Point of View
Why churches cannot remain silent about gambling
Apr 18, 2007
TIM OVERTON
Special to Florida Baptist Witness

A new cultural phenomenon is bursting out of Texas. Unlike many influences from my native Lone Star State, this phenomenon is not admirable. The new fad does not display the Texan knack for fighting against oppression, which was exemplified by the state's war for independence. Nor is this cultural burst similar to the valiant example of self-sacrifice shown at the Alamo. Rather, the latest cultural addition to come out of Texas is greed: a gambling card game called Texas Hold'em.

Texas Hold'em is a variation of poker. What makes this gambling game different from regular poker is the increased betting action. Four separate rounds of betting occur. During these four rounds, each player attempts to trick and fool his opponents out of their money. Some may be wondering: "What is so bad about that? No one is forcing these players to gamble. After all, isn't this their money? Shouldn't they have the freedom to spend their own money the way they want?"

Statistics show that the church has grown weak in her ability to answer these questions. The Anti-Gambling League of Kentucky reports a pervasive apathy among most churches toward gambling. My hope and prayer is that this article, and others like it, will help pastors and churches give reasoned responses to the sin of gambling.

Gambling is wrong because the winner is successful only when his opponent is harmed. In normal economic exchanges, both sides of the transaction win. I give people/businesses a few dollars, and they give me an item. I get what I want, and they get what they want; this exchange is a win/win. Gambling is very different. In order for one person to make money, the other individual(s) must lose and receive nothing of value. Thus, gambling is a win/lose exchange.

The Christian ethic does not support receiving something of value at the expense of another's well-being. Romans 13:10 says, "Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Taking people's money away and giving them nothing of value in return cannot be perceived as doing "no harm." Some may ask, "Isn't the losing gambler receiving fun for his money?" Answer: Since when is losing money fun? Anyone who has ever gambled can attest that losing money at a card table is anything but a good time.

Since Christians are commanded to cause "no harm" to anyone, all gambling must be avoided. The gross selfishness of gambling is clearly shown by its devastating effects. The University of Texas in Austin conducted a study concluding that gambling cost America $14 billion per year in economic productivity due to "absenteeism, wasted time, poor work performance, loss of income, criminal acts such as theft, accident, rehabilitation and recovery." While the financial costs are high, the personal costs to families are higher. Testimonies, too numerous to recount here, speak of breadwinners whose urge to gamble deprived their families of economic security.

Christians must become aware of the dangerous sin of gambling. According to Barna poll data, 61 percent of all adults believe gambling is morally acceptable. Worse still, 75 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds believe there is nothing wrong with gambling. Each passing year, we are losing a greater percentage of our young people's hearts and minds. Churches, along with their pastors, need to be willing to address the gambling issue boldly and without compromise. If this is not done, gambling will continue to destroy the moral fabric of our families.

Tim Overton is pastor of youth and singles at Bethany Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.

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