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Commitment card at center of SBC drug task force report

ATLANTA (BP)–Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta June 15-16 will be given the opportunity to publicly pledge to a lifestyle free from substance abuse.
Convention-goers will receive a commitment card as part of the June 15 report of the drug task force created following last year’s convention. SBC agency and commission chief executives on the SBC’s Great Commission Council comprise the task force.
The special emphasis was prompted by the adoption of a motion at the SBC meeting in Salt Lake City calling for a task force to study America’s drug problem. The motion was submitted by Ted Stone, a messenger from Durham, N.C., and a vocal advocate for faith-based treatment for substance abusers.
The card calls for signers to agree “to abstain from the use of any substance that would impact negatively” on an individual’s behavior or their Christian witness. Messengers will be invited to sign their pledge cards while SBC President Paige Patterson and fellow agency heads sign their card at the same time on the platform in the Georgia Dome.
“We need to set the example for the total abstinence from alcohol as a beverage and from any illegal substance,” said Richard Land, chairman of the task force and president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“It would be tragic,” Land said, “if Baptists gave forth an uncertain sound on this issue at precisely the moment in our nation’s history when the trauma and human suffering caused by alcohol and other drugs has prompted a growing number of Americans to consider whether the Baptists’ historic total abstinence stance is not the wisest choice after all.”
Signing commitment cards is not a novel idea in Southern Baptist life, Land noted, citing the very successful campaign to have young people pledge to sexual abstinence until marriage.
“Surely if we can call upon our young people to sign a True Love Waits pledge to abstain from sexual activity until marriage, we can sign a card affirming and committing ourselves to a lifestyle free from the use of alcohol and other drugs which have a negative impact on our behavior,” he stated.
In his report to the convention on behalf of the task force, Land is expected to affirm that alcohol is the nation’s number one drug. “Alcohol is a gateway drug,” he said. “Secular research indicates 100 percent of the people who use illegal drugs started with alcohol.”
The task force report will also urge all six Southern Baptist seminaries to include a component on alcohol and other drug use in their curriculum, in order that those called to the ministry might be personally and professionally prepared to deal with the issue in the local church, Land said.
“Southern Baptists have the resources, the people and the organization to really make a big impact in the war against drug abuse,” said Stone, who has twice walked across America to draw attention to the drug problem and the need for a faith-based response. “I am pleased Southern Baptists are going to be the first of the major denominations to make such a commitment.”
The pledge to abstinence is biblically sound, Land said, suggesting that if the Apostle Paul were alive today “he would be a total abstainer.” He pointed to the apostle’s teaching concerning the “weaker brethren” (1 Corinthians 8:9).
“Given the level of alcohol addiction in our culture today, I am convinced the Apostle Paul would abstain from alcohol in order that weaker brothers and sisters would not be influenced to use alcohol themselves to their eventual addiction and ruin,” Land said.
Signing the commitment card provides parents and others a means to say to younger generations that personal purity is important, Land continued.
A national survey in 1997 revealed that 77 percent of youth age 12-17 acknowledge their parents have a great deal or at least fair amount of influence in their decision to use tobacco, alcohol or illicit drugs. Youth attending Youthlink 2000, a multi-city rally planned by several SBC agencies for this New Year’s Eve, will be provided the same commitment card as will be handed out during the SBC.
Pressure from peers and the glorification of alcohol and drug use by the popular media pushes youngsters to make unwise decisions, Land said. “It is incumbent upon people of faith who know the joy of keeping their body and mind pure from these dangerous substances to take a public stand for righteousness and to send a message to our children and their friends that abstinence is possible and rewarding,” Land said.
Youth who have a parent who is an alcoholic are at least four times as likely to become an alcoholic themselves than the population at large, Land said, noting that even the presence of an alcohol-drinking parent in the home makes it four times as likely that a teenager will take up the habit of drinking alcohol when compared to a youngster in a household where neither parent drinks.
“We need a set of heroes in America,” Stone said. “There is no better hero than those we see daily, like a parent, a grandparent, a brother or sister, who embraces sobriety and self-control as the best road to happiness, success and inner peace.” By signing a commitment card, Stone continued, “we actually become heroes, good role models to those around us.”
More than just a piece of paper, the pledge card offers Southern Baptists an opportunity to make a clear statement to a watching world, said Barrett Duke, who focuses on alcohol and drug issues in his work with the ERLC. “The pledges made by Southern Baptists before God and country reveal for all to see that they are committed to leading the way to a drug-free future, not only by words but also by personal example and effort,” he said.
In adopting the report of the task force, Stone said, “Southern Baptists will be putting a stamp of approval on a life of sobriety and self-control that is so badly needed in our nation.” Yet he quickly added that signing a card is just a small step. “I don’t want anybody to think we have solved the problem by affixing our signature to a card and that then we can just forget about the problem,” he said. “This a first step in battle against drug abuse.”
The commitment card also calls on signers “to offer assistance and to minister” to those who suffer from drug and alcohol abuse-related problems.
“We would be remiss if we pledged to abstain for the sake of our weaker brethren but failed to commit to reaching out to them with the liberating love of Jesus Christ,” Land explained. He said an estimated 13.9 million Americans use illegal drugs at least once a month and at least 31.9 million Americans could be classified as binge drinkers, having five or more drinks on one occasion during the past month.
Stone said his original motion focused tightly on behavior-altering substances, such as alcohol and other drugs and not on other substances, so its overall impact would not be watered-down or weakened. “These substances have the potential to cause the user to lose physical and mental control,” Stone said, adding that the failure to cite tobacco should not be construed as condoning its use.
The task force is expected to deliver a second report at the 2000 SBC in Orlando, Fla., announcing the creation of a clearinghouse for community resources that deal with alcohol and other drug abuse, and the development of tools to aid churches in the establishment of local drug abuse treatment centers.
Dellanna O’Brien, executive director of the Womens’ Missionary Union, and James T. Draper Jr., president of the Lifeway Christian Resources, served the task force as vice chairpersons.

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  • Dwayne Hastings