Protesters from Temple Baptist Church demonstrate outside demonstrate outside Ultimate Smoke Shop on Center Street. David Grace photo.
KINGSPORT — Pastor Brian Schuler hasn’t had to look far to find the battle against synthetic drugs. It stands just a quarter mile down the street from his church’s front door.
“There’s probably not a service or a meeting here where the subject of synthetic drugs doesn’t come up. We all have families, and we’re all concerned,” said Schuler in his Temple Baptist Church office.
He has volunteered to stand out in front of the nearby shop and hand out religious tracts and talk with patrons going in and out of the establishment, but his suggestion was struck down by the Kingsport Police Department for his own safety.
“They said I had every right as a citizen to go out there and stand, but they have encouraged me not to. Not because of the shop owners, but the people who are getting the stuff and the crazy reactions of them,” Schuler said.
Instead, the church has agreed to be the site of a community summit that will be held March 16 at 6:30 p.m. Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus is scheduled to attend the forum.
Besides members of his congregation coming to ask what they could or should do to help protest against the shop being in the same neighborhood, Schuler said the opposition has been born out of a men’s Bible study group viewing the Christian-based movie “Courageous” a few weeks back.
“It’s an offshoot of that movie,” he said. “We’ve been having a men’s Bible study asking men to stand up for the family and others and do what is right, being courageous. This has had a direct effect on our families and communities, so the topic of the shops selling this stuff to our kids and killing them came up.”
After hearing initial stories of numerous cars lining up at the store and plenty of customers flocking to the smoke shop after Dobyns-Bennett High School lets out for the afternoon, Schuler did some investigating of his own.
“I took a walk down the alley because it’s just right there,” he said. “I stood behind the shop and saw teenagers going in and out of the shop. Now I don’t know exactly what they are buying, but I stood there and watched 20 to 25 people go in and out of there within a few minutes. My reaction was disgust.
“The reputation that the shop has and ministering to people who have taken this stuff is enough. This is ruining their bodies, their minds, depressing them to a point to where they don’t want to live anymore. I have not been in the store, but the word is out on what is in there. The epidemic is on its way if it’s not already, in my opinion.”
Schuler said he sat his two 7-year-olds down to talk about synthetic drugs, and he stressed the effect things like K2 and bath salts are having on people’s health and their families.
“Because virtually anyone can go and buy this legally right now, I think any age child needs to know about it and told to stay away from it,” said Schuler. “If someone wants you to try this or any drug, you need to run away from it, turn it down. For young adults, they need to think about the consequences one choice can make for a lifetime, how you can ruin your life and change your family in that instant.”