Anti-alcohol faction cites scripture, harm to city

Leader also questions voting integrity
Feb. 25, 2013 @ 12:02 AM

Jess Davis is not confident in the local electoral process. In a recent interview, he referred to a “cabal” of interests “that have done everything in their power to get liquor in this town, over the will of the voters.”

Davis is co-chairman of Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, which campaigns against liquor by the drink. In a March 14 referendum, Pigeon Forge voters will decide whether to legalize liquor in restaurants. Because of irregularities, a judge threw out the result of last November’s referendum, in which voters approved sales.

Those irregularities worry Davis. Speaking at his hotel, where he has taken up residence to be able to run for the City Commission in May, he returned again and again to the issue of voting integrity.

“We have multiple reasons to be suspicious,” he said. For one: “We are very suspicious that [voting] machines’ votes can be electronically changed.”

Davis opposes the controversial practice of “1 percent” voting. Before the November poll, nonresidents voted after being deeded a minimum of 1 percent of properties in the city.

According to city and election officials, the practice is legal. “We think it’s illegal,” Davis said.

Concerned Churches has registered a poll watcher, Jim Bishop, to monitor early voting. Forging Ahead, the group that promotes liquor by the drink, has registered 19 poll watchers for early voting.

When it comes to liquor by the drink, Davis worries about safety. “I know people are going to get killed wherever it goes,” he said, citing statistics relating to the deaths of young people.

To promote their viewpoint, members of Concerned Churches have been passing out fliers, Davis said. “We have registered voters, though nowhere near as many as the other side. We have yard signs.” Unlike Forging Ahead, Concerned Churches will not be buying newspaper ads, he noted.

“What I always say is, it comes down to two things, prayer and pastors,” Davis said, referring to his group’s efforts. “We’re counting heavily on our pastors, and a lot of people are praying about this, too.”

According to Keith Walker, retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Pigeon Forge, “It’s clear in the Scripture that drunkenness is sin.”

Walker helped organized the Concerned Churches group to oppose liquor by the drink. “We come at it from a spiritual-moral kind of background,” he said. “We feel like it would be bad for the community. We believe it’s right to take a moral stand.”

Historically, Baptists have taken a strong stand against drunkenness, Walker said. “We see it in the counseling room. Families torn apart because of alcoholism. Difficulties financially, violence.”

Pigeon Forge has a reputation as a family-friendly vacation destination, Walker noted. “I think a lot of church groups and families come because of that. We have Dollywood here, perhaps the premiere family-oriented theme park in America. I’d hate to see us take a step that might harm that image.”

Not every clergyman who opposes liquor by the drink belongs to Concerned Churches. “I am not a member of any organization,” said Dennis Ford, pastor of First United Methodist Pigeon Forge.

“The United Methodist Church has a stand on alcoholic beverages,” said Ford, who has preached regarding liquor in recent weeks. “We affirm our longstanding support of abstinence from alcohol because of the ills it brings upon society.”

Ford’s argument against alcohol relates to the Bible’s call for stewardship. “We are to be caretakers of God’s green earth, and each other,” he said. “Wouldn’t the world be better off if there was no way to be intoxicated?”

kburns@themountainpress.com