ABILENE, Tex. (BNc)- Abilene Christian University will no longer penalize students 21 and older who drink “responsibly” off campus.

The amended policy will be presented in detail in the 2008-09 handbook.

Dr. Jean-Noel Thompson, vice president for Student Life and dean of students, arrived at ACU in July, 2007, and began a comprehensive study of the university’s student conduct policies and procedures, including the debated alcohol policy, according to the student newspaper The Optimist.

The present policy prohibits students of any age from drinking on or off campus.

“We want to embrace a strong Biblical principle,” Thompson said. “While our intent is not to encourage drinking, it is important to acknowledge that it’s not the alcohol that’s the sin – it’s the drunkenness that’s the sin. And we can’t deal with challenging our students if we’re not having the conversation. If we really want to hold them accountable in this area, there’s risk in that.”

In a report by the Abilene Reporter News, Thompson stated, “In addition to all the other things listed in Scripture — things that don’t glorify God or that don’t move you into his kingdom — drunkenness is mentioned,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is to turn this into a theological debate. Drunkenness is mentioned, and those things associated with it. It’s not alcohol in and of itself.”

Thompson apparently believes that allowing drinking off campus will contribute to less drunkenness and greater responsibility among students. He said the policy change will open “a window of opportunity to address it and be authentic in our approach.”

Thompson promised stricter enforcement and heavier sanctions against the rules of the new policy.

“[If a] 21-, 31-, 50-year-old student is seen somewhere drinking within the legal means and not in drunkenness or destruction, how do I call myself to punish or sanction them for that? And how do I know that in the first place? We’re not going to catch all that. It’s impossible to have the staff and folks to follow students where ever they go,” Thompson said. “We’d say we will rather equip you for making moral, ethical Christian and legal decisions when we don’t see you.”