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Addressing legal marijuana

by Frank King


With less than four months before the it’s legal, there’s a question looming for churches: what, if anything, should they be doing to address the Oct. 17 legalization of recreational marijuana? This is a sensitive issue, fraught with peril for church leaders and boards. In fact, it’s so perilous that some churches declined to even respond to phone messages requesting an interview on the topic. “On one hand, the church has to be wise about welcoming every single person to hear the Gospel and not appearing legalistic,” says Jaime Cisterna, senior pastor of Calgary’s First Evangelical Free Church. “We have to share the same grace we’ve received.”

But it doesn’t end there. “We can’t ignore the effects of things like marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes,” Cisterna continues. “And we can’t ignore the financial effect on families and that many people could become dependent on marijuana.”

Trying to prayerfully stickhandle this issue means different things to different leaders.

In Lethbridge, Victory Church is simply skipping the entire question.

“We stay away from what’s bad or good and share Jesus,” says Campus Pastor Ralph Molyneaux. “The church is already known for what it stands against and we don’t want to exclude people from hearing the Gospel because they smoke pot.”

Molyneaux’s approach goes so far as to avoid putting up posters in the church promoting local pro-life events, since he believes those posters would make anyone who’s had an abortion feel unwelcome. And if they don’t come to church, he says, they don’t hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.

What about addressing marijuana in sermons? That’s another tricky question, according to Aaron Weiss, pastor of Mission Hill Church, a two-year-old congregation in Riverbend.

“We would only address it if we found ourselves using biblical text that would speak to a question like that, which is probably rare.”

In the end, he says, unlike age-old sins of pride, greed and idolatry, “I don’t think this is a large enough issue (to address in a sermon).”

What about stepping outside to have a ‘toke’ break, joining cigarette smokers who already do that? The question of where smoking joints will be permitted is still up in the air, especially as it’s a municipal matter. That means what’s illegal in Calgary may be legal in Red Deer or Lethbridge.

While he regards recreational marijuana as a crutch that doesn’t work, Molyneaux would not stop anyone at Victory Church from having a marijuana break. “They’re attending church and that’s the most important thing,” he maintains.

“My take is I would see it as sinful behaviour like excessive drinking,” says Weiss. “But we assume everyone coming through the doors of Mission Hill Church, including me, is struggling with sin, so we’re not going to stop people.”

For Cisterna, the big question about toke breaks is how they appear to children. For that reason, any ‘toking area’ (should such a thing be allowed under municipal bylaws) would have to be far away from areas frequented by children, “so they don’t think it’s normal.”

One of the most high-profile aspects of legalized recreational marijuana are the business opportunities. Deloitte Canada, an auditing and consulting firm, estimates sales could quickly reach as much as $8 billion. That would make recreational marijuana as big as the alcohol industry.

Should Christians stay away from investing in this industry? Cisterna answers yes and would say so to any First Evangelical Free Church member who asked about it. 

Molyneaux’s church takes this approach: “The minute you start poking at people’s sin, it becomes a barrier at our church doors. Let the Holy Spirit tell them about their behaviours. When we try to handle things ourselves, we screw up.”

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