The Uncomfortable History of the American Prohibition

“Prohibition only drives drunkenness behind doors and into dark places, and does nothing to cure it or even diminish it.” – Mark Twain

We recently enjoyed an entertaining and enlightening visit to the American Prohibition Museum in Savannah, GA.

Back in the late 1800s, many Christians believed the greatest curse in America was alcohol. It was no doubt a problem, especially for mother’s struggling to put food on their tables as alcohol ate into their husband’s already income, often bringing violence into the home. And yet, nothing was done about it, as the business was lining the pockets of powerful beer companies (and the US Government!). The question was, how does one “regulate morality” for the good of society? Can it even be done?

Not long after the turn of the century, the Federal Government came under control of those who wished to get rid of alcohol for good, and it signed off on a crazy “experiment” called the Prohibition. Over the next 14 odd years, making, selling, and buying alcohol became a federal crime. Basically, elected officials had used their power to force “morality” on people. But, would it work?

Led mainly by Christian women, the movement was backed by the KKK (shocking, yet true) and had Evangelist Billy Sunday as the biggest spokesperson against “King Alcohol”. In perusing the old documents in the aforementioned museum, we were surprised to find that listeners were charged 25¢ to hear Pastor Sunday preach against alcohol, which would be equivalent to some $8 today. To be honest, it was beginning to look fishy. And of course, soon the “prohibition” experiment started going from bad to worse.

During this 14 year period, crime went way up (climaxed by the infamous rise of Al Capone), moonshine – illegally made alcohol – was unregulated and thus potentially dangerous for one’s health, the Federal Government grew exponentially in influence, federal taxes skyrocketed, mass incarcerations ensued, etc. In short, it was an epic and embarrassing disaster, and America became a worldwide laughing stock because of it.

It reminds us of the powerful Biblical truth that one cannot regulate morality by external means. It actually makes it worse (Romans 7). True change starts with a relationship with Jesus, even as He told Nicodemus: “You must be born again.” We must perpetually get back to the basics, back to Jesus, and shine like the light we were intended to be.

These are some of the insights we wish to gain from history and the type of stories we want to tell. Stories that bring us back to Christ and the Bible, and away from man-made religiosity. Help us tell these stories with Unbreakable Church. #SoliDeoGloria