Temperance is often confused with abstinence. Perhaps a better way to describe temperance in moderation of voluntary self-restraint. That could be moderation in anything and not just alcohol with which temperance is most often associated. If you think of temperance with its opposing Seven Deadly Sins, gluttony, it may be clearer. Gluttony is extravagance and over-indulgence, and temperance is the opposite. Like gluttony temperance is placed on the orange stripe of the Rainbow Pride flag.
Perhaps our image of
temperance consists mainly of groups of women preaching about the evils of alcohol of
the Victorian temperance movement. Actually, I was a member (technically, I
still am) of one of those Victorian temperance movements. When people ask about
my faith I usually say “Christian, Protestant, Non-Conformist, Methodist,
Wesleyan, Rechabite – in that order”. I won’t bother you with an explanation
today except to explain that last name, Rechabite. Although not a religious denomination like the others on the list I personally regard it as a belief.
The Independent Order of
Rechabites was founded in 1835. Although a secular organisation it has its
roots in the Methodist community of northwest England. Because of its name many
people (and even a few ignorant historians who wouldn’t know how to research
their own life with accuracy) have regarded the Order as some form of masonic
movement or secret organisation, when in fact its more akin to the trade union
movement, which also owes a great deal to Victorian Methodism.
The name Rechabite derives
from a Biblical character called Rechab whose descendants had pledged never to
drink wine. In my childhood there was a great community spirit in the
Rechabites with social events every year all round the country. These days,
however, the Independent Order of Rechabites exists as a “friendly society” and
savings company under the name of “Healthy Investment”. Technically, all
members are still required to be teetotal, but several decades ago the
organisation relaxed its rules to allow “voluntary self-moderation” –
temperance – rather than abstinence. Apart from the fact that alcohol actually
tastes foul I allow myself a bottle a champagne twice a year, on my
birthday and Christmas.
Let’s go back to the
Victorian period and several influential lgbt social activists who were leading
members of the temperance movement in the USA.
Susan Brownell Anthony
(1820-1906) was raised as a Quaker, another denomination who aren’t keen on
alcohol. During the 19th century alcohol abuse was a big problem in
most industrial nations. Pressures of working long hours under less than
safety-conscious conditions, often in poor environments, drove many people,
mainly men, into alcoholism. Alcohol was cheap, and it helped to forget their
often squalid lives.
A group of women in the USA saw the
bad effects alcoholism had on families and campaigned for stronger laws on the
availability and production of cheap alcohol. Their organisation was called the
Daughters of Temperance and Susan B. Anthony joined their ranks. She was
elected president of its Rochester branch in 1849 and she began organising
fund-raising events for them.
During her temperance work
Susan realised that little would be achieved until women were given the vote. In
1853 she was refused the right to speak at the New York state convention of the
male equivalent of the Daughters of Temperance, naturally called the Sons of
Temperance, because she was a woman.
Undaunted Susan and fellow
campaigner Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the Women’s State Temperance Society.
As part of her campaign Susan organised a petition calling for the New York
State legislature to pass a law to limit the sale of alcohol. The petition
gathered 28,000 signatures, but because most of these were from women and
children the petition was rejected.
campaigns became too much for other members of the Women’s State Temperance
Society and she was criticised for giving too much of her time to votes for women and so she resigned from the organisation. She still continued to support their
Eventually, the US
government decided to tackle the alcoholism problem by introducing prohibition,
a decision which Susan B. Anthony disagreed with because it took attention away
from the women’s suffrage movement.
Today the problems of
alcohol abuse remain in society. Although Victorian-style temperance movements
no longer exist there are many social and health organisations who tackle the
problem from a different angle. Instead of demonising alcohol and its drinkers
the emphasis is more on tackling it as an addiction and provides medical
support and encouragement in voluntary self-restraint.
The same techniques are
used in many other addiction problems such as drugs and nicotine. The lgbt
community has its own specific needs in all these areas and many support
groups, health programmes, rehab facilities and charities exist to replace the
old-fashioned Victorian temperance techniques of the past.
It will be in that last
area, charity, that we look at in our next Seven Heavenly Gay Virtues series.