Jesus, Not Cannabis, Defines His Church

On April 26th, 2018, San Bernardino County narcotics officers raided the Jah Healing Church Kemetic Temple of the Divine. “They damaged the church and its properties,” said Alanna Reeves. “They broke a lot and took a lot of really, really special, precious things that belong to our church.”

What really, really special, precious things did the narcotics officers take?, you ask.

“They took the church’s sacrament,” said Reeves.

And why, pray tell, would narcotics agents take a church’s sacrament?

That would be because the Jah Healing Church’s sacrament is “Sacred Cannabis.” Yes, you read that right. Jah Temple’s sacrament is marijuana.

Reeves is president of the Association of Sacramental Ministries, the parent body (of sorts) of this new variety of organizations called “cannabis churches.” Officially, ASM describes itself as “the all-encompassing and governing body of only sincere and legitimate cannabis churches that exist across the United States.” ASM and its members “hold cannabis as an entheogenic and sacred healing sacrament that is central to their beliefs and has the ability to directly link oneself’ to the Holy Spirit—or other Divine power they seek—through religious and spiritual rituals.” (An entheogenic is basically any psychoactive drug believed to induce a spiritual experience.)

One of ASM’s two “Sacred Scriptures” is the “Nine Epiphanies.” Purportedly the result of visions revealed to a deceased “Sacramental Life Minister,” they basically say that cannabis unites us with the Divine and with one another, and will eventually bring about world peace. So, for these “churches,” cannabis effectively takes the place of Christ himself. Partake of it, and it will connect you to your Maker, connect you to one another, and eventually resolve all world conflict. Like, peace out, dude.

The ASM compares cannabis use in these churches to wine as a part of traditional church rituals, and defends their Constitutional right to do so on religious freedom grounds because their beliefs are sincere and religious in nature. Cannabis church attorney Matthew Pappas insists that, if cannabis church members’ beliefs are sincere, then cannabis laws should not apply. “When government gets involved, the point that it must stop at is that sincerity,” he said. “It can’t get into what the beliefs are.”

Law enforcement, on the other hand, isn’t buying it. With the relative ease of registering as a church in California compared to the high costs of opening a legal cannabis dispensary, their position is effectively, Don’t give me this church bs. You are an illegal pot dispensary.

A week after the raid, Reeves announced on behalf of Jah Temple a $2 million lawsuit against San Bernardino County, and other suits have been filed against other municipalities on similar grounds. The legal wranglings will no doubt go on for some time and will probably never settle out anywhere close to the peace on earth the cannabisarians envision.

But for the rest of us, this is a good time to revisit exactly what is meant by “church” and what is meant by “sacrament.”

• “Church” is a New Testament, Christian concept. It is centered on the person of Jesus Christ, it arose out of a particular historical context, and it grew out of a specific tradition rooted in longstanding written texts.

• All of those points apply to “sacrament,” and then there is something more. Christian denominations differ about particulars, but generally a sacrament is believed to be a means by which God imparts his grace to his people. No matter how the particulars settle out, though, in a very real sense, Jesus Christ himself is the church’s sacrament.

It seems almost silly to state what should be obvious, but now is a good time to call things what they are. The cannabis users are free to come together and profess to believe whatever they choose about cannabis. They’re also free as Americans to participate in the legal process by which cannabis laws are made. But they’re not free to redefine and appropriate unto themselves by self-appointed fiat the meaning of the church’s words and concepts. I’m not saying anyone should protest over cultural appropriation. I’m simply suggesting that we in the church take this opportunity to reaffirm who we are and what our words mean. Ideally, it could provoke some meaningful dialogue over the conflicting existential claims.

The early church leader Jude, believed to be the brother of Jesus, urged the early Christians to “contend earnestly for the faith.” This includes contending for the meaning of its words and for the centrality of Jesus as the sacrament and sine qua non of “church.” Partake of him, and he himself becomes, for you, peace.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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