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Southern Baptists affirm alcohol, drug abstinence
--By Dwayne Hastings
    ATLANTA, June 15--Southern Baptists expressed overwhelming support for a lifestyle of abstinence from alcohol and other drugs by approving the report of a drug task force June 15 during their annual meeting in Atlanta.
    Messengers then followed up their vote by signing commitment cards, joining SBC President Paige Patterson and other entity presidents who also constituted the task force.
    The special emphasis was prompted by the adoption of a motion to the 1998 SBC meeting in Salt Lake City calling for a task force to study America's drug problem.
    The commitment cards, given out to messengers as they entered Atlanta's Georgia Dome, called for signers to agree "to abstain from the use of any substance that would impact negatively" on an individual's behavior or their Christian witness.
    In presenting the task force's report, the group's chairman, Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the alcohol problem is America's number one drug problem. He called alcohol "the gateway drug" to illicit drug use and abuse. "Studies indicate 100 percent of the people who use illegal drugs started with alcohol," he said.
    Land chaired the task force with Dellanna O'Brien, executive director of Woman's Missionary Union, and James T. Draper Jr., president of Lifeway Christian Resources, as vice chairpersons.
    "Alcohol is the great scourge of our culture. It is wreaking untold havoc on our nation and our nation's families," Land said in a news conference. He noted a majority of high school students report the drug problem is getting worse rather than better.
    When parents use alcohol as a beverage, 66 percent of their children experiment with alcohol sometime in their lives, while 16 percent of the children of parents who abstain from alcohol will try the beverage for themselves, Land said.
    He said the commitment card represents a start for a convention-wide emphasis on abstinence from alcohol. All six Southern Baptist seminaries will be asked to incorporate components on alcohol and other drug use in their curriculum to better prepare pastors to deal with these issues in the local church.
    The call to a renewed commitment to abstinence is "not a matter of judgment, but an effort to reach out with mercy and love as did Jesus himself," said Ted Stone, who joined Land at the news conference. Stone, a messenger from Durham, N.C., and a vocal advocate for faith-based treatment for substance abusers, made the 1998 motion that led to the emphasis.
    "American's kids need a new set of heroes," Stone said, saying youngsters need adult heroes "who believe in sobriety and self-control."
   

Stone stressed the drug task force report is not a negative thing, calling on the news reporters to report the positive aspects of this story. "Baptists are going on record for something, not against something this time."
    The commitment card and related emphasis on abstinence was not a suggestion that America return to the days of prohibition but instead a call to Southern Baptists to affirm their historic stance on alcohol and other drugs, Land said.
    Asked if the denomination had lost ground on the issue in recent years, Land conceded, "More Southern Baptists are social drinkers than was the case 25 years ago, but a vast majority of Southern Baptists disagree with that behavior."
    He said Southern Baptist teenagers and adults "are more reflective of the culture than we would like them to be."
    Land said anything the SBC can do to aid teens in stopping their experimentation with alcohol and from going on to other illegal substances would be a positive step. Reflecting on the success of the True Love Waits sexual abstinence campaign, he said the emphasis on abstinence from drugs and alcohol should be "an encouragement to our teenagers."
    He predicted the campaign will prompt conversations over alcohol use to take place in homes and churches across the convention, emphasizing the effort is not a one-time action but a kick-off of "a reaffirmation of our core beliefs."
    Responding to a reporter's question about why the commitment card did not mention tobacco, Land said the original motion talked only about behavior-altering drugs.
    "We have spoken out against tobacco and will continue to speak out against tobacco. It will kill you," he said.
    The commitment card also called on signers "to offer assistance and to minister" to those who suffer from drug and alcohol abuse-related problems. Statistics report an estimated 13.9 million Americans use illegal drugs at least once a month and at least 31.9 million Americans could be classified as binge drinkers, having five or more drinks on one occasion during the past month.
    The task force is expected to deliver a second report at the 2000 SBC in Orlando, Fla., announcing the creation of a clearinghouse for community resources that deal with alcohol and other drug abuse, and the development of tools to aid churches in the establishment of local drug abuse treatment centers.

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