The Court of Public Opinion

November 4, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment



We are a nation of polls.  We poll public opinion on just about everything imaginable – from how Congress is doing their jobs to how the president is doing his job to how many people support gay marriage to how many people support tougher gun control laws to how many people support the legalization of marijuana.

It’s this last bit of polling data that formed the focus of an L.A. Times article by Robin Abcarian, which chronicled the shifting tide of public opinion on our culture’s most famous controlled substance:

The Gallup organization released a poll showing that for the first time in 44 years, a wide margin of Americans – 58% to 39% – believe marijuana should be legalized.

Less than a year ago, only 48% said pot should be legal. That is an astonishing leap of 10 points in the last 11 months alone.[1]

The article explains that Colorado and Washington have led the curve by legalizing recreational marijuana use and their progressive policies, in turn, are moving the country forward:  “Like gay marriage, pot is here to stay.  And just like gay marriage, it seems like the rest of the country is finally starting to catch on.  Or light up.”

Personally, I find it ironic and more than a little medically disingenuous that at the same time cigarettes are increasingly controlled and decried because of the health risks associated with inhaling nicotine, tar, and smoke, using marijuana, which impairs motor abilities and adversely affects cardiopulmonary health, is increasingly accepted.

Regardless of the medical and, for the matter, moral arguments against the legalization of marijuana, I nevertheless must agree with Abcarian’s conclusion:  “Like gay marriage, pot is here to stay.”

Why do I concur with Abcarian’s conclusion?  Because we live in a society obsessed with and ruled by public opinion.  Our working presupposition is that if the majority of people approve of something, that something ought to be implemented societally.  And if the majority of people approve of something, that something ought to be considered good and right.  Public opinion, then, shapes far more than our federal policy; it guides our society’s morality.

But there is a problem with public opinion.  Because the people who proffer it are sinful, public opinion can be sinful.  One need look no farther than Pontius Pilate’s opinion poll:  “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 27:22)?  I’m not sure the public was right or righteous when they gave their opinion on Jesus’ sentence.

The apostle Paul reminds us of the stark sinfulness that can sometimes mark public opinion when he writes:

[People] have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:29-32)

According to Paul, the public delights in sanctioning sin.  Far from being good and moral, the public is sinful and wicked.  And lest we think we are somehow immune to the depravity of the general public, Paul reminds us that we too play a role in society’s degeneracy:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1)

It’s not just that public opinion “out there” can be wrong, it’s that our own opinions can be wrong because our opinions are stained and maimed by sin.

In a culture where public opinion shapes nearly everything, Christians have a countercultural message:  what is moral and best is not always what is popular and promoted.  Instead, what is moral and what is best is that which is revealed by God.

So what does this mean for the debate over legalizing marijuana?  It means that a debate such as this one cannot be settled by a poll.  Instead, we, as Christians, need to think about this issue in light of God’s Word.  Perhaps what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:20 is a good place to begin:  “Therefore honor God with your body.”

[1] Robin Abcarian, “Like gay marriage, medical marijuana is here to stay,” L.A. Times (10.23.2013).

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