The are many pathways to recovery and a number of needs to be met to find long-term recovery. The faith community can play many roles on this journey.
Many view addiction as a sickness or disease. However, others think it is caused by personal weakness or that it is a result of sin. Faith Partners Inc. believes one’s response does depend upon one’s beliefs. We also believe that central to an effective drug and alcohol ministry is a clergy who understands addiction and is committed to providing personal and congregational pastoral care to those who are afflicted and affected.
Alcoholism (and other drug dependency) has long been established as a disease by the medical community. Research is available on brain changes. Family history is a big predictor. Yet often it is interpreted as a personal weakness, something the person could have avoided with better decisions. What we don’t know is when in the development of the disease the capacity to decide was compromised by loss of control. So, yes, personal decisions contribute. But they are not the reason a person crosses the line into addiction.
Rev. Brian Gould of Albany, NY builds on this idea of dis-ease, “I understand addiction (and co-addiction) to be a disease, but not just in the narrow clinical sense. It is helpful to think of the illness as ‘dis-ease’ – that which prevents us from being the persons that God created us to be. The more broadly we interpret the disease of addiction, the more observant we become of the pervasiveness of addiction in our midst – both the chemical and non-chemical varieties.”
Our collective pastoral care must address timing. What approach is most appropriate when? It must also ask which approaches are effective with the alcoholic/addict. When people are sick with addiction their control becomes impaired. They lose the capacity to make good decisions about use. When they begin to recover they bear the responsibility of their actions, learn to make amends, and put their lives back together.
Recovery is a process not an event and there are many stages along the way. Education and information help the addict see that they are dealing with a disease, brain changes and compulsivity. Addicts when hearing that addiction is a disease, something out of their control, become more open to help. They become less convinced that they can handle it on their own. If we give them permission to see the need for help they will one day have to address their responsibility in both the development of the disease and recovery from the disease, just like any other disease.
It seems our primary task as people of faith is to convey the love of God to others, to convey God’s desire for healing and wholeness. A measure of our attitude or practice might be to ask ourselves these questions as we respond to persons afflicted or affected by addictions. Is our attitude conveying the love of God? Is there good news in what we are saying? Doing? Are we offering resources people need to move toward health and healing?