1986 Church of the Brethren Statement


In recent years legal gambling opportunities have sprung up across the nation. At one time Nevada represented the only legal gambling in the United States except for horse racing and dog racing and the like in various states. In recent years public gambling activities have proliferated so that only a few states have no such legal gambling.

Most states in the union have instituted a lottery game run by the state which is the beneficiary of the proceeds of the play. Many states have instituted variations of three number lottery so that now “instant” lottery games, “pick four” games and “lotto” games exist often in the same state.

Additionally, many states have enacted laws that permit non-profit organizations, such as fire companies, service clubs and even churches to conduct lawful gambling activities. These activities take the form of “tip jars,” “fish bowls,” and “instant bingo” and the like.

Because many who play the various lotteries are the poor and thus see public gaming as a way out of their poverty, the general public’s attitude towards gambling activities has become one of acceptance. The public does not oppose lotteries because it sees them as a way of avoiding tax increases.

In order to take a responsible Christian stand on the issue of legal gambling and to use our influence to affect society’s attitude on this subject, we urge Annual Conference to conduct a study of all legal public gaming and gambling activities. After the completion of the study, we urge Annual Conference to develop a policy of the church on the subject. And finally, we urge Annual Conference to develop a program that constructively seeks to foster an attitude within our nation that seeks to reverse the proliferation of legal public gaming and gambling.

The Mid-Atlantic District Board of Administration
Phillip K. Bradley, Chair
Donald E. Rowe, Secretary

Action of the Mid-Atlantic District Conference assembled October 6, 1984 at Alexandria, Virginia: Accepted and passed to Annual Conference.

Wayne F. Buckle, Moderator
Saundra A. Ikenberry, Clerk

Action of 1985 Annual Conference: Anna Lease, a Standing Committee delegate from the Mid-Atlantic District, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee. The delegate body adopted the recommendation that Annual Conference adopt the query and the recommendation that a committee of five (5) persons be elected to conduct a study of all public gaming and gambling activities and to develop a policy on the subject for the Church. The committee is to include in the study both the theological and the sociological perspectives. It is to complete the study and the policy statement in one year and report to the 1986 Annual Conference.

The following persons were elected to serve on the committee: Wayne J. Eberly, Vera Hayes, Beverly Kline, E. Paul Weaver, and Vivian Ziegler.

1986 Report of the Committee

I. Introduction

As many as 88 million Americans gamble.
$23 billion is gambled legally.
$39 billion is gambled illegally.
That is more than is spent on education, religion, or medical care. Gambling brings corruption to individuals and to society. Gambling is increasing as more states legalize state lotteries.

Gambling is not a new issue in American life. Indeed, the first successful English colony at Jamestown was funded by a lottery licensed by the English Crown to the Virginia Company of London. Between 1607 and 1890, gambling was utilized as a funding mechanism to support local and state projects such as hospitals, roads, colleges, and churches.

During the first third of this century, little legal gambling occurred until 1931, when Nevada approved wide-open casino gambling, mainly for revenue. Puerto Rico became the second part of the United States to permit such gambling in 1948; New Jersey followed suit.

Lotteries made a reappearance in New Hampshire in 1964. New Jersey, in 1971, introduced a weekly numbers game, which was soon imitated by several other states. By 1985, 22 states and the District of Columbia had approved government-operated lotteries.

Other forms of legalized gambling are parimutuel betting, off-track betting, cards, and bingo.

Many states have enacted laws that permit non-profit organizations, such as fire companies, service clubs, and churches, to conduct lawful gambling activities, such as “tip jars,” “fish bowls,” and instant bingo.

Because many who play the various lotteries are the poor and thus see public gambling as a way out of their poverty, the general public’s attitude towards gambling activities has become one of acceptance. The public does not oppose lotteries because it sees them as a way of avoiding tax increases.

A 1982 Gallup Poll showed that 82 percent of American people approved some form of gambling (bingo for charity); 72 percent registered approval of state lotteries.

Issues which the Church of the Brethren must face:

  1. Are there grounds in the Bible for advising our members to abstain from gambling?
  2. Are the effects of gambling on individuals or society enough to create a compelling case for legal sanctions against it?
  3. What are the most effective ways for the church to implement its position on gambling?

II. Biblical Guidelines Concerning Gambling

In the Bible, there is no specific command stating, “Thou shall not gamble.” The concern of the church is based upon the recognition that all we have and are belongs to God. As Christian stewards, we dare not waste or gamble away that which belongs to God (Psa. 50:10-12, I Chr. 29:14-18, Prov. 12:26, 27, Luke 16:1-13, 1 Cor. 6:19-20). Our Lord teaches us that we cannot serve God and mammon (Matt. 6:19-24). Gambling is putting mammon above God.

Gambling encourages greed. There is no service rendered nor production of goods. It takes from the many to give to a few. Certainly this violates the commandment against coveting (Exod. 20:17, Deut. 5:21). It also comes close to violating the commandment against stealing (Exod. 20:15, Deut. 5:19). The difference lies in the fact that the loser consents to taking the risk.

The destructive effect of gambling may be noted whether one wins or loses. Gambling tends to destroy the concern for others taught in the “Golden Rule” (Matt. 7:12, Luke 6:31). When Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, they were ordered to work for a living (Gen. 3:19). The work ethic as affirmed by Paul expresses concern for the welfare of the other person (Eph. 4:28, Phil. 2:3-4).

The writer of Ecclesiastes observes, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves wealth, with gain; this also is vanity” (5:10). The corruption that frequently accompanies gambling is condemned: “He who is greedy for unjust gain makes trouble for his household, but he who hates bribes will live” (Prov. 15:27). Again the writer in Proverbs condemns the principle of gambling to get gain while praising honest labor and warns against shortcuts to wealth (23:19-20).

III. Effects of Gambling on Individuals

Many people have a desire, often a compulsive desire, to gamble. Most of these people have access to gambling opportunities. Spread across the social and economic spectrum of our nation, gambling is symptomatic of a deeply distressed society.

Compulsive gamblers have an uncontrollable urge to gamble. Estimates of compulsive gamblers in this country range from 4 to 12 million persons. “Gambling reaches the point at which it compromises, disrupts, and destroys the gambler’s personal life, family relationship, or vocational pursuits” (National Council on Compulsive Gambling, 1985).

Gambling exploits the weaknesses of individuals. The fantasy of “something for nothing” provides an escape from neurotic anxiety. Research indicates that those who can afford it the least often gamble the most. Many poor people perceive the state lottery as their only hope for sharing in the American dream of wealth and power.

IV. The Effects of Gambling on Society

Proponents of lotteries, casinos, or other forms of wagering call them a voluntary or “painless tax,” pointing out that the funds raised (without raising taxes) go to such worthy causes as support of the elderly, education, or road-building. They say that jobs are created, the economy stimulated, and everyone is better off financially. Gambling provides inexpensive “entertainment,” within reach of those with moderate to lower incomes, giving millions of people a real chance, however remote, to become fabulously wealthy overnight.

Critics see gambling as an erosion of the work ethic, wealth received at the cost of another person’s loss, a concession to greed and self-interests. It preys upon the poor by enticing them with illusions of quick wealth that are, in reality, slim to nonexistent. The overwhelming majority of the players are losers. Even the winners are losers. Gambling is addictive, often leading to more and greater risk-taking, bankruptcy, embezzlement, stealing, prostitution, and other forms of crime. All of these are detrimental to society’s values, harmonious family life, responsible social obligations, and result in chronic discontent, disappointment and, often, suicide. Dependence on lottery revenue has led many states to become exploiters of their own citizens, thus neglecting the development of more equitable forms of taxation. Government should be protecting consumers, not looting them. Legitimate business are hurt by lotteries, as wage earners cannot spend money twice. Critics conclude that expanding gambling does not solve problems. It creates them!

V. Conclusion

We believe that gambling encourages service to mammon rather than God. We believe that gambling violates Christ’s teachings regarding stewardship and mutual responsibility. We believe that for a government to promote gambling is immoral and violates its obligation to project the best interest of its citizens. Therefore, we oppose the legalization of and participation in any form of gambling.

IV. Suggestions for Implementation of the Position Paper on Gambling

  1. Develop curriculum to educate members by teaching the biblical/moral perspectives against gambling, the extent of gambling, and the effects of gambling on the individual and society. Encourage members to share with families, friends, and neighbors what they have learned in the new curriculum.
  2. Practice alternatives to gambling by using financial resources for responsible Christian stewardship.
  3. Take an active role in the legislative process against any form of gambling (i.e., letters, phone calls, visits, etc.). Be diligent in prayer for those in governmental authority and responsibility.
  4. Urge each individual to covenant prayerfully with God to abstain from gambling in professional and personal life.
  5. Encourage all congregations to look carefully at their stewardship practices to assure that gambling, lotteries, and games of chance, however harmless-appearing, are not promoted, excused, or practiced within their fellowship.
  6. Publish consciousness-raising articles on gambling in Messenger and as hand-out brochures. Promote “stinger” spots against gambling in the media.
  7. Sponsor essay, speech, or banner contests for various age groups in the local church, district, and at national levels and then publish the best entries. Have winning speeches presented in churches, at district conferences, and at Annual Conference.
  8. Encourage churches to assist the compulsive gambler to find help through Gamblers Anonymous or professional counselors.
  9. Encourage the General Board to initiate dialogue with other denominations and the National Council of Churches for the purpose of developing a program to combat the growth of legalized gambling in the United States.

E. Paul Weaver, Chairperson
Beverly W. Kline, Secretary
Wayne J. Eberly
Very Hayes
Vivian Ziegler

Action of 1986 Annual Conference: The report on GAMBLING was presented by E. Paul Weaver, chairperson of the study committee, with the other members of the committee. The delegates adopted the report.