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Despite acceptance of many Americans of marijuana, a recent study showed that most pastors oppose its legalization and use.

A study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research found that more than 3 in 4 pastors (76%) do not believe that marijuana should be legalized throughout the country, including 59% who disagree strongly. Fewer than 1 in 5 pastors (18%) supports the idea, while 6% are not sure.

“There are about as many opinions on marijuana as there are ways to consume it,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “When asked about legalizing all such uses, the majority of pastors are strongly opposed.”

Data from the study of 1,007 Protestant pastors found that 43% of mainline pastors are more likely to believe that marijuana should be legalized throughout the country for any purpose, than evangelical pastors (10%). Pastors of big congregations, those with attendance of 250 and more, are least likely to agree with the legalization of marijuana (10%). Age, it seems, also influences a church leader’s stand on marijuana. About a quarter of younger pastors, aged 18 to 44, are more likely to agree with marijuana legalization (24%), than pastors aged 45-54 (15%), and 65+ (13%).

When asked about legalizing all such uses, the majority of pastors are strongly opposed. —Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research

Thirty-six states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, including 15 states that approved adult marijuana. LifeWay noted that state laws affect a pastor’s opinion about the matter. More pastors in the Northeast (24%) are more likely to support marijuana legalization measures than those in the South (16%).

If a person smokes marijuana to get high, 89% of evangelical pastors and 47% of mainline pastors say it’s immoral. “Cultural stigmas around smoking a joint have diminished, but most pastors still say it crosses a moral line,” McConnell said.

Theology professor Todd Miles in his upcoming book, Cannabis and the Christian, warns pastors to be ready to deal with a new America that now accepts the use of a substance which was illegal and socially unacceptable many years ago. A recent Pew study revealed that 91% of American adults favor some type of legalization of marijuana, with 60% supporting making marijuana legal for both medical and recreational use.

Miles pointed out that, “The fact that only 18% of pastors support legalizations shows the influence of the clergy in America is not as strong as it once was.” He disclosed that he knows many pastors who don’t see the relevance of the issue of marijuana in their congregations, but he believes that they should expect changes very soon.

“If recreational and medical marijuana are not currently legal in your home state,” he told church leaders, “they soon will be.” He advised pastors to adapt and adjust how they minister to a public that is rapidly changing its beliefs.

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