Weed is a beautiful gift from God

There is something about writing about marijuana that gets reporters a bit, well, dopey.

You see, they think that marijuana, and its legalization, are just fodder for jokes. Perhaps it’s because I’m a libertarian who believes in a very limited government, but I take discussions about what the government should concern itself with quite seriously. I’m sure marijuana prohibitionists do as well. Editorial pages have not shown a lot of wisdom in how they weigh in on this topic, as Reason magazine has chronicled over the years.

I’ve asked various pastors for their thoughts on weed and will never forget the one guy who told me, “Weed? Weed? Weed is a beautiful gift from God.” He added, immediately, “Of course there are First Article issues for us.” That referred to the First Article of the creed and our obedience and love for all of God’s Law — about which a whole book could be written.

Anyway, I had hoped for a bit more from this Associated Press article headlined “Holy Schism Emerges Over Pot Legalization In Colorado.” It begins:

The stakes in Colorado’s marijuana debate are getting much higher – as in, all the way to heaven.

A vigorous back-and-forth between pot legalization supporters and foes entered the religious arena Wednesday. A slate of pastors called on Coloradans to reject making pot legal without a doctor’s recommendation.

“It’s heading to a path of total destruction,” warned Bishop Acen Phillips, who leads New Birth Temple of Praise Community Baptist Church in Denver.

About 10 pastors spoke at the event organized by the campaign to defeat the Colorado ballot proposal. If approved, the measure would allow adults over 21 to possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Oregon and Washington have similar proposals before voters next month.

Colorado’s legalization supporters responded quickly to the holy war on pot, releasing a list of clergy members who support legalizing the drug and ending criminal penalties for its use. Those ministers argued that religious leaders and parents should guide decisions about marijuana, not the law.

“I do not support smoking pot. I do not like the stuff,” said the Rev. Bill Kirton, a retired Methodist minister in Denver. “But the harm it does is much less than sending more and more people to prison. And I think it’s time to legalize marijuana.”

What you’ll notice is that there’s very little “religion” in this “religious arena.” These people could just as easily be random community leaders as leaders of religious communities. We learn that Kirton chuckled about “supporting an illegal drug as a man of the cloth” — ha ha! — and that he believes most clergy are with him. Then we hear from others who say they’re worried about the problems caused by drug use and that attracting drug dealers is bad for a community.

It almost seems to me that we’re dealing with an economic or cultural divide that may not have as much to do with religion as the headline and copy suggest. A sample of the depth to the piece:

The religious divide over marijuana is the latest arena in which folks are taking sides on Colorado’s pot measure. The pro-marijuana and anti-marijuana groups have in recent weeks gone back and forth over who sides with them.

There’s just not a lot of there there.

It’s also worth noting how this story exemplifies the way that some religious groups are marginalized from news stories. Basically there are the types of churches that believe their doctrine indicates a particular legislative or policy approach. And there are churches that don’t believe that policy prescriptions are within their wheelhouse. We tend to hear far less from the latter because the media love political stories.

I’m pretty sure that my church body would simply say Lutherans have the freedom to use their own reason to vote on this topic. That’s an important viewpoint, too, and one shared by more than just Lutherans. Yet it never appears in these stories about the various political factions in the religious community. And in a state such as Colorado, it might be nice to find out what some less-mainstream religious communities think on this topic. Any Native religious groups weighing in? Any of the Eastern religious communities that have thrived there?

Anyway, I’m still interested in whether there is anything in Scripture — or some other religious norm or framework — that could inform how we vote on these matters. When saying that there is a “holy schism” and that the stakes go so high that it’s all the way “to heaven” — what an overstatement — on this matter, it would be nice to have some actual religious content other than “bishop” or “the Rev.” in the story.

Cannabis image via Shutterstock.

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  • Dave

    OK, I’m a bit jaundiced on this topic, but I would love to see ministers on either side of this debate justify their stances in explicit terms of their faith, and see journalists report it. Reason is, I believe drug prohibition violates the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment, which does not limit itself prima facie to religion found in books but imho should be understood to include religion drawn from nature.

  • Dave

    Just for grins, Mollie, how’s Patheos working out for you? It’s been a strange season, with my favorite journalism blog moving to Patheos whilst my favorite Pagan blog leaves it!

    • mollie

      It’s working out great. The folks at Patheos are quite nice and capable and we’ve met some new readers and generally have a nice home here. To be honest, it feels about the same as it did before — just with more back-end support.
      I do miss my inability to “like” comments. But that might change in the near future, too!
      How does it feel for you as a user?

      Also, completely unrelated to what you’re asking, I find it funny that this post has generated some of the most personal email I’ve received on anything I have written to GetReligion — and yet you’re the only person posting publicly.

      It’s not like people are copping to pot use or anything, either — they’re just commenting to me personally and not on the blog more than they normally do.

      • Dave

        “How does it feel for you as a user?”

        Pretty much the same. I hardly notice the “like” flags except when I mistake them for reply buttons.

  • Julia

    I do miss my inability to “like” comments. But that might change in the near future, too!


  • jay

    I’m clergy. I see no Biblical grounds for the criminalization of marijuana. Marijuana use, like alcohol consumption, becomes problematic when it is used irresponsibly. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t smoke and drive. Use it recreationally and safely. Don’t get baked and stay baked. If you have a predisposition toward addictive behaviors, using such substances is a bad idea. It’s common sense, not faith. The fact is, as a professional clergyman and as a husband and father, I would prefer to see people using marijuana rather than alcohol. I’m not aware of, nor have I had any success in finding, any kind of studies showing a link between use of marijuana and violent behavior; not so with alcohol.

    It’s a social argument with faith overtones. If something causes you to sin, it would be best to avoid it. If alcohol consumption goes to overindulgence and leads to other sins, don’t drink. If you can’t smoke weed without turning into a worthless pile of sloth, don’t smoke up. The key, from a biblical perspective, is moderation and responsibility. Overindulgence in anything runs contrary to the Christian faith, according to St. Paul.

    The First Article is about God’s gracious provision as Creator and Sustainer. The Our Father points us to receive these First Article gifts and sustenance with reverence and thankfulness. Any of these gifts, when misused or misreceived, can be ripe soil for sin. There are some substances that cannot be responsibly introduced to the human body. I would name cocaine (and its variants), heroin, LSD, PCP, and the like in this group. But marijuana just doesn’t belong with them.

    May have rambled here. Glad to clarify if asked.

  • Jon in the Nati

    “Also, completely unrelated to what you’re asking, I find it funny that this post has generated some of the most personal email I’ve received on anything I have written to GetReligion… .”

    Legalization of marijuana is one of those things bound to bring out partisans on both sides; it always happens, and some folks (particularly those who are pro-legalization) hold their opinions very strongly and are quite insistent upon them.

    It reminds me of a rather innocuous Jehovah’s Witness story on GR a few years ago; the anti-JWs just came out of the freakin’ woodwork. Or almost any priestly abuse story, when the SNAP folks descend upon GR. Some topics inspire a lot of, for lack of a better term, passion.

    • Dave

      Jon, the feds are cracking back down on medicinal cannabis in the West despite positions taken by both Obama and Holder that it’s not a priority. So, yes, we legalizers are a bit tense at the moment, wondering just where enforcement policy is set in the United States federal forces. Some react with stridency. (Of couse this board is discussing the coverage, not the crop.)

  • Edward R. Shuping

    Bible (Revised Standard Version):
    Genesis 1:29
    And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.
    by The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church

    • Jon in the Nati


  • jesse

    Sorry i dont remember the specific scripture but i quote
    “The leaves of the plant will be the healing of the nations”. sounds like weed to me. Of all things we who smoke call it the peace pipe.????