What Would Jesus Smoke?
The Christian doctrine on bong hits.
On Monday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a First Amendment case involving a high-school student who was suspended for holding a sign that said "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." His provocative slogan turns out to have been little more than a ploy to get on TV. But what do Christian groups really think about marijuana?
It depends on the Christians, and it depends on the weed. Many major Christian denominations and religious groups have issued statements supporting medicinal marijuana use. The Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and the Episcopal Church have all either issued resolutions or signed statements supporting the use of marijuana under the supervision of a doctor. The Episcopal Church's 1982 resolution even delves into politics by saying that it "urges the adoption by Congress and all states of statutes providing that the use of marijuana be permitted when deemed medically appropriate by duly licensed medical practitioners."
There are biblical rationales for such a position. The Presbyterian Church's position on pot-smoking, which they adopted during a June 2006 General Assembly, notes that Matthew 25:35 calls for people to give aid to those who are suffering. Many Christians in favor of medicinal marijuana use this line of argument, saying that if it helps ease the pain of people dying from cancer, it's a good thing.
But churches that support prescription cannabis don't always endorse bong hits just for the fun of it. The United Methodist Church considers marijuana a gateway drug. At the Episcopal Church's 1982 General Convention, a resolution was passed "proclaim[ing]there are harmful effects which can be permanently disabling with the use of marijuana." The Presbyterian Church is less strict; it stated in 1971 and again in 2006 that "marijuana is not properly classified … and conclusive evidence is lacking that it produces physiological effects or automatically leads to the use of more serious, addictive drugs."
Other churches take more of a hard-line approach to marijuana. The Catholic Church says that drugs "constitute direct co-operation in evil" and does not seem to make exceptions for marijuana. The Vatican has condemned legalizing "soft drugs" like marijuana, and its newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, recently scolded Italian lawmakers for liberalizing pot-possession laws. The Mormon church (whose members consider themselves Christians) also strongly advises members to refrain from smoking marijuana, though it has no established position on medical use.
Some small Christian groups, like Christians for Cannabis, advocate smoking pot. A fringe Christian and Jewish sect calling itself Temple 420 uses marijuana as a sacrament. Police raided the temple in February, and the pastor is facing drug charges.
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Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project from Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that covers emerging technologies and their implications for society and policy.
Photograph of cannabis leaf on Slate's homepage by John Foxx/Stockbyte Silver/Getty Images.