Today, my home state of Washington legalizes the recreational use of marijuana. This decision, of course, leads to a host of pastoral questions and issues.
I have been asked these questions for years, as Mars Hill Church has always reached out to a high (pun intended) percentage of single young guys living typical, irresponsible urban lives. These guys are generally not very theological, but curiously they tend to know at least two Bible verses:
“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth.’” (Genesis 1:29, NIV)
“Thou shall not judge.” (Luke 6:37, otherwise known as the catch-all, in-case-of-guilty-emergency-break-glass verse, paraphrased)
Over the years, my default answer has been Romans 13:1–7, which basically says that believers must submit to the laws of government as long as there is no conflict with the higher laws of God in Scripture. This was a simple way to say “no” to recreational pot smoking.
But now that recreational marijuana use is no longer illegal (according to my state laws, at least), the guiding question is now twofold:
Is using marijuana sinful, or is it wise?
Some things are neither illegal (forbidden by government in laws) nor sinful (forbidden by God in Scripture), but they are unwise. For example, eating a cereal box instead of the food it contains is not illegal or sinful—it’s just foolish. This explains why the Bible speaks not only of sin, but also of folly, particularly in places such as the book of Proverbs. There are innumerable things that won’t get you arrested or brought under church discipline, but they are just foolish and unwise—the kinds of things people often refer to by saying, “That’s just stupid.”
I have smoked pot as many times as I have been pregnant. I grew up next to the Sea-Tac airport before the area was incorporated as a city. Practically, this meant there was no local law enforcement. Drug deals took place openly and frequently on Pacific Highway South, which was also legendary for brazen prostitution. I grew up in a home where my then-Catholic parents warned my four siblings and me about drug use. I had many friends who ranged from recreational drug users to addicts. I saw drugs used in front of me numerous times. I even buried one friend who overdosed as a teen. However, by God’s grace, I have never touched any drug of any kind, including marijuana. I have never even taken a puff of a cigarette, though I did try one Cuban cigar over a decade ago while in the Bahamas. That’s the sum total of my entire life’s smoking experience.
Simply put, my view of recreational marijuana use is not motivated by guilt from my past or present, nor do I have any desire to partake in the future. I have never smoked weed, I will never smoke weed, and I will strongly urge our five children to never smoke weed. As a pastor, I would never encourage anyone to smoke weed recreationally. (Medicinal use is another matter, which we’ll deal with later in this article.)
Pot as Self-Medication
Frankly, I think that our entire Western culture is addicted to self-medication with food, alcohol, pot and other drugs, sex, prescriptions, etc. My doctor is a naturopath, and I am one who prefers to avoid prescriptions for anything, except as a last resort.
Furthermore, as a pastor I have noticed that people tend to stop maturing when they start self-medicating. Everyone has very tough seasons in life, but by persevering through them we have an opportunity to mature and grow as people. Those who self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol (as well as other things) often thwart maturity as they escape the tough seasons of life rather than face them. This explains why some people can be biologically much older than they are emotionally and spiritually.
Practically, what also concerns me is the fact that young men are the most likely to smoke weed and, by seemingly all measurable variables, are immature, irresponsible and getting worse.
Young men are less likely than their female peers to attend college, work a job or attend church. For the first time in America’s history, the majority of births to women under the age of 30 are now out of wedlock—meaning the majority of those kids have no experience of their father ever being married to their mother.
Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:11 are timely: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” There is nothing wrong with being a boy, so long as you are a boy. But when a man acts like a boy, that’s a real problem. A recent article even noted that young men are now less likely than ever to own a car, as taking public transportation allows them to use their smartphone more hours every day playing video games and downloading porn. The last thing these guys need is to get high, be less motivated and less productive; instead, they need to “act like men, [and] be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
Also, many will attempt to treat marijuana usage as analogous to alcohol. But while the Bible does speak of alcohol, it never mentions marijuana, which means the issue requires a great deal of consideration before arriving at a thoughtful Christian position.
All that said, I hope this helps Christians think through the matter of marijuana in an informed way. It is by no means meant to serve as a definitive word on the subject, nor are these thoughts meant to be comprehensive, or even unchangeable. I have a lot to learn and consider on these issues, and along with many fellow Christian leaders am seeking to develop thoughtful and helpful answers to these questions. I want to thank in advance those who will contribute to the conversation so that we can all become more informed and better counselors by God’s grace, for God’s glory, and for the good of God’s people.
Mark Driscoll is the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash.