Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll: Part Two
This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith.
Last week I talked about how many people think that the big things the church is opposed to are “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.” I tried to start breaking that myth by tackling the relationship between Christianity and Sex. This week, we’re talking the next item on the list: Christianity and Drugs.
First off, we have to acknowledge that the word “drugs” is actually pretty broad term. After all, good luck finding a Christian church that doesn’t give people coffee—which contains a stimulant known as caffeine. You may have heard of it. You can move out from that to acknowledge the Christian use of alcohol in traditions that permit it and the increasing acceptance of marijuana use in Christian communities.
In the end, a drug is defined as a substance or compound that is either administered or eaten with the goal of a certain effect. Neuroscientist William Struthers talks about how drugs begin as a taboo (yes, caffeinated tea and soda are still seen as taboo in some religions).
But then, over time, people understand that a drug has a medical or therapeutic property. So, if it can alleviate suffering or disease without too much danger from side effects, it begins to be seen as a possible therapeutic. We’ve seen marijuana move from taboo to therapeutic over the past couple of decades.
The next stage is recreational acceptance. It is socially acceptable (and also acceptable in many churches) to drink alcohol for the pure enrichment of lives, for simple recreational sake.. I think of Psalm 114:5, where the psalmist reminds us that God gave us “wine to gladden the human heart.”
The final stage is when a drug is seen as a right: that is, something that I don’t only get to choose to have for the fun of it, but that is my right to have if I want it.
When it comes to drugs that are illegal or socially taboo in some quarters, I think Christianity needs to have a careful and reflective conversation. It’s not just about what they do to our bodies. After all, everything we take in affects our bodies. It’s about how what we take in affects us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
A lack of reflective thinking is why we have a society where 20% of all incarcerated people are there for a drug related offense… but doctors overprescribing opioids legally creates the public health crisis we now face.
Critical reflection on history and purpose is also important. Nixon’s domestic policy advisor, John Ehrlichman, claimed in 2016 that Nixon “knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and the blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.” Now, Erlichman’s claim here should be scrutinized (after all, he never really forgave Nixon for letting him go to prison as a result of Watergate), but there is likely some truth to this.
It is undeniable that the war on drugs has disproportionately affected minority communities. Drug enforcement often targets locations of poverty, which tend to have more minority populations, and to spend less time targeting wealthy or suburban communities. The difference in penalties for crack and powder cocaine had clear racial implications given the different levels of use for each in different communities.
So, the war on drugs has had profound racial implications that Christians must grapple with, that Christians must work to make right.
In the end, Christianity must be more reflective about how it considers drugs, what it believes is healthy and unhealthy. Effort must be made to encourage people not to self-medicate with drugs (or food or alcohol for that matter), when the deeper symptoms could be better treated through mental health therapy, for instance. Concern must be raised about any drugs or chemicals that have addictive qualities and can create a state of dependence. These are the questions a person of faith should ask her or himself when trying to understand what a Christian view of drugs must be.
Because “just say no” is clearly not enough.
Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.