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FIRST-PERSON: Toward a progressive program of recovery

DURHAM, N.C. (BP)–Due to the specific nature of the ministry into which God has called us, our opinions occasionally are solicited with regard to various recovery programs for drug-addicts.

There are many in our churches who are regular attendees of Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. These typically maintain that they are in perpetual states of recovery. There are also many who have found complete recovery through faith in Christ and have thus found the group meetings that espouse the incurability of drug-addiction to be antagonistic to their faith and inconsistent with their experiences.

Discussions about recovery groups can become polarized very quickly. So, to be fair, we have decided to allow each organization to speak for itself.

According to a Narcotics Anonymous fact-sheet originally published in 1990, “Because no attendance records are kept, it is impossible even to estimate what percentage of those who come to Narcotics Anonymous ultimately achieve long-term abstinence.”

Five years after its original date of publication, the language of the document was modified. In an apparent effort to sanitize its terminology, the phrase “ultimately achieve long-term abstinence” has been replaced by “remain active in NA over time.”

Regardless of the wording, the fact remains that according to the information provided by the organization itself, Narcotics Anonymous has no indication of its own level of effectiveness.

While the same is true of Alcoholics Anonymous, various testimonies posted on the official A.A. website bear witness to its effectiveness. One such testimony is titled “My name is Mary, and I’m an alcoholic (lesbian).” It reads, in part, “I’m an alcoholic. I’m 27. I’m a woman. I’m a homosexual.” She includes, “I thank my Higher Power every night for this program.”

Some careful readers may have noticed the conspicuous announcement in “Mary’s” testimony of her sexual persuasion. We looked diligently and found no similar endorsements or propagations of heterosexuality contained on the website.

Some may also have noticed that Mary’s condition, as an alcoholic, remains in perpetuity. According to information available from the official Alcoholics Anonymous website, the position of the organization is that “alcoholism is a progressive illness, that … cannot be cured.”

So, based on testimony provided by A.A. about itself, we can conclude that successful recovery may include maintaining a state of perpetual addiction, living in open sin and having faith in some anonymous “higher-power” of the individual’s choosing.

Coupling these snapshots of the most popular traditional recovery group models provides us with enough information to at least raise caution. We would argue that drug-addiction is not a “disease,” but rather a behavioral issue, a sin issue whose remedy consists in repentance and reconciliation with the One True God, through faith in Christ, who alone is able to restore sinners to a state of righteousness before God.

The ultimate solution to a gnawing addiction is not to be found in an unchallenged acquiescence to secular humanistic recovery programs. In fact, the solution to our sinful nature is not to be found even in religious programs. To borrow a quote from Eddie Miller, director of missions of the Sierra (Nev.) Baptist Association, “It is the power of the Gospel that saves; not our ability, intellect, or programs.”

It is popularly believed that drug addicts must become involved indefinitely in “group therapy” in order to achieve and maintain wellness. However, this is not necessarily the case. Considering that drug addicts already know how to be drug addicts, it seems sensible that it would be necessary, in order for them to learn how to be productive, responsible, accountable members of the community, that they spend ample time with mentors engaged in meaningful discipleship activities.

Responsible Christian leaders within the local church body are indispensable resources in the mentorship of those whose lives have been characterized by addictions. Our efforts should be directed at helping former drug-addicts integrate into the body.

This cannot be accomplished in an environment which perpetuates their disenfranchisement from the balance of the body. How can a person be expected to emerge anything other than a drug-addict who is isolated in a group with only other drug-addicts?

What we need is not another “group-meeting.” What we are tragically lacking in our churches are godly mentors willing to give sacrificially themselves to the training and development of those who may not have had previous exposure to appropriate role-models. What drug-addicts need are templates to follow and disciples to emulate — not the stigmatization of being forever caricatured by the exclusive title “drug-addict.”

We would further suggest that it is accountability rather than anonymity that leads people to wholeness and newness of life. Of course, accountability is significantly less attractive. But, then, consequence can be a great motivator toward righteous living.
Ted Stone and Philip Barber are Southern Baptist speakers and writers on the subject of drug abuse. Contact them through Ted Stone Ministries, P.O. Box 1397, Durham, N.C. 27702, or at (919) 477-1581.

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  • Ted Stone and Philip Barber