What Evangelicals Miss in the Marijuana Debate


When President Obama insinuated to David Remnick of “The New Yorker” last week that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, it was more than a buzzkill to anti-pot advocates. It was an affront to many evangelicals who have opposed legalizing weed since at least the Reagan administration. The war on drugs, a cornerstone issue of the culture wars during the 1980s and 1990s, had all but flickered out in recent years. Americans, including religious ones, have been more focused on the economy, terrorism, and other social issues of late.

But when Washington and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana last year, the embers of argument warmed. Only this time, some evangelicals—long considered to be among the country’s strongest anti-pot advocates—seemed less passionate about the issue while others decided to keep fighting. Unfortunately, those believers still making the case against cannabis appear to be focusing on the individual and not social elements of the issue.

In a post bearing the cheeky title, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot”, prominent pastor John Piper argued that Christians should oppose marijuana use because the Bible teaches “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

“Keep [your body] clean and ready for [God's] use,” Piper wrote. “Don’t dull your God-given powers of seeing clearly, and observing accurately, and thinking soundly, and remembering helpfully.”

Similarly, Joe Carter, director of communications for the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Conventionargued on his blog that marijuana use is almost always sinful. Carter told me that though the Bible doesn’t specifically mention marijuana, “we can reason analogically from Scripture to the similar case of alcohol.” Because the Christians scriptures prohibit drunkenness, Carter reasons that marijuana intoxication would also be a sin.

Fewer than one in four Americans think smoking pot is a sin, according to a 2013 Public Religion Research Institute poll. Only 29 percent of white evangelical Protestants said they believed the Bible prohibits its use.


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