Thursday, June 14, 2018

Medical Marijuana: Facts & Freedom Beat Fear

On June 26th, Oklahomans will vote on State Question 788: the Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative. While SQ788 should pass fairly easily, some Christians from both inside and outside the state have mounted an effort to dissuade Oklahomans from voting for legalization. As I address in Legalizing Medical Marijuana is Pro-Life and Pro-Individual Liberty, much of the rhetoric coming from Southern Baptist leaders on this issue is, sadly, based on scare tactics and misinformation.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention offers resources on the topic of marijuana (all opposed to legalization). One of those resources is an article entitled, Going to Pot: Why the Rush to Legalize Marijuana is Harming America based on the book by William Bennett and Robert White of the same name.

The author, Barrett Duke, hails the book as "a very helpful, practical refutation of the marijuana legalization effort" and claims it "effectively dismantles every serious argument being put forward by the legalization crowd." Duke highlights a few of Bennett's key assertions that have often been repeated by Baptists opposed to both medicinal and recreational marijuana. Marijuana use is  dangerous, contrary to sobriety and self-control, and will make the drug problem worse.The benefits of medical marijuana are a myth and legalizing medicinal use is just a front for full legalization.

Duke touts the book's "helpful guidance for a successful return to a government program to reduce illicit drug use rather than capitulation." (Medicinal use of marijuana would literally no longer be illicit after legalization, just saying). The Baptist position is basically prohibition plus doubling down on the failed war on drugs.

Jacob Sullum, senior editor at Reason magazine and contributor at, responded to Bennett's book with Bill Bennett's Confused And Confusing Defense Of Pot Prohibition. Far from "dismantling every serious argument being put forward by the legalization crowd," as Duke proclaimed, Sullum found Bennett's book to be "a rambling, repetitive, self-contradicting hodgepodge of scare stories, misleading comparisons, unsupportable generalizations, and decontextualized research results."

Sullum "dismantles" every key argument made by Bennett and White. Those who have come accustomed to taking the usual prohibitionist talking points for granted would do well to consider his rejoinder. Rather than recite his counter-arguments, I want to highlight a couple of key points that are often missed in this debate.

Bennett and White state, "We can add to the menu of dangerous substances available to our citizens, or we can draw a line and admit we are surfeited with the problems that already exist." Sullum's response is, "That is the real crux of Bennett and White’s argument, and it depends on accepting their premise that using force to stop people from hurting themselves is morally justified." Should Christians advocate for the use of force to stop people from hurting themselves, as Sullum puts it? If the answer is "yes," we need to greatly expand the list of actions and substances to prohibt. But does this get to the heart of the matter? Does the Gospel offer another way?

In case you're not going to click over to Sullum's article, I'll leave you with an extended quote that is truly worth pondering within the context of legalizing medical marijuana:

Bennett and White do not begin to grapple with the question of how it can be just to treat people as criminals when their actions violate no one's rights. They simply take it as a given that “the government not only has a right, but a duty to keep the public safe from harm, including dangerous substances.” They maintain that an action is “worthy of being illegal” if it is “something that hurts individuals or society.” Since Bennett has a Ph.D. in political philosophy, we can assume he understands the implications of his words, which make no distinction between self-regarding behavior and actions that harm others, or between the sort of injury that violates people’s rights and the sort that does not. It would be hard to come up with a broader license for government intervention, and it is impossible to reconcile Bennett and White’s free-ranging paternalism with their avowed support for “less government intrusion into the lives of all Americans.”

Here is how Bennett and White sum up the moral objection to marijuana prohibition:
What is the ultimate right being argued for?...At the end of the day the right is, simply put, a right to get and be stoned. This, it seems to us, is a rather ridiculous right upon which to charge a hill.
 This is like saying that freedom of speech is the right to tweet about the latest episode of American Idol, or that freedom of religion is the right to believe silly things and engage in pointless rituals. It is true as far as it goes, but it overlooks the broader principle. Drug prohibition dictates to people what substances they may ingest and what states of consciousness they may seek, thereby running roughshod over the principle that every man is sovereign over his own body and mind.

Even if marijuana is not as bad as they portray it, Bennett and White ask, “Do we need it?” They think cannabis consumers need to justify their freedom, when it is prohibitionists who need to justify forcibly imposing their pharmacological preferences on others. After so many years of taking that power for granted, it’s hardly surprising they are not up to the task. 

Conservatives and libertarians differ greatly when it comes to these points: is it permissible and/or wise to use force to stop self-regarding behavior as well as actions that harm others? Should force be used to prohibit or respond to injuries that do not violate another person's rights in addition to those that do violate another's rights? Is each individual sovereign over their own body and mind? Do people have a right to impose their "pharmacological preferences" on others? If so, on what grounds?

Along with Bennett and White, Christians have taken this power for granted for a long time. Many Christians, including Baptists, are beginning to question the validity of prohibition, especially when it comes to medical marijuana. May this discussion continue because the principles involved apply to much more than drug legalization.

Jeff Wright, Jr. is a prison pastor, holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. Jeff is a very blessed husband and daddy, loves serving his local church, and enjoys all things Star Wars. He regularly writes for the Libertarian Christian Institute. You can also find him @jeffwrightjr.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

LCI: Legalizing Medical Marijuana is Pro-Life and Pro-Individual Liberty

My latest on medical marijuana and SQ788 in Oklahoma is up at the Libertarian Christian Institute. Hopefully in some small way this can serve to counter the misinformation being put out about the dangers and benefits of medical marijuana from a Christian perspective.

Read it here: Legalizing Medical Marijuana is Pro-Life and Pro-Individual Liberty

Jeff Wright, Jr. is a prison pastor, holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. Jeff is a very blessed husband and daddy, loves serving his local church, and enjoys all things Star Wars. He regularly writes for the Libertarian Christian Institute. You can also find him @jeffwrightjr.  

Friday, February 16, 2018

Power Politics in the Name of Love

Christians in America continue to wrestle with the challenge of how best to engage politically following the corrosive aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election. Some evangelicals spent the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency drawing even brighter lines between the Trumpvangelicals and the #NeverTrumpers with each tribe trying to write the other out of the evangelical movement. The battle escalated when Roy Moore secured the GOP nomination for Senate in Alabama despite the emergence of allegations of sexual misconduct. Many have wondered if the term “evangelical” is even salvageable after being so closely associated with Trumpism and defenses of Roy Moore. As the finger pointing has begun to subside, options for the way forward have begun to emerge. Disappointingly, evangelicals continue to focus primarily upon the state rather than the Kingdom of God as the means of advancing the common good.

Politics as Loving Your Neighbor 

One emerging approach is what we could call the Love Your Neighbor strategy. This approach can be seen in the recent work of author and former White House staffer, Michael Wear. During Barack Obama’s first term, Wear served in the White House faith-based initiative and then directed Obama’s faith outreach effort during the 2012 campaign. His book, Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, was endorsed by evangelicals such as Tim Keller, Russell Moore, and Andy Stanley and enjoyed a glowing review posted at The Gospel Coalition. (While I use Wear’s writing as an example of a sentiment I commonly see expressed by evangelicals, I do not intend to imply he would endorse the following approach exactly as I state it).

In a recent blog post Wear states,
“First, as I argue in Reclaiming Hope, politics is a forum for loving your neighbor. A Christian’s vote should not be motivated primarily by self-expression, but by love of God and neighbor. The question a Christian should be asking as they enter the voting booth is ‘how can I best use my vote for the peace and prosperity of the political community in which God has placed me?’ When we vote, we do not think only of what we have at stake, but what our neighbors have at stake.” [emphasis original] 

The Love Your Neighbor strategy sees politics as a significant means of demonstrating our love for our neighbors (and God) by voting in such a way as to promote the common good. It assumes that government is a benign, neutral body existing to represent the will of the people for the good of the people. If the people would simply choose good, moral, and wise representatives, they will by and large do what is best for the country. Sounds great, right? What could be wrong with that?

Coercion, Paternalism, and The Common Good 

In his recent review of The Once and Future Liberal for The Gospel Coalition, Wear (sort of) critiques identity politics, lamenting the fact that “identity politics empowers people to speak for others without their consent.” Yet in the same article he suggests, “We ought to see our fates as inextricably linked with the fate of our neighbors – and act politically on their behalf.”

This gets to the heart of the problem with the Love Your Neighbor strategy. Our allegedly loving act of selflessly voting on behalf of our neighbors is speaking for our neighbors without their consent. It naively assumes that there is an identifiable, agreed-upon common good in our current political environment. This mindset is also highly patronizing towards others by assuming that we have a better understanding of what is best for our neighbors than they do.

We simply do not agree upon what the common good is in America. Acting politically on our neighbors’ behalf is ultimately one tribe’s (or coalition of tribe’s) vision of the common good versus another’s, carried out by means of the coercive power of the State. Whoever can garner 50.1% of the vote gets to coerce the other 49.9% into abiding by the other tribe’s vision of the common good whether the 49.9% of our neighbors believe it to actually be “good” or not. Even if our neighbor abhors the “good” we have forced upon them through our loving act of voting for their good, they’ll just have to live with it and accept it as the blessing from God we believe it to be.

Practically speaking, what does it even look like to vote for the good of the community motivated by love rather than individualistic self-interest anyway? Would the loving thing be to take a poll and vote with the majority of our community even if it were to compromise our sincerely held beliefs? Or do we go against the majority of the community because we know what they desire will actually harm them? The “community” calls that hate.

Naivete, Co-Option, and Idolatry 

A Love Your Neighbor approach to politics is begging to be co-opted by politicians. Politicians love to leverage the rhetoric and sentiments of Christianity to further their agendas, and na├»ve Christians fall for it time and time again. Michael Wear fell for it as Obama’s Faith Outreach Director just as Eric Teetsel fell for it as Marco Rubio’s Faith Outreach Director, along with evangelicals such as Albert Mohler and Wayne Grudem who lend their names and reputations to the meaningless ‘Faith Advisory Boards’ of elites seeking greater power. Loving your neighbor by acting politically on their behalf is just another way of allowing political elites to co-opt the language of Christ for purposes that have nothing to do with Christ.

Looking to the politics of the American state rather than the supranational Kingdom of God as the expression of Christ’s command to love our neighbors smells a lot like idolatry. Rather than acting politically to impose a vision of the common good on our neighbor’s behalf whether they want us to or not, we could promote liberty and non-aggression in order to allow people to peacefully pursue what they believe to be “good.” We could use persuasion and peacemaking when we inevitably disagree on what “good” looks like. Otherwise we are simply engaging in good ol’ power politics, even if we pretend it’s love.

This post originally appeared at The Libertarian Christian Institute.

Jeff Wright, Jr. is a prison pastor, holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. Jeff is a very blessed husband and daddy, loves serving his local church, and enjoys all things Star Wars. He frequently writes for the Libertarian Christian Institute. You can also find him @jeffwrightjr

Thursday, February 1, 2018

What You Should Really Know About the Libyan Slave Trade

Christians Serious About Justice Cannot Pretend History Began Yesterday 

Readers of The Gospel Coalition could hardly be blamed for thinking the present-day Libyan slave trade was spontaneously created from a vacuum. According to TGC’s The FAQ’s: What You Should Know About the Libyan Slave Trade, “Two main factors have contributed to the Libyan slave trade: an abundance of vulnerable migrants and a fractured, failing government.” The only reason cited for Libya’s failed government is the country’s civil war which has left “many areas of the country out of reach of government influence” and under control of “Islamist and militia groups” who “allow or endorse the slave trade.”

Christians engaged in the political process and serious about injustice and the sanctity of life cannot afford to continue to ignore foreign policy issues. If we care enough to be shocked and outraged over the existence of real-life, present-day, open-market slave auctions, we ought to care enough to understand how it came to exist so we can, if possible, prevent such circumstances from happening again.


While the TGC piece found space to reflect on a tweet from President Trump, nowhere does the article mention Muammar Gaddafi, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or TGC-favorite Marco Rubio. The article cites 2014 as the start of the Libyan civil war, but the North African country’s chaos began much earlier.

In 2011, the Obama Administration used the alleged fact of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s massacre of rebels and civilians in Benghazi as a pretense for international military intervention (this information was later proven to be exaggerated if not false). Although the administration claimed the goal in Libya was not regime change, White House ally Sen. John Kerry, among others, openly called for regime change. NATO documentation later revealed that regime change was always the goal. When Gaddafi was later brutally murdered (after being sodomized with a knife), officials were thrilled and rushed to take credit. The most infamous instance was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s disturbingly gleeful declaration: “We came; we saw; he died!”


One of the more alarming aspects of the military intervention in Libya was the U.S. and U.K.’s arming and financing of Islamic militants aka “rebels” in Libya. According to the New York Times:
“The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year [2011], but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats.”

“The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.”
Arming terrorists was always bound to happen as it is impossible to truly vet “rebel” groups whose ranks are always changing and almost always include terrorists elements. Today’s “terrorist” is tomorrow’s “rebel” and vice versa. Among the militant groups receiving support was the designated terrorist organization, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). This “rebel” organization was affiliated with Al-Qaeda and included Al-Qaeda members in its ranks. Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, admitted jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq were on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

The U.S.-backed rebels in Libya were also notoriously racist and committed ethnic genocide. Rebels arrested, tortured, and executed African migrant workers and black Libyans calling them “mercenaries.” “Black Libyans were commonly branded as ‘foreign mercenaries’ by the rebel opposition for their perceived general loyalty to Gaddafi as a community and subjected to torture, executions, and their towns ‘liberated’ by ethnic cleansing. This is demonstrated in the most well-documented example of Tawergha, an entire town of 30,000 black and ‘dark-skinned’ Libyans which vanished by August 2011 after its takeover by NATO-backed NTC Misratan brigades.” Meanwhile, the U.S. government had knowledge of these atrocities as the Secretary of State was personally briefed on these events.


During the 2016 presidential election, TGC contributors Albert Mohler, Wayne Grudem, and Thomas Kidd openly supported candidate Marco Rubio. Mohler served on Rubio’s pro-life advisory board while Grudem and Kidd joined Rubio’s religious liberty advisory board. While Rubio possessed some credentials impressive to many evangelicals, his foreign policy record was either ignored or excused as necessary for national defense.

In 2011, Rubio publicly expressed his frustration with the Obama administration for not being hawkish enough in Libya. While Obama was hesitant to openly call for regime change in Libya, Rubio wanted to make the goal of regime change explicit. He also ridiculed the idea of working through a multi-national organization such as NATO. Rubio declared that the message in Libya should be:
“If you’re an enemy of the United States and we have a chance to take a shot at you in a way that doesn’t hurt us, and has a chance of being successful, we’re probably going to take it. There’s a price to pay for being an enemy of the United States. It’s not a good idea to be on our bad side. And that’s an important message to send.”
At no time did any of Rubio’s evangelical supporters condemn his blatantly anti-Christian nationalism or his policies of aggression toward Libya, Syria, or elsewhere even though his proposals were clearly contrary to the Just War principles evangelicals purport to uphold.


The U.S.-led military intervention in Libya led to the overthrow of Gaddafi which broke the state’s control of the country when then led to civil war, the surge of migration through Libya to Europe, the rise of ISIS, a dramatic increase in Christian persecution, and the support and enablement of an open-market slave trade. Consider the following:

Refugee Crisis: “To tell the story of Libya’s escalating migration crisis, one must weave together the threads of instability left behind by a toppled dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and the power vacuum filled by rivaling factions vying to take his place. The chaos allowed smuggling networks to thrive, suddenly opening up a lucrative market designed to profit off trading humans like other goods and commodities.”

“The country’s 1,100-mile coastline has effectively become an open border without government forces to monitor who comes and who goes. Smugglers have filled the void, willing to tightly pack hundreds of migrants at a time into flimsy vessels and shuttle them to Italy.”

ISIS: “For months, ISIS has been trumpeting its abduction and execution of African Christians in Libya. In February, a slick, ghoulish video showed twenty-one Egyptian hostages in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach by black-masked executioners, who forced them to kneel and then cut off their heads. In April, another video appeared, showing the execution of twenty-nine Ethiopians in Libya. Gunmen who trained with ISIS in Libya were involved in the murder of twenty foreign tourists, at a Tunis museum in March, and thirty-eight more tourists, most of them British, at a seaside resort in Tunisia in June. These attacks focused attention on the fact that Libya, a vast, oil-rich, underpopulated country with a long southern-Mediterranean coastline, has become part of the self-proclaimed ISIS caliphate.”

“In a parallel phenomenon, armed trafficking gangs in Libya are driving most of Africa’s illegal immigration across the Mediterranean to Europe. As many as a hundred and seventy thousand are thought to have made the crossing last year, with thousands dying en route. Unprecedented numbers are continuing to cross this year, taking advantage of the chaos in Libya.”

“Not long before the first NATO air strikes, in 2011, Qaddafi warned that Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists would capitalize on the uprising against him. Libya, he warned, would be dismembered. In light of what has happened since, it seems safe to say that Qaddafi was right.”
Christian Persecution: “Even before the onset of the civil war and the fall of Gaddafi, Christians in Libya did not fully enjoy freedom of religion and belief. However, each Christian denomination was allowed one place of worship in each city and Christians were legally allowed to worship in public.”

“The potential for such societal or horizontal persecution was partly restrained because the state repressed militant and radical Islamic views.”

“The tight control that the state exercised on all groups and society accorded Christians in Libya a degree of protection from societal persecution and the threat from radical Islamic groups that would have been intense. Therefore, the unintended consequence of a strong autocratic control under the dictatorship of Gaddafi provided security and a degree of freedom of worship for Christians in Libya.”

“In this melee of armed groups and jihadi outfits, the situation for Christians in Libya has become difficult beyond imagination. Christians in Libya have been subjected to the most violent and horrendous forms of persecution.”

“Christian migrants and refugees in Libya are at particular risk of abuse from armed groups aiming to impose their own interpretation of Islamic law. People from Nigeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt have been abducted, tortured, unlawfully killed and harassed because of their religion. Most recently a total of at least 49 Christians, mostly from Egypt and Ethiopia were beheaded and shot in three mass summary killings claimed by the group calling itself the Islamic State (IS).”

Slave Trade: “Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign overthrew Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, opening the door for human rights abuses like refugee slavery.”
“This Libyan open-market slave trade did not exist under Qaddafi, and likely would not have, given his political might and advocacy of black and African liberation.”
[emphasis mine in above quotes]

The TGC piece gives only a partial accounting of why there is a slave trade in Libya almost to the point of being misleading. Yes, there is “an abundance of vulnerable migrants.” Yes, “Libya is a key transit point for migrants and refugees in Africa.” But, why? Libyan borders under the Gaddafi regime were heavily manned which made border crossings very difficult. The destruction of the Libyan state in 2011 is what changed all of that leading to mass migration from neighboring African nations.

The failure of TGC to acknowledge the key role the U.S. and NATO played in regime change and the destruction of the Libyan state in 2011, while reflecting the pattern of corporate media as a whole, denies its readers the information needed to work to prevent similar atrocities in the future. There is no Libyan open-market slave trade without the U.S./NATO-led military intervention in Libya and the subsequent overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. This preemptive, Just War-violating military intervention was strongly supported by evangelical favorites such as Marco Rubio, but never once did evangelical leaders call him to account as they supported him for President.

As TGC is rightfully celebrating amazing new church plants in difficult areas of the Middle East it would be helpful to also demonstrate how the destructive, counter-productive, hate-inducing interventionist policies of evangelical politicians make life much more difficult for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are actually trying to proclaim the Gospel and train disciples in these same areas. It is difficult enough for churches to thrive in Muslim-majority countries. The policies of preemptive war and regime change have made things worse. Perhaps we should think twice before endorsing candidates who are good on abortion but make life hell for Christians in the Middle East.
Here is what evangelicals can do in response to the revelations of the slave trade in Libya.

Connect the dots. As the information above hopefully demonstrated, the conditions that allowed the slave trade were created long before a 2014 civil war. U.S. foreign policy called for preemptive war in Libya to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Libya/overthrow the Gaddafi regime. The murder of Muammar Gaddafi is the major event that led to the chaotic conditions that allowed horrific human rights abuses including an open-market slave trade. There is a direct correlation between the interventionist policies of the politicians in Washington, D.C. and the widespread death, disease, and destruction throughout the Middle East including Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and more. Military interventions have made things worse. If we care about the refugees and the slaves of Libya, and we should, then we should also care about the political actions taken by elected officials that caused the conditions that allowed these humanitarian crises to exist.

Take the blinders off. There is more to public policy than abortion and the culture war. There is more to the morality or immorality of politicians than marital fidelity and sexual harassment. To once again use Marco Rubio as an example, Rubio had a strong pro-life record, said the right things about religious liberty, appeared to be a good father and husband, and even presented the Gospel at a campaign event. However, his stridently nationalist ideology of aggression was contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ: “If you’re an enemy of the United States and we have a chance to take a shot at you in a way that doesn’t hurt us, and has a chance of being successful, we’re probably going to take it. There’s a price to pay for being an enemy of the United States.” For Rubio, this translated into calling for a preemptive, illegal war of aggression against Libya. There is nothing Gospel-centered, shaped, or oriented about this immoral ideology. All of the warnings that were recently issued about evangelicals voting for Roy Moore applied to voting for Rubio: selling their souls, committing idolatry, lusting for power, and putting politics above the kingdom of God. Does that sound shocking? Apply this test: would the implementation of Marco Rubio’s foreign policy actively make you disobedient to Jesus? Yes, it would. Take the blinders off. Begin to evaluate a politician’s foreign policy with the same stringent moral standards we apply to other aspects of their platform.

We can prevent the creation of open-market slave trades before they begin by rejecting the sinful ideology that led to the creation of the slave trade. Followers of Christ should immediately reject wars of aggression and preemption, even when they are presented in the name of humanitarian aid. The disastrous consequences of Libya alone should be enough to put such pretensions to rest. It is good to be disturbed into action over the discovery of a real-life, present-day, open-market slave trade. It is even better to prophetically resist the powers that caused it to happen in the first place.

This post originally appeared at The Libertarian Christian Institute.

Jeff Wright, Jr. is a prison pastor, holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. Jeff is a very blessed husband and daddy, loves serving his local church, and enjoys all things Star Wars. He frequently writes for the Libertarian Christian Institute. You can also find him @jeffwrightjr.