Why communities of faith should support harm reduction

Guest blog post by Lloyd A. Bruce, Minister at Sackville United Church. The church will be the location of a vital harm reduction dispensing machine that will be run by Ensemble Moncton.

harm reduction and religion harm reduction and religion

In the fall of 2020 as the Executive of the Sackville United Church began to consider entering into partnership with Ensemble Moncton by providing space for a harm reduction machine, we grounded our response in our Affirming Vision and Mission Statements.

As people at Sackville United Church, we are committed to being a safe, nurturing environment, affirming and including of all – those oppressed, those excluded and those marginalized (e.g. by economic status, race, culture, language, age, ability, mental health, marital status, gender identity, sexual orientation and dietary limitations). We will join with all people who seek justice, compassion for all the earth, and love and peace for all people.

~ Affirming Vision Statement

Guided by the presence of God’s spirit in Christ, we will be a church family, sharing God’s unconditional love through learning, worship, and action.

~ Mission Statement

These statements are of course rooted in our understandings of the stories of the one we follow—one we call Jesus—and our experience of Love we name God, the mysterious presence that calls us together in community to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable among us, and to work for justice and peace for all.

Sackville United Church; New Brunswick

There are some who might argue that by providing space for a harm reduction machine, that we are somehow condoning the use of injectable opioids and other (illegal) drugs, that we should instead be supporting addiction treatment options, that we should “love the sinner but not the sin.” To such criticism I can only respond that I believe that by providing harm reduction supplies is to meet one in their lived experience and love them in that moment—so that you can love them again tomorrow when they might be in the space to make another choice.

READ MORE: The heartbreaking and deeply Christian task of presiding over fentanyl funerals

As a person of faith, I appeal to others to consider the bias towards compassion within their faith tradition. As a follower of the Way of Jesus, I am convinced that He would advocate for compassion and understanding, not judgement; life and love, not harm.

As a community of faith, as a clergy person, I cannot even begin to grasp all the scientific research that supports harm reduction models with respect to addiction. Even after serving as Prison Chaplain with men who 7 times out of 10 indicated that drugs played a role in their index offence—who even in prison, found a way to use—I don’t understand addiction, but I do understand shame and guilt, sin and brokenness, forgiveness and wholeness, love and community.

READ MORE: Sackville will have harm reduction dispensing machine

It is my (our) hope and prayer that those who enter through the door, under the banner of Sackville United Church to access the supplies provided by Ensemble Moncton from the harm reduction dispensing machine, might receive those supplies as a gift of love—a reminder that they are worthy and good and a part of the community that we are all a part of, and that those same might contribute to their health and safety, thereby helping them to live to see another day—and the possibility that is present in each day to make another choice.

About Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

Advocating for public health- and human rights-based drug policies grounded in evidence, social justice, and compassion. www.drugpolicy.ca