-problematic uses of alcohol have been part of human experience and the Judeo-Christian heritage since the beginning of recorded history. The considerable risks and immense suffering that follow from excessive and unwise uses of alcohol do, however, impose upon all Christians individually and corporately the responsibility to make and encourage judicious and well-informed choices regarding personal and social uses of alcohol.
To that end, the General Assembly encourages and supports personal decision to abstain from alcohol. For those who choose to drink and can do so without becoming dependent, the General Assembly urges a pattern of moderate and responsible drinking behavior. Finally, the General Assembly recommends and supports a comprehensive public policy approach to regulate the availability and use of alcohol in a manner consistent with its special character and the potential risk to persons and society inherent in its use; and it continues to recommend and support appropriate treatment for all who are affected by alcohol-related problems.
The following general principles should guide … personal and corporate choices about the use of alcohol:
Abstention in all situations should be supported and encouraged.
Moderate drinking in low-risk situations should not be opposed.
Heavy drinking in any situation should be vigorously discouraged.
Any drinking in high-risk situations (e.g., during pregnancy or before driving an automobile) should be vigorously discouraged, as should all illegal drinking.(2)
(1) Minutes of the 173rd General Assembly (1961), United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., p 448.
(2) Minutes of the 198th General Assembly (1986), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), p. 452.
—Adapted from the Compilation of PC(USA) Social Witness Policy.