The Christian’s call to care for addictive populations

Extending grace and mercy in the name of Jesus

February 5, 2020

As a public health professor, Christ-follower, and substance abuse researcher, my vocation demands that I consistently reflect upon the intersection of faith and efforts that are intended to protect the needs of the population. As the prevalence and incidence rates of a variety of addictive behaviors continue to increase, the stigmatization and misconceptions associated with these behaviors continue to rise as well. 

Addiction, whether related to substance abuse or not, can present itself in many forms. An individual may be struggling with prescription drug use, the use of illicit substances, sexual addiction, overeating, or tobacco and alcohol use, just to name a few. The repercussions of engaging in these behaviors often results in devastation for both the user and their loved ones. 

What is addiction? 

Oftentimes, the general populace may not think of addiction as a disease. While there is a spiritual component, in actuality, it is a disease that is complex and chronic in nature and affects the functioning of both the brain and body. The most common symptoms of addiction are severe loss of control, continued use despite the negative consequences associated with the behavior, a preoccupation with using, failed attempts to quit, increasing tolerance, and withdrawal. There are many evidence-based programs studying best practices in substance abuse prevention and control, but there is still much work that needs to be done.   

As the addiction field has matured, it has tried to integrate conflicting theories and approaches to treatment, as well as incorporate relevant evidence-based practices into a single, comprehensive model. Many positive changes have emerged, and a new view of motivation and associated strategies to promote positive behavior change have been developed. This trend in focusing on motivation, coupled with a shift away from labelling individuals as addicts, places an emphasis on examining the determinants and mechanisms of personal change. 

Researchers and clinicians have become better equipped to apply and facilitate changes in an individual’s unhealthy or maladaptive behavior. With that being said, as Christians, we must remember that helping those who struggle with addiction is not the sole responsibility of a mental health professional. We must keep in mind that the Christian life is also about bearing burdens well. We are not meant to struggle alone (Gal. 6:2). 

The current state of the problem: Incidence and prevalence rates

Currently, there are an estimated 40 million Americans aged 12 and older who engage in substance abuse behavior or are addicted to nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs. That’s more than 1 out of every 7 people. This is more than the number of Americans who suffer from heart conditions (27 million), diabetes (26 million), or cancer (19 million). 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the 2019 Monitoring the Future Survey Results, the use of illicit drugs among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders remained steady at 38%. The use of marijuana has increased in lower grades, when compared to 12th graders, but the prevalence of marijuana use also remains steady. Prescription drug misuse has declined in the adolescent population in recent years, but use among adults continues to be a major public health concern. Alcohol use continues to decline among middle and highschoolers. Lastly, we have made progress in regards to addressing tobacco and nicotine use among adolescents, but the recent popularity in vaping behavior has threatened these efforts.  

Addiction, stigmatization, and a call to the Christian

Although the word “stigma” is widely used, there is some variability in how it is defined. Stigma, especially in regards to addictive behaviors, occurs when negative attitudes toward those suffering from substance use disorders arise on account of the disorder itself, and are likely to impact physical, psychological, social, or professional wellbeing. This stigmatization, manifesting as preconceived judgments and misconceptions, often results in the exclusion of those suffering from addiction. 

Being present in the lives of those who struggle with addiction provides us with a beautiful opportunity to love people in the midst of their affliction and point them to the One in whom true satisfaction is found.

Stigmatization is an issue we must work through both personally and as a society, but we cannot allow it to be a barrier to gospel ministry. Regardless of how you may perceive the culpability of those who suffer from addiction, Christians should continue to affirm their dignity as image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:26-28). Addicts may be resorting to the things of this world to satisfy, but we know they were made for so much more. We know, and are reassured, that Christ is the only one who will satisfy (Heb. 6:19). Being intentional in caring for this hurting population can provide a God-glorifying opportunity to share the gospel as we strive to minister with love, grace, and compassion. 

Caring for those who are suffering from addiction is not an endorsement of sin, gluttony, or the use of illicit substances. When Jesus called us to care “for the least of these” (Matt. 25:40), I believe it includes those who are in destitute and destructive situations. Being present in the lives of those who struggle with addiction provides us with a beautiful opportunity to love people in the midst of their affliction and point them to the One in whom true satisfaction is found. It allows us to help those in sin turn to the freedom that is found in Christ, walking alongside them on a difficult road. As an individual who has had the privilege of working with addictive populations and hearing their stories, I would urge Christians to seek out opportunities to serve this population as a means of living out the Great Commission. 

Supriya G. Reddy

Supriya G. Reddy currently serves as a children's ministry volunteer at Creekstone Church and was an active member at The Church at Brook Hills for many years. She currently resides in Cumming, Georgia, and is an assistant professor of Public Health at The University of North Georgia. She has used her vocation and … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24