FOR THE first time in the General Synod's 27-year history, drugs are on the agenda. Next month members of the Church of England are to debate drugs policy, including the decriminalisation of cannabis and the prescription of heroin.
The Rev Kenneth Leech, a community theologian at St Botolph's, Aldgate, who has worked in the drugs field for the past 35 years and who is in favour of the decriminalisation of cannabis, has written a background report for the Synod debate.
In his paper, entitled: Drugs and the Church, he criticises the Government's "failure to see how drugs policy has itself helped to produce the present appalling situation."
Of the Government's White Paper: Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain, published in April, Mr Leech writes: "The most positive aspect of the document is the recognition that treatment costs less, and works better, than prohibition.
However, the long-term policy implications of this recognition need to be taken more seriously than any government has so far done."
Apart from an information pack produced by the Board for Social Responsibility in 1986, the last publication on drugs from an official Church of England source was a booklet, also by Mr Leech, entitled: The Drug Subculture: a Christian Analysis. His previous booklet was published in 1969 and warned of the dangers of abandoning the prescription of heroin.
Mr Leech was asked by the Church's Board for Social Responsibility to write a report for July's General Synod in York on account of his broad experience of the drug scene.
He founded the Soho Drugs Group in 1967, was a founder member of the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence and has written extensively on the subject.
In his latest report Mr Leech goes on to urge churches to fill the spiritual vacuum in young people which is presently being filled by drugs. "The association between drugs and spirituality still seems almost indecent to many people, yet the evidence that this so is considerable," he writes.
"We need to recognise that many young people have, after taking psychedelic drugs, moved beyond reliance on the drug-induced experience. They have made what Allan Y Cohen once termed the `journey beyond trips', and this quest has been going on now for over 30 years. It is evident in many of the `new spiritual movements'.
"It is widely recognised both inside and outside the Church that there is a profound spiritual emptiness at the heart of our society and a quest for a richer `inner life'," he said, adding that "drugs are closely related to this emptiness and this quest. The role of priests and pastors, as well as Christians, in helping this quest along, is very important."
Yesterday he said: "The search for something beyond the humdrum of everyday life is being satisfied by drugs in a way that religion used to. Quite often the Church just offers another version of the humdrum."
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