How this Pastor is De-Stigmatizing the Cannabis Conversation in Church

Throughout history, there has long been a debate surrounding Christianity's take on cannabis. While anything that can alter or impair a person's sobriety tends to be controversial within the church, Christianity has a more storied relationship to the cannabis plant.

Indeed, while a small church group was actually among the first to fund the prohibitionist film Reefer Madness, which began as a project called Tell Your Children in 1936, cannabis was also an integral component to Jesus' holy anointing oil.

The recipe, laid out in Exodus 30:23, called for no less than nine pounds of kaneh-bosm (ancient Hebrew for cannabis). In fact, the word "Christ" means "anointed one," and no surprise, Christ went around healing people with his anointing oil, which by today's standards, would be considered a therapeutic cannabis topical. 

But to this day, many more conservative religious groups, influenced by Reefer Madness propaganda, dispel the notion that cannabis could offer healing potential, instead fearing it as a dangerous "drug." Articles from skeptics can be found on places like the Christian Post, insisting that the Bible verses (such as Exodus 30:22-23) being used to justify cannabis consumption are actually misinterpretations. Still, more and more self-identifying Christians are standing up for the right not just to medicate with cannabis, but to end the unjust War on Drugs.

Clergy for a New Drug Policy, for example, focuses on the many layers of hypocrisy that exist around the punitive approach to drug use, and is on a mission "to mobilize clergy nationally on behalf of an agenda that ends the War on Drugs by allocating resources to education, treatment, and public safety." The organization offers different religious perspectives from various clergy on the current state of cannabis and explains how the War On Drugs violates the core principles of their faith.

Meanwhile, on 4/20 this past year at Coachella, pastor, author, and podcaster Craig Gross used a skywriting display to announce the launch of Christian Cannabis — a content hub for self-identifying Christians (and non-Christians) who are curious about cannabis.

On his website, Gross shares how a series of debilitating headaches (caused by an untreated concussion) led to a desperate search for pain relief, ultimately introducing him to cannabis. His view on the plant became more comprehensive once he saw Sanjay Gupta’s WEED documentary on CNN about a young girl who used high-CBD cannabis oil to quell her epileptic seizures. The film sent him on a journey for relief, and he quickly became a medical marijuana patient in California.

While Gross admits that his first experience buying legal medical marijuana did feel "sketchy," he also acknowledges that he'd been primed by preconceived notions from his own religious upbringing.  

“I grew up Baptist. I felt conditioned to believe a lot of things were bad," says Gross. "The music I listened to and the length of my hair were somehow an issue. I always had this stir in me that never believed God cared for any of those things. At the end of the day, he cares about our hearts and a relationship with him.”

After some trial and error with various edible products, Gross came across micro-dose mints at the dispensary and soon discovered they were perfect for his headaches. Once his pain was under control, Gross decided to go public about his cannabis use: Having expected a negative response, he says he was surprised by the positivity he received following a Facebook Live post detailing his journey with cannabis. Nonetheless, he received much of this positive feedback privately, due to concerns about the stigma surrounding cannabis.

“When I came out in support of cannabis, I received a lot of positive support from people in the church who said, 'Me too,'" Gross recalls. "But they are hiding it because they fear getting fired from their ministry jobs. I believe I’m the guy who can help pave a way for people like them to walk into this topic.” 

Tackling taboo topics in the Christian and non-denominational communities is where Gross says he feels comfortable. For years he toured on behalf of his venture xxxchurch.com, a movement that engages church and spiritual leaders in an open conversation about porn addiction. Similarly, Gross aims to normalize the conversation around cannabis, allowing people to confront it without fear of being stigmatized.

Gross is not only prompting open discussion about cannabis within the Christian community, he is also launching a Christian CBD product line. Currently, he offers a line of vape pens through Christian Cannabis, with names like Pause (an indica-dominant strain designed to make the consumer "present with the moment") and Praise (a sativa-dominant strain to "give you a greater ability to enjoy the goodness of creation, and to recognize the gift of life along the way"). There are also topicals available on the site, since “emotional and spiritual pain ends up revealing itself physically”, as well as microdose mints that may help you “love your neighbor as well as as you do yourself."

Although Gross will sometimes point to religious passages that refer to plants as a source of nourishment or which admonish readers from casting judgement on others, he says he doesn’t want to use Biblical verses as part of a debate or as a way to advance his platform. Christian Cannabis, Gross says, is based off information from his own experience with cannabis, which he feels may resonate with others, too.

However, Gross nonetheless has his critics within and outside the Christian community. Some have called his platform a "gimmick," while others have assailed his pro-cannabis stance as "demonic." Treating your body as a temple, one critic said, doesn't include "getting high." But with his online content and product line, Gross says he hopes to de-pathologize the cannabis conversation in church, where he says the focus should be on compassion and healing. 

In addition to the plant's medicinal benefits, cannabis can also enhance the culture of counseling in the church, he says. Many churches offer counseling through clergy or other assigned church members. When asked how cannabis could influence the culture of counseling and guidance in the church, Gross says he believes that if used medicinally, cannabis could improve therapy efforts. 

“Marijuana can be a great awareness tool when used with intent," says Gross. "The key is the word intent. I think we’ll start seeing a lot more people becoming [counseling] guides when using medicines like cannabis.”

However the Christian community chooses to incorporate cannabis cannabis, Gross is banking on a big change in the next couple years — and hopes that his platform may serve as a leading educational resource about the plant's benefits.

“We want to be the leaders in educating how to best utilize cannabis in a person's day to day, so that one can live a life that is full and in the way God intended it to be," Gross explains. He says that with cannabis, the goal is not to take a long time convincing the Christian community to embrace the plant, but that he hopes to see acceptance in a year or two. 

“In today’s day and age, a lot of Christians conform to what their pastors or leaders believe. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but sometimes it clouds someone from making their own decisions or forming their own thoughts around a topic,” Gross says. Rather, he's called on other Christian leaders to make a bold move and discuss cannabis, too.

It doesn’t matter if Christian leaders agree with cannabis legalization, he says, but there should be a healthy debate or productive commentary around the topic. 

“I’ve seen a lot of individuals who are leaders or pastors wanting to put me in a box or claim sorcery, rather than trying to understand my experience and others who share the same experience," Gross says. "If leaders in the church can begin to foster healthy communication, we can definitely see change take place.”

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