Until recently, the uniform prohibition of marijuana in the United States allowed Christian leaders to avoid public comment on its use. Marijuana was simply illegal and, being illegal, was simply off limits to the Christian faithful. Now that prohibition seems to be following “traditional marriage” out of the states, Christians may be wondering whether legal marijuana use is morally acceptable. Writing for the editors at Christianity Today, Andy Crouch says no.
Or rather, he sort of says no. Crouch builds his position atop the notion of Christian Freedom, a construct that has been upstaged lately by a politicized notion of “religious liberty.” Christian Freedom refers to the Apostle Paul’s distinction between things that are permissible and things that are helpful. Saved by grace, Christians are free to explore all things. But some things have harmful effects, and should therefore be avoided. Marijuana, the CT editors believe, is distinctly unhelpful.
So to be specific, Crouch says this:
We at Christianity Today believe Christians are absolutely free to use marijuana (where legalized). And, when it comes to pot in our particular cultural context, we think it would be foolish to use that freedom.
For the CT editors, the moral quality of marijuana use seems to depend entirely upon the “cultural context” in which it occurs. And since our particular context is not conducive to marijuana use, marijuana use would be “foolish” within it. Crouch explains:
In our North American context, what is the function of pot? It is associated with superficially pleasant disengagement from the world. It connotes a kind of indolence and “tuning out” that is not an option for people who want to become agents of compassion and neighbor love, not to mention its association with all kinds of immaturity. Are these the eternal truths of pot, the only possible way marijuana can be used? No. But these cultural realities are still relevant for the discerning Christian.
Cultural context thus emerges as a web of assumptions, rather than something more tangible. Marijuana is bad because it is “associated” with this, it “connotes” that, and it has a further “association with” this. Drawing specifically on the stereotypes most closely at hand, Crouch never comments on what exactly marijuana is, what it does, or what purposes it may serve once it is legalized and destigmatized.
Unwilling to challenge his stereotypes, he can’t muster the acknowledgment that sometimes, faced with evidence they’ve been wrong, cultures change.
To his credit, Crouch doesn’t stoop to Cheech and Chong jokes, or crack wise about snacks and cartoons. But his serious-sounding argument never goes quite so far as to be actually serious. Like same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization is ascendant in the United States. Christianity Today is well-positioned to provide thoughtful guidance to thoughtful citizens who need it. But before they can do that, the editors need to commitment themselves to thoughtful thought.