Traditionally, the faith community has been at the forefront of responding to the needs of individuals and communities. There can be no doubt that one of the greatest dangers facing our society stems from the availability and promotion of alcoholic beverages.
If you serve as a religious or educational leader in your community, you are certainly aware of the temptations which confront 21st century American youth. Despite the obvious dangers, underage consumption of alcohol continues at high levels among teenagers, even in church members’ families. Alcohol use affects everyone: individuals, families, and entire communities. Instilling strong values that are rooted in religious faith can be a great deterrent in preventing many high-risk behaviors.
Keep in mind that your spiritual leadership is already making a difference. Research shows that youth who participate in a religious community are less likely to use alcohol and other drugs. In many ways, existing youth programs like retreats, summer programs, and other supervised activities are very effective forms of substance abuse prevention. Youth turn to faith communities for spiritual guidance about issues like peer pressure, relationships and drugs. Likewise, parents and caregivers turn to faith communities for help in communicating their values and keeping young people safe.
Here are four suggestions on gradually integrating Alcohol Abstinence into your church’s religious programs:
Step 1 — IN YOUR CHURCH’S AGENDA AND THE AGENDA OF YOUR FAITH COMMUNITY, BEGIN ELEVATING THE IMPORTANCE OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE PREVENTION
- Renew or establish a strong church/organizational position statement and policies against illicit drug use and underage alcohol use.
- Take a public stand and make it known that you are going to emphasize substance abuse prevention.
- Partner with community-based, private and nonprofit organizations that have substance abuse prevention programs.
- Collaborate with local seminaries, divinity schools and other religious institutions. Encourage them to include youth substance abuse prevention and counseling in their curricula.
Step 2 — NEXT, INTRODUCE THE IDEA OF ALCOHOL ABSTINENCE USING THE CONTEXT OF YOUR FAITH AND RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
- Advertise the message of alcohol abstinence as a valid method for preventing substance abuse… mention its validity in your sermon series, homilies, newsletters, media ministries, religious education and parenting classes, retreats, camps, and other youth and parent events.
- Launch a local campaign to promote your faith community’s commitment to substance abuse prevention.
- Develop or customize educational materials that you can make available, that discuss substance abuse prevention information in the context of your religious beliefs.
- Select a day, a week or a month to celebrate your faith community’s new emphasis on substance abuse prevention.
Step 3 — HELP YOUTH SORT OUT THE MEANING IN MEDIA MESSAGES
- Incorporate media literacy lessons into religious education and youth programs, so that youth can understand the subtle and not-so-subtle messages conveyed in the pop-culture media of music, television and movies, and social media. Help youth become more critical consumers of media information.
- Educate parents and others about the importance of helping kids analyze the media.
- Include activities that promote critical awareness of the media.
Step 4 — LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO SPREAD THE WORD
- Develop partnerships with area faith-based and community-based organizations as a way of coordinating training programs and sharing information and substance abuse prevention educational resources that have proven to be effective.
- Contact national, state and/or community alcohol programs for technical assistance and guidance on ways to develop or enhance your existing substance abuse prevention programs.
- Let local media know about your initiatives when applicable.
- Include special sections on your organization’s Website to promote youth and parenting outreach and substance abuse prevention programs.
Source: Adapted from Four Ways to Include Drug Prevention Programs in Your Religious Programs, published by The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.