The founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church were active in the temperance movement that led to Prohibition even before the denomination was officially organized in the early 1860s. Membership requires abstinence from alcoholic beverages, tobacco products and even caffeinated drinks, although surveys show that a percentage of members do not follow the rules, especially the one about caffeine.
Adventists battling addiction and compulsive behavior are not alone in their struggle. That’s a message the health ministries department of the denomination’s North American Division is promoting as a new phase of the church’s addiction recovery efforts gets underway.
“We want to show that addiction is common, like diabetes—something a lot of people deal with,” says Katia Reinert, a public health professional. who directs health ministries for the Adventist Church in North America. “People don’t want to say, ‘I’m an addict,’ but all of us have some form of compulsive behavior. It’s not just about alcohol or tobacco or gambling. It’s about many other kinds of behaviors that can be unhealthy, from the food we eat to the entertainment we choose.”
This new message was to be shared in every local church on Health Sabbath, February 16. A sample sermon, a children’s story and a short video promoting Unhooked, a new television series on the Hope Channel were distributed to help get the word out. These items continue to be available for download on the health ministries web site and many churches may yet use them.
As Adventist health leaders continue to raise awareness of addiction recovery, Reinert says she’s optimistic that the program will expand outside of North America. Already, the ministry translates its Journey to Life newsletter into Spanish, Portuguese, French and Russian. Plans are in place to translate training resources as well.
“Addictions are sadly one of the ‘best kept secrets’ of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” says Peter Landless, associate director of health ministries for the denomination’s General Conference. “Adventist Recovery Ministries is an intervention I pray that the world church will embrace, making our churches community health centers where people in recovery may find a haven of safety and experience the love and grace of Jesus.”
The model dates back to the mid-1980s, when Adventist attorney Hal Gates, himself a recovered alcoholic, felt called to develop a recovery ministry anchored in Christ’s healing power. Shortly afterward, “Regeneration” support groups sprung up across North America and later elsewhere in the world. While the Adventist Church was supportive of Gates’ ministry, it wasn’t until two years ago that the North American Division voted to change its name and make Adventist Recovery Ministries a recognized program of the health ministries department.
Now, with new resources available, church health leaders are offering training programs at the annual Health Ministries Summit and locally. A typical training seminar runs over a weekend and equips health care workers, clergy and lay people to oversee a support group in their church or community, Reinert says. “Traditionally facilitators have themselves gone through the recovery process, but we want everybody to be equipped to facilitate a recovery group,” she says.
Knowledge and understanding of addiction is a crucial step in removing the stigma often associated with recovery, Reinert says. “We really want to support everyone who wants to move beyond that feeling of being trapped in an unhealthy behavior, to find freedom in Christ to make a different choice.”
Adventist Recovery Ministries offers a spiritual take on the traditional twelve-step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous. The revised program matches each step with Bible verses and themes from the writings of Ellen White that illustrate Christian principles such as surrender, confession and reconciliation. It also defines Jesus as the “highest power,” replacing the “higher power” recognized by traditional twelve-step programs as a source of strength.
This story is based on a report distributed by the Adventist News Network (ANN), the official news service of the Adventist denomination, which was written by Elizabeth Lechleitner.