Just when you thought you’d heard it all, comes the story from the New York Times about a new program in Amsterdam, where the city is hiring alcoholics by paying them with beer. You read it right.
Andrew Higgins, who wrote the story for the Times, said, “The program, started last year by The Rainbow Foundation, a private but mostly government-funded organization that helps the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics get back on their feet, is so popular that there is a long waiting list of chronic alcoholics eager to join the beer-fueled cleaning teams.”
“One of the project’s most enthusiastic supporters is Fatima Elatik, district mayor of eastern Amsterdam. As a practicing Muslim who wears a head scarf, Ms. Elatik personally disapproves of alcohol but says she believes that alcoholics “cannot be just ostracized” and told to shape up. It is better, she said, to give them something to do and restrict their drinking to a limited amount of beer with no hard alcohol.”1
“In addition to beer — the brand varies depending on which brewery offers the best price — each member of the cleaning team gets half a packet of rolling tobacco, free lunch and 10 euros a day, or about $13.55.”2
As you might expect, not everyone is happy with the new program. A number of council members on the Amsterdam City Council have criticized the program they refer to as “the ‘beer project’ as a waste of government money and a misguided extension of a culture of tolerance that has already made the city a mecca for marijuana users and spawned Europe’s best-known red-light district.”3
The concept came from a similar program in Canada and the Netherlands. Today, Amsterdam touts three districts who have the “every-hour-is-happy-hour,” “beer-for-work” street cleaning programs. A fourth is considering implementing the program as well. A number of other Dutch cities are also open to the idea.
Hans Wijnands, Director of the Rainbow Foundation made a haunting statement: “It would be beautiful if they all stopped drinking, but that is not our main goal,” he added. “You have to give people an alternative, to show them a path other than just sitting in the park and drinking themselves to death.”4
There’s no life change to celebrate here. Just a city getting drunks off the streets, for a few hours, to clean up the streets in exchange for a few beers for a few alcoholics. Which in some ways isn’t bad, I guess. But is it really good? Mr. Wijnands said, “If you just say, ‘Stop drinking and we will help you,’ it doesn’t work,” whose foundation gets 80 percent of its financing from the state and runs four drug consumption rooms with free needles for hardened addicts. “But if you say, ‘I will give you work for a few cans of beer during the day,’ they like it.”5
Really? Genuine life change doesn’t work? So give people what they want, whether it’s beer, cigarettes, marijuana, heroin, whatever, and they like it? That’s the key to turning our cities and ourselves around? Make sure people hear what they want and have what they want and the world will be a better place?
That’s not what the Bible says. In fact, the Bible says the exact opposite. That “if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW CREATION. The OLD has passed away; behold the NEW has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) The Bible says if we make sure people hear what they want and have what they want the world won’t become a better place. It will become increasingly more evil and morally and irreparably corrupt (2 Timothy 4:3-4; 3:1-5).
So, here’s my question: If that’s what the Bible says, and it is, why do so many American churches sound like, look like and act like they work for the city of Amsterdam.
© 2014. Barry L. Cameron
1 Andrew Higgins, "Amsterdam Has a Deal for Alcoholics: Work Paid in Beer," 4 Dec. 2014, 21 Mar. 2014 <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/05/world/europe/amsterdam-has-a-deal-for-alcoholics-work-paid-in-beer.html?_r=1&pag&>.
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.