The church’s official stance on hot button or controversial topics has typically lagged behind progressive sentiments found elsewhere in the world. Cannabis is no exception. In 2014, Pope Francis, head of the Catholic church, condemned legalization efforts, saying, "Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called 'recreational drugs,’ are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce desired effects."
But not every religion and denomination views marijuana so negatively. For example, many who practice Judaism consider using medical marijuana a mitzvah. Even the Orthodox Union, the largest kosher certification agency in the US, gave its stamp of approval to medical cannabis extracts manufactured by New York's Vireo Health. There’s also Philadelphia's Rastafarian temple, which embraces cannabis at their services (and is approved by the state). And let's not forget Denver's Church of Cannabis, which is certainly pro-pot, despite experiencing some legal woes as a result.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Church of Latter Day Saints, which rebuked a medical cannabis program in Utah, and helped push a more restrictive bill instead. Pro-pot activists even sued the state, arguing that the new bill undermines many elements of the voter-approved measure, and that the LDS Church’s involvement in the legislative process violates the separation of church and state.
So different religions have different opinions about pot — and they always have. That said, the view of the mainstream Christian church and its many denominations doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinions of its parishioners. While many still view it as the devil’s lettuce, other religious folks seem to be warming to the plant.
One website, God’s Greenery, claims to be the first online platform for Christians offering reliable information about CBD and hemp. The publication focuses on sharing educational content about hemp, including testimonials, legal updates, CBD’s ties to scripture, and op-eds about topics such as the lack of CBD coverage in Christian media. God’s Greenery is part of Miraculo Inc., an integrated media company which also includes cannabisMD.
The site’s Editor-in-Chief, Natalie Gillespie is the co-author of Successful Adoption: A Guide for Christian Families and was formerly the editor of the women’s lifestyle magazine mtl. She’s been a devout Christian for 25 years, and describes herself as having an "insatiable curiosity" that led her to explore the plant more.
“Learning that many of the natural [compounds] in hemp and marijuana can actually be beneficial to the body was an eye-opener," Gillespie told MERRY JANE. Over email, the editor of God’s Greenery discussed the publication and how it came to be, as well as the Christian church’s evolving relationship with hemp and cannabis.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
MERRY JANE: How did God's Greenery come about?
Natalie Gillespie: GodsGreenery.com launched in November of 2018 after a team of Christians was charged with building something that did not exist — a place where Christ followers could learn about and talk about CBD. I came on board in mid-January, just six months ago. In looking at the exploding CBD landscape, it was obvious that the community of Christians had no place to go if they wanted to get educated about CBD. God’s Greenery was created to fill that hole.
Who are the doctors that write for the site? How did they get involved with God’s Greenery and what’s their relationship with both religion and cannabis?
We connect with the medical community for the latest research and findings in the space. For example, Dr. Jason Mitchell is a doctor of naturopathic medicine who has helped develop hundreds of vitamins and supplements that are on the market today. He is a dedicated Christian who attends church regularly and is an active part of the Tampa Bay Tres Dias community. He also cofounded HempFusion.
What is the discussion like within the Christian church community concerning cannabis?
It’s interesting to me. Many Christians are using CBD, but I do not see evidence that the Christian community as a whole — meaning the pastorates (churches) and Christian media — are talking about it openly. If the FDA public hearing on CBD that was just held on May 31st showed us anything, it’s that the American public as a whole – not just Christians – is still largely uneducated about the differences between marijuana and CBD. The American public is hearing the words “cannabis” and “CBD” a lot and seeing them everywhere, but there is still a huge gap in knowledge.
Christians, I would say, tend to be extra cautious about jumping on board cultural trends, and therefore are even slower to become knowledgeable about what could be perceived as controversial issues. We instinctively feel it might be better or easier to stay away from these kinds of things altogether. With the exception of GodsGreenery.com, the ongoing discussion you can find among Christians consists mostly of personal testimonies spreading organically among the friends we know and on social media.
As the first faith-based platform website dedicated to giving the community of Christ followers well-researched, up-to-date articles about all things CBD, God’s Greenery is leading the conversation. I recently guest-posted blogs on the huge Christian platform BeliefNet.com, was interviewed by another well-respected biggie ChristianityToday.com, talked about CBD with influencers at the National Religious Broadcasters convention, and appeared on the television show Real Hope with Briane Dennison. My goal with God’s Greenery is to give Christians a place to safely, thoughtfully explore CBD from an editorial position that always considers body, mind, and spirit.
When did Christian interest in cannabis start to heat up? What are the pressing topics?
I don’t think it has “heated up” yet. In terms of the current beliefs about cannabis and whether or not Christians should use it, at the edges of Christianity there are some who openly embrace its use, even recreationally. On the other end of the spectrum are believers who would advocate steering clear of all cannabis products, period.
I’m finding in my editorial work with God’s Greenery that the majority of Christ followers fall somewhere in the middle. They feel perfectly OK, even excited about, the potential health benefits of CBD once they get educated enough to know that it does not produce a “high.” Some Christians also accept the use of medical marijuana as a safer and more natural alternative to some of the prescription drugs on the market that have more adverse side effects.
What about recreational cannabis use does not resonate with the Christian community you’re referring to?
There are a few big sticking points for Christians, I think, when it comes to using cannabis just to get high. Most Christians choose not to embrace substances that alter our personality or intellect, even temporarily. Take alcohol, for example. Many Christians choose not to drink at all. Some drink alcohol in limited amounts socially, but not to the point of getting drunk. Using alcohol, cannabism or any other substance simply to achieve a high doesn’t jive with some of the New Testament Bible verses, like 1 Peter 5:8, which literally says to “be sober.” When I compared concordances that interpret the original Greek word for “sober” in these verses, it means sober from intoxication, as well as being thoughtful in our actions.
We also believe our lives belong to God, so we should not allow ourselves to be controlled by anything else. There is still a widely accepted belief that cannabis is addicting and can lead users to want to try other, harder drugs. There are scientific studies that debunk that, and there are others that support it. If there is any question about a substance harming our judgment or causing us to depend on it when we are supposed to fully rely on God as our strength, then most Christians will opt out.
Finally, we believe when we accepted Christ into our lives as our Savior, the Holy Spirit moves into us to give us God’s comfort, wisdom, guidance, counsel and strength. We believe that our physical bodies literally house the Spirit of God, and we need to give Him a healthy home. First Corinthians 6:12 tells us to honor God with our bodies. For example, I personally am not convinced that any substance other than the air we breathe was meant to be put into our lungs, whether that be tobacco, nicotine, vape juices, hookah, cannabis, or anything else. I feel convicted that chemicals might harm the one set of lungs God gave me. So I choose, for those reasons, not to smoke anything.
Why are churches struggling to connect with parishioners on the subject of cannabis? How has God’s Greenery worked with churches to improve this?
God’s Greenery, I hope, can create some new connections among Christians and churches. Pastors can share stories on the site. They can learn about CBD themselves. If a pastor can talk knowledgeably about CBD, he’s showing that his faith can also be culturally relevant, not just an antiquated ritual.
Some say that the church's hesitant stance towards cannabis is an attitude that a big portion of the public has shifted away from. What would you say about that?
I’m not sure I would agree globally, but Western, and especially American, culture in recent decades has definitely accepted and embraced many things that the church as a whole has not. Gender fluidity, no-holds-barred sexual activity, and abortion are a few of these, as you well know. But you have to remember that it is individual Christians who make up “the church.” And every Christian’s beliefs differ. Every denomination’s take on moral and cultural issues is different. When you talk Catholic to Pentecostal to mainline Methodist or Presbyterian, you are talking about a huge spectrum of denominational nuances and stances. And there are hundreds more.
Beyond denominational differences, all the people sitting in the pews of those churches bring their own life circumstances and experiences in the door with them every week. These color and influence their takes on different issues. Basically, it’s kind of narrow-minded and judgmental to stereotype all Christians as being narrow-minded and judgmental. Yet it’s easy for us to appear to fit that stereotype if we refuse to learn and talk about even the things that might feel morally uncomfortable to us.
That’s the whole point of God’s Greenery — to encourage Christians to join the cultural conversation and to become literate about CBD, one of the top three terms being searched on the Internet today. We’re not advocating for everybody to use it. We’re simply saying if you want to take a position for or against it, you should know exactly what you’re talking about.
The links you provided seem to use the word “church” to mean a community gathered around the common belief in cannabis. Christians use the word “church” to mean a gathering for community, instruction, and fellowship around the common belief in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The two churches in the links provided are not churches in the traditional sense, in that they are not claiming to have anything to do with Christianity.
You have published articles discussing CBD with pastors. How has the discussion changed among them in recent years?
I’m not sure it has changed in recent years, more like in recent months or even days. The subject of CBD is becoming more talked about, more visible, and hopefully more understood. I pray God’s Greenery can lead the way in that for those who want to honor Christ and explore the potential health benefits of CBD.
What does God’s Greenery have planned for the future?
Our content pipeline is deep, with more original stories, video, and podcasts in the near future. God’s Greenery is all about community, and you will see some special events coming soon.
For more on God’s Greenery, visit the website here
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