With Drug Overdoses on the Rise, Churches Need an All-Hands-on-Deck Attitude

Conservative and progressive Christians favor different approaches, and both have their place.

What would the parable of the Good Samaritan look like today?

In the United States, the man lying beside the road may well be dying from an overdose of fentanyl.

Over the course of the pandemic, social isolation combined with a flood of super-potent synthetic fentanyl pushed overdose deaths in the US to unimaginable levels, from 70,000 in 2019 to 107,000 in 2021. Will we, like the Levite and priest in Luke 10:25–37, keep our distance?

Journalist Beth Macy’s book Dopesick chronicled the current opioid crisis, inspiring a widely viewed Hulu miniseries. More recently, in Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis, Macy searches out possibilities of hope amid mounting deaths of despair.

The title of Macy’s book comes from her conversations with Rev. Michelle Mathis, who cofounded Olive Branch Ministry, a faith-based organization in Hickory, North Carolina, devoted to reducing harm and death associated with drug and opioid use. Mathis offers a compelling account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead that focuses on an overlooked element in the story:

Nobody was a miracle worker except for Jesus … but even in the end after the miracle had been performed, nobody could see it because Lazarus was still bound, so Jesus told people to go forth and unbind him—those folks had a role to play. Those that were willing to unbind Lazarus were able to look the miracle in the eye and be face to face with this new creation that God had brought forth.

As Macy describes Mathis’s telling, “Jesus had already performed the miracle; now, it was up to the community to do the stinky, messy work of pulling the burial shroud off Lazarus.”

This “stinky, messy work” …

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