BEER, THE BIBLE & BLOKES IN CANBERRA: How a chat between two MPs caused big problems for family brewers Coopers

Conservative MPs Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie (L & R) with host Matt Andrews toast the Bible Society. Screenshot

The Gospel according to John reminds us that when Jesus swung by a wedding at Cana in Galilee to perform his first miracle, he chose to turn the water into wine, rather than beer.

Perhaps there’s a parable in that for South Australian family brewing company Coopers, which finds itself being crucified on social media after its light beer appeared in a video by the Bible Society Australia featuring two Liberal MPs discussing gay marriage.

Boycott threats now have the 154-year-old brewery starting to look like the Apostle Peter after the arrest of Jesus, as Coopers appears to backtrack on its involvement in the video (watch it below).

But first, a brief rundown on how things have soured so quickly.

Last week, the Bible Society posted a 7-minute video featuring Christian MP Andrew Hastie and agnostic gay MP Tim Wilson discussing same sex marriage under the title “Keeping it Light”.

The Bible Society, which describes itself as “Australia’s longest-living organisation” is celebrating its 200th anniversary and decided to host a series of video discussions because “Australia’s national conversation has become fraught with shallowness and contempt for those who have a differing opinion”.

Moderator Matt Andrews does his best to stir the pot during the talk, but is generally fended off by smiles and laughter from both MPs. And to be fair to Hastie, aside from playing on the same political team as Wilson, he’s also on public record as saying the public should vote on the issue of same sex marriage, which puts him in furious agreement with his colleague.

Coopers is a long-time supporter of the Bible Society’s work. The brewery’s managing director Dr Tim Cooper even features as one of the Bible Society’s “200 stories” and the company has produced 10,000 cases of Premium Light beer featuring a happy birthday message to the Bible Society and Bible verses on the carton packaging.

In response, the Bible Society decided to create these “light discussions on the heaviest topics”.

“‘Keeping it Light’ puts two people together who would normally disagree. And shows how the Bible can help us all listen to each other,” is how they explain the video, which includes getting stuck into ABC TV’s Q&A program, and plenty of shots of Hastie, Wilson and Andrews raising bottles of beer at Parliament House. Marketers would normally call this product placement.

Perhaps the Bible Society raises an excellent point, because it wasn’t long before sparkling ale fans turned pale and were being less than civil. Some pubs threatened to drop Coopers from their taps.

Over the weekend Coopers issued a statement “it isn’t trying to push religious messages or change your beliefs by celebrating 200 years of charitable work undertaken by the Bible Society”, saying the video is meant to be “a debate we need to have but in a good spirited and good natured way”.

But today, they started to sound more like Simon Peter, saying “we want you to know that Coopers did not give permission for our Premium Light beer to feature in, or ‘sponsor’ the Bible Society’s ‘Keeping it Light’ video”.

“We respect the beliefs of our community and do not wish to try and change them,” the statement continues.

“Our family brewery is made up of individuals from a number of different backgrounds, all of whom hold differing views on politics and religion, which we think is reflective of the wider community. We would like all Coopers fans to know that we support and embrace all of our beer drinking community.”

The Bible Society issued its own statement saying it was “entirely responsible for the ‘Keeping it Light’ video. It was not sponsored by Coopers. No money has changed hands between Bible Society and Coopers in regards to this campaign”.

“Bible Society remains grateful to Coopers for both the release of light beer commemorating our bicentenary and their support through their foundation for the distribution of bibles to the Defence Force and those who need them.”

The group’s CEO and Tim Cooper have apparently held discussions in the wake of the controversy and will amend the wording on its website, which says it “teamed up with Coopers”, as well as the video.

Perhaps the moral of this tale is one the Bible Society raised at the start: there’s no miracle in seeing debate turned into polemic. And for an organisation whose goal is no more dangerous than trying to put a Bible in the hands of those who want one, the reaction does seem extreme.

Of more than 1000 comments after Coopers published its latest statement on Facebook, the vast majority are from people saying they’ll never drink one of South Australia’s finest exports since before Lleyton Hewitt ever again.

And Andrew Bolt is now railing against the left for raging against civil debate.

Beer isn’t meant to make everyone angry, especially light beer.

Watch the discussion below:

'Keeping it light' from Bible Society Australia on Vimeo.

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