Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Thin Religious Coalition Against Gambling

Kentucky is considering casinos. A broad coalition of religious groups oppose them. The surprise is that the liberal churches, starting with the Kentucky Council of Churches, have been strong leaders in the anti-gambling coalition. Many mainline churches, my Presbyterian Church included, have firm teachings against gambling going back to the days when we strictly regulated our own conduct.

I believe, though, that the mainline churches are more worried about other people's gambling than our own. Sure, gambling can ruin people in all classes, but it is far more likely to ruin the lives of poor people -- just like all the other regulated vices. Sure, everyone who is tempted to an addiction is helped if the temptation is forbidden. But ruinous gambling hasn't been a big item in the moral agenda of most mainline members for a long time. You can get a bigger mandate to limit smoking from mainline Christians than to hit the streets to fight gambling. Even the limited kind of gambling, such as the lottery and bingo, that are permitted here, involve the Other Danville and the Other Kentucky. On those rare occasions when I have seen lines of people purchasing lottery tickets or playing commercial bingo, I didn't know anyone there. In a small town, it is hard to go into any social setting and know no one.

The Louisville Courier-Journal had a good piece on this debate today (in which yours truly is quoted). I think Peter Smith, the journalist covering the religious angle of this story, is right that this debate has created some "strange pew-fellows."

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