June 23, 1999

Baptists asked to pledge
abstinence from alcohol

___By Jeff Huett
___Associated Baptist Press
___ATLANTA--Messengers attending the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta were asked to pledge "total abstinence" from alcohol, drugs or "any substance that will have a negative impact" on their behavior or their witness for Christ.
___Led by convention officials, the 11,000-plus messengers were asked June 15 to sign abstinence pledge cards--one product of a task force initiated last year to address the damage caused by drug abuse. The task force hopes now to take its campaign to all Southern Baptists.
___Task force chair Richard Land, in a press conference after the report, said the pledge cards will "give Southern Baptists the opportunity to renew what has been the historic Southern Baptist position when it comes to the consumption of alcoholic beverages, as well as other drugs, which is total abstinence."
___"I don't think there is any question that more Southern Baptists are social drinkers than they were 25 years ago," Land acknowledged to reporters. But the vast majority of church-going Southern Baptists don't agree with social drinking, he said.
___The task force, composed of 12 SBC agency heads, was created at last year's convention in Salt Lake City. Much of the focus of the anti-drug campaign is on the use of alcohol, which Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said is the "gateway drug" for all drug abuse.
___The pledge card notes: "I acknowledge that the alcohol problem is America's No. 1 drug problem and poses a serious threat to all Americans young and old alike."
___"Alcohol is the great scourge of our culture," Land told messengers in presenting the task force report and recommendations, which were later approved.
___The anti-drug campaign was initiated by Ted Stone, a former drug addict and layman from Grace Baptist Church in Durham, N.C.
___"I feel like America's youth need a new set of heroes," Stone told reporters. "And there's no better hero than someone they see every day--like a parent, or grandparent, or a brother, sister or neighbor--who believes in sobriety and self-control as a road to happiness, success and inner peace. I believe that Southern Baptists today, by signing this commitment card, have become heroes to a lot of people across this land."
___Stone emphasized the campaign is not intended to demean a certain lifestyle but to affirm the benefits of life without alcohol or drugs.
___The task force--called the Great Commission Council Anti-Drug Task Force--included Land, the presidents of each of the six Southern Baptist seminaries, Executive Committee President Morris Chapman, Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins, the presidents of the SBC's two mission boards and the president of Woman's Missionary Union.
___In the press conference, Land recalled the success of the True Love Waits campaign--which called for youth to abstain from sexual activity until marriage--as evidence the anti-drug effort can work. He said even the harshest critics of abstinence programs are admitting that abstinence programs have made "a significant contribution to the significant decline in the number of teenagers who are sexually active."
___Land said the task force will work this year on putting together a clearinghouse of substance-abuse centers that minister from a Christian perspective. The group is expected to present a second report to the 2000 SBC meeting announcing new tools and resources to aid churches in dealing with the issue.
___Jeff Huett is a rising senior at Baylor University and a summer intern with Associated Baptist Press

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