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17 October 2013

The role of the Church in an addictive society

The role of the Church in an addictive society

A conference was recently held in Swansea to look at the role of the Church in an addictive society. This was hosted by Gweini, the Council of the Christian Voluntary Sector in Wales, run under the umbrella of the Evangelical Alliance Wales.

Outreach to those caught in the cycles of addiction has always been part of the evangelical story, with Salvation Army, for example, starting up in the 19th century and other groups such as Teen Challenge and Victory Outreach beginning more recently.

The need for the event arose not because the Church was failing in its ministry, but because society has changed and addictions are becoming more commonplace and complex. Moreover, because of the recent surge of Christian compassion ministries such as foodbanks, debt advice centres and night shelters, Christians are meeting more and more people with addiction problems and so need to know how to respond.

In April this year, the National Assembly of Wales published a report Substance misuse and treatment services in Wales. It says that men account for the majority of alcohol and drug referrals in the nation and the rate of underage drinking remains worryingly high. Whilst the number of underage drinkers has decreased since its peak in 1996, the rate in Wales remains one of the highest in Europe and North America. The number of exclusions from schools in Wales (both permanent and fixed term) resulting from substance misuse increased by 2 per cent between 2009 and 2011.

According to the 2011 Welsh Health Survey, around two out of five adults reported drinking above the recommended guidelines on at least one day in the past week, including around a quarter who reported binge drinking. Drinking above guidelines was more common amongst men, and was less common amongst older people.

Of the 100 people at the Gweini event, at least 15-20 were themselves in recovery from addiction, including some of the speakers. With the needs of addicts so great, a clear thread running through the conference was the need to depend upon God and the power of the Holy Spirit to bring breakthrough. One attendee from a non-faith background mentioned how moved he was when four recovering addicts led everyone in a song of worship.

In 2004, almost ten years ago, Teen Challenge in Wales had their funding cut from Welsh Government because officials visited one of their recovery centres and objected to their Christian ethos. There was much public outcry at the time with Welsh media being very supportive of the charity, portraying them as victims of anti-faith discrimination.

With addictions becoming more prevalent in society, including not only drugs and alcohol but also gambling, pornography etc, there is perhaps more openness now from government to recognise the role that Christian faith can play in recovery from addictions.