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God and Heroin in Madison County

05.13.17 10:04 AM – Andy McDonald
House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell said there is no silver bullet in fighting heroin abuse. One Richmond evangelical begs to differ.
There is no silver bullet. Not when it comes to dealing with the heroin epidemic. Kentucky legislator Jonathan Shell said as much a few weeks back at a convocation of law enforcement officials, medical professionals and government leaders who discussed the deadly epidemic sweeping Kentucky and the nation.

According to folklore, a bullet cast from silver is the only weapon that can stop a werewolf or other evil mythical creatures. Mr. Shell, of course, was merely employing the metaphor to suggest there are no easy answers to the problem. Still, it was interesting to me that the scourge of heroin abuse would be obliquely referenced in those terms, as if the epidemic is akin to a malevolent, nearly unstoppable, supernatural force.

Shell and other officials outlined what is being done about the problem, but some kept coming back to the same phrase: “I don’t know what we’re going to do about the drug problem, but we have to do something.”

Then came Rachel Cobb, a youth minister at First Baptist Church in Richmond. Cobb didn’t labor with uncertainty about the solution to the drug problem. “We have got to come together as churches and take our families back,” Cobb said. “The answer is Jesus Christ.” Cobb asserted the drug problem is partially rooted in the breakdown of the family. With the break-down of the family, Cobb suggested, it’s easier for people to fall victim to destructive behaviors like drug abuse.

Cobb wasn’t the only one to invoke God at the meeting. WKYT reporter Miranda Combs asked one recovering addict why they thought they were going to beat heroin addiction. The interviewee told Combs, “I have God.” I was taken aback. I mostly expected to hear a recitation of statistics and mention of drug fighting strategies.

I initially wondered what other people at the meeting might be thinking as Cobb invoked Jesus Christ as the solution: Got it. Thank you for playing. Next! Yet when I listen to accounts of what heroin addiction is doing to people and their families, I couldn't help but think of one word: evil. What would you call something that can lure people away from the love of their families to their self destruction and often their deaths? What would you call something that is so powerful that it becomes all-consuming, that it will make you lie and steal from the people you love until you have no one and nothing left? You could call it a disease, a mere neuro-chemical reaction to a narcotic, but the way in which it seduces and destroys people seems somehow more insidious. Can it not be described as evil? And if it is evil – if it is becoming like a malevolent, nearly unstoppable, supernatural force we’re fighting, where else can we turn?

I’ll admit the God solution gives me some pause because many churches proclaimed the same thing about alcohol in the early part of the last century. Things were bad in the 1900s as alcoholism was epidemic and some families were desperate. That substance, like heroin, was driving people to ruin. Churches mobilized behind the drive for Prohibition, and once it passed, one evangelist proclaimed that outlawing liquor had finally secured the salvation of the United States. “Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent,” he cried. Looking back from the 21st Century, things didn’t quite work out that way.

Given the secular nature of government, I think it’s unrealistic to think that faith-based policies can be an official solution to the heroin epidemic. But as a solution to individuals and families, and for communities struggling to find common ground to fight this increasingly powerful common enemy, maybe Cobb is right in stating that churches have a crucial role in the fight. They absolutely have a function in mending the frayed fabric of our society – the family. Churches can help people take their families back – from the distractions of the world that are allowing families to drift apart. But from drug addiction? Well, like they said at the meeting, we’ve got to do something.

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