Why churches matter in the fight against addiction

September 19, 2018

When I met my mother-in-law for the first time, her toothless smile, poverty-stricken trailer, and hard-worn wrinkles, visually confirmed the preconceived notions I had developed about her. She was a matriarch symbol of the ailment of our nation’s time—drug addiction.

She was the woman who chose bottles of Jim Beam, bags of white powder, and abusive men over her children. She abandoned them at home for days at a time when they were barely out of toddlerhood, left them idling in cars while she traded sexual favors for a warm night in a hotel on Christmas Eve. She put them in grave danger, inviting questionable strangers into her bed, her addictions controlling her every move. Even as court orders and arrests got her to rehab every few years, the behavior therapy never worked.

She had done it to herself, but she was also lost in a situation of limited hope where mental illness and lack of opportunity, community, and faith created the perfect storm for her to fester in her addictions.

The childhood my husband survived was cluttered with neglect, abuse, and fear. And it’s a childhood too many are living out today due to the drug crisis ravaging small towns and big cities alike. The uptick of children in foster care is heartbreaking, the death tolls of their parents rising to levels of unspeakable tragedy.

No quick fixes

Important people talk about “solving” the opioid crisis like it’s a puzzle, like if we just get the right pieces in place, we’ll be able to save people from themselves. Billions of dollars and thousands of words, bolstered by the best of intentions, are written within a massive new, bipartisanly supported bill to address the growing epidemic. It passed in June almost unanimously and is predicted to pass the Senate in similar fashion.

Opioid addiction is spoken of like a cancer, like something that’s unstoppable or put upon someone without their participation in the act. Yet, the spiritual aspect of this ailment needs to be addressed, too. Though it certainly takes on a physical form, where does it begin, and what makes someone latch on to the numbing balm of drugs and alcohol? There are no easy answers.

I’m glad our public officials are addressing opioid addiction. Congress should be taking this seriously, but the responsibility does not lie with the government alone. This is an issue that also has to be solved by people, community, purpose, and faith. Otherwise we will fail many of the most affected individuals.

The church’s role

The church has been stepping in at this time of crisis, and we need even more of that as we battle a national illness that has no simple remedy. Church planting is one key to attacking the problem from all angles, and John Freed, pastor of Waterline, an Indiana church committed to church planting as a mission, affirmed this is part of the way he’s seeing it tackled in the state.

“Churches are on the leading edge of nonprofits that are making a difference for people in recovery,” he said in a phone interview. “I know that, for a fact, in our county, if you enter recovery, it’s probably affiliated with a church.”

While mega-churches still gain media attention, the majority of churchgoers attend churches of 500 or less, with 46 percent attending a church of 100 or less, according to Barna research. Even—and especially—in these small settings, the church can truly love and support those who are struggling. The importance of church planting in very concentrated areas can and will make a difference.

According to Lifeway research, the American church is now opening churches faster than it is closing them—and 42 percent of those worshipping at churches launched since 2008 previously never attended church or hadn't attended in many years. It’s clear there is a strong desire for church, and there is no doubt that areas affected by the opioid crisis are included in that.

Don’t forget the small towns

Church planting expert and director of the Billy Graham Center Ed Stetzer has noted that many church plants are focused on urban areas as more people move to the cities—but we musn’t forget those in smaller towns. These are the towns like my husband grew up in, where addiction and dead-end jobs, generational family dysfunction and poverty breed cycles of despair with little light to guide someone unfortunate enough to be born into it.

Blame for today’s drug crisis is tossed around like a hot potato. The blame is toxic, but it’s not serving to help people like my mother-in-law. Had she been reached by a greater, deeper good 30 years ago—one also focused on the root(s) of the issue rather than one of access—maybe she could have gained the purpose she needed or saved her children from experiencing the traumas that will haunt them for a lifetime. God calls us not only to the nations but to our neighbors and where the need is most potent. In America today, that need is magnified in the form of opioid overdoses.

When The Washington Post published a powerful series of stories last year about families dealing with addiction issues, it overwhelmingly illustrated that these people weren’t simply random casualties of failed government, but also self-destructive, hopeless, and lonely. It’s the spiritual and personal side that government simply cannot address in a tangible way. That takes people. That takes churches. That takes sacrifice, inconvenience, compassion, and discomfort for friends, family, and community.

The need for the church in our local communities, it seems, has never been so palpable. As Christians, it is our responsibility to love our drug-addicted neighbors. We should participate in our local churches and partner with government initiatives. And we ought to do more than read the headlines. In God’s strength, we must go make a difference in the lives of those in our communities.

Join the ERLC in Dallas on October 11-13 for the Cross-Shaped Family. This conference is designed to equip families to see that all of our family stories are shaped by the ultimate story of our lives, the gospel. Speakers include Russell Moore, Jen Wilkin, Matt Chandler, Eric Mason, Ray Ortlund, Beth Moore, Jamie Ivey, and many more. Register to attend today!

Ericka Andersen

Ericka Andersen is a freelance writer. Her first book, Leaving Cloud 9: The True Story of a Life Resurrected From the Ashes of Poverty, Trauma and Mental Illness was released by Thomas Nelson in 2018. She lives in Indianapolis, Ind., with her husband and two children. 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