Today we delve into a topic that is intricate and deeply personal: addiction. We are addressing the enduring, compulsive reliance on a behavior or substance, a struggle that many in our congregation and community face daily.

Addiction is often perceived by society as a moral failing. Those caught in its grip are frequently stigmatized and shamed, viewed as weak-willed or morally inferior. It is crucial to remember that addiction is not a choice, but a disease. It is not a reflection of weak character, but a manifestation of deeper emotional or psychological challenges.

Sadly, the church has also fallen short in its treatment of addiction, often branding it as a moral shortcoming. Addiction is present in our church community, yet it remains a taboo subject. Many individuals I work with choose to meet me after church office hours to keep their struggles private, avoiding recovery gatherings. Why? Addiction is still seen as a moral failing rather than a disease in the church.

Individuals grappling with addiction are frequently advised by the church to simply “Stop and trust God,” or “Stop associating with the wrong people.” They are told to “Read your Bible more,” or questioned about their salvation. The church dismisses leaders, fires pastors and staff for substance issues, further deepening their shame. In our community, we have witnessed over 600 overdose deaths in 2022, with alcohol-related deaths even higher. Recently, two individuals under the age of twenty-one died from overdoses in Oak Ridge. Our pastor, Rev. Deanna Hornby, responded to an overdose death call, an experience that leaves a lasting impact. It is the pain and images of preventable deaths that motivate First Recovery and its volunteers to continue their work daily.

Recovery is attainable for this treatable disease, but we must refrain from causing harm in our churches. We must avoid labeling addiction as a lack of faith, willpower, or obedience to God. Continuing with these harmful approaches will only lead to more deaths, broken families, and shattered lives. While this narrative has been passed down in the church, Jesus never taught this. With advancements in medical knowledge, we can now recognize addiction as a disease rather than a moral failing. Each of us has a role to play in helping our brothers and sisters overcome their struggles with addiction. Let us extend hands, not cast stones. Let us embrace, not isolate. Let us seek to understand, not condemn. In doing so, we not only reflect our godliness but also participate in God’s divine nature.

First Recovery serves as a unique model for how the church can combat addiction and provide invaluable recovery support services. I pray for a day when our world, especially our community, no longer needs First Recovery. However, that day has not yet arrived. We will continue to answer the call to help those suffering from this disease and their families. The First Recovery ministry firmly believes that this is the work Jesus would do. Your support, contributions, and time are needed to sustain this work. You may feel you have nothing to offer or cannot relate to people on Wednesdays. While there is heaviness, rawness, and descriptions of pain and trauma, there is also hope, resilience, and clear evidence of God’s power. The over 100 speakers at First Recovery are proof that God still performs miracles in people who the church often deems unworthy. Thanks be to God for all those miracles and a church that gives the space, resources, and talents to help anyone in need.

Matt Holder, BS, CPRS
Director of Recovery Ministry, First Recovery