Like many churchgoers, the members of one Bay Area congregation are slowly returning to in-person services, excited to see friends they haven’t seen in over a year and finally resume worship amongst their fellow believers.
It’s a story that’s playing out in pews across America, but this San Francisco church is a bit different. While churchgoers elsewhere are likely taking the standard bread and wine as sacrament, this church’s congregants are instead taking substances like LSD and psychedelic mushrooms.
Finding a Higher Power
The church has requested that news outlets refrain from publishing it’s full name, for obvious reasons. Led by the enigmatic Pastor Bob, they employ all manner of psychedelics to reach enlightenment during worship. As Pastor Bob explains, “they [guide] us into something ineffable.”
While it might sound like the religious angle is simply an excuse to hang out and do drugs, that’s appparently not really the case. Before congregants can consume any substances, they must first join the church, then undergo a period of safety training and education before they can imbibe under the supervision of a “sacrament carrier.”
Pastor Bob describes them as “healing sacraments,” and proponents say that the use of mushrooms, LSD, or ayahuasca tea can help one achieve transcendence, enlightenment, and a feeling of closeness with a higher power, feelings adherents of other faiths might experience through prayer or meditation.
As one churchgoer, a retired physician, put it, “Through entheogens I’ve had divine experiences. I lost my fear of dying.”
A Growing Legal Issue
Of course, there’s a legal issue at play here. Most psychedelic drugs are currently outlawed federally, although some cities and states have taken measures to legalize or otherwise decriminalize them. One such bill is currently in the works in California, but there's little assurance it will pass.
Proponents of legalization argue that psychedelics are generally harmless and that their illegal status is pointlessly putting nonviolent people in prison.
For some people, including members of the San Francisco church, legalization goes beyond basic common sense – it's fundamentally a First Amendment issue.
Should There Be Freedom to Trip?
Drug use is currently permitted in only a select few religious rituals.
Some Native American churches can use peyote as part of their religious practice, and a couple of Brazilian religious sects within the United States are allowed to consume ayahuasca tea during their religious rites.
Churches that use psychedelics want to widen that scope, and they say the law is on their side. “I am confident that our practice is legally supported in the United States,” says Pastor Bob. “But demonstrating that to the DEA and the courts could be costly, time-consuming and a real distraction from what we are trying to do.”
They’re hardly the first group in recent years to use drugs in religious ritual. A few years ago, the International Church of Cannabis opened their doors, precipitated on the argument that consumption of marijuana as part of religious ritual “accelerates and deepens [the] process” of creating their best selves.
Turns out, it's also an ancient tradition. Burned cannabis was recently discovered at a religious site in Israel, used as part of an ancient Jewish ritual. Scientists confirmed: it was enough weed to get everyone in the room very high.
It all begs the question: is there really that big of a difference between consuming marijuana, or mushrooms, or LSD as sacrament, compared to bread and wine?
What do you think? Would you take psychedelics as sacrament? Are the congregants of these churches legitimately looking for deeper truths, or just looking for a good high?