Urging clergy to not abandon addicts to the professional treatment industry.
In a groundbreaking study, C.A.S.A. Columbia, America's premier think tank on addiction identified four key findings. These were:
People who regularly attend religious services are multiples less likely to abuse
alcohol and drugs,
People who regularly attend religious services are substantially more likely to
succeed in recovery from substance abuse,
The profesisonal helping community carries a strong anti-religious bias, &
Clergy don't have a clue about working with addicts.
Appropriately, CASA titled their report: So Help Me God
While Mark Twains dictum on statistics (there are lies, damn lies, and then there's statistics) reigns true regarding addiction success rates. The reality is that the secular recovery industry's record on successful recovery is so poor that they now define success as decreased use and increased sense of well being.
Why then has America's clergy largely abandoned the addicts in their congregations?
Consider two scenarios:
1. Facing incurable cancer, I go to my pastor(rabbi, priest, etc.) for counsel on the emotional and spiritual fallout in my life - and he gladly counsels me.
2. Facing (arguably) incurable addiction I go to my pastor for counsel on the emotional and spiritual fallout in my life - and he refers me to a treatment program.
I'll come back to pastors shortly
Here's how this came about. Beginning in the 1960's the push to medicalize addiction, in order to qualify for insurance coverage took off like a rocket. For a while it worked, as health insurers bought the concept and opened their checkbooks to medical treatment programs.
Insurance underwriters, however are trained to look at the bottom line, and what they began to see was that people who were treated once usually became frequent flyers in the addiction treatment world. As a result they began to limit the length of time for covered treatment and the frequency of treatment. Today it's exceedingly rare for any insurer to cover more that 30 days and more than 2 or 3 treatment episodes.
Yet the rush to professionalize the treatment industry did win converts in government and academia - leading to development of professional standards, adherence to which now constitute the basis for almost all licensing and accreditation of workers and programs.
Now back to pastors. With the full weight of government and academia defining both addiction and its treatment, A generation of pastors has been trained to believe that addiction is no longer in their sphere of competence. Hence the different responses above to "incurable" diseases.
Yet CASA's report clearly demonstrates that religion plays a central role in the prevention of - and recovery from - addiction. In the face of almost rabid attempts to secularize the addiction field, why does this remain true?
I submit that, as held by almost every major religion, mankind is essentially a spiritual as well as physical being.
If this is true, then the central role of clergy in these faiths is to guide others in understanding and exploring this aspect of their nature. If they cede their role in the face of any human dysfunction, they abandon their reason for being.
It's time for America's clergy to step up to the plate and reclaim their role in ministering to the addicted. In so doing, they need not become an addiction expert anymore than they need to become an oncologist in order to work with someone who has cancer.
How can we change this? The truth is it won't be easy, but maybe you can make a start by copying this essay and giving it the leader of your congregation. To quote an old church chorus "it only takes a spark to get a fire going.