Cultural Issues

Word and Weed

One of the reasons for the length of time between this post and the last is simple disobedience. I KNEW the God wanted me to write this; I simply didn’t want to because of the reactions I am almost certain I’ll get from most readers.

And, no, it wasn’t because I was afraid of offending anyone or because I was overly concerned with being taken the wrong way, or even that I would be ignored or my stand rejected without consideration. Even though the majority of conversations I’ve had on this topic (which is coming up quite often lately) gets one of those responses, my main excuse for not posting this is because, based on previous conversations, I felt it was a waste of time.

“Why, Lord,” I asked, “Should I put all this effort into something that I know will just come to nothing?”

And, of course, the answer was the same as always in these cases. “Because that is what I want you to do, and I know the outcome – you don’t. Read your Scripture and thing back on church history. Are you so arrogant to think that you are the only one I’ve asked to do something that seems silly at the time? Get on with it!”

 So, here’s the question: 

“Is it OK for a Christian to use recreational marijuana in those states that have legalized it?”

There are really two questions to be answered. You will notice that the second presupposes a “yes” answer to the first, and that a “no” answer to the first makes the second irrelevant. Here they are:“Is it OK for a Christian to use recreational marijuana in those states that have legalized it?”  and “How much of a buzz can I get without sinning?”

Before I answer, I want to make it VERY clear that I am NOT addressing the issue of medical marijuana. I am looking at the use of recreational marijuana, even if used for medical reasons but without a prescription. There are legitimate PRESCRIBED MEDICAL uses for it, most of which do not contain significant amounts of the compound primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects.

The reason I stress prescribed and supervised medical use is because over thirty years in various ministries and two decades of my wife working at a resident teen treatment center I can without reservation state that of ALL of the many acquaintances, friends, and family members that I have observed self-medicating with controlled substances (including both alcohol and marijuana), it has NEVER turned out well.

Back to recreational use. As a follower of Christ, the primary authority should be the Bible. However, Scripture does not directly mention marijuana. Therefore, we must look at what God has said in His word about similar substances, and draw a correlation from that.

There are two topics in the Bible that most directly relate to the issue: sorcery, and alcohol.   The first requires a bit more explanation, so let’s look at sorcery first.

Although Scripture does not explicitly mention narcotic and mind-altering drug use other than alcohol, extra-Biblical writings of the times as well as the writings of early church fathers and contemporary historians indicate that the use of such drugs was an integral part of many sorcerous practices. For example, sorcerers and magicians frequently used psychoactive potions to induce visions and help in divination.  The Bible very clearly forbids the practice of sorcery and occult magic in Ex. 22:18, Mal 3:5, and Gal 5:19-21

As for alcohol, we are repeatedly reminded that we are not to get drunk. A few passages that emphasize this are  Rom. 13:13,  1 Cor 6:9-10,  Eph. 5:18, and 1 Thess.5:7-8.

So, the obviously most valid conclusion from these and other passages is that we are forbidden by God to purposely become intoxicated. In other words, getting high is equally sinful as getting drunk.

But, I’ve been asked, since we aren’t forbidden from the use of alcohol as long as we don’t get drunk, doesn’t the same apply to recreational use of other drugs?

That’s a good question, but when the effects and common uses of non-prescribed mind-altering drugs such as cannabis are examined, it becomes clear that the real questions is “Can I use marijuana anyway?”.

Here’s the BIG difference: while for the average adult it takes about two to 4 servings of an alcoholic beverage to become intoxicated, for cannabis clinical studies have concluded that in order to become intoxicated to the point of impaired judgement and reflexes takes on average 4 – 6 puffs. In other words, most adults will get a buzz from less than one joint, and a full one can get you flat out high unless you are using it frequently enough to build up a tolerance.

Coupled with the fact that no one I have interviewed or read accounts from uses cannabis in cooking (brownies or cookies, y’all?) does it as a flavor enhancer or for any reason other than to get high, it is safe to conclude that there is no safe, legitimate, or Biblically sound use for recreational marijuana. Remember, as I said before – self medicating with controlled substances has, in my observation, never turned out well.

But there are other reasons to refrain from recreational use. First of all,  in Romans 13:1-2 Paul reminds us that we are to obey the laws of the land. While Scripture does give us the obligation to break this general rule when obeying the law forces us to violate GOD’S commands, this practice clearly does not fall under that exception. So, since use of recreational use of marijuana is still prohibited under Federal law anytime you use cannabis without a prescription you are willingly disobeying the law.

Finally, Paul spend a large portion of his letter to the  Romans (Rom. 14) giving instructions about how just because we CAN do something it is often the case that we SHOULDN’T.  He emphasized that if indulging in something that is pleasurable or even possibly personally beneficial in some way is likely to cause a sibling in Christ to stumble in their relationship with God WE SHOULD NOT DO IT. 

Additionally, we must keep in mind that Jesus, in Luke 9, talks about the necessity of personal sacrifice even to the point of death and torture in order to be an authentic disciple. If we as Warriors of Faith are not willing to sacrifice even in relatively small ways by refraining from what is clearly not in keeping with God’s will or commands, then are we truly ‘warriors’ at all? I think not.

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For those who either dispute my assessment of the physiological effects of cannabis, or are unfamiliar with the research, here are a couple of sites to take a look at:

Here is a link to a clinical study discussing average amount needed for intoxication as well as some other information to think about.

Lifehacker has a fairly comprehensive article on the physiological effects of weed

Christians and Politics

Sometimes I wonder just how out of touch I really am about what issues people really have with either Christians or the Christian faith. Recently, I asked a friend about topics I should address here in the Corner, and one of the topics he mentioned I mostly ignored, assuming that the answer to the question was so obvious that it didn’t even need consideration.

Boy, was I wrong! In less than a week, I heard the same question or comments directly addressing the question more than FIVE times! Here it is:

“Should Christians be involved in politics?”

I’ve heard and read very passionate arguments both for and against God’s people participating in political debate and working in politics, so it looks like it is time to just jump right into it!

Many Christians in the U.S. will answer the question with an adamant “no”. Most of those will give one or more of three basic arguments.

The first, and, in my opinion, the least compelling is based on United States tax law. The majority of churches in the U.S. are incorporated as tax exempt organizations under IRS code 501(C)3. One of the requirements for maintaining tax exempt status is that the organization and its representatives (staff, especially the clergy) may not endorse or encourage it’s clientele (parishioners) against voting for or against any political candidate while representing the church. Many (wrongly) interpret this as a prohibition of political discussion at all.

Therefore, the argument goes, Christians as a whole should not be involved in politics, especially the clergy, because if it is illegal for the clergy, it is at least unethical for the rest of God’s people.

I have two problems with this argument. First, it is a prime example of the Pharisee’s habit of taking a commandment and expanding it to ridiculous levels in order to safeguard from violating the original command. It is like the ‘Sabbath light’ – a lamp designed to automatically turn on and off during Sabbath because to flip a light switch is considered work, and work is prohibited on the Sabbath. Likewise, endorsing a candidate from the pulpit is prohibited, therefore no Christian should engage in politcs. Utterly nonsensical.

Second, there is some debate over whether the prohibition is Constitutional. I’ve provided links below to the official IRS statement about the Johnson Amendment (the rule in question) and arguments against it. Personally, I tend to believe that a pastor should preach what God has given him to say, and if it violates the tax code the church should seriously consider giving up tax exempt status in order to allow the pastor to preach freely.

In any case, there is no legal prohibition for Christians to engage in political activity other than as official representatives of a 501(c)3 organization – at least not yet.

The second basic line of reasoning against Christian engagement in political activity is that since we are instructed to be ‘in the world but not of it’ (a phrase not found in Scripture, although the concept is presented throughout) we should, as Paul says in Romas 12:18 to be at peace with all men. With the guarantee that any political view you hold will offend many and enrage some, we as Christians should limit our political activity to prayer.

The problem I have with this way of thinking is that throughout the Bible, from Samuel who anointed and advised the first political leader of the new Israelite kingdom to the Apostle Paul, who not only spoke of truth and justice to kings and political leaders but used his status as a Roman citizen to proclaim the Gospel to Roman authorities, God’s people have been active in political discourse. Beyond Biblical accounts, it is God’s people acting upon their conviction of God’s justice that have been actively responsible for the abolition of slavery on two continents, the establishment of laws designed to insure justice for the underprivileged, destitute, and marginalized and the founding of the United States. How then should we turn our back on our responsibility to bring as much of Gods justice and mercy to our land as possible?

Which brings us to the last argument, which is this: As Christians, we are citizens of God’s kingdom, and as such our allegiance is to Him rather than our government. Therefore, our engagement in the political arena should be limited to prayer, living a godly life, and obeying the laws of the land when they do not contradict God’s law. Anything else is idolatry.

The issue I have with this argument is that it ignores Scripture that indicate that withdrawal from attempts to influence our culture (and all politics is ultimately culture driven) is discouraged by our King and Savior. As the author of one of the articles linked below put it, “Rather than engage in the political process, Christians have a duty to elevate it.” In other words, when we express a political opinion, seek political office, and vote, we are called to “do politics” in a way that models Jesus’ teaching.

I believe that a large part of the confusion over whether Christians should engage in politics is due to the fact that we live under a governmental system that was unknown during Biblical times. The fact is, that the vast majority of people in Biblical times had absolutely no political influence at all in ANY nation, and the concept of voting for or participating in a political campaign is not addressed in Scripture – at least not directly.

However, throughout Scripture we are given examples of prophets, priests, and the leaders of the Church speaking God’s truth to the authorities as well as instructing them (and the people) to act justly, care for the poor and infirm, and protect life and property.

In theory, at least, in our country the ultimate political authority rests in “we the people”, who appoint (by election) representatives to enact and uphold those laws that will best benefit our nation. As Christians, we know that all nations are under God’s authority, and any laws that encourage actions or advocate against God’s principles will not benefit our country.

Given that, it is our duty before God not only to vote with wisdom and prayer, but to speak out in truth and (Godly) love about political (or politicized) issues that impact our individual and collective ability to follow a Godly lifestyle. It is also important that we speak out against wickedness and injustice whether it is popular or not.

Keep in mind that engaging in the political arena does NOT mean to descend to the mean-spirited name calling, ad hominem attacks, and emotional screeds that tend to pass as arguments of late. What I’m advocating is a calm, factual, Biblically based presentation of why you believe your stand on an issue is correct. If you can be persuasive, excellent, but if not, at least be peaceful.

Here are some links to articles that give some further perspective:

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Should Christian Leaders Stay Out of Politics? is an article by Michael Brown gives a bit more depth to the topic

Relevant Magazine has an excellent article entitled 7 Things Christians Need to Remember About Politics.

The entire article by Shane Idleman is a good read, but I think this quote is the most important:

“If God has called a man to preach and teach His Word, that will be his passion. If God has called a Christian to pursue politics, that will be his or her passion, and so on. Problems arise when we become judgmental and fail to respect our differences. Activists should not expect everyone to share their passion for politics, and those who believe Christians should stay out of politics must understand that God clearly calls some Christians to the political arena. God established the concept of government, why would He not desire godly leadership?”

This article gives more discussion, with plenty of Scripture, on the topic

Christians-count.org has a very good article about why Christians should be involved in politics, starting with the premise that we need government.

The IRS 2007 statement on Charities, Churches and Politics explains the Johnson Amendment.
The Regent University Law Review (vol. 21, 2011-2012) has an article by Erik W. Stanley entitled LBJ, THE IRS, AND CHURCHES: THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE JOHNSON AMENDMENT IN LIGHT OF RECENT SUPREME COURT PRECEDENT. It begins with a description of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”, which has since become an annual event.

The “One Less God” Argument

Richard Dawkins and other popular atheist authors and advocates are quite fond of the ‘one less god’ argument, and I’ve heard and read quite a few different self-proclaimed atheists using it lately.

It goes something like this: “We’re both atheists; neither one of us believes in Zeus, Pele, Odin, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just believe in one less god than you. So, believing in YOUR god is just as ignorant and silly.”

I have to work very hard to be charitable when presented this argument. First, it really isn’t an argument; it is a statement of belief. Second, as an argument it is not only logically nonsensical, but relies on a category error to reach the conclusion offered. Continue reading

The Power of Questions

Here’s a question all of us apologists have asked at least once if we are serious about presenting Christ to those who are steeped in a different worldview:

“How do I effectively show them that their worldview is false and destructive without alienating them or shutting them down completely from hearing the Gospel?”

The usual answer I hear is profoundly true: “Follow the leading of the Spirit, and do so with love and an attitude of peace” BUT it isn’t really a complete answer.

You see, God has given us tools to use, and it is foolish for us to either ignore them or fail to learn and be able to use them when appropriate.

One tool is that of the simple question. Simply asking pointed questions with the proper attitude can point out the fallacies and consequences of a worldview without being snarky or confrontational.

Remember, the goal of presenting the Gospel to those who are skeptical or even decidedly opposed to Christ is not to ‘make the sale’; it is to give them enough information and reality to think about for them to come to the point where they can clearly see who Christ is, and then decide whether to follow Him or not. It is God’s work to bring them to Him; it is our task to live our lives and present His truth in such a way that they will hear His voice. Continue reading

LGBT Responses pt. 2

In the last post, I promised to give a few brief answers to the most common objections I hear to the Biblical worldview concerning the LGBT lifestyle. Here they are:

-) Homosexuality is not a sin.
I expect this one from non-Christians; when you deny God’s right to define sin then anything is acceptable as long as you want it to be. What surprises me is when someone who professes to be a disciple of Christ asserts this.
The Bible is very clear, as is Jesus Himself. I explained that in my first post on this subject, but it bears repeating. Both in the Old and New Testaments, homosexual activity is presented as a sin.

Some relevant passages are: Matthew 19:3-5 (discussed in an earlier post here), Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:24-27, 1 Timothy 1:10

-) Homosexuality is not a choice, therefore it cannot be wrong.
This is a not very subtle variation of the “it isn’t a sin” argument, and is far from the ‘fact’ it is usually presented to be. While there are studies cited that indicate that there may be a genetic propensity for homosexuality (cited in the link list below), not only do the most recent concur that the influence is marginal at best, there are no less than eight studies of identical twins that disprove even this theory (also linked below). Continue reading

A Christlike Response to Those Who Support the LGBT Lifestyle

(Note: instead of citing Scripture throughout this article as usual, I will list relevant passages at the end)

The comment I hear quite often about Christians is that we are bigoted/intorlerant/hateful just because we refuse to condone and enable a lifestyle that we disagree with.

Granted, there are a few “Christian” groups and quite a disturbingly large number of people who claim to be Christian that oppose the LGBT supporters and practictioners in ways and with words that are hateful or demeaning in tone. Some of that is in response to the hateful, derogatory, and malicious rhetoric that constantly flows from the LGBT activist community, some out of personal animosity – but all wrong and unChristlike.

The other extreme of Christian response is to either remain silent (and by doing so giving tacit approval) or to actively approve the lifestyle. This approach is often taken out of fear of reprisal or public disapproval, sometimes out of a belief that the LGBT stand is appropriate – but this response is equally wrong, and equally (perhaps even more) unChristlike.

Unfortunately, the constant LGBT rants and name-calling, setting up straw men to knock down, and focusing on the extreme opponents that descend to their methods of public discourse is quite effective in drowning out those of us who attempt to share Christ’s view of this matter in a gentle but firm way.

I’ve noticed that there is a basic reluctance on both sides of the fence to try and really understand the worldview and perspective of the other side. I expect that from the LGBT support side; I find it disturbing from the Christian side. How can we hope to have any kind of an impact, or expect the other side to even consider our view if we refuse to listen to them?

So, here’s a short summary of what I understand both sides to believe. Keep in mind that these are general statements. Continue reading