Why did I start the Church of Safe Injection in Portland? Because, overwhelmingly, the churches I’ve reached out to aren’t interested in helping people who use drugs. They’ll give them lip service, all right, and maybe a pair of socks, but they won’t really embrace them as Jesus would have done. They won’t provide them with what they often need most: sterile syringes, naloxone and nonjudgmental support.

If this sounds blasphemous to you, it isn’t. Pharisees have distorted God’s word. If syringes had been around in Jesus’ day, He would have supported safe injection, and He would have made sure that the people He hung out with had access to sterile supplies. All too often today, people who use drugs are offered only two choices: Get sober or die. Jesus would have rejected this shameful and lethal binary. He’d have been on the front lines providing the third option that Maine and the United States so desperately need: harm reduction. Naloxone, safe injection sites, sterile syringes, the works.

Luke 15:2 tells us “the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ ” You’re darn right. Jesus hung out with sex workers, lepers and “criminals.” They weren’t the bad people – the Pharisees were. “Let all that you do be done in love,” states 1 Corinthians 16:14. Too often when “religious” people attack us on Facebook, their hate shines through and they betray this passage. They betray Jesus.

Only four weeks after our church opened its doors, three sister churches have sprouted in Bangor, Lewiston and Augusta. Very soon, a fellow harm-reduction disciple and safe-injection acolyte will start a Church of Safe Injection in New Hampshire, and we are in talks with members of our congregation in Philadelphia, Rhode Island and Nepal to start sister churches there as well. They understand that the opposite of safe injection is not abstinence and recovery. The opposite of safe injection is death.

We’ll be applying for an exemption from federal drug statutes under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Other churches in this country have secured the right under the First Amendment to consume otherwise illegal drugs. We’re not even arguing that it is our right to use drugs or get high. No. Not at all. We do not encourage drug use. However, it is our sincere religious belief that people who use drugs do not deserve to die, not when there is a proven, cost-efficient, feasible, compassionate solution that can be so easily implemented.

Safe injection sites save lives. A study in The Lancet found that one city’s drug poisoning deaths fell by 35 percent after introducing one of these programs. They also save taxpayers money. In one study, it was estimated that for every $1 invested in this public health intervention in San Francisco, the city would see $2.33 in savings. They reduce crime, too! And they don’t enable drug use. In fact, they help people get off drugs. One study showed that 23 percent of those utilizing these programs had stopped injecting drugs by the end of the study period, and another 57 percent had entered addiction treatment.

All the studies have shown only positive outcomes; the one meta-analysis that disputed the findings was recently retracted because of its methodological weaknesses, restoring the scientific community’s overwhelming support for this critical public health intervention. Then why don’t these sites exist? As with so many other things, science here is being suppressed by hate, fear and discrimination. Oh, and money. Duh. Mass incarceration is a $182 billion-a-year industry. A lot of wealthy people are making money (or at least remaining employed) by letting your daughter die or locking her up for her health condition.

If the government can’t find it in their heart to embrace harm reduction and safe injection, they’ll be forced to find it in their Bill of Rights. Politicians, law enforcement and health care haven’t taken the lead here, so our church is. Join the Church of Safe Injection and help save lives. Abandon the wealthy elites who profit off the trafficking and abuse of your friends and family who use drugs. You can learn more at facebook.com/safeinjection. God bless.

 


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