Tempted to give up the gospel

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: helping people who are addicted to drugs.

Don and David Wilkerson are brothers who founded the Christian ministry Teen Challenge in 1968. Teen Challenge is a long-term program for addicts. The ministry has more than 200 centers around the country. And today it’s known as ATC, for Adult & Teen Challenge.

NICK EICHER, HOST: The gospel message has always been central to ATC’s work. And the ministry had long resisted government efforts to secularize its programming. But last year, the ATC board announced a change: individual centers would be allowed to seek state licensure for short-term inpatient and outpatient programs.

REICHARD: That will open the door for private insurance and Medicaid payments. But it also could come with state strings attached. And that could undercut the ministry’s founding principles.

Michael Reneau is deputy editor at WORLD Magazine. He’s written about the uproar caused by the ATC board’s decision. He joins us now to talk about it.

Good morning, Michael!


REICHARD: What prompted the policy change with ATC?

RENEAU: Well, Mary, with these state license programs comes more revenue through insurance payments and also through state fees given to those programs. Now, the ATC centers doing it also say that the drug problem in America is a complex problem. We need to be looking for new and complex solutions to fix that problem.

REICHARD: Well, what kinds of solutions? What sorts of programming are we talking about here? 

RENEAU: So, traditionally, ATC has been known for a year-long, pretty intense inpatient program—a residential program—and it’s got, obviously, religious component to it where participants are presented with the gospel. These different kinds of programming are referred to as continuum of care. And, basically, these are short-term programs so instead of year-long residency programs, sometimes these are just for a number of days or a number of weeks. And there are also detoxification programs that come along with this as well.

REICHARD: Have the ATC centers been asking for this for a while?

RENEAU: Well, really, again, it all started in 2003 with Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge center being the first one to go down this path. They developed short-term programming, got the state licensing, began receiving insurance payments, and whatnot. And since then, several other Adult and Teen Challenge centers have also started pursuing this. Minnesota, Ohio, New England centers have all started doing this. But it really began about 16 years ago.

REICHARD: What differences are there in state-licensed programs versus programs that aren’t licensed by the state?

RENEAU: So, that question really depends on what state we’re talking about. In Minnesota, for example, state license programs cannot force participants to take part in any kind of religious programs. Some decide to do that—it’s an option. But they can’t force it. In fact, the president Eric Vegel of Minnesota ATC told me, “We do not believe in forcing people to engage in religious activities to get our help.” In other states, the rules are different. In Ohio, for example, the state license program—they have a short term program there—can make folks participate in the religious parts of the programming. So it really depends state-to-state.

REICHARD: And there are some people who oppose these changes. What are they saying?

RENEAU: So, Don Wilkerson, the brother of David Wilkerson—a co-founder of Adult and Teen Challenge—he and others are really saying that this gets very far afield from the core DNA of Adult and Teen Challenge. They see ATC as being primarily about evangelism, about sharing the gospel with people who have drug or substance addictions. And so they’re worried that this big carrot being dangled in front of Adult and Teen Challenge centers and insurance funding and state fees and whatnot, is going to be too tempting to stick to the core DNA of what ATC is. I should say, too, that after hearing some of the criticism, the National Adult and Teen Challenge center amended some of the policy and made it so that if ATC centers want to go down this path of continuum of care programming after January 1, 2020, they must do so under a different name and form entities to do so. Now, about 10 ATC centers are going to be grandfathered in—they’d already gotten too far down the path. But as of January 1, if ATC centers want to pursue this, they have to do it under a different entity with separate board of directors altogether.

REICHARD: Michael Reneau is deputy editor at WORLD Magazine. He also leads WORLD’s investigative reporters, known as the Caleb Team. Thanks for joining us today, Michael.

RENEAU: Thanks for having me, Mary.

(Photo/WORLD News Group)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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