Should Christians Support the War on Drugs?
by Laurence M. Vance: Some
and founder of the Christian Coalition Pat Robertson, with whom
I have major theological, philosophical, and political differences,
recently said something that even I must acknowledge was important,
truthful, and courageous.
the criminal justice system on his "700 Club" television
remarked that it was a "shocking statistic" that the
United States has "the highest rate of incarceration of any
nation on the face of the Earth." Then he said something few
"law and order" conservatives Ė and especially Christian
conservatives Ė would dare to say: "More and more prisons,
more and more crime. Itís just shocking, especially this business
about drug offenses. Itís time we stop locking up people for possession
of marijuana. We just canít do it anymore...You donít lock Ďem up
for booze unless they kill somebody on the highway."
This is not
the first time that Robertson has come out for the legalization
of marijuana. Back in 2010, he
raised the same points:
up people that have taken a couple puffs of marijuana and next
thing you know theyíve got 10 years with mandatory sentences.
Iím not exactly
for the use of drugs, donít get me wrong, but I just believe that
criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few
ounces of pot, that kinda thing itís just, itís costing us a fortune
and itís ruining young people. Young people go into prisons, they
go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals. Thatís not
a good thing.
at the Christian Broadcasting Network, however, shared Robertsonís
views. A spokesman
claimed that Robertson "did not call for the decriminalization
of marijuana." He was merely "advocating that our government
revisit the severity of the existing laws because mandatory drug
sentences do harm to many young people who go to prison and come
out as hardened criminals."
is exactly correct on the subject of marijuana possession. This
doesnít necessarily mean that he favors the legalization of other
drugs or even the fully legalized cultivation, sale, and distribution
of marijuana, but it does raise the important question of whether
Christians should support the war on drugs.
am a theological and cultural conservative, and neither advocate
nor condone the use of mind-altering, behavior-altering, or mood-altering
substances, I believe that Christians shouldnít support the governmentís
war on drugs any more than they should support the governmentís
wars on poverty, obesity, dietary fat, cholesterol, cancer, and
Not only do
I not use what are classified by the government as illegal drugs,
wouldnít use them if they were legal, and would prefer that no one
else do so whether they are legal or illegal, I would rather see
people use drugs than the government wage war on them for doing
As a believer
in moral absolutes, I consider the use of any drug for any reason
other than because of a medical necessity to be dangerous, destructive,
and immoral, but I also consider the governmentís war on drugs to
be dangerous, destructive, and immoral.
As an adherent
to the ethical principles of the New Testament, I regard drug abuse
to be a vice, a sin, and an evil that Christians should avoid even
as they avoid supporting the governmentís war on drugs.
As a Christian,
I oppose root and branch every facet of the governmentís war on
drugs just as much as I oppose the use of drugs themselves.
Yes, I know
I am being redundant. But thatís because some Christians still just
donít get it. So let me make myself perfectly clear: drugs are bad.
Smoking crack is evil. Getting high on marijuana cigarettes or brownies
is a vice. Snorting cocaine is destructive. Shooting up with heroin
is sinful. Swallowing ecstasy is immoral. Injecting yourself with
crystal meth is dangerous. But none of these things means that there
should be a law against doing any of them. And it is a myth that
those who favor marijuana legalization or drug decriminalization
just want to get high without being hassled by the police. Pat Robertson
certainly doesnít. And I certainly donít either.
There are many
reasons why Christians should not support the war on drugs.
the federal government has no authority whatsoever to regulate drugs,
let alone criminalize their manufacture, sale, and use. Just like
the government has no authority to control what Americans choose
to eat, drink, smoke, inject, absorb, snort, sniff, inhale, swallow,
or otherwise ingest into their bodies.
it is not the purpose of government to be a nanny state that monitors
the behavior of its citizens. It is simply not the purpose of government
to protect people from bad habits or harmful substances or punish
people for risky behavior or vice. Drug prohibition is impossible
to reconcile with a limited government.
the war on drugs should be ended because it is a complete and total
failure. As I have pointed out many times, the war on drugs has
failed to prevent drug abuse, reduce drug trafficking, or reduce
the demand for drugs. It has ruined more lives than drugs themselves.
the war on drugs should be ended because all it does is clog the
judicial system, unnecessarily swell prison populations, foster
violence, corrupt law enforcement, hinder legitimate pain treatment,
and unreasonably inconvenience retail shopping.
the war on drugs is misguided. In a study by the Independent Scientific
Committee on Drugs published in the prestigious medical journal
Lancet, it was alcohol that ranked as the "most harmful
drug," beating out heroin, crack cocaine, and ecstasy. And
then there is the fact that tens of thousands of people die every
year from prescription drugs and reactions to over-the-counter drugs
the costs of drug prohibition far outweigh the benefits. According
to a 2010 study
by the Cato Institute, spending on the drug war tops $41 billion
a year. What have we gotten for this except the militarization of
the police, the erosion of civil liberties, and the destruction
of financial privacy?
and most importantly, there is no warrant in the New Testament for
Christians to support a war on drugs by the government. And it is
the theological reason that I wish to focus on.
Inconsistency and Hypocrisy
It is unfortunate
that many Christians Ė and probably most conservative Christians
Ė are supporters of legislation to prohibit the doing of things
like taking drugs that libertarians would consider to be victimless
crimes and therefore not crimes at all. This support is inconsistent
on crack or tripping out on LSD is, of course, not mentioned in
the Bible. The closest thing would be getting drunk, which is definitely
Let us walk
honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in
chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying (Romans 13:13)
And be not
drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
bad thing that could be said regarding drug abuse could also be
said of alcohol abuse Ė and then some.
is a factor in many drownings, home, pedestrian, car, and boating
accidents, suicides, fires, violent crimes, child abuse cases, sex
crimes, divorces, and fetal abnormalities. The number one killer
of young people under twenty-five is alcohol-related automobile
accidents. Alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of premature
deaths in the United States. It can also be a contributing factor
in cases of cancer, mental illness, and cirrhosis of the liver.
manufacture and sale of alcohol is heavily regulated by the federal
and state governments, anyone is free to drink as much as he wants
in his own home without fear of reprisal. Except for a small number
who want to return to the days of Prohibition, Christians are woefully
inconsistent and hypocritical when they call for the government
to wage war on drugs but not on alcohol.
We know that
murder, robbery, and rape are both crimes and sins, but everything
the state or the authorities brand a crime is not necessarily a
sin. This has been true in all ages.
In the Old
Testament, the Hebrew midwives were commanded by the state to kill
any newborn sons (Exodus 1:16). But because "the midwives feared
God," they "did not as the king of Egypt commanded them,
but saved the men children alive" (Exodus 1:17).
In the book
of Daniel, we read that King Nebuchadnezzar "made an image
of gold" (Daniel 3:1) and decreed that when the music started,
everyone was to "fall down and worship the golden image"
(Daniel 3:5). The three Hebrew children Ė Shadrach, Meshach, and
Abednego Ė defied the king and refused to worship the golden image,
for which they were cast into a burning fiery furnace (Daniel 3:18-20).
In the New
Testament, the apostles Peter and John were imprisoned by the authorities
for preaching and then brought before them and commanded "not
to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18).
But instead of being in subjection, they replied: "Whether
it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto
God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have
seen and heard" (Acts 4:19-20).
incident, some apostles were again brought before the authorities
and asked: "Did not we straitly command you that ye should
not teach in this name? And, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with
your doctrine, and intend to bring this manís blood upon us"
(Acts 5:28). It was then that the apostles uttered the immortal
line: "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
could read these accounts and say with a straight face that everything
the state labels a crime is a sin. The Bible is very clear about
what sin is. Sin is "whatsoever is not of faith" (Romans
14:23). Sin is transgressing the divine law (1 John 3:14). Sin is
knowing to do good and doing it not (James 4:17). Sin is "all
unrighteousness" (1 John 5:17). But if not all crimes are sins,
then why are some Christians often so quick to nod in agreement
when it comes to the stateís war on drugs? The only explanation
is that some Christians think that disobeying the state is itself
a crime. They have made the state into a god. They have violated
the First Commandment.
drugs to get high is a sin, says the Christian drug warrior.
Agreed. But should it be a crime?
There is another
side of sin/crime coin: not all sins are crimes. If they were, then
everyone would be in trouble, Christians included, for the Bible
says that "there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good,
and sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Saying that not all sins
are crimes is just a Christian way of rephrasing what was said by
the nineteenth-century classical liberal political philosopher Lysander
those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.
those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.
simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own
happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others,
and no interference with their persons or property.
would be in favor of criminalizing all sins. Not when the Bible
says that "the thought of foolishness is sin" (Proverbs
24:9). Why, then, are some Christians so quick to applaud making
some sins criminal just because the state happens to select them
and not others?
There are two
types of victimless crimes: the immoral and the moral. This is because
Godís law never changes. What the state declares to be a crime one
day can be declared not to be a crime the next day. Immoral victimless
crimes are crimes that are sins in the eyes of God even if the state
one day declares them not to be crimes; moral victimless crimes
are crimes that have been labeled as such by the state that are
not, in and of themselves, sins in the eyes of God. But either way,
every crime needs a victim.
ultimate rule of faith is the New Testament, not canon law, church
tradition, church councils, papal decrees, creeds and confessions,
the musings of televangelists, the opinions of theologians, the
sermons of some popular preacher, denominational pronouncements,
church covenants, and not even the Old Testament, although "whatsoever
things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that
we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope"
There is no
support in the New Testament for the idea that Christians should
seek legislation that would criminalize victimless acts like taking
drugs. Specific sins are mentioned that are in fact crimes, like
murder (Romans 1:29), stealing (Ephesians 4:28), rioting (Romans
13:13), and extortion (1 Corinthians 6:10). But what we mainly see
in the New Testament are admonitions about how Christians should
to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of
all men. (Romans 12:17)
As we have
therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men. (Galatians
Let no corrupt
communication proceed out of your mouth. (Ephesians 4:29)
all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
are the lists of vices for Christians to avoid: adultery, fornication,
uncleanness, inordinate affection, covetousness, anger, malice,
blasphemy, filthy communication, effeminacy, idolatry, hatred, strife,
reveling, witchcraft, evil speaking, envy, lying, and bitterness.
Should people be fined or jailed for these things if they donít
result in harm to someone elseís person or property? Then why should
they be fined or jailed for taking drugs?
There are no
indications anywhere in the New Testament that Christians should
seek or support making these things crimes. Where did the Apostle
Paul, in his travels throughout the Roman Empire, ever express support
for any type of legislation? When did he ever tell people who were
not Christians how they should live their lives? It is unfortunate
that many Christians who support the drug war would support legislation
against almost anything they considered to be bad behavior Ė as
long as it stopped short of their particular vice.
It is not the
purpose of Christianity to change society as a whole outwardly;
it is the purpose of Christianity to change men as individuals inwardly.
The Christian is in the world, but not of the world. He is to "have
no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather
reprove them" (Ephesians 5:11), not legislate against them.
The Christian is to "live peaceably with all men" (Romans
12:18). Christians are to pray for those in authority that they
(Christians) "may lead a quiet and peaceable life" (1
Timothy 2:2). The attitude of the Christian should be to mind his
"own business" (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and not be "a
busybody in other menís matters" (1 Timothy 4:15).
I believe that
Christians have for the most part failed to fulfill their calling.
Instead of making converts and instructing them in the biblical
precepts of Christian living, they turn to the state to criminalize
what they consider to be immoral behavior. Instead of changing peopleís
minds about what is and what is not acceptable in society, they
seek to use the state to change peopleís behavior. Instead of being
an example to the world, they want to use the state to make the
world conform to their example. Instead of educating themselves
and other Christians about what is appropriate behavior, they rely
on the state to make that determination. Instead of being the salt
of the earth and the light of the world, they want the state to
assume those roles. Instead of minding their own business, they
mind everyone elseís business.
are making a grave mistake by looking to the state to legislate
morality. The state is no real friend of religion, and especially
not of Christianity. Why do so many Christians defend, support,
and make excuses for the state, its politicians, its legislation,
and its wars? Why would Christians even think of looking to the
state to enforce their moral code?
It is not the
purpose of Christianity to use force or the threat of force to keep
people from sinning. Christians who are quick to criticize Islamic
countries for prescribing and proscribing all manner of behavior
are very inconsistent when they support the same thing here. A Christian
theocracy is just as unscriptural as an Islamic theocracy.
of greeting with a healthy dose of skepticism the stateís latest
pronouncement about what substance needs to be banned, regulated,
or taxed, many Christians wholeheartedly embrace it. Instead of
looking internally for funding, they look to the state to fund their
simply have too high a view of the state. They are too quick to
rely on the state, trust the state, and believe the state. Sure,
they may criticize the state because it permits abortion, but they
generally fail to discern the stateís true nature.
Anderson has summed it up nicely:
Christians abhor libertarianism because they see it as promoting
a permissive lifestyle, from abortion to taking drugs. Yet, what
they fail to understand is that the restrictive, prohibition-oriented
state that they are trying to create (and also preserve) is much
more likely to take away all liberties than a state that gives
people permission to live as they wish.
abuse is a great evil, the war on drugs is an even greater evil.
Christians should not compound these evils by supporting a war on
behavior the government doesnít approve it. If getting high is against
Godís law. Then, as columnist Charley
Reese once said: "Presumably God will enforce his own laws.
You wonít find in the Christian Bible any passage that says the
responsibility for enforcing Godís laws rests with the secular state."
is a personal religion, not a tribal or state religion. If you
wish to be a Christian, then you have a personal obligation to
obey the commands of the Christian religion. Whether someone else
does or does not is of no concern to you. You can be a devout,
scrupulously pure Christian in the midst of the most outrageous
sinners. Your obligation is to obey Godís commandments, not to
compel someone else to do it.
It is simply
not biblical to promote legislation or crusades to punish sin that
does not aggress against person or property. The proper approach
to the problem of drug abuse was wisely spoken by the late economist
He who wants
to reform his countrymen must take resource to persuasion. This
alone is the democratic way of bringing about changes. If a man
fails in his endeavors to convince other people of the soundness
of his ideas, he should blame his own disabilities. He should
not ask for a law, that is, for compulsion and coercion by the
That is the
spirit of New Testament Christianity. Itís just unfortunate that
it is a nonreligious Jew expressing such an opinion instead of the
typical evangelical Christian.
M. Vance [send him mail]
writes from central Florida. He is the author of Christianity
and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, The
Revolution that Wasn't, and Rethinking
the Good War. His latest book is The
Quatercentenary of the King James Bible. Visit his
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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