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Trump opioid declaration underscores ministry need

WASHINGTON (BP) — President Trump’s declaration that America’s opioid crisis is a public health emergency came amid calls for churches to heighten their response to drug abuse as well.

The opioid crisis is a “major problem,” said Robby Gallaty, pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., and a former drug addict whose testimony has encouraged others to seek freedom in Christ. The opioid epidemic, he noted, is an opportunity “to show people that the thing they’re searching for and seeking is not found in a drug. It’s found in a man, and His name is Jesus.”

Trump’s Oct. 26 declaration of a public health emergency will allow his administration, among other actions, to expand telemedicine services for addicts in rural areas, hire temporary workers to engage the opioid crisis and use some HIV/AIDS resources for substance abuse treatment, according to a White House release.

Various federal departments and agencies, Trump said, also have been directed to use their emergency authority to address the crisis.

Critics said Trump’s declaration didn’t go far enough, the Associated Press reported, because it did not dedicate any new money to combatting opioid addiction.

Trump said 175 Americans die from substance overdoses daily and cited his late brother Fred’s struggle with alcoholism as part of his impetus to address addiction.

“The federal government is aggressively fighting the opioid epidemic on all fronts,” Trump said from the White House’s East Room.

Gallaty called churches to join the battle, telling Baptist Press “sobriety without Christ is a dead-end street because you can’t break yourself free from the chains that have shackled you so long in sin.”

Churches must recognize drug addiction as a problem in their communities and offer Christ-centered recovery programs like Celebrate Recovery, Gallaty said, referencing an initiative developed by Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Churches should refer addicts to residential treatment programs as well, Gallaty said, and discourage family members from enabling substance abuse.

To help churches join the fight against opioid addiction, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has held extended discussions with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control about how Southern Baptists can assist addicts, the ERLC told BP.

Phillip Bethancourt, the ERLC’s executive vice president, wrote in an August 2017 article for erlc.com that “the opioid crisis is the pro-life issue evangelicals aren’t talking about.” He suggested the 2018 Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington will address the issue.

“Until evangelicals embrace the opioid epidemic as a pivotal aspect of championing a whole-life pro-life social ethic,” Bethancourt wrote, “the church will continue to overlook the crisis all around it. The Bible calls Christians to embrace a holistic view of life that defends the most vulnerable from conception to resurrection. Ministering in the midst of the opioid crisis is a key area where churches can protect human dignity.”

Some state conventions and local associations already have begun to address the crisis.

The West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists, for example, adopted a resolution last year pledging “active involvement in the effort to rid our country of drug abuse.” Trump, in announcing his emergency declaration, mentioned West Virginia as a state hit hard by opioid addiction.

The resolution, based on a 1997 Southern Baptist Convention resolution “on drug abuse,” noted that “every faithful Christian should bear a definite responsibility to achieve a successful solution” to the problem of drug abuse.

South Carolina’s Baptist Courier said in a July editorial discipleship is among the components of successful addiction recovery.

“A new life is possible” for substance addicts, Courier editor Rudy Gray wrote, “especially if it is the result of the new birth.”

“It can take an alcoholic or drug addict as long as two years to regain good thinking and decision-making abilities, but it does happen. I am convinced this is where the mission of the church in making disciples can be so vital,” wrote Gray, a volunteer counselor and teacher for the past 19 years at a residential campus for addicted men.

“Former addicts need ongoing support, and genuine disciples of Jesus never stop learning or growing spiritually. Discipleship and recovery are not mutually exclusive, but may be strategically invaluable in helping people recover from an addiction and grow into the person God promises they can be in Christ Jesus,” Gray wrote.

Among Baptist associations, the Cincinnati Area Baptist Association received a report this month on how its churches can seek social justice, including battling opioid addiction.

Drug and alcohol overdoses, the Trump administration said, are the leading cause of injury death in America.