When a pastor's advice on a moral issue fails, the usual culprit is oversimplification. I feel this keenly on the pot question, having fought on both sides. As a non-believing protester marching on Wisconsin's state capitol with a giant pot-leaf shaped Legalize it! sign, I saw dozens of otherwise law-abiding friends serve lengthy prison terms for buying, selling, and smoking pot. Now, as a pastor I see the destructive power of the substances that people use to medicate themselves. Now I'm learning to grow past oversimplification from either side.
Here are a few common oversimplifications, followed by the legitimate objections you'll encounter if you use them:
"Pot is bad for you, and our bodies are temples that we need to take care of."
So is alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and sugar. What in this world is not bad for you? Bus exhaust causes cancer, and according to California, so does everything else. My missionary friends in Nepal constantly fall seriously ill due to contaminated water, bacteria, chemicals, etc. Should they abandon their post? Super smog in China is killing thousands of people daily. Is it immoral to choose to live in a Chinese city? Should I avoid tap water to stay free from the chlorine and fluoride?
"Pot is worse than alcohol. You can't use it in moderation."
Worse specifically how? Certainly not according to any study (or basic, cursory glance) at the impact of either substances on our society at broad or individual levels. And what about using THC in a way that does not require smoking, such as vapor, brownies, or pills? What about using THC in small doses, equivalent to an IPA or glass of wine? Who measures intoxication? Is it a certain percentage? Is it a particular hindrance on one's capacity to function? Is it OK to drink two beers? Three? Is tolerance different for different people?
"Pot is never mentioned in the Bible, but wine is."
T-shirts and coffee are not in the Bible, either. Take off your shirt; throw away your mug!
"Pot is legal now, which means it is OK for Christians to use."
Is "OK to use" the Christian's measure of goodness? I could be an alcoholic, adulterous, deceitful, prescription-abusing, manipulative, hate-filled connoisseur of grotesque pornography and still be OK, legally and socially. Does the government's stamp of approval mean I should partake, or even can partake with moral uprightness? What about dope smoking is truly profitable for you and, more importantly, for your neighbor? What would Jesus smoke?
"Pot has medicinal qualities. It should be seen as helpful, not destructive."
Don't many substances have "medicinal" qualities? What do you even mean by "medicinal"? Tylenol is helpful until its acetaminophen eats your liver. Even if pot does help in some way, it can also make you lose control, right?
We could go on and on. Blanket declarations or position papers will not address the complexities of individual human lives. Oversimplification on this issue will necessarily neglect truth, and we want to be people of truth.
A green-pasture strategy
After "Mike" stepped out of my office, I felt uneasy. I had been unprepared for his legal status, and all I really did was exchange a new law for the old. Rather than asking "Is this legal?" because of my counsel to him, he was now only asking "Is this profitable?" I wish I could go back to that conversation and instead invite him to ask: "Why do I do what I do?"