I’ve Been a Changin’, As You Can Plainly See

I’m sitting in my office smoking a fat bowl and watching Doug Wilson’s Q&A session on cannabis, posted soon after the news that Colorado and Washington passed their constitutional referendums allowing the recreational use of cannabis. Pastor Wilson’s position is not new… a few years ago (2008?), he wrote a position paper entitled “One Toke Over the Line”, (conspicuously missing from the original site) arguing that there is no place for cannabis consumption in the Christian life. If there’s one thing we can be grateful for, it’s that Pastor Wilson has consistent positions, and in last year’s video, he makes some of the same arguments as in that position paper.

Let me caveat this response by stating my love for Pastor Wilson and his writing. No one can fairly accuse him of whimsical positions, and his thoughts, while often controversial, are consistently thought through and defended Biblically. He’s also appropriately nuanced when our culture wants simplistic, black-and-white answers to complicated moral problems. His books have been a profound blessing to me and my family, and while I ultimately disagree with his positions on cannabis, I believe that even the best people have to be wrong every now and then to evidence that no mortal man can be right all the time.

In Pastor Wilson’s short video, he makes a few arguments, and I’d like to break down the positions he lays out.

  1. Cannabis should be decriminalized.
  2. Smoking cannabis is a sin.
  3. Smoking cannabis is an excommunicatable sin.
  4. Not all sins should be crimes because it’s often impractical to prosecute some sins as crimes.
  5. Smoking cannabis is not comparable to consuming alcohol.
  6. The whole point of smoking cannabis is to “get stupid”.
  7. While there are “God honoring” uses for beer, there are none for cannabis.
  8. Alcohol use that inhibits “clearheadedness” is sinful.

There’s no argument from me on point 1, and polls show that many of the people in Colorado and Washington who voted to legalize cannabis did so not with the goal of seeing consumption increased, but because they thought that the resources being used to suppress consumption could be better spent elsewhere. The so-called “War on Drugs” over the last century has been such a disaster that even if cannabis consumption could be shown to be the most grievous of sins, the response by our civil government has been even more so. Since we’re in agreement, I won’t press that point, but if any readers are in doubt, there are other excellent resources discussing the subject.

Despite Wilson’s statement that smoking should not be a crime, he does state that it is a sin, and more-so, a sin so grievous as to warrant being cast out of the church. The lack of any nuance is so out of character for Pastor Wilson, and enforces the position by calling medical usages a “farce”.

As to the topic of “clearheadedness”, I have found that the reality of inebriation due to alcohol consumption is much more gray than Pastor Wilson would have us believe. During the Q&A, Wilson agrees with the interviewers statement that “I can have a beer to the glory of God and all is well; I just can’t cross the line of getting drunk.” The premise of that statement is that there is a “line” to getting drunk, while the reality is that no such line exists. Ken Gentry, in his excellent book “God Gave Wine“, makes the argument that “drunkenness” is a very subjective state. He writes, “Obviously, the Christian must avoid drunkenness resulting from overindulgence. And just as obviously different people have different capacities or tolerances for safe and wholesome alcohol consumption.” While our civil government loves to make rule upon rule regarding blood alcohol levels and field sobriety tests, the reality is that the effects of alcohol are so subjective as to make “drunkenness” undefinable.

Biblically, there is strong evidence that certain levels of inebriation is subjectively appropriate. Psalm 104:15 refers to “wine to gladden the heart of man”, and Proverbs 31:6-7 encourages the reader to “give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.”

In contrast, there are times when abstinence is appropriate. Proverbs 31:4-5 states that “it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” We see that authority requires sobriety, and kings have given a special calling that requires a level of selflessness not imposed on society in general.

As a rule, the Bible acknowledges a sliding scale of allowed inebriation depending on the responsibilities one has been given. At one extreme is the rule of the land who takes the lives of an entire country into his hands and should be living a lifestyle of sobriety, while at the other is the man dying and in pain, to whom inebriation is a blessing to forget pain. We can extrapolate that in between is a sliding scale of responsibility which would dictate the level of inebriation appropriate. I would agree with Pastor Wilson that a policy prohibiting airline pilots from cannabis consumption a number of days before a flight would be appropriate, just as policies prohibiting them to be drunk are already on the books.

As the Bible allows for a sliding scale, it follows that there may be times when delegating responsibility in anticipation of inebriation is fully appropriate. Acknowledging that one is too drunk to operate a vehicle or heavy machinery is not an admission of sin. Planning on having a designated driver is showing responsible foresight.

As “incapacitating” levels of inebriation are allowed, the argument that “all pot smoking leads to ‘getting stupid'” ends up rather impotent. Even if it were the case that all cannabis consumption leads to the inability to drive a car or solve complex mathematics (which I do not concede), “getting stupid” is no more immoral than “being stuffed” after a large meal. (Incidentally, to argue that being incapacitated physically is somehow less immoral than being so mentally is an argument from Gnosticism.)

I would make the argument that “drunkenness” is a lifestyle, not an event, just as gluttony is defined as a lifestyle of consumption, not eating too much at a buffet. My plan is to develop that argument in a future post, but for now, consider Proverbs 23:20, and think to yourself how the writer expects us to identify a drunkard.

I do have a lingering concern about the limitations that Wilson is promoting when comes to alcohol, and would be interested in seeing his position more explicitly. His arguments on cannabis lead me to believe that he would condemn anyone who feels any effects from consuming alcohol or smoking tobacco. I hope I’m wrong, and would love to see evidence otherwise, and if I am wrong, I would wonder how he allows that the effects that comes from alcohol is somehow more allowable than the effects of cannabis.

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