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Most area clergy aren’t opposed marijuana legalization, but the votes weren’t unanimous

Is your church against the coming legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois? One entity that hasn’t laid down a formal prohibition is the United Churches of Christ. Alex Garncarz, pastor at Zion UCC in Peru, said local congregations and members are encouraged to discern for themselves. “My preference would have been that it not be legalized,” Garncarz said. “But the decision has been made.”
Is your church against the coming legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois? One entity that hasn’t laid down a formal prohibition is the United Churches of Christ. Alex Garncarz, pastor at Zion UCC in Peru, said local congregations and members are encouraged to discern for themselves. “My preference would have been that it not be legalized,” Garncarz said. “But the decision has been made.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a periodic series on what people should know ahead of the legalization of recreational cannabis taking effect Jan. 1.

The countdown is on. Another 71 days and it will be legal to smoke or otherwise ingest marijuana for recreational purposes. Springfield says it’ll be OK after Jan. 1.

But what does your church think about it?

The NewsTribune polled eight pastors from different denominations or Christian movements to ask how they’re advising their flocks on the ethics or morality of recreational marijuana.

In no case did the pastors interviewed give their flocks a blanket OK to smoke recreationally; but some offered nuanced answers about moderation and noted the Bible offers indirect guidance, as marijuana is not directly mentioned in sacred Scripture.

How does your church feel about recreational marijuana?

Catholic

The bishop of Peoria Diocese denounced legalized cannabis in a joint statement issued while the Illinois General Assembly still was debating a legalization bill, which has since been enacted. Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky, in a statement issued jointly with the state’s five other bishops, opposed legalization and recreational usage.

The Rev. David Kipfer, pastor of Ottawa Catholic Parishes, said parishioners need to be clear that medical uses — he defers to physicians for when this is appropriate — are acceptable under church teaching, but any recreational use is contrary to the faith.

“Drugs used to care for us medically are great, and I would extend that to medical cannabis,” Kipfer said. “But we don’t use them to alter our mind or our state or to escape problems. This is contrary to what we believe about the human body and condition.”

Orthodox

“The Orthodox Church condemns drug abuse in the strongest possible terms, for one reason: We love people, and we want to see all men and women flourish as human beings made in the image of their Creator,” said the Rev. Andrew Kishler, pastor of St. George Orthodox Church in Spring Valley.

“We have enough problems as it is with drug and alcohol abuse; I know far too many individuals and families who have suffered great tragedy as a result of drugs,” he said. “As an Orthodox pastor, I cannot see anything good that could come out of the legalization of recreational marijuana. I cannot imagine this doing anything but adding to the problems we already have.

“When it comes to medical marijuana, I am not a doctor, so if the medical establishment sees a medical purpose for it, I will not argue. But recreational marijuana is a different story. I cannot condone marijuana or the use of anything else simply for the purpose of “getting high,” feeling a buzz, or escaping the pressures of life.”

Assembles of God

Pastor Steve Adamson of Faith Church in Peru said he’s getting the question of “Is it right or is it wrong?” He stands by the latter.

“While the Bible does not mention marijuana, it does have much to say about the misuse of alcohol and drunkenness,” Adamson said. “Some argue that getting high is not the same as getting drunk. Yet the point is the same. They both lead to an altered state of mind and a loss of good decision making.”

Adamson reminds his flock of Romans 12:1, which admonishes Christians “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,” and Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit.”

Followers of Jesus Christ do not need to be under the control of anything other than the Spirit of God,” Adamson said, “be it alcohol, marijuana, or any drug that removes our ability to think coherently and honor the Lord with our bodies.”

Methodist

Pastor Brett Todd of Grace United Methodist Church in La Salle said his denomination is governed by a General Conference which determines and publishes laws under titles such as “The Book of Resolutions.”

The Book of Resolutions contains an official statement concerning the use of cannabis: “Like alcohol and tobacco, Marijuana is frequently a precursor to the use of other drugs….We urge all persons to abstain from all use of marijuana, unless it has been legally prescribed in a form appropriate for treating a particular medical condition.”

“Basically, this means all recreational use of marijuana is out,” Todd said.

Todd noted that while the Bible makes no specific reference to marijuana, it does address the use and abuse of drugs.

“I would have to say that the Bible is positive when drugs are not abused and negative when they are abused,” he said. “The best precaution then is to abstain. However, this does not mean that the use of marijuana is an evil practice no more than the use of alcohol is evil. Here the old adage, ‘Moderation in all things’ is pretty good advice.”

United Churches of Christ

Alex Garncarz, pastor of Zion United Church of Christ, said he was not aware of the United Church of Christ officially coming out with a statement regarding recreational use of marijuana, but then added the UCC is not a “from the top down hierarchy church.

“Our local congregations and members are encouraged to discern for themselves. There will be varying opinions in different congregations, even within congregations, regardless of what our national organization decides. But they are mulling it over at this time.”

Garncarz said his personal thoughts are that marijuana is an intoxicant just like alcohol, though marijuana’s effects and biochemistry are different than alcohol.

“In both cases common sense and morals should be applied. Ethical issues are the same for marijuana as any other intoxicant. Certain activities, like driving, should be avoided. Common sense should prevail. Like with alcohol consumption, if you choose to use marijuana legally, be responsible. Don’t put yourself in a position that could cause harm to yourself or others.

“Any argument we could make whether marijuana should be legal in our state is a moot point. My preference would have been that it not be legalized. But the decision has been made. Now let’s do all we can to educate and encourage those who use marijuana to be responsible and do the right thing.”

Presbyterian

The Rev. Roy Backus of the First Presbyterian Church in Morris said the Presbyterian Church, USA has long studied not only drug abuse but also approaches to drug enforcement and the resulting report has been critical of the punitive approach to combating abuse.

Backus said the report recommended that state and federal governments decriminalize personal cannabis production, possession and use, though the Presbyterian Church, USA “did not recommend legalization at this time because an evidence-based policy requires further research, particularly into the impact of cannabis on the developing brains of late adolescents, and too swift a move to legalization will create a trillion dollar industry which will put profits before people.”

“Most importantly, with concern for the harmful effects of some drugs, addictions, impaired human performance, and harm to personal relationships, the PCUSA recognized that drug use, in general, has spiritual dimensions which can orient life away from life with God in community.

Evangelical Pentecostal

“Making drugs legal doesn’t make them good or even right,” said the Rev. Jon Wenger of Heritage Christian Center in Ottawa. “The makers of OxyContin proved approval doesn’t always help users. Many became addicted and were left devastated by tragedy.

“Who cares for the child or dependent when the caregiver has zoned out with drugs. Depression, anxiety, and fear are at higher levels than ever, so the answer isn’t more ways for people to escape emotionally. To avoid life with drugs is never the solution; it breeds greater hopelessness!

“The only hope for humanity is Jesus Christ, who came to save all no matter the problem. Seek Him and live!”

Pentecostal

Pastor Ron Townsley of United Pentecostal Church, Princeton expressed his “dismay” over legalization of recreational marijuana, which he has denounced from his pulpit.

“Simply because something becomes legal does not deem it acceptable and permissible,” Townsley said. “Just because one ‘can’ does not mean one ‘should.’ Sin often takes root in our tiny permissions.

“Marijuana has always been associated with the misuse of drugs and a precursor to greater dependence on harder drugs. The effects of these drugs have consistently revealed diminished mental alertness and a deterioration of a moral lifestyle. Safeguards, like guardrails, serve society for the good by protecting its citizens by proper placement. Guardrails are not to be seen as restrictions, robbing us of our liberties; rather, they are protections that reduce existing dangers. Common sense and wisdom have voices and should not be ignored.

“To maintain a safe and civil society we must consider more than the immediate concerns of a matter, we must also consider the ultimate concerns. Foresight is a mark of maturity. To focus on the immediate revenue to be made rather than the ultimate costs to lives morally is myopic.”

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or TCollins@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_Court.

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The countdown to legalization
On June 25, Gov. J.B. Pritzker enacted Public Act 101-27, making Illinois the 11th state to legalize recreational cannabis. The law takes effect Jan. 1 and permits adults 21 years of age and older to smoke marijuana and to possess approximately one ounce.