Christianity and the Opioid Crisis: Race, Class, and Moral Sorting in America

“This project counters the historical role of Christianity that casts persons with addictions as moral deviants, offering instead a call to "holy deviance": meeting face-to-face with those society deems to be deviant and telling them in word and action that they, too, are loved by God. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Todd David Whitmore University of Notre Dame Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

This book project raises the issue of what social factors go into identifying persons with addictions as either deviant criminals (within a moral/legal framework) or as patients with a “brain disease” (within a medical model). Race and class are in play, such that the crack (because of race) and methamphetamine (because of class) crises resulted in the deviantization and criminalization of persons with addictions, whereas the opioid crisis (because it catches up wealthier whites) has brought the medicalization of addiction. The predominant forms of (white) Christianity, with their public norming role – what I call “moral sorting” – have advanced the racist and classist trends.

I draw on my experience as a certified addiction recovery coach to counter with an argument for “holy deviance”: to respond adequately to the opioid crisis – and any drug crisis that may follow – American Christians will need to turn their primary attention away from their historical moral sorting role and towards attending with care to the persons whom Jesus of Nazareth prioritized, and that is those who are marginalized by even our own designations of who constitutes a deviant. The Christian here is not free to distinguish between those "deserving" of attention and those not so deserving.