New England Methodists Challenge the War on Drugs

rforan8 Guest Pieces, Protestant Perspectives

Increasingly, Protestants denominations are responding to the War on Drugs, which over the past 44 years has failed to reduce drug use, damaged countless lives, and contributed to the mass incarceration that shames our country.

On June 20, 2015 the New England Conference of United Methodists, comprised of over 600 congregations, passed Resolution 15-203: TO END THE WAR ON DRUGS. It is expected that the resolution will be reviewed in June 2016 by the Methodist General Conference, which meets every four years to consider changes in the Methodist Book of Discipline.

We are grateful to Rev. Eric Dupee, Pastor of Crawford Memorial Church in Winchester, MA, for describing the steps he took in introducing the resolution. We applaud his leadership.

It is noteworthy that Law Enforcement against Prohibition (LEAP) played a key role. They are a valued partner of Clergy for a New Drug Policy. We are collaborating in events to be held in Rhode Island and Vermont this fall.  

A video featuring clergy and LEAD speakers highlights the potential of this partnership. CNDP can bring a comparable team to your church. Please contact us if you are interested in this possibility. 

STATEMENT OF REV. ERIC DUPEE:

At the 2015 Annual Conference of New England United Methodists (June 17-20), I submitted Resolution 15-203 TO END THE WAR ON DRUGS. Two people joined me on stage for the presentation. Drew Bairnsfather is a member of the church I serve. Jack Cole represented Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). The resolution passed overwhelmingly and the body voted to submit it to the 2016 General Conference, the governing body of the United Methodist Church.

My interest in drug policy and ending drug prohibition was initiated by my involvement in antiracism work. When I became aware of the detrimental impact of the “drug war” on communities of color, it became clear to me this “war” has been the most devastating public policy to communities of color since slavery.

These are the words I used to introduce the resolution: One of the biggest motivating factors for me to bring this resolution has been the knowledge of how devastating our nation’s drug policy has been for the country as a whole and particularly for communities of color. After the death of Trayvon Martin, the events of Ferguson, and too many incidences to recount at this moment…including the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, this resolution has taken on a whole new urgency. It is within our power to do something against mass incarceration that disproportionately affects people of color, the destruction of families, child poverty, the culture of violence gripping this country, and drug abuse.

The idea to submit a resolution started in conversation with Drew Bairnsfather. He operates the website Christians Against Prohibition. He assisted by sending me LEAP’s resolution template. I tweaked the text to speak specifically to my audience. Then, I sent it along to the chairperson of the New England Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). She fine-tuned the document and provided the language from our Book of Discipline. She also shared the text with the MFSA and the New England Board of Church and Society, both of which gave their support for the resolution.

I then submitted the resolution to the conference secretary to be included in the pre-conference booklet. Jack, Drew, and I agreed that providing people a rationale for the resolution would be key to getting it passed. When people hear LEAP speakers argue for ending prohibition, most go away persuaded. Jack provided me a short article providing background on the subject. I made hundreds of copies and brought them to the conference. I placed a stack of these articles on the MFSA table for people to take. Also, after the conference session ended on Friday evening and everyone went home, I spent time placing a copy of the article on the seats of the auditorium so people would find them when they arrived the next day.

When it came time to present the resolution, I gave a brief introduction before inviting Jack to speak. He offered statistics indicating how devastating the war on drugs has been, but I believe it was his personal stories about his time as a New Jersey state trooper that made the biggest impact. When it came time for discussion on the resolution, two people rose and spoke in favor. No one spoke against it. When the body voted, only 3 or 4 people voted in opposition.

I had no idea how much interest this resolution would generate. Since the annual conference, a Rhode Island talk radio show did a segment on the resolution. I was not able to participate, but the Director of Communication for the New England conference spoke about the resolution on their program. I was also interviewed over the phone by a staff reporter for NBC news. There is a short story about the resolution on the NBC website.

Rev. Eric Dupee
Pastor, Crawford Memorial UMC
Winchester, MA.

 

The content of this statement reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Clergy for a New Drug Policy.