Presbyterians And Liquor in Alaska
It would come as no surprise that the early Presbyterian missionaries were adamantly opposed to the consumption of alcohol. Little reference was made to the issue, however, until the Presbytery of Yukon took official action at their meeting in 1914 affirming the overture to General Assembly endorsing the Anti-Saloon League.
The Yukon Presbytery was not only cognizant of, but also active in, issues facing the nation at large. At the Cordova meeting in 1917, reports were given on two major issues of the day:
The Committee on Freedmen reported the past year as unprecedented in the growth and usefulness of the board of Freedmen in its efforts to uplift the Negro race. Since 1865 it has labored faithfully and earnestly in behalf of the Negro race, hoping to head them into a larger commercial, mental, moral, and spiritual life. To achieve this end the Board owns or controls 140 schools. It was recommended to the Alaskan Presbytery members that the churches give an offering to the Freedmen’s work on a Sabbath nearest to Lincoln’s Birthday.
The Committee on Temperance reported that under the guiding hand of God the forces of Temperance made a big drive on "Demon Rum", capturing seven states and two territories and the District of Columbia. As a people of a great territory, we are indeed grateful to God for the great moral victory won at the polls last fall. Each church was asked to contribute liberally to the Board of Temperance and to observe Temperance Sunday.
In 1950, the Yukon Presbytery passed a resolution stating: "We urge all churches and welfare agencies to unite in a determined effort to lead every community to exercise its privilege of referendum and eliminate the liquor traffic. We urge the Alaska Legislature to pass legislation which will provide for more rigid control of the sale and use of liquor and the elimination of excessive private profit on the wholesale level of distribution."
In 1957, the Rev. Walkup of First Church, Anchorage, was authorized to arrange for a conference on “alcohol” at a suitable time.
In 1958, by unanimous action, Presbytery approved the retention of an attorney to act on the floor of the Legislature as a lobbyist representing Presbytery’s desires for adequate liquor control laws. This move would be made with the Alaska Presbytery in the event the Alaska Association of Churches took no action by the summer meeting.
This overview perhaps sheds more light on the 1957 action of the Presbyterian Church when the Palmer Hospital board of director’s voted to accept funds raised through raffles conducted by the Third Division Liquor Dealers Association. The church determined to severe all ties with the hospital other than serving as landlord of the property.
The above actions and concerns also place the hiring of the Rev. Bill Pritchard as Assistant Secretary for Board of National Missions’ Work in Alaska, in a different light. The Presbytery voted to concur with Pritchard’s appointment on October 6, 1959.
Pritchard is not so much remembered for his theology, his philosophies, or other qualifications and talents, as he is remembered by many as the Presbytery executive who “drank.” On the verge of the 1960s, the Presbytery and its ministers were about to enter another era.
But the original concerns would remain, as well.
At the fall meeting of Yukon Presbytery 1998, commissioners from the North Slope Borough were anxiously awaiting the results of the recent balloting on the banning of alcohol across the arctic. All would hinge on the absentee and questioned ballots.
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