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Southern Baptists Help Kill Casino Gambling in KentuckyAndrew WalkerFebruary 21, 2012
Governor Steve Beshear's plans for legalized casino gambling in Kentucky were foiled in part by Southern Baptists. (Photo credit: World News)
As debate surged in Kentucky on whether to invite casino gambling into the Commonwealth, a coalition of Christian churches and organizations led by a Southern Baptist pastor and professor stood as the greatest obstacle to Governor Steve Beshear’s push for expanded gambling. The bill was defeated in the Kentucky legislature’s senate by 21-16. But the fight illustrated an ongoing battle nationwide between pro-gambling interests and church groups.
Beshear, who campaigned on expanded gambling in 2007, was met with stiff opposition by the Kentucky Senate in his first-term attempts to expand gambling. Winning re-election, handily, in 2011, Beshear entered the 2012 General Assembly hoping to pass expanded gambling with his re-election momentum, and a weakened Senate President in David Williams, Beshear’s opponent in the gubernatorial election.
Opponents of expanded gambling quickly arose to challenge Beshear. Hershael York, Senior Pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort and a professor of preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been gambling’s most vocal opponent in the 2012 General Assembly.
York, a former president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, has taken his message both to Twitter and Facebook lambasting the Governor’s proposal. Exercising his statewide influence and recognition, York has brought attention to the social ills, economic injustice, and the corruption of government that ensues from expanded gambling. He’s received not a small amount of criticism from government officials and the media alike—even being caricatured in cartoon by the Lexington Herald Leader.
York’s opposition to expanded gambling gained national attention in January when he was asked to pray before the Governor Beshear’s budget address in front of both chambers of government. York used what is typically a time and place for ceremonial prayer to pray against the legislature bringing casinos into Kentucky. York prayed the following:
May they (the legislature) never resort to leveraging vice and avarice to pay our bills. Help us to admit that we cannot truly love our neighbor as ourselves and then scheme to get his money by enticing him with vain hope. May they not lead this state to share profits from an industry that preys on greed or desperation.
Help us to foster salaries and not slot machines; to build cars and enable jobs, not license casinos and seduce the simple into losing what they have. May our greatest concern not be that we get our share of the family’s losses but we that we foster a sense of hope and justice that creates opportunity and leads to success.
On February 21, York convened a large gathering of pastors and concerned citizens at the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort to speak out against expanded gambling. About 250 were in attendance.
Before the rally, pastors and citizens alike were encouraged to speak with their legislators about the dangers of bringing expanded gambling into Kentucky. Afterwards, a coalition of both liberal and conservative Christian denominations rallied around their common interest in voicing concern for the poor.
York, speaking before the rally drew attention to how gambling unites a diverse group of people. “It’s the one issue that unites all churches across the theological spectrum—liberals, moderates, conservatives, and fundamentalists all know that this is bad for Kentucky families, that it destroys the poor, and that it will be our churches that have to be the safety net when some member of the family gambles away the milk money,” said York.
Illustrating York’s point, Kentucky’s four Roman Catholic bishops, representing 400,000 Catholics, also warned legislators against casinos through their spokesman: "With their flashing lights, free-flowing alcoholic drinks, all-night hours and generally intoxicating atmosphere, casinos are more likely than other gambling options to lead to bad decisions and catastrophic losses for patrons, particularly those prone to problem or compulsive gambling.” The Kentucky Council of Churches, representing most Mainline Protestant denominations, likewise is opposing the gambling initiatives.
Adam Greenway, Kentucky Baptist Convention President noted how gambling transcends the political divide. According to Greenway, “Given our first conviction to biblical authority and doing what is right in the eyes of God, it is our belief that the state has the mandate to promote the general welfare, not exploit people. We believe with gambling that the state is failing in this aspect in how it chooses to fund state government but also the tragic consequence of encouraging gamblers in order to keep the revenue stream coming in.”
York is not the only Southern Baptist offering his voice on the issue. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY wrote a blog post last week bringing attention to the injustice of gambling. Said Moore, “Gambling is a social justice issue that defines how it is that we love our neighbors and uphold the common good…Gambling is a form of economic predation. Gambling grinds the faces of the poor into the ground. It benefits multinational corporations while oppressing the lower classes with illusory promises of wealth, and with (typically) low-wage, transitory jobs that simultaneously destroy every other economic engine of a local community.”
Moore was joined by his colleague, Albert Mohler. Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a national commentator on cultural and political issues, has devoted this week’s blog content to the issue of expanded gambling. Mohler derided gambling as unbiblical noting that “The Bible is clear on this issue. The entire enterprise of gambling is opposed to the moral worldview revealed in God’s Word. The basic impulse behind gambling is greed—a basic sin that is the father of many other evils. Greed, covetousness, and avarice are repeatedly addressed by Scripture—always presented as a sin against God, and often accompanied by a graphic warning of the destruction which is greed’s result. The burning desire for earthly riches leads to frustration and spiritual death.”
The Kentucky Baptist Convention at large has also brought awareness to the issue, alerting its some 2,400 churches throughout the state. State executive director Paul Chitwood stated that he was “very hopeful that we’ll be seeing an overwhelming response from Kentucky Baptists on this issue. There are 750,000 Kentucky Baptists. That’s enough to change everything.”
Asked about Kentucky Baptists opposition to gambling, Chitwood noted that the Kentucky Baptist Convention “got involved in this fight because we understood the consequences for our state, for our government, for our children. We’ve been called to be salt and light. What we do is out of love, hopefully with the spirit of love, and we’ll speak the truth in love. And we’re hear to speak the truth about gambling in Kentucky.”
The Southern Baptist Convention has historically condemned gambling, passing resolutions against the industry and the practice at its annual convention in 1947, 1950, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1996, and 1997.
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