Writing by Faith


Dan Whitmarsh

Dan Whitmarsh

Five Thoughts on the Opioid Crisis

At the behest of Councilmember Derek Young, I was invited to address the 2019 Pierce County Opioid Summit in late February. They asked me to speak on behalf of the faith community and from my experience as a local pastor. What follows is a summary of my talk that day.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we begin with the concept of Shalom. Usually translated “peace,” Shalom is the hope of the earth and God’s people, describing a world wherein people live in harmony with one another and creation. Instead of division, hoarding and excessive consumption, we envision a world marked by mutuality, compassion, shared resources and respect. This is the promise toward which we work.

We are guided by our belief in the Imago Dei, or the Image of God. The creation accounts tell of a God who made humankind in God’s own image, endowing men and women with inestimable worth and glory. There are no throw-away people, for all deserve compassion and respect. Every person battling addiction is a son, a daughter, a brother or sister, a parent, and a person worthy of kindness and understanding. Addicts matter to God, and they matter to us.

We also uphold the value of personal responsibility. Each of us is responsible for our choices and actions. Often, in the interest of mercy and compassion, people seek shortcuts in ways that don’t bring true healing. While we seek to offer comfort and compassion, we must be diligent to recognize the deceptions that addiction often brings and be willing to let people face the consequences of their choices if necessary.

There is a justice issue, as well. We continue to learn of the role pharmaceutical companies played in creating this problem. The price paid by minorities and the poor is proportionally higher than the consequences faced by people of privilege. As has been said elsewhere, it’s good to pull people out of the river, but eventually we need to find who is throwing them in. Justice includes consequences for personal actions; justice also demands that systems and communities be equitable and fair for all. 

This brings us to the importance of community. Addiction is a complex issue requiring a broad response. We need research and medical communities, mental health experts and law enforcement. We need schools, churches, synagogues and other local organizations. We need recovery centers and groups to walk with those battling to be free of addiction. We need local citizens stepping up with their resources, ideas and skills. Our community, our sons and daughters, our own wellbeing are at stake. We all need to work together to create healthy families and strong communities.

There’s a story Jesus told about a traveler who had been robbed and left for dead by the side of the road. Many ignored him until one man took compassion on him, offering hope and resources for a better future. We Christians are called to be like that good man, the Good Samaritan, joining with a broad coalition to bring hope and healing to addicted people and their families on the Key Peninsula and beyond. 

Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church. He has been a regular columnist for over a decade.