He said the stigma of addiction has decreased, providing “a much bigger opening for us to help within a congregational setting, rather than have them go outside the Jewish community.”
During his rabbinical training, Cohen said he learned about addiction and its treatment while serving in a Veterans Affairs hospital in Atlanta.
“I take those formative experiences and translate them to a congregational setting,” he said.
Sister Jennifer Harmon, a student at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa and member of an ecumenical monastic order, has found clergy and congregations aren’t the best at providing the help addicts need.
“Oftentimes faith communities do not do a good job,” she said. “I don’t mean to say that they have any kind of negative intent. I think it’s more of a lack of understanding about the person who is trying to recover.”
Recovering from addiction to prescription medicine, Harmon said only surrender to God can free an addict from bondage.
“Addiction is not the problem. ... I didn’t have a problem being an addict. I had a problem recovering. It wasn’t about God replacing something; it was that God had to be in charge completely, wholeheartedly. It had nothing to do with a lack of willpower on my part,” she said.
Harmon sees addiction as the most “in-your-face example of bondage to sin” and says recovery started when people in church told her, “God loves you, no matter what!”
Followers of Islam historically “engage in practices that bring them closer to God when they’re having difficulties overcoming sin — such as fasting, praying, reading Quran, and engaging in charity,” said Muneer O. Awad, executive director of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “But if we understand addiction as an illness, then it may need more attention than that of a sin.”
Cohen said God never gives up on a person. “For whatever we’ve done in the past, anything that we’re ashamed of ... any kind of hurt that we’ve inflicted, you can find atonement and heal the pain,” he said.