Tag Archives: Meera Bai

Harm Reduction

Last week’s column in The StarPhoenix was an interesting one for me.  I wrote on the absurd decision of Alberta Health Services to stop giving out crack pipes to addicts while still giving out needles and in the process, came out strongly for harm reduction for a variety of theological reasons.

It was the harshest reaction to anything I have ever written anywhere.  People who I thought were friends were angry that I would write something like that and some questioned my orthodoxy.  An editor asked if it was like a kick to the shins and I said, “higher than that”.  Some mentioned how disappointed my mother and grandparents would be in the article (it wouldn’t be the first time something I wrote or did would fall into that category).   It was not a pleasant couple of days.  The argument that everyone used was that I was compromising and I was on a slippery slope.  Neither argument I found particularly compelling.

I have long been a fan of Meera Bai and the advocacy work she has done with Insite and her and I chatted on Twitter about being a Christian who believes in harm reduction.   On Monday it didn’t feel like there are many of us out there but as the week went on I got a lot of email telling me that they were at the same place as I was.  I realized that the divide wasn’t theological, it was between those who were on the front lines and those that who watched from behind their pulpit.  The more you interact and spend time with people on the street, the more places like Insite and harm reduction programs make sense.  As my good friend Scott Williams said to me, “If you think about it, harm reduction makes sense”.  I did and he was right.

I don’t normally hide behind the work of others but if you have a chance to read Meera Bai and John Stackhouse’s piece from last year in Christian Week, make sure you do.  A bunch of people sent me the link as encouragement.  I had read it when it came out but I appreciated not being alone.

Of course not everyone was angry.  I had a lot of discussion with officers and staff in the Salvation Army about harm reduction.  While I was in Chicago and Mississauga at their Social Services conference there a lot of respectful discussions as people wrestled with both the theology and practice of harm reduction.  It’s not an easy discussion, especially when like me, they come from a holiness tradition.  Some disagreed with harm reduction as a viable strategy.  Others had implementation questions (don’t we all).  Some wanted to talk the politics of harm reduction.

After being scolded in email, on the phone and in person, keeping an addict safe and alive still means an awful lot to me.  If it means that I make some compromises, I’m okay with that.  As for the slippery slope, I’ll wear cleats if it means them and I can hang in there a little longer.