European Methodists Hold Drug Addiction Conference
In light of proposed initiatives to liberalize drug policies in several European countries, which potentially may increase drug use among youth and young adults, United Methodists from European nations convened in late September for the first international conference on substance abuse and drug dependence, emphasizing prevention and therapy for drug and alcohol abusers, and the development of faith-based response.
Germany, Southern Europe, Northern Europe and Russia annual conferences participated in the conference that took place in Braunfels, Germany, Sept. 25-29. The four-day event conducted in German and English, was sponsored by the German Annual Conference and the Board of Church and Society.
Participants at the European conference on the theme "Addicted to Life," recognized that substance abuse and drug dependence was a "spiritual problem" that requires active involvement of churches. Congregations can assist drug dependent people by filling in the void in their lives with a faith-based approach to treatment, several participants suggested.
Bishop Felton E. May of the Baltimore-Washington Area, in the opening address on the denomination's work against drug addiction said, "Chemical dependency and alcoholism and violence is the result of humankind unable to connect with God . . . For me, it's a spiritual problem." Therefore drugs and alcohol are being used as a temporary stimulant to fill that void, said May. He spearheaded the Council of Bishops' Initiative Drugs and Drug Violence between 1989 and 1992.
"The drug isn't the problem; it's the people who cannot handle drugs. We must have a response from churches," said the Rev. Kurt Wegenast, director of the adaptation and post-addiction center in Ebhausen, Germany. "We, as a church, have to offer children and young people other things. It's a deficit within the people because they do not know how to manage their lives."
Drug dependency is a sign of hopelessness, said Annegret Klaiber, who works at a counseling center for substance abusers in Frankfurt, Germany, adding that it is important to understand the root of the addiction in order to treat a person who is dependent on drugs.
The Fachklink Klosterwald, a clinic established by the German annual conference, which treats people dependent on alcohol and legal drugs, emphasizes spirituality as an effective method in overcoming addictions. Therapeutic methods including music therapy, painting and sauna therapy are other methods used at the clinic.
"I speak about personal faith in Jesus and give them hope that there is a higher power that doesn't destroy life but gives life," Thomas Gunter said, the pastor at the clinic located in the eastern part of Germany. He indicated that his congregation has a strong connection with the clinic and its members are actively involved in the clinic's work.
In response to proposals in several European countries to legalize hashish and other soft drugs, the Honorable Udo Heissler, the presiding judge at the provincial court in Stuttgart, Germany, urged Christians to reject all measures to liberalize drugs. He said, it would only reduce the cost of the drug thereby, increasing the possibility of young people consuming them. Heissler added that legalizing "soft drugs" sends the wrong signal to children and young adults.
He pointed out that the goal of Germany's criminal law is to achieve peace and security, and noted that, depending on the severity of the criminal activity, instead of a long-term punishment, sentencing may involve providing treatment for the criminal's addiction and finding ways to help a person live a productive life away from drugs.
"We don't have to despair, we must show direction and agree that we need laws, but the Gospel has to reach people. We have to ask how we can help. Once we realize this, we will be able to go ahead," said Bishop Walter Klaiber, Germany Area.
"The church has the answer, but it has been asleep," said Jerald Scott, program director for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. "We must get out of the sanctuary and into the streets." Scott also serves as the international director of the Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence.
Forums at the conference included discussions on human addictive behavior, the church's work against drug addiction, social pressures and the possibilities of the congregation, substance abuse counseling, Christian involvement within legal bounds, and European drug policies.