2/08/2009

Wesleyans Oppose Gambling? You bet!

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So Wesleyans oppose gambling--should they still oppose it? If so how much?

25 comments:

Ray Harrison said...

What has changed in the social situation since the 1800s?

Chuck Colson has observed that the Church seems to have abandoned both the preaching and application of a Christian Worldview. The Wesleyan Discipline had been the bedrock of such a worldview. However, it seems that, with the efforts to make converts instead of disciples, a new worldview has taken hold of the Church. Colson spoke of this recently at Moody Founders Week. Keith Drury also recently commented on this issue.

The current economic malaise is partly a result of a consumerism worldview. The generation that preceded mine believed in delayed gratification, i.e., one did not make a purchase until one could afford to pay cash for the purchase. Mine (the baby boomers) was a transitional generation; debt was OK, but within moderate limits. We learned to find out how much house we could afford.

However, the generation after mine no longer believes in delayed gratification. Instead, a consumerism worldview now suggests that instant gratification is the way to happiness. Houses that people could not afford were purchased because mortgage lenders no longer commented on affordability. Instead, mortgage brokers concentrated on higher commissions from the selling of these mortgages. And the generation that never believed in delayed gratification bought it, hook, line, and sinker.

Some of these people found their way into our churches. Not as disciples, but as converts. They brought along their worldview which clashes with a Christian Worldview. Part of their worldview included the tolerance of lotteries, raffles, and office pools.

In our enthusiasm for numbers, we focused on integration into the fellowship. Unfortunately, I beliveve that we failed to integrate them into the discipline. Hence, Colson's concern over the changing worldview within the Church.

The Church has one primary responsibility: to train Christians who embrace a Christian Worldview, who in turn will train others to embrace a Christian Worldview. And so on. That is the essence of the Great Commission; we are called to make disciples.

The issue with gambling is not one of form over substance. Rather, the Discipline says that we are "to demonstrate a positive social witness by abstaining from all forms of gambling . . ." Wesleyans are called to be people of substance, different from the world, different in a way that is attractive to the unchurced. Abstaining from gambling, in any form, makes us different. People notice, and people pay attention.

The Christian Worldview is the only one that offers hope for the unchurched. Wesleyans need to get this right. We can't afford to be fence-sitters. Although we may not have a large voice in our government, we still have a large voice in our local churches. We need to ensure that the emphasis on a positive social witness is preserved.

Changing our stand on gambling does little for that position.

Pastor Rod said...

I agree that Christians need to have a rigorous biblical worldview. I strongly disagree that the way to instill that is by listing rules in The Discipline. Nor do I believe that The Discipline “has been a bedrock of such a worldview.”

Many of the problems with gambling still exist and should be addressed by the Church. But gambling is not the only way (or even the worst way) that these problems continue in our society.

Poor Stewardship: This is a valid argument against gambling, but it applies more to other areas of our lives. We North American Christians are terrible stewards of the wealth God has entrusted us with. In this regard, gambling is the least of our problems.

Ill-gotten Gain: Again, gambling is a minor player here. What about people whose business it is to sell people worthless stuff that they don’t need? How many good Christians brag about the “steal” they got at the garage sale because the person didn’t know the real value of what they were selling?

Misplaced Hope: Gambling is hardly a contender in this category. We put our hope in the government, our 401(k), our long-term strategic plans, celebrity leaders, a university degree, our self-discipline, and a long list of other things.

To your list I would add:

Exploitation:Large-scale gambling exploits the poor and the mathematically illiterate. But it is not the only licit way that we do that in today’s society. What about paycheck advance loans? What about hiring workers at wages too low to live on? What about denying benefits (such as health care) to employees by keeping them just below the fulltime threshold?

Elevation of “Entertainment”: One argument for gambling, which has some substance, is that it is a form of entertainment. In our society we have elevated entertainment to a necessity. In fact, we’ve almost made it an entitlement. As far as I can tell, Christians are no different than the general population in this regard. Why do actors and athletes make so much money? Because we spend ridiculous amounts of money going to movies and sporting events. How much do we spend on “home entertainment systems”?

This is an example of why rules aren’t much help in dealing with these issues. Does anyone think it is a good idea to have a rule about the maximum size of HDTV that a member can purchase? (Of course, it would have to be updated every few months as the prices drop.) Or maybe we should have a membership commitment that we agree not to manufacture or sell trinkets that go in “gumball” machines.

I think this demonstrates the folly of trying to do discipleship by rules. The purpose of discipleship is not to manage our behavior, but to instill the mind and attitudes of Jesus Christ, so that we naturally do, say and think what Jesus would, were he in our place. These rules have the appearance of wisdom, but they lack any value in making us Christlike.

I think we need to be tougher on ourselves about seriously following Jesus as true disciples. But rules are not an effective means of spiritual formation.

One other thing, while the desire for instant gratification is a serious problem in our society, the ability to delay gratification is not the answer to spiritual maturity. We act as if self-discipline and willpower are the keys to spiritual growth. The result is people who work hard to emulate the behaviors described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 but inside remain resentful, bitter and petty.

Wes McCallum said...

When was the last time you heard a sermon on gambling? A half century ago, some preachers railed against vices like dice, cards, bingo, and raffles. Such issues were “petty gambling” in comparison to “grand gambling” risks like stock and mortgage investments. Other risky investments are in real estate, pensions, Social Security, home equity loans, reverse mortgages, etc. The church at large needs guidance through the current economic crisis that is severely impacting families, churches, and colleges. Even Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral is lying off staff and selling land. Every level of the church needs sound financial guidance: families on mortgage and credit issues; church boards on budgeting and investment issues; pastors on pension and housing issues. We can all benefit from sound financial advisement, while we cut our “gambling losses” and invest for the future.

Ray Harrison said...

Do I have a stake in this gambling issue? You bet I do, and I’m all in on the importance of the discussion. I might not have had much to say about it, except for the fact that a church I know is one that used what several people have called a raffle or lottery at a recent event to further its evangelistic purposes.

The facts are these: a church I know gave away three $500.00 gift cards at a recent annual Christmas event. In order to give away the cards, this church solicited the names and addresses of attendees. Only those people who gave up their names and addresses were allowed to participate in the drawing. My wife, who did not surrender her identity was, therefore, not eligible for the drawing. People who participated in the drawing placed their personal information at risk.

When objections arose to this activity, church leaders offered three explanations. At first, they tried to trivialize the information received in order for one to enter the drawing. However, minimizing the importance of personal information is no small matter to someone who has been the victim of identity theft.

My wife was the victim of harassment early on in our marriage. We had our phone number removed from the local directory in order to curtail the harassing phone calls. The phone calls stopped, in part I believe, because the personal information was no longer available. Many victims of identity theft wish that it could be just that easy.

The government has also taken an interest in dealing with identity theft. As a certified public accountant, I could spend a year in jail if I make any unauthorized disclosure of tax return information, including name and/or address. [Please see IRS regulations interpreting IRC Section 7216.] I could spend a year in jail for disclosing the same information that this church thinks is trivial. Using someone else’s personal information is definitely no trivial matter.

The second argument that the leadership of this church offered is that the “end justifies the means.” Their assertion is that gaining information for evangelistic purposes is worth the offending practice. Oh, really! If that argument could be sustained, our churches might employ waterboarding as a means of making converts. We could get them in the door and then torture them until they confessed Jesus. Alternatively, we could hold a gun to their head and force them to convert. It worked for Islam for centuries; the fear-of-the-sword-conversion strategy. Or, perhaps we could take the $500.00 and just bribe people into becoming converts.

This argument is ludicrous. The end never justifies the means. Using methods that are illegal, immoral, or unethical do not bring glory to Jesus or to His Church. Further, we are people of free will. As people who confess a Christian Worldview, we acknowledge that free will was instrumental to the fall, and we come to grace by the invitation of a loving GOD who calls us. However, we must respond freely. Torture, extortion, and bribery are far removed from a free response.

The third argument used by this church is that they just did not believe that the activity was wrong. They could not believe that someone would call it gambling. However, that is exactly what several members called it.

The definition of gambling includes the placing of something at risk in the hope or expectation of a greater return. That something at risk has historically been viewed as money. It is the traditional view of a gambling activity. However, what can be placed at risk can also be someone’s personal information. It is important, and is not exchanged lightly by people concerned about its usage. Yet, the church in question thought otherwise.

So, my question is this: does the Church have the privilege of conducting a raffle or lottery or even a drawing, regardless of their intended use of the acquired information? Or, was the solicitation of personal information in exchange for a chance to win a prize something else? If something else, what was it? Even if labeled a drawing, the activity is still synonymous with a raffle or lottery.

What then of any, similar 50/50 raffles wherein altruistic purposes prevail? My Kiwanis Club conducts a weekly raffle with half of the proceeds going for betterment of our community. Is that activity allowed? If the Discipline is to have any impact on how we live, would not consistent application and teaching by our churches be necessary? We are called to present a positive social witness by refraining from all forms of gambling. So, where am I missing it? If the activity is allowed for this church, why not for me, as well? I’m looking for consistency as well as guidance.

Lastly, if the Church is to be serious about changed lifestyles, it first needs to focus on changed worldviews. Worldview does not follow lifestyle. Instead, worldview precedes lifestyle. When the Church looks just like the world, our worldview becomes irrelevant. In that event, lifestyle change happens only by accident. Let us pray that we are better than that.

Jay said...

I don't think much has changed other than the technology of gambling, exploitation is still the core of the problem.

The arguments against gambling and the Wesleyan stand on gambling has one major issue. Do the members of the church even care about the discipline? I know many people from the many churches I've been to, even students and graduates from my classes at IWU who show lip service of agreement with the discipline but ignore it. Gambling, drinking, sex all of these issues have become so muddled in todays church that people somehow have gotten the idea that what they think is sin is what matters not what God calls sin. I think this problem goes deeper than people know involving those in leadership.
The answer to this problem is a return to Holiness and an understanding of Holy living beyond the individual idea of Holy living and returning to a corporate Holy living.

PastorJim said...

It sounds to me like Ray above has "other issues" with his pastor... he's stretching to call a drawing gambling when all the church asked for is phone numbers and addresses... I've seen laymen like this in the church and almost always when they pick one issue and blow it u- big they really have many issues with the pastor and they find one to load all their negative energy into. Does ray feel as strong about all the other membership commitments--like visiting prisons and having devotions?

Ray Harrison said...

IF I had been the only one who thought that the activity was gambling, the issue would have been dropped immediately. However, the fact that quite a number of members have expressed displeasure or disapproval with the action tells me that it is not just my issue. I find it ironic that clergy seem to be the most defensive about the discussion of the issue as if I had an axe to grind. It sounds more like "protecting one's turf" to me!

The query is about what is proper for a covenant member to expect one's church to teach, and how a covenant member should act. Is it proper for a covenant member to participate in the office pool? Is it proper for the covenant member to purchase 50/50 raffle tickets when altruism is one stated objective? What now do we believe, and what are we going to teach?

Here's the issue: if it is not wrong for a church to participate in an activity that a number of its members consider wrong, then how can the church have credibility with any of its teachings? I'm looking for definition. When my friend, who took guests to the event, said that he was embarrassed when the church announced the "raffle" (his words), how is that my issue? When a business associate exclaimed, "that is just wrong", how is that my issue? When other friends have used similar terms for decrying the activity, calling it anything from a drawing (a synonym for raffle or lottery) to lottery or raffle, how does that become my issue? When my wife, who attended, said that she felt sickened by the action, how is that my issue? (Well, that one may be mine, but from another perspective.) I refused to attend the activity because I learned of the church's plans in advance. I believed that it was not a positive social witness, as evidence by the numbers of complaints made about it. And, is that not the real issue? We are called to be a positive social witness. Laity can do it, but help from the clergy would be appreciated. And, clergy have got to stop hiding behind the excuse that there are so many things wrong that we just won't address any of them.

This is not just my issue!

When clergy continue to protect their turf, as some have said here, there can be no dialogue. At least my pastor was willing to think about the issue when I met with him. I thought his arguments were weak and ineffective in addressing the concern that numerous members expressed. That is why I posted here.

Denominations used to stand for things. Slavery was an issue for our denomination long ago. What is our issue today? What do we believe? If we can move the line on a drawing, calling it something other than gambling, where we will end up? Will we become as irrelevant as the denomination we left so long ago?

Are we merely content with having our pews filled each weekend, or are we serious about changing our communities' worldviews? I haven't seen much yet that gives me hope for the denomination.

Harsh? Maybe. But protecting your turf doesn't win you approval. How about serious discussion about the issue instead of retreating to the tired excuse about what else a covenant member might or might not do? Clergy are called to be leaders; why do you leave it to the laity?

Oh, by the way, I'm willing to compare my prision-visitation record with just about anyone's. Pomposity will get you nowhere with me.

Bill Barnwell said...

I tend to think there's a difference between blowing all your week's earnings at the casino (as my father did on more than one occassion when I was growing up, and apparently still does from time to time) and the scenario of a guy and few of his buddies tossing in five dollars for a friendly golf tournament (as one Christian does who comes to mind who is hardly "lukewarm").

If somebody can't see the difference in those areas, then there's really nothing I can say that would change their minds. If giving the $5 for this sinister golf "gambling" is "bad stewardship" then there's dozens of other areas we all spend money on that could be strutinized in just as nit-picky of a fashion ("Did I really NEED that premium $8 footlong sub from Subway? Couldn't I just have ordered off the $5 footlong menu) and likely involve much greater sums of money (take your pick of lifestyle/finance issues). Yet even in most of these areas we don't pick on people, label it sin, and pontificate about what "the Bible says" when it doesn't address any of these things or says exactly the opposite (Wine was never fermented when it's talked about positively or in a neutral fashion).

I think taking a stand against what is conventionally called gambling is a solid position for a number of reasons that make much more sense than the various other subset issues many holiness folk get offended over. But even there, is someone really compromising their faith if they buy one of those dollar stratch off tickets at the store? Are they jeopardizing their family? Are they really a "bad witness" to anyone other than only a certain segment of churchgoers who already presuppose that such an act is naughty?

The problem I have with these sorts of issues is that any supposed offense is always linked up in some way with the most extreme possible scenarios. A guy buys a dollar lottery ticket and he's flirting with a gambling addition and it's only a matter of time before he's wasting his paycheck at the casino while his family suffers. A guy has a beer and it's only a matter of time before he's vomitting over his toilet every night or getting perpetually intoxicated.

At no point in these discussions is there any room for responsible people making responsible choices that offend or make no one stumble except the loudest busy-bodies amongst us. Every supposed infraction is just an inevitable gateway to something much more destructive, or at the very least, one is still comitting "a small sin, but a sin nontheless."

So regarding obvious abuses, addictions, unseemly establishments, and the like, there's an obvious Biblical case to be made. For me personally however, there's a point when these discussions become silly, and the nit-picky nature is in large part still encouraged by our membership covenants and standards in many Wesleyan-holiness denominations.

Schuyler Avenue Wesleyan said...

When I was an assistant pastor in Michigan we had a gentleman tithe his Casino winnings. With them we bought new stage lighting.

I grew up within a bus ride of Atlantic City. I remember the different tables and games of chance. Ranging from 25 cents (low risk) to 5000.00 a hand (high risk). The other week I recieved my pension statement from the Wesleyan Church and WIF. In one column..LOW RISK..in the other column..HIGH RISK.

Now, on a lighter note..can someone please tell me what it means to "cast lots?"

Denniston said...

Ray Harrison,
Correct me if I'm wrong, but in about 5 minutes I've found probably all the personal information the church was soliciting, including that your zip code ends with 44, your phone ends with 46, your house number ends with 07, as well as your email address. Not to mention various other information such as the $300 you gave to support a failed congressional campaign. I think the claim that registering for a drawing is tantamount to gambling is ludicrous.

Many replies are very long and would take more time than I can spend reading today so forgive me if these points already have been covered.

If you wanted to argue that the church is practicing poor stewardship by not being intentional about who they give their money to, I could go some where with you on that.
Do you think that it is gambling for a church to have a sign. That sign may or may not attract visitors to the church. How about commercials or billboards or license plates?

To be honest, I don't think God ever tells us to never take risks. Didn't God take a risk by sending His Son to earth? Didn't Jesus teach in the Parable of the Talents that it was better for the two who took a risk with the master's money than the one who avoided risk?

I'm against gambling. I think it's dumb. I think it relies on the misfortunes of others. And I don't think social changes can ever make gambling right in light of the Gospel. On the other hand it's impossible to avoid risk.

Bill, I think you're right on. If we're going to attack this from a stewardship standpoint, we have about 1001 other leaks in the ship that need to be addressed to.

Ray Harrison said...

Consider the old joke about Satan challenging GOD to a duel. Satan brags that he can do anything that GOD can do. GOD puts up with it for awhile, but finally decides to silence His challenger. So, He asks Satan how they can settle the issue. Satan responds by boasting that he will duplicate any feat that GOD performs. This seems acceptable to GOD, so He reaches down into the dirt, breathes life into the dirt and makes a man. Satan, giddy in his opportunity to show up GOD, then bends to scoop up some dirt. But, GOD stops him, asking him what he is doing. Satan responds that he is going to make a man. GOD answers, “First, make your own dirt.”

There is considerable difference in the starting points of taking one’s name and performing a Google search v. obtaining what was previously anonymous information. If you consider yourself a reasonable person, consider taking an informal survey. Ask friends and family if they would rather lose $500 or have their identity stolen. Of the fifteen people that I queried, not one said that they wanted their identity stolen. Your exercise proves my point, people placed something at risk.

But that is not really the issue. I’m trying to find out what the denomination believes about gambling. I believe that no church, mine or yours, should participate in any activity that could lead anyone to believe that it is gambling. With respect to the issue raised at my church, a Catholic friend of mine, yesterday called it a game of chance. Let me emphasize, a friend from a denomination that sees nothing wrong with Bingo and similar games, said that the activity was a game of chance. If he, who should be blind to such activities, can see it, why not others? The truth is, others have seen it.

Let’s focus. What is the Wesleyan Church going to teach about gambling? That is at the heart of my query. When one responds that there are so many things wrong in society that this one seems trivial compared to others, it just makes me believe that by talking about all of the issues, we solve none. What has been posted so far leads me to believe that people are afraid to make a statement.

Keith Drury commented on this four years ago. He commented that perhaps the Church should preach what we expect from our membership. It goes to the preaching, teaching, and implementation of a Biblical Worldview. Members should expect consistency from the pulpit. Members should expect, perhaps even demand, that clergy be held to as high a standard as the denomination believes is consistent with the implementation of the Biblical Worldview. But, no one who has posted yet has defined that. Does anyone know?

Please let me know. The silence is deafening.

Pastor Rod said...

Ray,

In your second comment you raised some important issues: pragmatism, arrogant leadership, & the lack of a rigorous biblical worldview in the church. I am with you completely on all these.

Too many church leaders have sold their souls for the "pottage" of results. They cut corners and make compromises in the name of the greater good.

And you don't even want to get me started on how we have encouraged pastors and other church leaders to feed their egos and "lead" out of selfish motives.

I also agree that generally North American Christians do not have a coherent biblical worldview.

However, your obsession with "the appearance of gambling" undermines these significant issues. As others have pointed out, just about anything could be construed as a form of gambling.

This illustrates why rules about issues like this are at best unhelpful. At worst they can distract from the real issues.

Gambling itself is not a sin. The sin comes from exploitation, selfishness, irresponsibility, etc.

Detailed, nuanced, precise rules about gambling will do little to address the heart of the matter. We need to focus on the underlying problem.
______________________

There is another issue at stake here. I know from personal experience that it is easy to allow your passion for something to overwhelm your consideration for others, especially online.

Your fellow commenters on this blog are not your enemies. They are thoughtful, dedicated believers who are serious about following Christ.

And they are not reluctant to address difficult issues. Their silence is not motivated by fear, but kindness. They didn't want to tell you to let it rest.

Your preoccupation with this is not healthy. And it may possibly be sinful. You need to decide that for yourself.

The way we treat other people is far more important than whether we break a man-made rule.

Yes, we need to bring all of our lives under the reign of Christ, but as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 13 some things are more important than others.

I would have difficulties with the behavior of the church leaders in the situation as you have described it. But the issue really has nothing to do with gambling. It's far more serious than that.

Here's something else to consider. In your fight for answers and consistency and truth in your church did you treat those who disagree with you in a way that reflects the attitude of Jesus Christ?

This is not an accusation. It is simply an important question that you need to answer for yourself. You don't need to defend yourself to me or anyone else here.

Another piece of advice from my own experience (in other words learn from my mistakes): Don't make a comment here right away. Allow some time to pass.

God Bless.

John 3:30 Letters said...

1. Anymore, everyone gambles. Young & old.
2. Still poor stewardship for anyone. Casinos and Lotto.
3. Casinos still fix the outcome. It decides who will win and who will loose. Don't think it's not.
4. I think of Sturgis, MI. They are wanting to put in a Casino. Many believe that it will bring hope to the community. Jobs and money.

I will just be blunt. I get tired of worrying what another christian might think. Being a christian you should not gamble. period. If you even have a little concern about society, the poor, stewards of what you have, and etc... You will not gamble. What line is there to draw as a Christian. What wisdom is there that says gambling is a smart thing. NONE! It's like believing that you can be a Christian and vote for President Obama. What part of him even comes close to supporting anything that is Biblical. (not that I don't pray for him) Actually, I can say the same thing on the Republican side it seems anymore.

Gambling places a false hope in something that cannot give any hope. It shouldn't even be a issue if you are a follower of Christ. It should be a no brainier. There shouldn't be a line because there is no line to cross.

John 3:30 Letters said...

One more thought:
When I think of Gambling I'm thinking of the Casinos, horses races, Lotto, and etc. Not to be legalistic on a dollar bet on a golf game or you did 50/50 at a high school football game. Yet, that could be wrong for some.

I just get tired of some of this stuff when it should be a no brainier as followers of Jesus Christ.

Pete Vecchi said...

This comment goes as much (if not more) to the comments that have been left as it does to Keith's original column.

Scenario 1: John Doe goes out and gambles away his paycheck without leaving funds to provide for his family's meals, thereby harming himself and his family. Since gambling led to this problem, all gambling should be considered wrong.

Scenario 2: John Doe goes out and buys a hunting rifle, and one day in a fit of rage, shoots the members of his family and himself. Since the purchase of a hunting rifle led to this, all owning of hunting rifles should be considered wrong.

Scenario 3: John Doe goes out and buys a chocolate cake, and he and his family become such lovers of chocolate cake, they eat it every day and become obese. Since the purchase of a chocolate cake led to this, all chocolate cakes should be considered wrong.

Scenario 4: John Doe goes out and buys coffee, and shares coffee with his family. His family really comes to enjoy drinking coffee, and they all become addicted to caffeine. Since the purchase of coffee led to this, all coffee should be considered wrong.

There is a major commonality in all of those scenarios: none of the things in them said to be "wrong" is mentioned as wrong in Scripture, but by extending out the scenario, these things can be used in such a way so as to violate Scriptural principles.

I am Nazarene (which in doctrine is very close to Wesleyan), and we have a prohibition in our Manual against gambling. However, there is no such prohibition against hunting rifles, chocolate cake, or coffee (I assume the same is true for Wesleyans).

Perhaps the problem is that the more secular our society becomes, the more laws we feel we need.

The Pharisees and teachers of the Law turned the Scriptural commands (including the 10 Commandments) into hundreds of codes and regulations. Jesus came along and, instead of complicating matters, boiled it all down to two things: the first is to love God with all one's heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the the second is to love one's neighbor as one's self.

Romans 14 tells us that we should not pass judgment on "disputable matters (NIV translation), and that to one's own master one stands or falls. So why do often we feel it necessary to add rules to what Scripture says, and in effect judge the people who do not follow the rules with which we happen to agree?

By the way, on the entire gambling issue, I say this from the personal perspective of being someone who does not play "games of chance" but whose retirement investments and such have taken a beating over this past year.

Eddie Eddings said...

Keith, I didn't know where else to respond to you. I read where you like Calvinists. Thought you might like to see some Calvinistic Cartoons and humor! Thanks brother.
http://calvinisticcartoons.blogspot.com/

Duke said...

When I pastored in Western NY, a fellow pastor (American Baptist) friend frequented the casino in Niagra Falls. He was retired, but still preaching. He went because he didn't have anything else to do. He reported to me that the largest crowd at the casino were retired people, presumably there to have something to do and to be around people in an environment other than Wal-Mart. Listening to him made me ponder afresh the importance of recruiting retirees for service within the church and community and fellowship opportunities like BYF.

At present I live near a casino, run by native Americans. Living near a casino, and hearing stories from police officers, stories that never make it in the press, I can say something else - it is not chocolate, or coffee. Gaming/Gambling is a growing cancer that devours its enthralled victims fast and furious. The victims of this cancer come from all socio-economic classes, from all educational strata, from all faith traditions, from all vocational interests. Its victims extend beyond those who sit at the craps table, to the community in which these enterprises exist. At first they make it look lavish and lush, but there is a day of reckoning coming, and the gaming interest is going to leave a vacaous hole. Those addicted to it, many government social programs, will find their revenue crumbling; then it will be the poor who are left out in the cold.
Gambling, the serious stuff, is not chocolate or coffee, it's not a hunting rifle, it's lung cancer - and sooner or later it's going to snuff out whole communities. Gambling is a loser.
The pastoral task has to be more than preaching against it, espeically in communities where the casinos/riverboats are (more coming every day). There are people readily needing pastoral care who are like second hand smokers - they need support because someone in their family/life is addicted. There are community leaders who need to be challenged to think of economic developlement apart from the casino's. There are co-workers who have watched helplessly as one of their own gambled their life away. There are first responders and hotel staff who clean up the lifeless body of someone who committed suicide. The prophetic voice needs to state clearly what's happening, the shepherd needs to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted, the leader must cast vision for a different kind of life.

Pete Vecchi said...

The problem is that taking the gambling issue to extremes can show how things can get bad--even horrible. I cannot make it clear enough that I do not condone the establishment of casinos. But the casino lifestyle is one extreme of gambling. I cannot put the culture of those who spend inordinate amounts of time in addictive behavior at casinos, riverboat gambling establishments, etc... on the same level as a person who goes out and plays golf against a friend for $1 per hole (where the largest amount of money that a person could lose would be $18--which is probably less than it cost to play the 18 holes of golf in the first place).

Absolutely, I know that gambling can be addictive. I know that it can devastate people and their families, and larger segments of society.

But, as I believe Keith's original column goes to (at least in part), where is the line to be drawn, and whose responsibility is it to draw that line?

I again say that there is no Biblical prohibition against gambling. Therefore I believe that we as Christians should approach the issue from a standpoint of something other than gambling in and of itself being sin. Can it be abused? Absolutely, then it becomes sin.

Admittedly, my examples of caffeine and chocolate cake have less potential for widespread abuse that negatively affects society than gambling does. But I am well-acquainted with the affects of addiction on families from personal experience of having grown up in an atmosphere of alcoholism.

While I don't drink alcohol, I can't consider alcohol consumption in and of itself as a universal sin, especially because the Bible doesn't clearly prohibit the drinking of alcohol. At the same time, I can point out verses that, when taken alone and apart from the entirety of Scripture, appear to speak against alcohol consumption.

But those types of verses don't appear regarding gambling. Therefore we should approach the issue from a logical standpoint as to how ABUSE of gambling and addiction to it (not necessarily gambling in and of itself) has negative effects on individuals, families, and societies as a whole.

Ray Harrison said...

When I consider the terms "gambling" and "risk", I find irreconcilable differences in the definitions. Gambling always implies risk. However, risk does not always imply gambling.

When I engage in evangelistic efforts, there is an element of risk. I face the risk of ridicule, the risk of rejection, the risk of failure. These activities are not gambling. If they were, obedience to the Great Commission would be nearly nil.

Going door-to-door doing surveys is my least favorite evangelistic activity. I have been mocked, ridiculed, and cursed at. I invested my time and risked reputation to be obedient. It was not gambling.

I have attempted to share the Gospel with friends I knew in high school. Again, my efforts were met with derision. I also went to great risk to reach out to one former classmate in an effort to share my faith. It was risky, but it was not gambling.

I consider getting on an airplane risky behavior, but it is not gambling. Yet, I took that risk so that I could go to China on a mission trip. It is risky business trying to share the Gospel half-way around the world, especially in a country in which the Gospel is considered subversive. It is risky, but it is not gambling.

Matthew 25 has an interesting parable about people taking or not taking risks. Two servants are praised and rewarded for making investments, for taking risks. The other is condemned, scolded for not making the investment. The element of risk and reward is implied in the praise. With certainty, the lack of risk-taking is what gets the third servant thrown out.

In all of life, we face risks, but no one considers these challenges and opportunities to be gambling. As truth-seekers, we are called to step out of our comfort zones. We need to in order to be obedient to the Great Commission. But, it is not gambling to do so.

The terms do not reconcile. To imply that making investments, which some might consider risky, is gambling, is to alter the intention of the parable. The terms may not be mutually exclusive, but they are definitely not synonymous.

Lastly, and this will be my last post, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I dearly love my senior pastor. He is the finest member of the clergy I have ever known, notwithstanding three members of clergy in my own family. He is articulate, witty, and, on most occassions, very thoughtful.

My senior pastor is the most transparent person I have known. He shares his failures in order to connect with his flock. He is a man of integrity, a man of deep conviction, a man of incredible faith. He is my friend. I just happen to think that he is wrong on this issue.

My methods may seem harsh or mean-spirited to some, but I am a truth-seeker, like most here. I have posted nothing here that I have not said in a meeting with my friend. Especially these last three paragraphs.

Pastor Rod said...

Ray,

I want to commend you on an excellent post. (Not that you need my approval or have any obligation to defend yourself to me).

You make several excellent points. And you made them with grace.

I commend your passion for truth, righteousness and integrity. Our churches need more people like you, especially ones who are willing to ask the tough questions.

I'm glad to hear that you have a good relationship with your pastor, one that allows you to tell him when you disagree with him.

Few laypeople appreciate the difficult position that most pastors find themselves in.

* They have (or at least had) a passion for serving God and desire to give him their best. Yet they often feel that they don't quite measure up.

* They are surrounded by people who tell them that they are the key to the "success" of "their" congregations.

* They have to deal with selfish, petty people who complain when things don't meet their expectations.

* They have to deal with a selfish, ego-driven person they see every morning in the mirror who gives himself too much credit when things go well and too much blame when they don't.

* They tend to live a lonely existence because they generally don't feel that they can be completely honest with the people in their own congregations (for several different reasons), and don't feel that they can be honest with fellow pastors because they still see them as competitors, and certainly don't feel that they can be honest with their "bosses" who evaluate them and in many ways control their careers.

* They often find themselves treating people as objects (either tools or obstacles) to be manipulated in order to "build the church."

* They often get so busy with the "business" of ministry that they have little time left to do ministry.

* They often make family sacrifices for the church that result in little benefit but produce negative ramifications in their homes that persist for generations.

Your pastor is lucky to have a friend like you.

God Bless You.

Outside-the-Beltway Drury said...

Ray has certainly been an animator of these posts this week.

In scanning them and thinking over the issue of gambling, I have seen the terms "chance," "risk," and "addiction." While all of these terms overlap in gambling, the article and comments are revealing that they also overlap with a lot of other things--like retirement savings, insurance, and fun (i.e. playing games).

Ray cites the $500 gift card giveaway as troubling. I think it is wrong to gamble, really wrong, but I don't seem troubled. Why?

"Bargained for exchange." This is a fancy way to describe a contract. Had the church simply agreed to pay $1 as an incentive to each person who shared their name and address, we wouldn't be having a gambling discussion at all. Is the fact that instead of giving each person a dollar, the church agrees to give each person an equal chance to receive $500, that much different. My gut says, "no." There seems to be some overlap and I tend to see it more like an equal exchange of value--not so troubling to me.

So what does trouble me?

1) Attributing real value to something that is unreal. The on-line Webster's defines gambling as "to play a game for money or property." Fundamentally this is attributing real value and consequences to something that isn't real--it's just a game. This seems to be a core issue missed in the discussion so far. Attaching value to something that is unreal distinguishes true gambling from most stock and insurance transactions--which are supposed to be grounded in a productive reality (notwithstanding the occasional Ponzi scheme and other forms of fraud). Playing poker with chips is just a game. Playing poker with money attaches real value to a game. Playing poker with chips that represents real money is even worse--creating a buffer between the unreality of the game with the stakes.

2) Escalation and control. Something about the nature of real gambling is insidious, you might even say demonic. It's not just that most casino games can be addicting, but that the addiction seems to have such a potential for escalating out of control. We can all cite examples of people controlled by gambling and say, "Oh! That's not good!" I can say that I am addicted to caffeine but it doesn't seem very troubling because its lack of potential, if at all, for escalating out of control. At worst it might trim a few years off my life span and contribute to my grumpiness when I haven't had my morning joe. We all know that things like life span and my grumpiness are affected by many things, including such things as whether I fly or drive and whether my wife chooses to give me a kiss on the way out the door. Many would argue (my wife most persuasively) that caffeine is the least of my problems.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me God isn't concerned about gambling. When He sent His son to pay the debt for sin, He took a gamble that the world would accept His sacrifice and he would win big with His followers!

Gee, He has few followers, has not won big and few are impressed with His sacrifice!

Seems that no matter the type of gambling, retirement, savings, salvation, few end up being impressed with the gamblers and they seldom win big.

By the way, buying a home could now be considered gambling as well! Look where that gamble has left many people...in the same hole that casino gambling has left many people!

Could it be that is the reason why there is no 11th commandment, thou shalt not gamble in the the Text?

Kerry "Grateful" Willis said...

I've only been a blog responder a few months. Today after reading comments by some of your anonymous blog responders (mostly on various columns from your archives), I'm going to take a gamble of my own --I'm going to start using my actual name when I blog-respond and just put my current adopted name in quotes in the middle. It seems that most blog responders really get irritated by anonymous blog responders and their too often, off-the-wall if not off-the-handle comments. What really caused me to roll the dice and disclose my real name? Probably, the reading of a past Drury column titled "I Like Nazarenes." Some of the anonymous blog responder comments on that archived column were communicated honest and healthy, while other anonymous comments were just harsh and unhealthy. (I can't say honest because they refuse to give their real names.) Anyway, "I was raised Wesleyan" and have been "a Nazarene" for almost 30 years and a Nazarene pastor for 15 years. I simply see it as the plan God desired for my life. I'd say "I was a Wesleyan boy that God sent to encourage the Nazarenes." And as Keith said in another column, "I didn't change religions when I went from Wesleyan to Nazarene. I'm still a Christian." And, besides, I was never a covenant member of the Wesleyan Church, just my parents were. Finally, in all honestly, I owe a great debt to my Lord and to both "The Wesleyans and The Nazarenes." And yes, both have taken serious gambles on me. That's why I am Kerry "Grateful" Willis.

P.S. My comments will probably be more honest and healthy now that my name follows what I say? You bet'cha! :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Wesleyan -- in fact I grew up in a church were Bingo games make up a big part of the church budget (although my particular congregation did not have Bingo). So that colors my outlook I'm sure.

In my last workplace, one of my co-workers had a "lottery loot" jar on her desk. When I was particularly frustrated about something or another I'd go into her office, drop a couple coins in the Lottery Loot jar and we'd fantasize about winning and retiring early. I would estimate my total expenditures came to maybe $2/year. It built community, blew off steam, and was fun. I'm not staying up nights worrying about the poor stewardship of $2/year.

In much the same way, I don't have a problem with retirees for whom a weekly trip to the church bingo game is a valuable social outlet and that's worked into their budget as an entertainment expense and that's fine.

However, the state lotteries wouldn't keep in existence if the average customer spent $2/year on tickets. It is often a major drain on the finances of those who can least afford it. That's wrong.

And there are certainly people for whom the church bingo games are a problem. That's wrong too.

And so I would suggest that while the occasional lottery ticket or bingo game is not in and of itself wrong, it can tend to be a stumbling block and in light of that the loving thing to do may be to refrain, and to err on the side of caution.

Whether erring on the side of caution requires banning all friendly Friday night poker games, much less any and all door prizes, I'm not sure about that.

fairtaxadvocate said...

One thing that has changed since the 1800s is the emergance of the middle class. I think everyone would agree that someone who does not have the money to feed their family should not take part in gambling, but when a middle class person choses to do so who has a adequate funds to take care of all their needs is where things get muddy. Is it ok for entertaiment? Well all kinds of answers will come from that question, but back in the 1800s most people did not pay for entertianment because they simply didn't have the money, so if they were gambling then it was most likely for quick monetary gain. I can honestly tell you that I do gamble some one or twice a year with a fixed budget strickly as a source of entertainment. I don't see any differnce than paying $100 to play a nice golf course than playing $100 worth of blackjack.