God’s Gift or the Devil’s Weed? Cannabis in Conservative Christian Communities
Cannabis had no part in my Christian upbringing. During childhood and adolescence, Sundays consisted of hitting “snooze” on morning alarms, eating large mouthfuls of homemade macaroni at youth group and highlighting passages in my teen’s copy of the New Testament. God was a comforting presence that wrapped around me from morning until night.
When I graduated from high school and went to a Christian university, my faith was nurtured by lectures and coffee shop conversations on the intersections of theology, life and the beautiful entanglement of suffering, hope and redemption. As my understanding of God, Jesus and biblical teachings deepened, I realized that the lessons from my youth were not always as black and white as they seemed.
Cannabis and Christianity
The traditional Christian perspective on marijuana is the same as with any substance that can be abused—and subsequently invoke sin. In the Bible, this view is expressed in reference to drunkenness, which can weaken a Christian’s convictions and self-control through alterations to their perception, mood, inhibitions and cognition. Since these weakened states can also be caused by marijuana, it should thus be avoided at all costs.
John Piper, a Calvinist Baptist Pastor and the founder of the website, desiringGod takes this idea further by describing cannabis consumption as destruction of property, since a Christian’s body can be viewed as a vessel to house God’s glory.
“‘The body is meant for the Lord, and the Lord for the body’ (1 Corinthians 6:13). Keep it clean and ready for his use,” he writes. “Don’t dull your God-given powers of seeing clearly, and observing accurately, and thinking soundly, and remembering helpfully.”
However, as those in the cannabis community already know, the benefits of using the plant often outweigh the possible downsides. For Deb Button, a self-proclaimed soccer mom from Denver, Colorado, cannabis has not only been integral to her physical health, but her spiritual health as well.
Button was using cannabis to treat severe migraines when she experienced something unexpected. “One night I got high and had the most incredible spiritual experience of my life,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m sitting in my living room and the cannabis was kicking in at a higher dose, and I could literally feel God. I was filled with love, an indwelling of love.”
Unable to contain herself, Button immediately started biking around her neighbourhood. She explained that this was the feeling she previously found lacking in her church.
“I loved everyone I saw. I said, ‘Thank you, God. That was the feeling I always wanted in church!'”
Inspired, Button posted an ad on Craigslist seeking kindred spirits. She was contacted by others who practice Christianity by getting high and reading scripture. This led to the formation of the Stoner Jesus Bible Study in May 2015, where today more than 30 members gather each week at Button’s home or a local coffee house to socialize, smoke marijuana and learn about God.
The medical side of the coin
Of course, cannabis can go beyond being a spiritual aid. For Ontario resident and born-again Christian Priscilla Lavell, it was an unexpected life saver.
“I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when I was 16,” says Lavell. “It got to the point where I was an adult and couldn’t walk anymore. I had to move back home while I was pursuing my degree in health science, which I was taking to hopefully find a cure for RA.”
“I never was a big drinker. I always liked smoking more and kept a couple grams with me to smoke on weekends. One day I thought ‘Hey, I should try it for my pain’ because it always made me feel relaxed and happy. So I went and hid behind the shed and smoked, and I felt great. It was really miraculous to find out that it not only made me happy, but was able to take my pain away. Now I praise God whenever I take it.”
Lavell was approved for a medical marijuana licence by Health Canada in 2002 and uses cannabis daily to manage her pain. Due to a lack of community support and cannabis knowledge in the broader Christian community she started the Facebook group, Worldwide Christians for Cannabis, in 2007.
“There were no other groups like that with other Christians. I was the only one in my family with RA and the only one using cannabis, so I kind of felt alone.”
A different biblical approach
Lavell believes that in order for Christians to open their minds, they need to understand that cannabis not only has health benefits, but a biblical history. She discovered Polish etymologist, Sula Benet, who contends that the word cannabis has early origins in Semitic languages, including Hebrew. The Hebrew word kaneh-bosm appears throughout the Old Testament in the books of Exodus, the Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel as an incense and anointing oil used in religious ceremonies. Kan means “reed” or “hemp,” while bosom translates to “aromatic.” It was originally mistranslated as calamus, a marsh plant that does not have any of the qualities or value assigned to kaneh-bosm.
“That was an eye-opener for me,” says Lavell. “If the Christian community knew about this, it would change the whole dynamic of thinking that it’s ‘bad’.”
Christianity and tolerance
Adam Veldman* is a regular church attendee and a consultant to a licensed Ontario grower. He advocates for a holistic Christian perspective on marijuana instead of pitting “good” against “bad.”
“I think for a lot of people the issue becomes severely polarized between economic positives and societal norms, when the Christ-centered approach considers both equally,” says Veldman. “This is part of nature, God put it here on this planet for a purpose, and to talk about it in the matter we have been is like saying houseflies and mosquitoes have no purpose on this planet and we should eradicate them because they’re a nuisance. The picture is not black and white.”
Like Lavell, Veldman has benefited from cannabis, which he says tempers the symptoms of his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by keeping him calm and focused.
“I’ve got a bong in my hand right now,” he said during the interview, as it bubbled in the background. “And I’ve already smoked earlier today. I would literally be bouncing off the walls otherwise, just out of restlessness.”
As for me, I have neither personal experience nor a current need to consume cannabis. But I am choosing to learn about it the same way I learn about everything; with the humility, compassion and grace my faith expects of me.