the shape of leadership

Taking a Stand Against Marijuana

Speaking the truth in love

Chad Graham and Phil Steiger on December 4, 2018

If you took a five-minute walk from the front door of many churches in Colorado and then picked up a rock and threw it, you would hit a marijuana shop. If you picked up that rock and threw it again, you would hit the next shop. And on you could go for several miles.

This is only a slight exaggeration. Since the legalization of medical, and then recreational, marijuana in Colorado, the industry has grown like ... a weed. Arguments in favor of its usage are often aggressive, and sometimes make use of religious language: “God made it,” “It’s natural,” “It’s medical,” “It’s harmless.” Dealing with this in a church is a complex task — in part because there isn’t a single verse of Scripture that settles the debate, and the people in our pews have very few theological and ethical tools with which to process the issue.

Pastors must equip themselves to approach this topic in a biblically faithful way. We are responsible to God to speak out as spiritual leaders, and not just political pundits. Marijuana may be legal in only a few states, but this changing landscape has become the foundation for a national conversation. How do we respond?

We believe it is important to understand what marijuana is and how destructive it can be. This gives us tools to talk about how marijuana use can be dishonoring to God and harmful for the individual.

Marijuana refers to the dried flowers, leaves, stems and seeds from the plant Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica. Marijuana contains THC, a chemical compound that acts on specific brain cell receptors. Introducing THC into the body overactivates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors, producing the “high” that marijuana users experience.

Modern strands of cannabis contain more THC, as weaker strands have been genetically exterminated. Marijuana sold in dispensaries today is much different, specifically in terms of THC count, than the marijuana sold on the street in the 1960s and ’70s.

Research on frequent and prolonged marijuana use is still developing, but the initial findings suggest the drug is not without serious consequences. Those consequences seem to be most severe in the young adult population. In 2015, more than 11 million young adults aged 18 to 25 had used marijuana in the past year.

This issue is not going away, and chances are people in our pews are wondering how to deal with it as followers of Jesus Christ.

A study conducted at Duke University showed that people who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and had an ongoing marijuana use disorder (addiction) lost an average of eight IQ points from age 13 to 38. Two independent studies showed that between 9 and 30 percent of those who use marijuana may develop some degree of use disorder. According to one study, “People who begin using marijuana before age 18 are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana disorder.”

The intoxication that comes from marijuana use is similar to drunkenness in that the user experiences altered senses, changes in mood, impaired body movement, difficulty solving problems, and impaired memory. The major difference between marijuana and alcohol use is the speed at which marijuana users experience the impairments of intoxication, depending on the THC count of the product consumed.

The Bible has many prohibitions against drunkenness or intoxication that we believe also apply in principle to marijuana intoxication. Texts like Galatians 5:19-21 make it clear that drunkenness is an “act of the flesh” and is not of the Spirit. Paul warns that, “Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (verse 21). Ephesians 5:17-18 speaks to the foolishness of intoxication, cautioning that drunkenness “leads to debauchery.”

With such destructive effects — lowered IQ, addiction, altered brain states, and spiritual peril — pastors cannot condone marijuana use.

This is a straightforward, but important, position for Christians to articulate. The drug on the streets today is far more intoxicating than it was 50 years ago. It alters minds and destroys lives, which means we can apply biblical injunctions against drunkenness when arguing against its use.

If we want people to flourish as the Creator intended, we must counsel them not to use marijuana.

This issue is not going away, and chances are people in our pews are wondering how to deal with it as followers of Jesus Christ. As the push for legalization grows, we will feel the pressure to accept an alleged cultural consensus, but that should not be how we decide what is honoring to Christ and good for His people.

We want to be pastors who are able to see the issue clearly and translate it through a biblically sound set of reasons for our beliefs. And we want our churches to be salt and light on an issue that will profoundly affect the next generation. 

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

For more on this issue, listen to the recent Influence Podcast with Chad Graham and Phil Steiger.

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