“Enabling a Dangerous Addiction”
Text: Thomas 47: 1-2 (Matthew 6: 24, Luke 16:13)
Jesus said, “A person cannot mount two horses or bend two bows. And a servant cannot serve two masters, or that servant will honor one and offend the other.”
There has been a lot in the news recently regarding the opioid epidemic. It appears that some prescription painkillers and other types of drugs are very addictive and easily abused. I want to talk a little bit this morning about another form of opioid, one that is often overlooked, but is just as addictive and may actually cause more human casualties than the current opioid epidemic that is dominating the news at the moment. This opioid is what I call egopioid.
Here’s how it works; the ego is fed an addictive drug when we practice certain behaviors. Behavior like feelings of superiority, being judgmental, a severe attachment to being right, self-righteousness and a pious attitude are behaviors which top the list of contributing to the egopioid epidemic. Once your ego gets a taste of these drugs, it is very hard to not become addicted to the euphoric feelings.
One noteworthy difference between the standard opioid and the egopioid is that a common opioid is used as a painkiller for ourselves, while the egopioid acts as a painkiller for other people’s pain. It seems the person addicted to the euphoria induced egopioid is unaware of the pain inflicted on other people in certain circumstances. If you think I’m making this up, let me assure you that I am not. All we have to do is look at history and it will tell the story. People have been addicted to egopioid for centuries.
About 1,000 years ago people suffering from an egopioid addiction were willing to kill about 3 million other human beings because they would not convert to Christianity. In history, this egopioid epidemic is called the Christian crusades. Much more recently a group also suffering from an egopioid induced stupor killed about 6 million other human beings who happened to be Jewish. This group is known to us as the Nazi Regime in Nazi Germany and the historical event is commonly called the Holocaust. I could go on; there isn’t a shortage of historical examples where people seem to lose their moral compass while under the influence of egopioid.
But it’s not just history, it is happening again. There is a group of United Methodist currently involved in this Christian epidemic of egopioid. They are exhibiting the classic behaviors of superiority, being judgmental, self-righteousness and an extreme attachment to being right. I am of course referring to the group of United Methodists, both in this country and other countries, who for decades have stood in the way of full inclusion in the church for our LGBT sisters and brothers. Another classic symptom that is being displayed in this epidemic is the group seems to be immune from other people’s pain. It doesn’t seem to matter to them their chosen position is discriminatory, often hate-filled, and inflicts human suffering on millions of people. Like I said, this particular drug makes you numb to other peoples’ pain, and that is currently on display.
So the question becomes for the rest of us how do we actually help those afflicted with this addiction?
If you do a little research on substance abuse and addiction, you will soon realize that one of the most common mistakes made by loved ones that surround an addicted person is that instead of helping, they are enabling. This can be a difficult concept for someone in the middle of a crisis to see and understand. All they want to do is help, but instead, they make the situation worse. Much worse.
Let’s take a look at enabling, shall we?
The first and most glaring behavior that identifies enabling is that the enabler protects the addict from the consequences of the behavior. The enabler shields the addict from the natural progression of the deviant behavior, sometimes making excuses or blaming other people or other circumstances rather than forcing the addict to face the true consequences of their behavior.
Another classic sign that someone is enabling rather than helping is avoidance. They sometimes avoid the person altogether, or when they can’t avoid the person, they avoid the subject and simply don’t talk about it. The lack of confrontation creates an impression of normalcy when everything is far from normal.
In short, according to many mental health professionals, enabling is very different from supporting or actually helping because it enables the addict to be irresponsible in many aspects of their lives. The professionals at Al-Anon, a group dedicated to helping those addicted to alcohol, practice what they call detachment with love. Detachment with love simply means caring enough to allow the addict to learn from their own mistakes.
Another sign that someone is enabling rather than actually helping an addicted person is that they ignore the unacceptable behavior. They make excuses for the behavior, saying things like “we are all different in our response to stress” or the high-pressure work environment causes them to drink like that, or even blaming a boss or some other relationship that is the root cause of the alcohol addiction.
Recently the Council of Bishops met together to make an attempt to resolve the conflict surrounding the question of full inclusion for LGBT persons in the United Methodist church. The plan that ultimately will be recommended is probably the best of three different options they were considering. The problem is that even this best option plan, still isn’t good enough, at least not in my opinion.
It seems the primary goal of all of the meetings and the planning and the prayer time and the discernment and everything else that has taken place since General Conference in 2016 – two full years now of planning and discerning and praying, the primary goal all of this time has not been to solve the issue. It seems to me the primary goal has been to make certain the church stays together. This is a noble goal. We have heard a lot about unity, and difference of opinion and tolerance of another’s viewpoint and the fact that we are a global church and very strong in our representation all across the planet. We accomplish a lot of good as a unified, strong, global church.
But as our text stated earlier, it is impossible for someone to serve two masters. I used the text from the Gospel of Thomas because it uses different examples other than serving God and money like the texts in Matthew and Luke do. The Thomas text reminds us that it would be impossible to ride two horses at the same time, or to draw the string on two different bows simultaneously, and reminds us that a slave cannot serve two masters. I believe that the work so far by the Commission on the Way Forward has been serving two masters. One master is the concern for unity, and the other master is attempting to actually solve the problem. Since you cannot serve two masters, in this case, the master of unity has received the attention and we still have the problem.
But to make matters worse, I believe this lack of focus on the actual problem facing the United Methodist Church has led to the Council of Bishops and others in leadership roles to actually fall into the trap of enabling those addicted to egopioid.
By promoting unity at all costs, the way forward is shielding the addicts from the consequences of their beliefs. Rather than taking a stand, the way forward is avoiding the confrontation necessary to make clear what the problem really is. There are also a lot of excuses; different cultures, different customs, different understandings – and that may be true, but it doesn’t make it right.
To be tolerant of discrimination and hate in any form removes any chance of us actually moving forward and reduces all of our efforts to nothing more than enabling the addicts. I believe it is time for us to use a tactic from the Al-Anon playbook and practice some love with detachment.
Obviously, food for thought.
Go in peace, Amen.