"'All things are lawful,' but not all things are beneficial." 1 Corinthians 10:23
Twenty years ago when I was a pastor in Quincy, the Boston Globe started a four part series on the ever expanding Massachusetts Lottery. In the first story on a Sunday the reporter stated that over all the years since it began in 1971, the church had never made a fuss. This really bothered me. Quincy was and is a lottery haven with lots of users, and I often encountered seemingly poor senior citizens at local convenience stores spending astonishing amounts of money on scratch tickets. The nearby Catholic church had Mass. Lottery posters on the walls of its bingo hall. The Globe series combined with the local Lottery scene started a fire of protest within my Protestant Lutheran soul.
That week of the series I called around to my small circle of colleagues and invited them to stage a protest with me against the Lottery at its nearby headquarters in Braintree. All but one (19 of 20) agreed to come along. We wrote up 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of the Lottery, borrowing a form of protest used by Martin Luther who wasn't fond of the corrupt way the Church raised funds from the poor. Our plan was to enter the lobby, ask for a meeting with the Commissioner and deliver our complaints. If we were denied we would sings stewardship hymns with gusto.
As luck would have it, we crashed a cake-cutting party to launch a new game called Keno. The lobby was packed with Lottery supporters and the press was out in force. We were greeted by the Commissioner in the lobby and made our statement. Sadly, there was no singing, but our concerns were in the Globe the next day and we were glad for having made a serious statement.
A few years later when casinos were proposed, the Massachusetts Council of Churches would speak out against them and raise concerns on behalf of the poor and effect on community and family life. Now the expansion of gambling via four casinos in our state is in the hands of voters, probably one last time in November.
The Church remains largely silent on this issue. Our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, does not have a social statement or message on this issue, but Vicar Eric and I found some excellent older statements and resources worth reading if you want to be more fully aware of Christian concerns about gambling. They are listed below in order of brevity.
"All things are lawful," was a slogan in very cosmopolitan Corinth notices by Saint Paul in his missionary ventures. He contrasts that with his statement "but not all things are beneficial," highlighting the principle of freedom and our responsibility for others, our neighbors. Casinos are not pure evil, but like a lot of bad things they are complicated. They offer a lot of illusions the biggest of which is that you can have something for almost nothing (like the Lottery). They promote poor stewardship of time, talent and treasure, and never deliver what they promise. Gambling always preys on the desperation of the poor and lower income.
According to a famous but untrue story about Calvin Coolidge, he had returned from church and Mrs. Coolidge asked him what the sermon had been about. "Sin", he said. "Well, what did the minister say about it?" she asked. Coolidge said: "He was against it." This weekly message is about casinos and I'd like to say that I'm against them.
1984 Churchwide Statement on Gambling from the American Lutheran Church
Toledo Blade article from September 7th, 2014 on failed casino promises in Ohio
1936 & 1956 Statements on Gambling from the United Lutheran Church in America
1998 ELCA study on gambling for Congregations
Faithfully yours, Ross