When a Person Becomes a Mob

I first learned about harm reduction while serving on the Drug Free Jackson coalition. The premise is pretty simple, though controversial for many: Since drug addiction cannot be solved by saying, “just stop it,” we need to figure out how to reduce the harm that addiction causes while we try to lead addicts toward recovery. A few simple steps is to offer users clean needles, the disposal of dirty ones, and other harm reductions like the miracle drug, Naloxone, which can instantly pull a user out of an overdose and save them from death. As we build relationships with addicts through the exchanges of these free goods, we can then develop the trust that’s needed to lead them toward recovery if they’re willing. It sounds backwards, but it has been proven fairly effective.

As I got to know many medical and recovery professionals who wanted to offer Jackson such services, I soon found myself working alongside them to found JXN Harm Reduction. It took us a good year or so to create this program because we first needed to establish a memorandum of understanding with the City of Jackson and earn the City Council’s trust that this was a good idea. And we had to do all of this without the help or backing of major health corporations, because even though they all wanted us to exist, they couldn’t say it out loud without creating political and administrative unrest for their organizations. We would have to pave the way as a grassroots movement.

After two years of successful work, a long negative letter was sent to a newer City Council member that didn’t know who we were, because they weren’t around when we were founded. The letter was full of the kinds of fears, rumors and hearsay that are commonplace around harm reduction techniques and it created some unrest in the council. The mayor gave me a call the next morning and asked if I’d come in and re-explain harm reduction and give everyone an update as to how things had been going for our organization. And so we did.

“We are an established 501c3 funded by MDHHS with our home office located in Reed Manor,” I explained to the Council. “We provide syringe services, safe use supplies, fentanyl test strips, overdose education, naloxone distribution, basic hygiene products, wound care supplies, rapid HIV/HEP C testing, and referrals to services. We’ve had 1,300 visits since we opened two years ago, distributed 474 fentanyl test strips, and have given out 1,102 units of naloxone of which we know 384 were used successfully. Those people may be dead today if it wasn’t for our services. We also just heard a story this past week that one of our clients has now been sober for a few months, and as a pastor, that’s the kind of thing I dreamed of seeing with harm reduction. I get it: it sounds backwards and it’s a bit messy, but the fruit is good.”

After I finished the presentation the mayor asked if the City Council members had any questions, but no one did. Instead, some members took the mic instead and thanked us for the important work we were doing. Though some Christian community members (now aware that we existed) came forth to express their caution toward us, even though they weren’t originally there for that. Fortunately, we were able to shut down the confusion and the problems. Though the letter could have sparked more problems or created a mob, an unusual calmness was found after we explained ourselves again.

In Paul’s time, a man caught wind of Paul’s theology and felt it endangered both his business and his religion, and so he spread his concerns around to others in his trade. As these people listened, they grew angry and quickly devolved into a riot that took over the town like an infection. They grabbed some of Paul’s friends and dragged them into the local theater, big enough to house 25,000 people. The Bible describes the riot similar to a viral political Facebook post gone horribly wrong in the comments section: “Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.”

We might laugh as we imagine this scenario, but this is how riots often operate and they are dangerous. After all, these are the kind of riots that got Jesus killed. When such things happen, you can only hope that a voice of reason will somehow surface and that the crowd will listen, which doesn’t often happen. But in this case, the town clerk was able to calm people down, saying, “Look, we’ve created a whole court process for this kind of thing. If the guy who started this riot has a problem, he knows the proper channels to take. Otherwise, there’s no justification for these claims and we’re all going to get ourselves charged for rioting.”

“When a group of people becomes an angry, feardriven crowd, the groupthink phenomenon of mob mentality quickly overtakes rational thought and individual responsibility,” says Pastor Brian Zahnd. “The mob takes on a spirit of its own and the satanic is generated.” We must be careful with our words. For with them secular society and Christian churches alike can fall into chaos.

*This devotional was created out of the themes of Acts 19:21-41 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: