Stoned soul pastors?

As “old media” seek to reach new audiences through the use of online technologies, we’ve seen journalists, like the Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson develop blogs (his is “Articles of Faith”). Sometimes these are a way of posting less formal comments on a topic. Sometimes they offer another place to discuss issues that journalists can’t fit into the traditional news hole.

Which raises the question — to what standards should we hold these blogs? (And yes, I realize that these questions can also apply to us at GetReligion). At a minimum, one would expect journalists to strive for accuracy and make corrections if they make mistakes — those are also “old media” standards. But look beyond these fundamentals and the dilemmas get more interesting. Are reporters obligated, for example, to present more one point of view? Do they strive for objectivity — or is the blog a haven for personal opinions?

I pondered these questions while reading Manya Brachear’s post in her Chicago Tribune blog, “The Seeker” on a move by some clergy to back a Illinois bill decriminalizing the use of medical marijuana.

There’s actually a very serious national discussion going on about the use of marijuana to treat the symptoms of illnesses MS and chronic pain. But per my headline, pot is a topic that prompts some truly terrible humor — another reason to blame baby boomers, or maybe the Grateful Dead.

Brachear’s lede, frankly, thuds. As those using this particular Gospel story often seem to forget, Jesus didn’t only tell the aspiring “stoners” to cut it out, but told the adulterous woman to “go and sin no more.”

When Jesus proclaimed “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone,” he was preaching compassion. Some Illinois clergy who support a different kind of getting stoned say they are urging compassion too.

More than 60 religious leaders in Illinois are calling on state senators this week to pass a bill that would allow patients to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation and without criminal consequences.

Brachear includes quotes from medical marijuana proponents, including clergy from the United Church of Christ and United Methodist denominations. But she doesn’t quote clergy opponents — who probably wouldn’t be that hard to find. Nor does she identify who is promoting this bill in the State Senate and whether they have any religious connection.

Several studies suggest that marijuana can mitigate nausea, pain and anxiety for patients with illnesses such as HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. Theological arguments are based on these findings.

“There is a moral obligation to heal and address suffering,” said Rev. Al Sharp, executive director of Chicago-based Protestants for the Common Good. “Jesus lived his life healing those where he could and bringing those to the absence of pain. This is entirely consistent with that.”

I would hope that those clergy who want to see marijuana legalized have a theological perspective on which to make that argument, rather than the other way around. The quote from Sharp supports that interpretation — and it would have been really helpful to have seen more of that kind of reflection — balanced by responses from opponents. At the end of her post, Brachear ask for reader response — but doesn’t give her readers nearly enough to work with. As a blogger, does she have to? What do you think?

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  • Mollie

    I asked a Lutheran pastor friend of mine about recreational marijuana use and he memorably replied “Weed? Weed is a beautiful gift from God.” And then he went on to talk about how we should obey the laws that govern it’s use. It still makes me laugh, though.

    Anyway, I love The Seeker blog — but that lede did make me groan audibly! But good that she saw there was a religion angle to this story.

  • Mark T.

    Funny, I’m listening to all Grateful Dead internet radio as I type this! And, I don’t smoke pot.

    I would ask this question: On what Christian theological grounds could you support the criminalization (for medical use) of a drug that has shown to comfort those in great pain?

  • Jerry

    to what standards should we hold these blogs?

    My personal opinion is that they should first be evaluated about what they say about themselves. A blog that says that it is a pro-life blog should be evaluated on that basis. A blog that says that it is an unbiased look at the news should be evaluated on that basis.

    I would hope that those clergy who want to see marijuana legalized have a theological perspective on which to make that argument, rather than the other way around.

    Certainly it’s better than the reverse. But as a old hippy who grew up on the “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” and “Wonder Wart-hog” before getting on with the rest of my life, I have a very simplistic view of drugs.

    All drugs should be evaluated by regular medical science for usefulness. If a drug is useful, it should be available by prescription the same way any other such drug is available.

    From that perspective, a clergyman could very easily hold my opinion about putting science first without having to refer to scripture. But someone who uses scripture to promote illegal drug use is very much a different situation.

  • MattK

    “Some Illinois clergy who support a different kind of getting stoned…”

    Even if it is true, I hate it when reporters use lingo/jargon. In this case, it makes the reporter sound like a 40 year old youth paster trying to sound cool to his congregation of 13-17 year olds. Lame.

  • Bill G.

    Mark said:

    “I would ask this question: On what Christian theological grounds could you support the criminalization (for medical use) of a drug that has shown to comfort those in great pain?”

    I agree with that. I don’t know that there is any passage in the Bible that says that marijuana should be illegal. We shouldn’t be smoking it, obviously, but does scripture tell us it should be illegal? I for one think we are doing a lot more harm than good trying in vain to keep up the ban on marijuana. You may disagree, but are we required to have secular laws against all sin, even if the laws end up causing more problems than they solve?

  • E.E. Evans

    Bill G., Mark — I wasn’t advocating one position as opposed to another. But I think it says something that Brachear doesn’t mention any talks with conservative Christians. Are they being very quiet — or are they opposed?

  • Dave

    I was pleased that the blog mentioned the position of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which often gets forgotten in laundry lists of churches on the liberal side of this or that issue. The UUA first adopted a liberal statement about marijuana in 1970.

    I would agree with Bill G and go a step further: I regard all efforts to ban drug-evoked alternative mental states as infringments on free exercise of religion, one class of which is shamanic use of mind-altering substances.

  • Bill G.

    E.E. Evans said: “But I think it says something that Brachear doesn’t mention any talks with conservative Christians. Are they being very quiet — or are they opposed?”

    Most are opposed to outright legalization but not necessarily legal medical marijuana. We can see this on polls on attitudes about medical marijuana and marijuana legalization. A lot of these polls break things down by demographics with questions about whether people are religious, whether they consider themselves to be born again, whether they consider themselves to be conservatives, etc. The lowest support for outright legalization (and greatest opposition) does seem to be among conservative Christians. These are also people least likely to be pot smokers and people from demographics least likely to smoke marijuana are least likely to support legalization.

    Of course the same sort of thing was going on back in the push to make alcohol illegal, and many people, including a lot of conservative Christians, changed their positions after they saw all the problems alcohol prohibition caused. There have been a lot of polls on legalizing marijuana over the years, several in the last few months. The percentage for legalization has been steadily going up since the early 1990s, even in the conservative Christian demographic. A recent Zogby poll showed support for legalization among those “born again” to be 26% and 48% among Catholics. The 26% figure may seem low, but it wasn’t that many years ago that the percentage was in the mid teens for the same demographic. Overall I believe 44% were for legalization on that poll and a new ABC/Washington Post poll I just came across put the total for legalization at 46%. They didn’t break down the demographiocs on that question though.

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen polls on “medical marijuana” specifically, but if I recall correctly approaching 80% of those polled believe that sick people should have access to marijuana if doctors recommend it. I’m not certain on this but I believe I remember seeing demographic breakdowns that showed even a majority of church going Christians supported medical marijuana too. Some polls over the last few years showed less than a majority but not by much. The variances in views from different demographics (age, religion, etc.) are far less pronounced when people are asked about medical marijuana as opposed to outright legalization of marijuana for all purposes. We don’t want people doing it for fun, but are much less likely to be opposed to marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

    The story may be a little different for religious leaders. The pastor at my church has become very political. He’s always talking about the “attack on families” and the “culture war” and all that sort of stuff, like he’s getting all his cues from Rush Limbough or someone of that ilk. I’ve never heard him say anything about medical marijuana, but my guess is he’d be opposed to it because he’d see it as part of the broader culture war he thinks God wants him to fight. Church leaders wrapped up in the rhetoric of politics like him are probably opposed to medical marijuana. My guess would be that maybe a slight majority of religious leaders who refer to themselves as conservative Christians are opposed even to medical marijuana.

  • Stephen A.

    I probably shouldn’t be responding to this post because I’m still shaking with rage about the New Hampshire Senate giving final approval to a poorly written “medical pot” bill this week.

    But I wonder why the pro-pot lobby has gotten away with calling this stuff “medicine” – without the media calling them on this – when this isn’t at all a movement to increase in-lab studies (which I think is a great idea) but instead, it’s a movement to allow “sick” people (and most who are not, as we’ve seen in California) to self-dose pot in ways they “feel” “might” be “helpful” to their supposed illnesses.

    And “my cousin’s best friend’s roommate, who had cancer SAID it ‘worked for him’” isn’t a medical proof, it’s hearsay and rumor. Emotional pleas and hearsay are not how we approve medicines in Western countries.

    Some religious leaders, and laymen, have been duped by these same emotional pleas, as have the gullible media, whose reporting has been AWOL or shamefully biased.

    I’ve not seen ONE critical news story on this issue questioning the premise that this is somehow “medicine,” without the proper testing. NOT ONE. Not from a religious OR medical perspective. How is THAT “journalism” to not even raise the possibility that this is just a cynical, hateful attempt to prey on people’s emotions to legalize pot for stoners in their 20s?

  • Stephen A.

    To answer a question EE raises: Christian pastors seem to be very quiet about this issue, as on all social, political and enironmental issues these days.

    They and their flocks seem to be laying back and allowing all sorts of nonsense to happen. I wonder if it’s theologically based, i.e. they are simply waiting for Jesus to come back and make everything perfect, and have given up on the Earth?

  • Dave

    Stephen: There have been four decades for research since pot became a social issue. Instead we’ve gotten flagrantly rigged “findings” of phony ill-effects, which fall apart at a touch once their shoddy methodology is exposed.

    The kept lab-coats have had their chance. It’s time to get out of the way and let healing commence.

  • Bill G.

    Stephan said:

    “But I wonder why the pro-pot lobby has gotten away with calling this stuff “medicine” – without the media calling them on this – when this isn’t at all a movement to increase in-lab studies (which I think is a great idea)…”

    The federal government won’t allow studies to be done. They are very stubbornly keeping marijuana in the Schedule I classification of controlled substances along with other drugs for which there is no medical use. Meth and cocaine are Schedule II substances and are actually used by doctors. Methamphetamine is used to treat narcoleptics and even some kids with ADHD. Cocaine is used as an anesthetic. They used a liquid cocaine solution when they straightened my nose after it was crushed in a football injury when I was a teenager. Marinol, which contains THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that causes the “high,” is a Schedule III drug that can be prescribed with automatic refills. But marijuana is a Schedule I drug and they will not even allow any tests to be done with it, so it’s pretty disingenuous of them to complain that the drug has not been adequately tested.

    If the feds would just allow marijuana to be prescribed the whole medical marijuana movement would evaporate. People wouldn’t be allowed to grow their own. They’d have to buy some overpriced substandard product from a pharmacy. A simple doctor’s recommendation would not be enough. It would take an actual prescription and the DEA would be watching those prescriptions like they watch prescriptions for narcotic drugs, and doctors who write a lot of marijuana prescriptions would face DEA scrutiny just like doctors who prescribe a lot of narcotic pain meds.

    Do you know why the New Hampshire Senate passed this bill? It’s because that’s what the majority of the people wanted them to do. Nationwide support for medical marijuana is up there between 70 and 80%. It will be lower in the South where I live, but probably in the high range up in New Hampshire. Support for medical marijuana and outright legalization is higher in the Northeast and the West than in other parts of the country.

    I’m all for legalizing medical marijuana. I wish they’d do it in my state. My next door neighbor used it in her final months. She was a retired nurse who had raised seven children on her her own. She didn’t drink and had never used an illegal drug. She was a church organist who never did anything improper. But she was dying of cancer and the medicines she was taking were just making her more sick. One of her sons offered her some marijuana, and it ended up being the only thing that provided her any relief. She put on some weight and probably lived longer because of it. I think it’s just plain immoral not to let people use marijuana if it’s the only thing that might provide them any relief.

    Of course that’s just more anecdotal evidence and that’s mostly all there is out there, but again, that’s because the feds won’t let researchers study marijuana for medicinal uses. I have a sneaking suspicion that they won’t allow it because they are afraid that researchers will find medical uses for it and they’d have to reschedule it. Clearly they don’t want to do that. I just think that is ridiculous because there are far more dangerous and addictive drugs available by prescription now.

    Of course I’m convinced now that marijuana prohibition in general is a huge mistake and it’s causing far more harm than good. If it were up to me we’d just regulate it like alcohol. We’d have a lot more control over the massive and entirely unregulated industry that exists now and enriches organized crime to the tune of many billions of dollars every year. Most everyone who wants to smoke marijuana is already smoking it. It’s already easily available everywhere and cheaper than beer on a per use basis for the most part. We aren’t stopping anything with our laws.

  • Elizabeth

    Hello, Bill G –

    Can you please provide us a genuine email? Your comments add to our conversation, and I appreciate that, but if we don’t have a real return email, I will have to spike them. We don’t share that email, and marketers won’t be calling you!

  • Bill G.

    The email address I provided when I signed up is a real email address. Please send me an email and I’ll reply.


  • Douglas LeBlanc

    Bill G.,

    As one of Elizabeth’s colleagues here at GetReligion, I had expressed doubts about your email address.

    We have to deal regularly with people who submit bogus email addresses, which has led to an occasional excess of suspicion on my part.

    Please forgive me for jumping to conclusions.

    Douglas LeBlanc

  • Bill G.


    No worries. It does kind of look like a made up email address. I completely understand where you are coming from.


  • Bill G.

    Oh, and I’m sorry if I sound a little too gung ho on the issues in the above article. I’m a lawyer by trade. I’ve been a prosecuting attorney and defense attorney and I’ve handled more marijuana cases than I can count, thousands of pounds worth of them. I probably have stronger feelings on these issues than most people. I can get a little excited sometimes when I end up in one of these discussions. I actually have other interests and concerns about other things, believe it or not. I’m not here to spam your website with a lot of drug talk or anything like that. I just stumbled across this article and decided to throw my two cents in.

  • E.E. Evans

    That’s fine. Bill. As I said, your comments add to the conversation on this subject, and I appreciate them.

  • Bill G.


  • Stephen A.

    Bill G., responding to your post (12) It contains an untruth. The Federal government already grows marijuana for in-lab testing in Mississippi, this according to the American College of Physicians, who do indeed support wider testing (as do I – in the lab) and this testing is well underway.

    I’ll be brief, but please let me respond and also add to the discussion, which is always so one-sided in the press.

    The urge to show compassion to sick people is commendable (and my mother is a two-time cancer survivor) but smoked marijuana is not an approved medicine, smoking is never recommended by doctors as a treatment for anything.

    In America, medicines are prescribed only after rigorous testing and only in doses appropriate for the individual patient, based on MANY trials and doctor-patient experiences. So-called medical pot would be self-administered in dosages that patients “feel” would be “good” for them. Who determines the dosage in these state laws? Patients, alone in their homes. That’s not medicine.

    The ACP supports more clinical trials, but using only marijuana grown in existing Federal programs and tested for content before those trials. It does not support self-administration by patients using their own “home grown” pot.

    Pastors and their flocks should be alarmed at how the California law has degraded into allowing “pot dispensaries” on street corners in which anyone who walks in and says they’re suffering from headaches (wink) is “prescribed” pot. The media has done a very uneven and inconsistent job exposing this (ABC News did ONE show about it. It’s on YouTube.)

    If people want to get stoned legally, be honest about it, so we can crush that hope with moral and sound arguments. But these bills are grossly dishonest ways to legalize by stealth, preying upon sick people’s desperate need for relief, and some pastors, and the press, are falling for the deception.

  • Stephen A.

    The kept lab-coats have had their chance. It’s time to get out of the way and let healing commence.

    I’m sorry, Dave, but letting people be their own lab rats is not how civilized society works. Nor is demagogic sloganeering.

    (Rand much?)

  • Dave

    Stephen, to speak of the kept lab-coats slandering cannabis with shoddy methodology is neither demographic nor sloganeering. It’s a cold summary of the facts.

  • Stephen A.

    Calling scientists “Lab Coats” is a shoddy attempt at a slur against all medical science (and is demagogic sloganeering, just like, for example, “Government Schools,” “Men with Guns” and women being called “Forced Baby Incubators.”) None of these terms advance rational debate.

    The only way you’re ever going to get pot into the hands of sick people (and, by extension “sick” people) is by folks in lab coats CONTINUING to work with Federally-grown pot plants under lab conditions determining whether it will be allowed for distribution, under medical supervision, to REAL sick people, with the dosages not self-determined but determined and adjusted by doctors.

    That, of course, isn’t the plan. Sorry those mean lab-coat-wearing people are holding up the unrestricted distribution of pot.

  • Dave

    Stephan, I’ve watched the scientific mugging of cannabis proceed since the 1960s with barely a peep of protest from the supposedly principled bastions of medical science. Your objection to my summary, “kept lab-coats,” isn’t going to change that. When you start talking about the reality of this abominable history, instead of my language, maybe we can have a conversation about it.

  • Stephen A.

    Dave, the “medical pot” argument does not date from the 1960s, it’s only the latest (and hugely successful) attempt to slide drug abuse into the culture surreptitiously. Looks like you Boomers are going to win this one, and God help society afterwards.

  • Dave

    Stephen, I never said the medicinal cannabis argument dated from the ’60s. I said the “scientific” mugging of cannabis dated from the ’60s, and that remains a fact. Once you can engage with that reality, perhaps we can have a conversation.

  • E.E. Evans

    Dave, I doubt it. But you two can have fun trying. (smile)

  • Dave

    :-) Elizabeth, you may be right…

    But I’d like to throw in another fact here. It’s simply not true that all the things we treat ourselves with came out of laboratory. Millions of people use supplements like gingko biloba, St Johns wort, saw palmetto, turmeric, etc whose efficacy arose out of popular experience. There’s no scandal in the anecdotal shaping of what cannabis is good for. The scandal is that it’s illegal.

  • Stephen A.

    Well, what we’re seeing here is the deliberate clouding of the issue and I think many people are being fooled by this bogus “mugging” argument and the semantic game being played here and elsewhere. (And EE, I don’t see this as “fun” or even funny. It’s disgraceful.)

    About these other supplements, they may or may not work, just like pot, and no one knows the dosages and strengths they MAY work, and for WHICH illnesses and at what point during their illnesses.

    And of course, that’s the problem. They are unproven, untested and sellers of these things may NOT, by law, make statements claiming they “cure” or even “help” in the treatment of illnesses. AS IT SHOULD BE, because it’s all hearsay and anecdotal, just like so-called medical pot.

    Unlike pot, of course, Ginko biloba doesn’t make you high, so there is no ferocious army of Ginko imbibers promoting it and forcing laws through legislatures making it “legal” for certain illnesses and patients before any informed value judgment from those mean old ‘lab coats.’

  • Dave

    The mugging argument is far from bogus.

    First, marijuana use was tested in people who were in prison, in mental institutions or used multiple drugs. Surprise! They turned out to have problems.

    Then came the primates. Hapless lab critters were way overdosed with cannabis well beyond the grams/unit body weight that a typical smoker inhales. Surprise! They got stupid and ignored their babies.

    Somewhere along the line was the claim of reduced white cell levels, which could never be replicated. Honest medical researchers would have said, “Hey, we may have something to treat leukemia here!” The kept lab-coats said, “Hey, we’ve got something to help law enforcement here!”

    This finding was a wake-up call for me. Even before it was discredited, I realized it had to be bogus because, in the parts of the world where cannabis has been used for millennia, there were no stories about pot users being sick. Thick, yes; silly, yes; sick, no. That was a bitter pill for someone educated as a scientist, the awareness that I could trust Bronze Age myths better than lab results when the government had its hand in the mix.

    And so it, goes, off and on for forty years or so. There is simply no denying that the kept lab-coats have been mugging pot for two generations. We may disagree about the propriety of legalizing pot as a recreation, but there is no gainsaying that the scientistic treatment of pot in the guise of science has been scandalous.

  • Stephen A.

    Dave, this isn’t about helping the sick, it’s about helping the drug dealers get more pot onto the street. The “Lab Coats” are TOTALLY against smoked medicine. Period. No medical group accepts such a concept, after decades of research, and that’s unlikely to change even if eventually is discovered to have benefits that outweigh the huge down sides. If it ever happens, THC will likely be released as a mist/spray or in pill form, which won’t satisfy those pushing the smoked variety, for obvious reasons.

    Smoked pot is not a viable medicine, and has little value outside of getting people stoned. That’s what this is all about, and the fact that no other drug stirs such passion (mostly from the “stoner” community) is evidence of that.

  • Dave

    Stephen, you are still repeating your negative opinions reflecting the federal government’s about cannabis, and still either in denial about or not responding to the history of scientific mugging of cannabis that I have outlined. We are still not having a conversation.