When Washington voters approved Initiative 502 paving the way for the legalization of recreational marijuana, the northwest Christian community, for the most part, stayed on the sidelines. The reasons for this is as varied as our wide theological and denominational diversity. Let’s leave for later the conversation about what the faith communities across the state should have been doing as we wrestled with this social shift of tsunami proportions. But one thing is certain: this initiative is going to impact adolescents, children and teens alike.
And, we must ask, where is the church?
According to polls, the overwhelming majority of those who voted for legalizing the “recreational use” of the drug (another phrase that might be worth exegeting) also believe that the regulations should be structured in a way that “protects” young people. Yet, in spite of this claim, the measures to achieve this are limited to placement of the dispensing stores. With the widespread use of alcohol among teenagers, despite the laws and regulations discouraging it, to assume that unleashing “legal recreational marijuana” to the general public will not make it onto high school campuses, malls, neighborhoods, and yes, even churches, in unprecedented exposure is beyond naïve. There is simply no question about it, in Washington and Colorado teenagers are going to be smoking a lot more pot than in 2012.
Where is the church?
The data is overwhelming: increased drug use among teenagers is here to stay. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reports, “We now have enough science to show that adolescent substance use is America’s no. 1 public health problem,” citing Susan Foster, senior investigator of the study. CASA found that nine out of 10 American addicts started smoking, drinking or using drugs before the age of 18 and one in four of those people become addicted to some sort of drug.
And, so, in light of the overwhelming evidence that even “recreational” use of marijuana and alcohol creates at the minimum great potential for emotional, psychosocial, social, vocational, and even, therefore spiritual impact on the young of Washington state (and Colorado), it seems important to ask… So, then, where is the church?
What must we do?
If there is ever a time when society needs the faith community to step up and speak into the systemic neglect of our most susceptible population, the young, the time is now. Faith communities must, by nature of our calling to protect the vulnerable, commit to the following:
1. Educate parents in our churches regarding the risks of adolescent drug use and equip them to respond (to know the signs, to initiate conversations with their child, to be equipped to respectfully lead them into a personal choice not to engage in drug use, etc.)
2. Partner with the local community for more holistic and aggressive strategies for alleviating the opportunities for young people to obtain and use substances, and then provide holistic support services for families in need.
3. Work with schools and other institutions to devise various awareness and training options for kids.
These are but a small sampling of the way churches and parachurch organizations can and should be engaged in protecting and nurturing our children – and not just “ours,” but the community’s young. Where we stand as adults on the use of “recreational drugs,” and how they will ultimately end up being assimilated into social acceptance has yet to be seen. One thing is certain: we must engage our communities, proactively, and immediately.
Where is the church?
We are already here, uniquely placed and intentionally located. Our voice, our witness, our message is to point others to the God who preferentially tends toward the broken, the lost, the least. As the church, we are called to proactively walk in step with this same preference. As marijuana takes center stage next spring, and greater numbers of children, teenagers, young adults and families begin to experience the effects of this new age, we as God’s people, as witnesses and ambassadors, must be in the game.
Image from weedblog and tokeofthetown