October 12, 2013
Pot’s new legality lights up a pastoral dilemma.
Any Christians out there want to puff some heady nuggets? Don’t worry, we’ll toke in moderation.
Let’s score some of that sticky, stinky, skunky, outdoor, organic Kush and spark one up! Can’t afford 50 bucks an eighth? No prob. We’ll get some brick schwag and a Big Bambu to twist a fat cone the size of Jamacia. (Hold the beaners, though; ain’t nobody got time for that.)
Yes, friends, Green Ganja and our beloved Red White & Blue went public with their scandalous relationship in the late 60s. Since then, they have become increasingly more affectionate as bffs. And in less time than you think, Uncle Sam and Mary Jane will post a proud new relationship status for all the world to see; THC-PDA, here we come! Full legalization will likely happen in your lifetime, and with it emerges an epic ethical dilemma that few Christian leaders are prepared for.
So far, the dope-smoking discussion has been super easy for all U.S. pastors, whether they do or do not condone alcohol consumption. The law deals us a moral trump card every time:
“Pastor, pastor! Why can’t I pass the spliff?” says the red-eyed brother in Christ. “My illegal reefer is not nearly as bad as your legal hooch.”
“Obey the law of the land, son,” pastor says. “Like it or not, God calls us to obey our authorities. The hooch is legal; the marijuana cigarettes are not.”
Conversation over! “Well played, Mr. Genius,” I say to myself. And there’s still plenty of time for my jonesin’ friend and I to recap Aaron Rodgers’ highlights from the last Packer game.
But what happens when weed is legal? On what grounds would we forbid its use, especially if we believe that moderate alcohol consumption is legit?
(Note: If you are of the persuasion that alcohol ought to be avoided, then the legalization of marijuana presents no formidable challenge to you. If, on the other hand, you’ve been one to say that drinking is an OK, even positive, activity in some circumstances, then, ethically, you have some fancy footwork to start practicing.)
By early spring 2014, pastors in Washington and Colorado will lose their trump card altogether. On last year’s election day, Washington and Colorado voters spoke loud and clear, saying, “We want the dope smoking. We love the ganja!” By December 1, this year, Washington producers will be legally licensed to grow herb for recreational use, and you can bet your life that the indoor-hydro guys will be cranking those sodium halides day and night for about three months, until the winter snow starts to melt and their “first” sticky buds are vacuum packed and priced to sell.
As Christians, what will be our response? Do we cry out: “Abstain! Abstain!”? Do we “toke in moderation” and keep extra Visine handy?
We have been taking jaunts into this embattled conversation for years in Oregon, as I suspect you have as well, wherever you are. Unfortunately, weak anecdotal evidence usually stocks the argumentative arsenal for both sides, and in the rare case that you can survive the first-wave storytelling bombardment, the second-wave attack is fortified mostly with strange factoids.
First Wave: The Anecdotal Evidence
This is where the anti-pot side presents a heinous story, some kind grotesque account of laziness, debauchery or wanton criminal behavior related to THC use and says, “See! Marijuana makes people cray cray!” (A little “Reefer Madness” anyone?) Then the pro-pot side returns fire quickly with an equally subjective rebuttal, saying, “Look at what booze has done to our world! Are you saying that rampant alcoholism, drunk-driving fatalities, sexual assaults, and all of the hundreds of thousands of lives that legal alcohol has ruined are somehow OK because it can be produced and sold lawfully?”
Second Wave: The Strange Factoids
Anti: “Pot today is way stronger than it was in the 70s, when your mom and I smoked it.”
Pro: “Single-malt scotch is way stronger than wine coolers. So what?”
Anti: “Getting high on the weed is totally different than drinking. It alters your state of mind.”
Pro: “Umm, have you ever actually consumed alcohol or talked with someone who has? I’m pretty sure that booze alters your state of mind.”
Anti: “Dope smokers are lazy and unmotivated. It is bad for your lungs and health.”
Pro: “Drinkers are lazy, unmotivated, and often seriously addicted. Ask a human liver about the healthiness of drinking.”
Anti: “Marijuana is so expensive. It is poor stewardship to spend your money that way.”
Pro: “Alcohol is so expensive. It is poor stewardship to spend your money that way.”
Anti: “The cultural effects of legalization will be devastating; the next generation will become one stupid, dull moron.”
Pro: “The cultural effects of legalization will be amazing; the next generation will actually have prison space to restrain violent criminals, police forces that aren’t overwhelmed with petty ‘criminals,’ and a grip of tax revenues that can build roads, schools and a new future for our children.”
On and on we could go. You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to see that the ethical argument against legal pot smoking cannot be made on anecdotal, physiological, or bio-chemical comparisons to the demon rum. Both have caused people to behave terribly and ruin themselves and others. Both are mind-altering substances. Both cause diminished judgment. Both have varying degrees of chemical strength, and both can be used responsibly or irresponsibly. And soon, BOTH will be obtainable by law-abiding citizens.
Seeing that we will no longer be able to lean on the “what” crutch of legal statutes, we need to talk about “why” the skunky herbs might be best to avoid. All things are lawful, says the Apostle, but not all things are profitable. Therein lies a major question.
Is it ever profitable to burn the cheeb?
Here are three reasons one might say “Yes!,” adapted in principle from the Christian alcohol-drinker’s playbook.
1. Relational connection happens when you get together and twist a spliff. Relaxation. Conversation. And you could even point to the joys of being a connoisseur, similar to knowing and appreciating fine wine, scotch or hoppy IPAs. The great C.S. Lewis certainly enjoyed his tobacco.
2. Celebration is a natural and good corporate expression of thankfulness for the gifts and pleasures that God gives, and good ganja is the stuff of communal celebration. Jesus himself seemed to get on board with the late-night wedding party, even supplying the finest wine for the occasion.
3. Responsible consumption is possible. One does not need to get totally fried, baked, ripped or stoned out of his or her gourd to enjoy a bowl with friends. (Nor does one need to get sloshed, hammered, wasted or drunk to enjoy a pint with his or her buddies.)
Still, for some reason, it is much easier for most of us to see Jesus sipping a cup of wine than it is to picture him holding a Bic lighter horizontally and hitting a hand-blown glass pipe stuffed with sticky weed. What if the wedding feast at Cana had also included his miraculous provision of a quarter-pound bag of crystalline nugs and a fat jar of kief? Perhaps the internal conflict is purely cultural; a Jamaician Rastafarian would likely have a far easier time seeing Jesus smoking ganja than he would seeing him drinking alcohol. But it also feels exceedingly strange to, say, imagine celebrating a modern church wedding where to toast at the end, everyone standing under a large crucifix sparks up a jay tries to hold the smoke in as long as possible before exhaling. “I now pronounce you man and wife. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!”
These images are abrasive, yeah? Why? I don’t know for sure…maybe because there really is something very different between drinking booze and smoking drugs. Maybe there’s not. But all of this raises the second question, one that challenges those of us who argue in favor of the use of moderate alcohol consumption.
What exactly do we mean by “profitable”?
Ask: “When I consider profitability, do I think primarily about myself?” Ganja love must not diminish neighbor love. If we consider the words of the Savior himself, “You must love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must love other people in the same way.” In what way, truthfully, is ganja smoking a loving, edifying, self-sacrificial and truly helpful action toward one’s fellow believer or neighbor? No easy answer exists for that question; please do not pretend one does.
Ask: “When I consider profitability, do I think solely in terms of physical realities?”
Ask: “When I ask ‘What is profitable?’, do I say ‘This is!’ or ‘That is not!’ according to the truth about myself, the truth about Jesus and the truth about his blood-bought Church? Or do I make judgments according to my society’s values and preferences?”
In the end, I’m not sure that the legal pot question be legitimately discussed unless the legal alcohol question is back at the table, and I would strongly urge us to let “total sobriety” reclaim a respected seat in the circle. If you’re going to throw legal weed onto the trash-heap of immorality, it seems smart to admit that the baggie is fastened firmly to the bottle.
Ben Tertin is a writer and pastor at Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon. See more through FB or follow him on Twitter: @bentertin. This piece was previously published on Unitive.