Research Says That Half of Protestant Pastors Say the Opioid Epidemic Has Hit Their Church

Like most US pastors, Robby Gallaty knows someone who has been affected by opioid abuse. But unlike most pastors, Gallaty has personally suffered through addiction.

Twenty years ago this month, Gallaty endured a near-fatal car accident. When he left the hospital, the club-bouncer-turned-church-leader took with him several prescriptions for painkillers.

“My descent into full-scale drug abuse was amazingly rapid,” he writes in his new book, Recovered: How an Accident, Alcohol, and Addiction Led Me to God. “In November of 1999, before the accident, I was selling cars, training for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and thinking about business opportunities. By early the next year, I was looking for faster and better drug connections.”

After stealing $15,000 from his parents to feed his addiction, Gallaty found himself at his lowest point—kicked out of his parents’ home and told not to come back. “It was the hardest three months of their lives, and they’ll tell you that,” he said. “But it was the best thing for me. I knew that I couldn’t fix myself.”

This led Gallaty, now pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, to what he calls a “radical, Paul-like conversion” on November 12, 2002.

Most pastors don’t have the intimate knowledge of addiction Gallaty has, but most say they’ve seen it face to face through people connected to their church and among members of their congregation.

Nashville-based LifeWay Research asked 1,000 Protestant pastors about their personal connections to the opioid epidemic and how their churches are looking to address the issue.

Two-thirds of pastors (66%) say a family member of someone in their congregation has been personally affected by opioid abuse.

More than half (55%) say they or someone in their congregation knows a local neighbor suffering through opioid abuse.

For half of pastors (52%), someone directly in their church is dealing with an opioid addiction.

Fewer than a quarter (23%) of pastors say they don’t know anyone personally affected by it.

“The drug epidemic has infiltrated our churches and neighborhoods. It is not localized to a particular region or socio-economic class,” said Gallaty. “Addiction is no respecter of persons.”

Pastors of the smallest churches (fewer than 50 in attendance) are most likely to say they don’t know anyone connected to their congregation or community affected by opioid abuse (31%).

Pastors in the Northeast (11%) are least likely to say they don’t have any such personal connections.

“More than two-thirds of even the smallest churches have connections to people affected by opioid abuse,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Opioid addiction can impact people who aren’t a significant risk for other types of drugs.”

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Source: Christianity Today