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Faith Communities Must Accept the Challenge of Substance Abuse

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The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse recently released important research about substance abuse and spirituality. In the study entitled So Help Me God: Substance Abuse, Religion and Spirituality, CASA reported that faith is a key factor in both the treatment and prevention of substance abuse related problems.

However, the study also confirmed what many in the substance abuse field already suspected. There is too little interaction and cooperation between the faith community and professional substance abuse treatment and prevention specialists.
In an accompanying statement to the research, Joseph Califano, Jr., chairman and president of CASA, said the results were positive.
If ever the sum were greater than the parts it is in combining the power of God, religion and spirituality with the power of science and professional medicine to prevent and treat substance abuse and addiction, Califano wrote.
The study called on both clergy and addiction specialists to work together. For example, research indicated that clergy are aware of substance abuse problems in their congregations, and even understand addiction as an underlying cause of other domestic problems. But as a group, they have little training in the area, and seminaries do not offer enough courses related to substance abuse and addiction.
Physicians and other treatment providers, aware of research pointing to the power of faith in healing diseases including addictions, are reticent to use faith in treatments.
CASA wants action on various fronts. It wants the faith community and science-based practitioners to work together for solutions. And it wants research to understand the complexity of addiction and the ways science and faith play into addiction.
The faith community should see this research as a wake-up call to address several areas of concern. It is time to consider the options available to the faith community.
Faith communities need to assess how well they use families especially in prevention efforts. Congregations should consider how they share space and equipment in community efforts to address substance abuse issues. Also, the church should use its traditional role of healing and wellness to a greater extent by using the laity in roles of advocacy and hands-on ministry.
Finally, the faith community must accept its role as peacemaker. The chasm separating the work of the church and substance abuse specialists is a vestige of the historical relationship between faith and science. One needs only think of the life and times of Darwin or Galileo to invoke images of a warlike landscape.
This historical relationship will serve no one. Thus, the church is invited to bring peace to this relationship and attend to those who are addicted. Surely, a common goal will help each side seek ways to bridge the linguistic, philosophical, and process barriers that have divided them for so long.
Steve Sumerel is director of the Department of Family Life and Substance Abuse Council on Christian Life and Public Affairs for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.