Faith communities have a calling to respond to the reality of addiction in our congregations and the broader world. As we do so through the traditional functions of worship, education, and service, we must also lift our voices in advocacy. Only then will we be fully expressing our love for God and those whom God loves.
The word “advocacy” means to call out for support. Our sacred texts insist upon advocacy: Jews and Christians are told to “Let Justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream,” (Amos 5:24). The Koran calls upon Muslims to “Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor.” Qur’an 4:135
Separation between church and state is a bedrock principle of our nation. But the First Amendment does not block religious advocacy. It prohibits government from establishing particular religions and churches from engaging in partisan politics; it does not ban people from being guided by their faith as they raise moral issues in the public square.
Is there a connection between drug use and addiction, and advocacy? If so, what are advocates called to do?
Advocacy is love in action
Perhaps most fundamentally, advocacy involves communicating with the “principalities and powers,” especially officer holders in our city, county, state, and national governments. Closer to home, it can involve speaking with family, friends, and colleagues, at home and church.
Love for our neighbor without addressing the often systemic causes of their suffering is love incompletely expressed. To do nothing in the public arena is to endorse the status quo, itself a very political position.
We can start by addressing causes of addiction, which are often social in nature. Economic despair and joblessness, lack of affordable housing and health care are the breeding ground for trauma, stress, and isolation. These conditions, in turn, are often present in the backgrounds of those who suffer from addiction. We can work to alleviate these social afflictions.
We can help provide individuals with the resources to battle their addictions. Right now, drug treatment is available to only about ten percent of those who need it. In a moral society, this can and must change.
For many years, Alcoholics Anonymous was virtually the only hope for those suffering from addiction. AA regards alcoholism is a disease. Today, leading neurophysiologists, for different reasons, make the same claim even as some academics make the case that addiction is a personal choice. No doubt the causes of addiction are multiple and complex.
But one thing is clear. The single most prominent national response to drug use and addiction has been a failed War on Drugs for the past 47 years. This tragic effort has been based on premises that have no discernible relation to addiction and its causes. It was launched to conflate crime and race for partisan political purposes. It has destroyed countless lives to for no recognizable purpose at a cost of over one trillion dollars.
Simultaneously, this War has led to the mass incarceration of African-American and Latino and militarized police departments in cities and towns across the country, even as it has failed to reduce drug use.
The War on Drugs pursues punishment rather than treatment as a response to addiction and drug use. It must end now. It is a responsibility of advocates, especially people of faith, to shut it down.