By Erick George
Editors Note: This story includes discussions of drug use and may contain foul language. While it has been edited through Associated Press Guidelines, some readers may find this offensive. This story was submitted to The Advocate through Chris Walker’s Digital Storytelling class, it is part of a ten-part series of stories examining Minnesota’s legalization of Marijuana. Each story investigates the background and implications that come with the legalization. The series, which began on April 28th, will run until May 5th.
Photo illustration by Abby Makay
ROGERS CITY, MICH. – Marijuana is among the most prominent controversies in the Christian World today. Many Christians have made up their minds concerning the subject. Modern Christians look to a number of texts to aid in their decision-making process.
The Bible is silent on the matter — likely because it was written more than 1900 years ago, and marijuana usage has only become topical in the recent century.
Since the scriptures never directly reference marijuana, hemp, or THC, this leaves room for ambiguity as to how Christians can interpret the controversy.
Biblical scholars interpret the scriptures in a variety of ways while other pastors are relying on their experiences to cast judgment.
Amid the confusion, the only thing that’s truly become clear is the lack of consensus. There is no conclusive teaching across Christian churches. The only way to find out what to believe about the issue, from a Christian perspective, is to use deductive reasoning and examine the arguments to reach a conclusion.
Interpretation 1: Marijuana and THC is a sin
With no room for gray, some Christians believe smoking marijuana is inherently a sin. They believe this because of biblical verses that speak on sobriety throughout the scriptures.
One example is found in 2 Timothy 4:5, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Sobriety is spoken about in the Bible in reference to drunkenness. Drunkenness in the Bible is repeatedly condemned in verses such as Romans 13:13-14, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 and so on.
These verses tell Christians that God calls them to be sober-minded because he intends them to fulfill the ministry (2 Timothy 4:5), among additional reasons.
Prominent Christian voice Dr. John MacArthur points to 1 Corinthians 6:12, which says, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” MacArthur uses this verse to state that smoking marijuana brings you under the power of the drug. He also notes that he feels this differs from alcohol consumption. “You can drink alcohol and not have your mind altered. You can’t smoke a joint without having your mind altered. That’s the purpose of it.”
Another theologian who adheres to this logic is research professor Kevin J. Vanhoozer, who says, “…a glass of wine compliments food but doesn’t result in intoxication, whereas the whole point of consuming cannabis for recreational purposes is to get ‘high.’”
Considering this theological standpoint let’s ask ourselves ‘Does this seem to make the most sense?’
Some pastors think it does not.
Interpretation 2: In moderation usage is not a sin.
Greg Zurakowski is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Rogers City, Michigan. He responds to this logic, saying they, at face value, are both theologically correct that “a glass of wine or another alcoholic beverage of your choice can be enriching to a meal or a social environment. But that presupposes that the person having that glass of wine or other drink that their intent is not to become intoxicated.”
Additionally, Karen Zurakowski, Greg’s wife and fellow Westminster reverend, says she knows that to be “a gray area with wine; wine can be abused.” It’s not always used “to simply enhance a meal,” she says.
Karen argues it’s unfair to declare anyone who has anything to do with using cannabis is automatically seeking to get high. “I think it varies by the person’s intention that is partaking. Theologians have the edge in being able to say, ‘well Jesus sat down to drink wine or maybe a whole bunch of wine when he was with his disciples.’”
“I think the intent and the mindset of the partaker matters,” Greg said. He believes their logic is “directionally correct but it needs to go further because there are nuances that need to be incorporated.”
Greg reasons that knowing your limit with marijuana is the real issue citing teachings of moderation as to why he believes this. “In terms of a theological stance, we are told essentially, ‘all things in moderation’. … That really is Biblically sound. You shouldn’t drink excessively. You shouldn’t overindulge in food,” Greg added, going on to even include people addicted to exercise, or “gym rats,” in his example of overindulgence.
Greg thinks marijuana usage should be seen similarly with alcohol in this way saying, “In the context of, say, a single glass of wine versus one or two hits on the bong, I’m not sure the person mildly indulging in cannabis is intending to become high. I think a lot of people look at it as a means of settling themselves after a challenging day.”
He goes on to say, “If a parishioner came to me and said, ‘Okay. Hey, Pastor! Am I condemned to the lake of fire for eternity if I take a hit off somebody’s bong?’ No, I would say you’re not. If you use so much of whatever’s in that bong or use so much marijuana or other substance to the point that you cannot function or you make bad decisions that harm yourself or others. Well, then that is sinful.”
Greg’s implying that like alcohol, if marijuana is taken in moderation, it can be simply a relaxant and remain un-sinful. Is this theologically sound?
Counterargument to Interpretation 2
Greg’s position is one Dr. MacArthur would likely find issue with: “It’s compared to drinking, but it’s not the same.”
MacArthur says by using marijuana “you have yielded up control to an external force that’s been taken internal. It has the sole purpose to alter your consciousness. To diminish your responsibility. To diminish your accountability. To diminish you at every level of thinking which then diminishes you at every level of function. MacArthur, with dramatic emphasis, says it has: “No. Other. Purpose.”
He goes on to condemn the action saying that because of this effect using is “always a sin.”
In fact, Vanhoozer mentioned one way to approach the issue when warning about recreational marijuana. He argues that preachers ought to use arguments less in terms of morality, right versus wrong, and more in terms of discipleship, discerning what is wise from what is foolish.
This means that the warning should be that it is more an unwise decision rather than an evil one.
Karen herself sees how the temptation of marijuana can become a barrier in one’s relationship with God. “I think we never go wrong if we try to not nudge people toward what can be temptation that becomes more important to them than their relationship with God. … I think it’s a good idea to protect people from things that may draw them away from God. And if that is marijuana that’s a good idea.” She’s saying Christians ought to discourage others from using marijuana to prevent any potential addiction from forming that may cause a barrier between someone and God. An argument that is unlike her husband’s in the sense that theologians such as MacArthur and Vanhoozer would likely agree with her presented logic.
As Christians, what are we to make of the differing interpretations?
As Christians, it can be hard to determine which of these approaches to take. How do we know which is the ‘right’ one to take? The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:2 that discernment is a responsibility of Christians.
I believe each Christian should discern and deduce using the evidence before them and come to that conclusion for themselves.
That being said, God does call his people to live like Christ. So, if we are Christians who take our faith seriously, we must ask ourselves the classic question when it comes to anything of importance: “What would Jesus do?” It’s a cliche, but it has a scriptural foundation.
In 1 Peter 2:21 it states: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps.”
Essentially, if we cannot picture Jesus as he is written in the Bible doing something, then we probably shouldn’t do it, either. Jesus never had to light up a joint or take a hit off a bong to communicate with God his father. He prayed and sought to do his will.
A mantra I seek to live my life by is ‘if you want to draw close to God, seek to do his will.’ This is difficult to do. Sometimes even in trying to please God we can lose our way.
As Karen says, “It’s so easy for human beings to determine for themselves what would be pleasing to God. And then carry that forward because of that system of justification within ourselves. We can be very blind to when we do things like that.
“There are a lot of good people who think they hear God and are leading what they think God has guided them to without realizing that it’s what they guided themselves to.”
Staying on the straight and narrow path can be long and arduous. It goes against our natural, sinful instincts. Karen posits her theory, “people, I think, long for an easier … less restrictive path and I feel all kinds of freedom and joy come to us through God. But there are certain principles most Christians choose and some would see those as restrictive choices. Even though, in the end, in my mind it opens up so much freedom.”
Both Zurakowskis argue that for a Christian the desire to stay faithful to God is needed because it takes the continued endurance of both body and soul to do so. It may seem restrictive at first, but it is the most freeing thing a Christian could experience. To that Christian, living life according to God’s will rather than our own is like a perpetual state of spiritual euphoria.
For our non-Christian readers, I’m grateful for your indulgence and commend you for your persistence and intrigue. I hope this gives you something of value, perhaps clarifying not all Christians feel the same way about marijuana.
Overall, we Christians have a variety of perspectives on marijuana – and on a much broader scale than the two arguments presented here. However we feel about this and other issues, the decision is up to each of us. The deductive process is key for Christians and non-Christians alike to search for evidence, use that evidence, search for more, if need be, and come to a final conclusion for ourselves.