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Duke: Christians should weigh dangers of weakened drug laws

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Christians face an uphill battle in convincing society that relaxing laws against non-prescription drug use is a bad idea, said Barrett Duke.

The vice president of research for the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said it is getting tougher to oppose the libertarian philosophy that people should be free to do whatever they want.

“People are becoming more confused about what they can say about what others can do,” Duke said. “They don’t feel they can tell someone else what they should do. Christians are struggling with the same issue.”

The trend toward freer use of marijuana and other drugs can be seen in recent elections. The Drug Policy Foundation, a group formed by billionaire financier George Soros, boasts that 17 of 19 drug referendums have passed since 1996.

Director Ethan Nadelmann, Soros’ key spokesman on drug policy, previously told Reader’s Digest that he wants to legalize personal possession of drugs by adult Americans. (Several attempts to reach Nadelmann for further comment were unsuccessful.)

With additional initiatives expected to reach state ballots in future elections, Duke said Christians need to develop an understanding of the problem with increased drug use.

“As God’s people, the Bible certainly tells us it’s inappropriate to introduce any drug into our body that is harmful in any way or affects our minds,” he said — a reference to 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 6:19. “Sometimes we have to take drugs, but we have to make sure we must take them and be discerning in their use.

“Illicit drugs and marijuana are very dangerous substances and can be addicting. The Bible makes it clear that Christians are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Everything we do affects our bodies and they’re not ours; they belong to God.”

However, because those who don’t believe in Scripture aren’t likely to be swayed by that, Duke said arguments must center on the public dangers of drug tolerance.

It isn’t possible for what someone does in private to not affect their actions in public, he said. Since private actions influence the way people act in public, then it becomes a public policy issue, he added.

“If everyone smoked marijuana at home, we would see increased accidents, accidents at work and increased crime as people got addicted to drugs and turned to crime,” Duke said. “Everything else is affected by decisions people make in private.”

Besides the referendums passed in recent years, pro-drug forces got an additional boost from President Bill Clinton recently.

The outgoing chief executive told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview that using and selling small amounts of marijuana should not be a crime. He said the country needs to re-examine its policy on imprisonment.

“Some people do things that are so serious that they have to be put in jail to discourage other people from doing similar things,” Clinton said. “But a lot of people are in prison because they have drug problems or alcohol problems, and too many of them are getting out … without treatment, without education, without skills, without serious efforts at job placement.”

The director of the Drug Free America Foundation doesn’t think Clinton’s remarks will have much of an impact on drug legalization forces.

For him to say marijuana possession should be decriminalized is “a joke” because it in effect already has been, said Calvina Fay.

“Nobody’s sent to jail for possessing small amounts of marijuana,” she said. “But I strongly object to his comments about sales. Are we going to tell people it’s OK to sell drugs to our kids? That’s not a health issue; it’s a law enforcement issue.”

However, Fay thinks the president’s statement will be damaging. It will provide additional ammunition to young drug users who are looking for excuses to rationalize their behavior, she said.

“It’s giving kids one more reason to justify using drugs,” she said. “For the highest official in the world to say this sends a terribly mixed message.”

What many are overlooking is the alarming increase in drug use at progressively younger ages, she said. For example, “ecstasy” — which affects the brain’s pleasure center — started out a decade ago among users in their 20s and has worked its way down to young teens, she said.

The scary thing is that researchers believe the drug is permanently damaging young people, said Fay, citing predictions that by their early 30s some users will exhibit signs of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

“This whole thing goes way beyond using drugs,” she said. “It’s a whole shift in our young culture.”

Because of the potential dangers of drug use, Duke said Christians must be careful not to confuse compassion with tolerance for harmful substances.

“The Bible tells us to err on the side of mercy, and some people think if marijuana alleviates suffering that is a compassionate response to their need,” he said. “I think it’s a matter of getting our message out in fuller forms so people who want to be compassionate approve those things that truly are compassionate.”

Duke said churches have a role to play in this area, including:

— Pastors addressing these issues from the pulpit so congregations are aware of God’s counsel. They should also encourage members to read the Bible so they base their beliefs on biblical grounds instead of secular media reports, he said.

— Churches making education on public policy issues a higher priority, including Sunday school classes examining the subjects of drugs and alcohol.

— Relying on other Christian organizations for research and other information. The SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is glad to help churches looking for background materials, Duke said. For more information, call 1-800-475-9127.

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  • Ken Walker