July 1, 2015

Alcohol & The Church, An Update From General Convention

In addition to all the other very exciting things happening at General Convention there’s a lively conversation on an important, sensitive, and timely topic – our church’s relationship with alcohol, addictions, recovery, substance misuse, and healing. This summer, a special committee has been appointed, of which I am a member: Committee number 22 on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse. Though it’s hard to eclipse the energetic spark that is the storyline about Presiding Bishop-elect Curry, I’d also say that this may be one of the most important conversations we’re going to have this summer, mostly because we’re hoping it’s a conversation that only begins in Salt Lake City and one that trickles down into the life of every local community in our church.

In short, we’re striving to find a new normal in our church’s relationship with alcohol, in particular, and a newer, more holistic understanding of how we deal with substance misuse in our individual lives and communities. We’re also trying to name that we need to keep our eyes fixed upon the gifts of healing and forgiveness and compassion when dealing with addiction and recovery – we are the Body of Christ, after all – at the same time that we also need to learn how to have hard conversations with one another. Will this happen because of General Convention resolutions? No, of course not. But this will begin by the conversation we have at General Convention, and that conversation has been going on in our committee as well as on the floor of both the House of Deputies and, soon, House of Bishops. This conversation is one I hope the rest of the church will also start to have, and soon.

Here are the details, and you can see everything at the website www.generalconvention.org.(Click here to look up resolutions by their number.)

First, the House of Deputies has already passed resolution D014, a resolution calling on dioceses and bishops and other bodies in the ordination process to “explore directly [with nominees, postulants and candidates for ordination] issues regarding substance use in their lives and family systems.” This passed the House of Deputies with substantial engagement and conversation; as I write on Tuesday morning, it is awaiting House of Bishops consideration and action.

Second, again as I write, the House of Deputies is set to consider resolutions A158 and A159. These are both resolutions the committee spent time discussing, writing, and revising. The committee, as such, was charged with updating our church’s policies on alcohol and drug abuse – last updated in 1985 – and even though the committee only had one resolution submitted before us, it’s no small thing for a legislative committee to become a policy-writing committee. That said, I commend these resolutions (as they look going into House of Deputies floor debate) and trusting the Sprit, as we all do, I’ll bet that I will also commend whatever version comes out post-GC.

What A158 and A159 do is establish new policies – which are based upon but updated from 1985 – but they strive to do so in a larger, more renewed context. For one, our understanding of addictions, in general, and alcohol and substance use disorders has greatly expanded in the past thirty years. On another level, we also name in these resolutions that the church, itself, is in need of healing and renewal. There’s something in our church culture and our relationship with alcohol, in particular, that is not entirely healthy. And if we do not want to become a temperance tradition, we need to claim what a responsible use of alcohol looks like, not only as individuals but as Christian communities. One measurable outcome of this goal is that in every community in our church it would be as normative for someone not to drink alcohol as it would be for someone to choose to drink responsibly.

Are we going to get there by General Convention resolutions? No, not entirely. But we are poised to establish new policies and we are encouraging this conversation, starting now. Be the healing you wish to see in the world, and let it begin in your parish halls and offices and, indeed, homes.

Picture above: Episcopal News Service photo / Mary Frances Schjonberg

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