The Legalization of Marijuana: What Christians Should Know

by Roger Dowismap


Regardless of what side of the issue you come down on, the legalization of marijuana within the next two years is a strong possibility. Twenty states, including the District of Columbia, have enacted laws that allow people to use medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington have legalized the drug for recreational use. While still illegal under federal law, the Justice Department said it will not challenge states' marijuana laws as long as they do not run counter to certain federal enforcement, such as selling pot to minors.

Marijuana use has become a passionate subject, with strong advocates on both sides of medical and casual use of the drug. Parents find it difficult to know what to think, and that leaves young people debating what information is reliable and sorting through what remains from the lore of past generations.

Marijuana has political, social, medical, and moral implications. The purpose of the following information is to help inform Christians and assist them in making the best possible decisions while remaining true to their faith convictions.

Is marijuana just a harmless plant?

There's a reason why heavy users of marijuana, especially teenagers, are labeled potheads and stoners. With the use of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Device (MRI), doctors are able to identify visible changes in the brain's information highways after ingestion of the drug. THC clogs receptors acting as switching stations, resulting in memory reduction, slowed reaction time, loss of motivation, and reduced peripheral vision. In short, the brain is temporarily incapacitated.

Is marijuana addictive?

For years, many advocates of marijuana use argued that it was not addictive—that is, until research uncovered the relationship between the use of cannabis and drugs already manufactured by the brain. Serotonin, a chemical released by the brain that provides feelings of pleasure, well-being, and contentment, is one of those natural substances. THC, the active component in marijuana that leads to feelings of euphoria, mimics Serotonin. The brain, sensing an overload, shuts down its production of the chemical, even after the effects of marijuana are gone. When it is absent from the body, marijuana users begin to feel irritable, depressed, anxious, and may have trouble sleeping, all of which make it difficult to quit.

Is marijuana a "gateway drug"?

At one time possession of marijuana in any form or amount was a felony. It was often the first step towards to the use of harder drugs like heroin and cocaine.

One often hears the term "addictive personality" tossed about today, usually by counselors in drug treatment facilities. The definition varies, but primarily refers to any behavior that leads to compulsive use of a substance or participating in an activity that has a negative effect. It can mean someone has a genetic predisposition to addiction, such as to alcohol, or it can mean destructive behaviors like gambling, overeating, pornography use.

Science has yet to provide a method of predicting who will become addicted to a behavior or substance. At best, substance abuse counselors can review existing behavior and make an educated guess as to one's likelihood of future compulsive behavior.

What we do know is that the amount of marijuana use in this country is high and on the rise. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 2.4 million persons aged 12 and older used marijuana for the first time in 2012. That translates into an average of 6,600 new users each day. Clearly, the stigma attached to marijuana use is fading, probably due to greater acceptance of the drug's medical application.

It should be clear that there is no substantive evidence that the numbers of those graduating to harder drugs are keeping pace with the increase in marijuana use. Nevertheless, drug use is hazardous by definition. A key component in measuring risk is the presence of an ever-increasing need to achieve a greater high. The need for a stronger drug, or a new drug, is disturbing and signals the need for great caution.

Does marijuana affect teenagers differently than adults?

Northwest University researchers analyzed the relationship between casual use and brain changes and found that users under age 25 who smoked the drug no more than once or twice a week showed significant abnormalities in two important brain structures. The study findings, published by Dr. Hans Breiter in the Journal of Neuroscience, are similar to those of past research linking chronic, long-term use. Breiter said he was inspired to look at the effects of recreational use after previous findings showed that heavy cannabis use caused brain abnormalities similar to those observed in patients with schizophrenia.

"We need to see what happens longitudinally," Breiter said, "What happens as you follow people over time? What happens if they stop using—do these bad effects continue? What happens if you can intervene early? My worry is we haven't studied this compound and here we are looking to change legislation on it."

Staci Gruber, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the research, said Breiter's findings are consistent with her own, although she has focused on somewhat heavier users.

"There have been a growing number of studies that suggest that marijuana use in emerging adults is associated with differences in brain structure and cognitive abilities," said Gruber, also the director of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core at McLean Hospital outside Boston. "I'm not saying [pot smoking] is analogous to shooting heroin or cocaine, but it's also not quite the benign substance people thought it was."

In 2012, clinical psychologist Madeline Meier of Duke University and her colleagues examined data from 1,037 New Zealanders. They found that people who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost an average of eight points in IQ between the ages of 13 and 38. The study further indicated that the lost cognitive abilities were permanently lost, even for those who quit smoking marijuana as adults. Conversely, those who never smoked pot had an average increase of one IQ point by the same age.

Will legalization reduce violent crime?

Al Capone and his crew did not become model citizens after the repeal of Prohibition—and neither will drug dealers. We often hear that criminal behavior will stop if the government just gets out of the way, legalizing a drug. Clearly, this is faulty reasoning.

First, age limits restrict who can legally purchase marijuana. Customers must be at least 21 years of age and cannot buy more than an ounce at a time. Minors will continue to seek out drug dealers, many of whom are violent gangbangers who dominate the trade. Gangs will still use violence as a means of competing for territory and a larger share of the market, not to mention the occasional homicide from a drug deal gone wrong.

Alcohol abuse is closely tied to violent crime. Statistics obtained from the Department of Justice show that 40 percent of convicted murderers were under the influence of alcohol at the time they committed their crime.

If we rely on those numbers alone, it is conceivable that violent crime could actually decrease if marijuana replaced alcohol as a drug of choice. But given the availability of marijuana that already exists, no evidence suggests a change in violent behavior.

Is marijuana an all-cash business?

Pot production is a booming business, but manufacturers can't get a bank to touch their money. Selling marijuana is still on the books as a federal crime, and although Attorney General Eric Holder distributed a memo stating that the current administration will not prosecute in states where it is legal, bankers remain skeptical.

Guidance from the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury did not change the fact that any bank that supports illegal activity risks prosecution. Until the federal government amends the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has no acceptable medical use, things are unlikely to change.

An all-cash industry is an invitation to a long list of criminal activity. Criminals frequently skim money off the top, never reporting it to the federal government. One of the more attractive characteristics of a business run solely on cash is the ease with which criminals use it to launder profits generated from other ill-gotten means. Finally, undocumented cash profits are the means by which criminals launch and support organized crime. Terrorism, the illegal drug trade, and arms trafficking are just a few of the crimes that depend on "invisible" and untraceable dollars that allow them to operate under the radar of law enforcement.

In short, any cash business is a bad idea.

Will legalization help ease the strain on our nation's overpopulated jails?

The prison population in the United States is comprised of professional criminals; meaning, they are professionals who make their living through extralegal activities. Criminality is a complex social issue with few solutions. Sociologists refer to "criminal thinking" as the way law breakers justify everything from minor misconduct to committing a serious felony.

No one is sentenced to prison for casual use of marijuana. An ounce or less of grass is classified as a misdemeanor and many states do no more than write the arrestee a citation—not the same as a traffic ticket—in which he promises to show up for court.

Undercover police officers will continue to make arrests for hand-to-hand sales as long as criminals continue to sell drugs on street corners. But without the recovery of a large amount of narcotics, most violators are sentenced to probation or incarceration at the county level.

Generally speaking, the legal system reserves its prison space for traffickers who deal in large quantities of drugs or those with a string of convictions. Nonetheless, the Obama Administration is pushing towards the commutation of drug dealers with no violent criminal history that have served at least 10 years of their sentence. This may free up some space, but comparing drug dealers, who are often violent, to violators who possess small amounts of marijuana is like equating bank robbers to shoplifters. It remains to be seen just how many of these offenders will eventually be connected to crimes not yet committed.

Can medical marijuana help treat glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis?

Studies clearly show that medical marijuana can impact the symptoms associated with a number of diseases. But a better patient-to-doctor question is: "Does marijuana do a better job than existing legal medications?" In most cases, the answer is no.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), marijuana reduces the intraocular pressure (IOP) necessary to reduce pain in the treatment of Glaucoma, but only for about three or four hours.

The American Academy of Neurology reviewed more than 40 years of research on alternative treatments for Multiple Sclerosis (MS). While moderate evidence indicated that medicinal marijuana could ease MS patients' pain, frequent urination, and muscle rigidity known as spasticity, not enough evidence showed whether smoking marijuana is helpful enough, especially given some of the serious side effects associated with medical marijuana, such as dizziness, thinking and memory problems, and depression.

A recent review published in Arthritis Care & Research did not support the use of marijuana for treatment of pain from rheumatoid arthritis, stating that evidence supporting claims of significant pain reduction is insufficient.

Many doctors refuse to prescribe marijuana because it proves no better than existing medications. At the very least, they argue, more research is needed. The drug industry makes a great deal of money from the promotion of medicines. Certainly, any legalized form of medical marijuana will result in a bumper crop of new millionaires. As with any drug, it is not wise to accept undocumented claims of success without sufficient supporting evidence.

What about medical marijuana for the treatment of seizure disorders?

One of the true bright lights of medicinal marijuana lies in the treatment of seizures and head injuries. The most publicized patient to date is Charlotte Figi, a young child who suffers from severe myoclonic epilepsy of infancy (SMEI), a condition caused by a gene mutation. It is not unusual for victims of SMEL to suffer up to 300 seizures a day. The condition is so severe that many parents sign "Do Not Resuscitate" orders on their child's behalf.

In a CNN documentary, Charlotte's parents tell of trying every available treatment before resorting to medical marijuana. Even then, her mother had reservations. But faced with no other options, they sought out two Colorado physicians who prescribed an olive oil solution low in THC (which gets people stoned) and high in CBD (the substance that treats seizures). The outcome was nothing less than dramatic, reducing Charlotte's seizures to two or three per month.

On April 24 of this year, the Missouri State Legislature approved the use of certain marijuana components for treatment of seizures. With the title wave of favorable publicity other states are expected to enact similar laws.

Will legalization increase tax revenue and allow government regulation of the drug?

The production, distribution, and sale of marijuana are equal parts of an emerging industry, and entrepreneurs are standing in line, hoping to become rich. States like California are looking to find solutions to their ever-growing deficit problems, describing marijuana as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

In Colorado, hopes were high that a windfall in revenue was only a pen stroke away. However, while the sale of various forms of the drug rapidly reached a dramatic peak, it just as quickly declined, leaving those in the business to question why.

One reason may be that Colorado places a 15 percent excise tax, a 10 percent special sales tax, and a 2.9 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana, in addition to application and license fees. (It imposes just a 2.9 percent sales tax, as well as application on license fees, on medical marijuana.) This makes marijuana a very expensive product, and the over taxation may very well be driving customers back to the street.

Nevertheless, even conservative estimates project that the nationwide legalization will raise $4-10 billion annually. Some of that money will go towards building new schools and programs to fight drug abuse.

Is using marijuana a sin?

A quick Google search reveals just how expansive the debate is, even among Christians. And the latest research has made the issue even more complex and difficult to resolve.

Advocates of marijuana often compare it to alcohol, stating that it is less harmful. But alcohol can be calibrated and consumed in moderation. The intake of marijuana results in an immediate high. How high depends on the THC level. There is no gradual inebriation. The Bible is quite clear when addressing the subject of "drunkenness" and problems associated with intoxication. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is used exclusively for its intoxicating effects.

Stewardship of creation—and that includes our bodies, as temples of the Holy Spirit—is a clear command from the Lord. All Christians need to examine what the Bible says about intoxication, whether brought about by alcohol or any other drug. Avoiding the adversities and challenges of life by numbing is a sin that leads to tragic consequences in our relationships with others and with God. God offers us the comfort we need, and God's grace is sufficient.

Regardless of the legal, political, and economic implications, Christians have an ethical obligation to honor the Creator by keeping their bodies healthy, their thinking clear, and their actions sober. Legalization, while not irrelevant, is not the overriding factor in this debate. Christians are accountable both for their conduct and the example they set for others. We cannot afford to take that responsibility lightly.

Roger Dowis was with the Los Angeles Police Department as a lieutenant for 25 years and as an investigator with the MO Attorney General's Office for two years.

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22 Responses

  1. Matthew Rohrbach says:

    Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. (‭Genesis‬ ‭1‬:‭11-12‬ NIV)
    Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. (‭Genesis‬ ‭1‬:‭29‬ NIV)

    • Shane says:

      Do most Christians even know about this verse or how it applies? Christians love to take the verses literal, so when God said every plant & every seed. God means (every) plant & (every seed). What is there to question people?

  2. Grace says:

    If you have chronic pain,illnesses and endure them for years and have tried every "legal" drug and your body will start shutting down because it takes your bodies organs to process them. I've looked death many times in the face and most rehabs and over doses are because people are addicted to pain killers which is pretty much a legal ,smaller dose of heroin, I think if youve tried every avenue and your doctors are saying it will help with side effects from treatments. I am completely for it only for medical reasons. Alcohol is legal but is also a "drug" Do you know how many people that are completely healthy that are out causing themselves or others harm due too much alcohol. Medical Marijuana is the least of our problems if its used for medical reasons only. Don't write articles unless youve read ALL the research and have seen the suffering that goes on.

  3. josh says:

    is alcohol slang on the streets to minors by gangbangers? no… so why would this article suggest legalization of marijuana would lead to gangsters who target selling pot to minors to make a profit? that's just one example of a careless or unfactual statement in this overly biased article…

  4. Bill says:

    I feel as though you may be a little unfair as to the effects of marijuana. You can't compare the so-called "high" from smoke marijuana to being drunk. They're completely different. I don't even like calling it being "high" because if you've ever done any hard drugs you would immediately notice the difference. A person that hasn't smoked before or hasn't smoked in a while will have an extremely low tolerance and may feel overwhelmed at first; but that quickly fades after a few days. Whenever I smoke, I just feel relaxed. My thoughts aren't any different than they would normally be, although I do notice feeling "slow" and needing to concentrate more. It can also be distracting. For some people, it can induce paranoia, but that goes along with their tolerance. Low-tolerance smokers will be more paranoid than high-tolerance smokers.

    I have a debilitating illness, and for many years I was addicted to opiates prescribed by doctors. It was literally the most hellish experience of my life. Nobody can understand addiction until it happens to them. Quitting simply isn't an option. Mere attempts to quit will result in physical nerve pain, nervousness, cold sweats and inability to sleep. It's unbearable. Also, my tolerance for opiates is so high, I can down entire handfuls of the most powerful opiate pills and barely feel anything. Tolerance to opiates is developed QUICKLY. The same goes for alcohol. This is what leads to alcoholism and prevents people from quitting. The withdrawals can even lead to death or shock.

    Marijuana is NOT addicting. When you stop cold turkey, there are NO withdrawals. It's not a drug; it's an herb. I don't care what anyone says, until you've experienced all ends of the spectrum, it's impossible to make these distinctions without hearing it from someone else. Many doctors agree with me; while some do not, I feel as though these doctors have an agenda: to sell pharmaceuticals. Marijuana puts a big dent into their purse.

  5. Boobird31 says:

    Very biased article. You seem to make NO comparisons to Lortab (now known as Narco), Vicodin, Oxycontin, Fentenyl, etc. which are MAN MADE and HIGHLY addictive even under a doctor's care. It's a fact that even the non-addictive patient will still need higher and higher doses of these meds over time because they're DELIBERATELY DESIGNED this way. I have advanced lupus, have had chemo treatment 4 times, have had every one of these man made drugs and more with very sad results. The Fentenyl actually killed me. I was taken off the man made meds and have been on GOD MADE marijuana for NINE YEARS now. I STILL have my 183 IQ, I haven't needed ONE SINGLE dose increase in that entire 9 years, whereas I needed dose increases within 7-9 months of initial doses of ALL the man made drugs. I have also always had medication left over with my marijuana prescription because after that "high" feeling wears off, the drug continues to treat my pain for HOURS because the FACT is that The marijuana kicks up the serotonin in your brain which is also your body's NATURAL PAIN RECEPTORS. I noticed you "conveniently" left that FACT out of your one sided, obviously biased article. As a Christian, I thank GOD for the medicine HE provided this world on the week He created the earth. Marijuana has healed me and gotten me off my cane, has kept me out of a wheelchair, and got me out of bed and made me a momma again. It also has helped me tremendously with my life long chronic insomnia. Maybe as a Christian, you should have interviewed some actual patients instead of just using statistics provided by the proponent of the drug, cause not including ALL the facts makes you look like a liar and that hurts Christian credibility. Also, it's ridiculous to compare this drug to alcohol cause they're two completely different drugs. I don't know ANYONE who only drinks a sip or two of alcohol. People drink to get drunk. Some people are using pot to heal themselves. There's a big difference. I'm sick and tired of holier than thou Pharasees posing as Christians judging patients who desperately need this GOD GIVEN MEDICATION, and making them feel like God no longer loves them cause they're taking a medication GOD PROVIDED for pain management.

    • Sarah King says:

      Thank you for sharing your story with us. I'm praising God that you've found healing and relief from pain. — swk

    • Darren Bernat says:

      Thanks for your perspective, though I am sorry for your medical problems. I am a Christian and am fairly interested in this debate. Before I became a Christian, I consumed a fair amount of cannabis. In fact, cannabis was definitely my "drug of choice" and to this day, occasionally I still have moments where, if I were given the opportunity, I would probably use cannabis.

      I believe that the bible does not condemn alcohol provided one does not become intoxicated. My thoughts on cannabis used to be that it is morally wrong based on the fact that to use it, one would have to break the law and that a very little amount makes someone intoxicated. I think that theoretically, using cannabis for treatment of a disease would be considered permissible under biblical morality.

      Now that the end of cannabis prohibition is near, I am rethinking my past position on the morality of using cannabis recreationally. Curious of your thoughts.

      • Jeff Lucas says:

        I know a handful of Christians who are indifferent about cannabis prohibition. We started a group on Facebook called "Christian Cannabis Fellowship". Most of us are Evangelical, we hold to a historical grammatical hermeneutic, and we hate it that we can't have these conversations in Church without being demonized by our Brothers and Sisters of differing opinions. So join up if you like, there's no doubt in my mind we've nailed this topic down to the jot and title. It might help you make better sense of it all.
        But in the meantime, if you feel it's sinful or unpleasing to the Lord to consume cannabis, and you do it; you sin, regardless of whether the act is sinful or not. The reason? Because you did not follow the Lord from the bottom of your heart, you failed to keep the commands of God in the depths of your inner life. You harmed your conscience, or "stumbled" as the Apostle Paul coined it in Romans 14. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against the conscience.

  6. Isaac says:

    I understand the bias but if we're to take care of our bodies as the temples of the Holy Spirit, avoiding McDonalds should be a higher priority. Everything we eat effects us, Ginger is a potent serotonin antagonist, accounting for its effects on motion sickness and use for stimulating digestion. Acutely elevated serotonin can modulate inflammation but eventually it suppresses the thyroid and inhibits mitochondrial respiration. I'm not quite so sure that marijuana raises serotonin chronically.

    • Isaac says:

      Recent studies can back up my claim that serotonin isn't truly the "happy chemical" it's made out to be. SSRI antidepressants are very, very poorly understood drugs, but I won't get into that right now.

  7. Jeff Lucas says:

    [along with Chrysostom's homilies on Colossians 2 and Romans 14, the Author would do well to research the Gnostic heresies of the 1st and second centuries. I'd recommend the ISBE to learn about that. ]

    John Chrysostom's homily VII, on Colossians 2:16-23 is a must-read. I often overlook at how severe he is to the prohibitionist. He divides them even from the Legalist, and shows them to be entirely foreign to the Christian Church-
    " And mark how he makes sport of them, "touch not, handle not, taste not," as though they were cowards and keeping themselves clear of some great matters, "all which things are to perish with the using." He has taken down the swollenness of the many, and added, "after the precepts and doctrines of men." What sayest thou? Dost thou speak even of the Law? Henceforth it is but a doctrine of men, after the time is come. Or, because they adulterated it, or else, he alludes to the Gentile institutions. The doctrine, he says, is altogether of man."

  8. Jeff Lucas says:

    -one more point to make; John Calvin's annual salary included 250 gallons of wine. Was he a drunkard? I think not. What I think, is that people are letting the Government define drunkenness, instead of Scripture. The Bible mentions many ways of being drunk: with fury, with bitterness, with bloodthirstiness… Carrie Nation, for instance.

    IMO, what matters most is a clear conscience with God about it. And it's sad to see so many Christians lording their prohibition over the Conscience of their brothers and sisters who are set at Liberty… and this is no small point, our conscience is very relevant to our diets. nearly half of the time Paul used the word "conscience" in his epistles, it was in reference to what we eat or drink.
    Pick up the TDNT and do a couple word studies for me. "Stumble" and "Conscience". See what you think

  9. Mystic says:

    I am Christian, but what sickens me about our religion is the way some of us hide behind it. We did the same thing with gay marriage; anything that makes us uncomfortable or seems "bad" is automatically debated as a sin. This article made some very hypocritical points in regards to alcohol. If this article mentioned alcohol's affects on the adolescent brain, the addiction and the deaths associated with alcohol, the article would be demonizing ALCOHOL instead. However, alcohol is a social norm, and therefore celebrated by the church with no hesitation. Marijuana is not what this article portrays it as; don't confuse your personal beliefs with the beliefs of God.

  10. Steve says:

    Clogs receptors!!!??! News flash….the human body, not only the brain, was created specifically with cannabinoid receptor sites! Cannabis Sativa (you call marijuana) is the most useful plant YHWH (God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob) has graciously provided his ultimate creation, us! Very uninformed, biased, deceitful article with false facts from biased sources. A healthy child or teen is still growing / developing especially their communication pathways in the brain. Still developing healthy humans should allow themselves to fully mature so not to alter their natural development (memory, cognition, etc) so I personally do not allow my teen boys to ingest cannabis for that reason. And only that reason. If they were ill or had a disease that required pharmaceutical drugs, cannabis would be utilized first. In numerous cases, cannabis is found to alleviate negative health conditions light years beyond what any man-made drug could do. Cannabis is a wonderful tool when used by a true soldier of Christ but today's uninformed, lukewarm "Christians" have no understanding of this. Many can claim Christ but the spirit must dwell within you and when it does you get a little gift called…discernment. 2 Corinthians 4:4.

  11. Jewel says:

    Terrible Article.. Do some real research if you're going to inform people and not go on some anecdotal lecture on marijuana.

  12. alan clayton says:

    as a Christian, i realize that during Christ's time on earth in Israel there were no known laws restricting the use or cultivation of cannabis. it must not have been a problem because it was never mentioned, and no problems were mentioned. in fact, there were no laws against cannabis for the past 2500 or more years until the 20th century. how can something that was never a problem before, and something that was quite useful for all sorts of things from rope, kindling, clothing, etc. could suddenly become a serious problem ?
    fear is a problem, hysteria is a problem, and prohibition is a problem. let's tackle those problems, and leave the cannabis be.
    who knows, some other creatures like birds, squirrels, possums, etc may one day thank us.

  13. GFY says:

    I love how the author is retired law enforcement. That is clearly conveyed in the way article is delivered. The article reads pretty close if not dead on how they would begin to teach a new cadet on the subject matter. This is just 25 years of law enforcement brainwashing regurgitated into an informational article because this gentleman is still trying to find purpose. Sadly misrepresented and a complete waste of 7 minutes. I found more facts in the comments than in the article body. Especially Mathew Rohrbach's comment regarding Genesis 1:29 – among many others.

    "Common sense is a dying breed"

  14. Greg says:

    Wow I have to say that the responses to this article that didn't bring much scripture into the discussion was overwhelmingly a bunch of defensive responses. I have been a christian for most of my 65 year life of which some of those years I must say I am not proud of. I experienced the use of many mind altering substances in that time to include alcohol and pot. I have also spent much time in prayer and in the word concerning this subject. what is very disappointing to me is that it sounds like every one is more interested in defending their use of mind altering substances rather than talking about the benefits to having a sound mind and being guided thru life by the infilling Holy Spirit.

  15. J. Shannon Williams says:

    Typical! Spinning what the Bible says for one's own use! Hey Christians, you can't pick and choose

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