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Gambling and the Guv

Methodist Phil Bryant, in his role as governor, has decided that sports betting and a state lottery are the way forward for the state’s apparently woeful budget situation. Closed bridges and massive road problems and an ever-bickering educational bureaucracy protesting its supposedly deficient budget has the governor searching for new monies. He is hoping that more gambling will be less excruciating to Mississippians’ moral sensibilities than the words “new taxes.”

The leading question for the statewide daily was, “Does the math work?” But the key inquiry for a good Methodist is, “Is it morally responsible?”

John Wesley (the father of Methodism) hated gambling, which had taken on near manic dimensions in his 18th century England. Elegant clubs were almost always gambling establishments, there were government-sponsored lotteries, and political leadership and Parliament in particular was addicted to the loss of money in gamesmanship. One historian suggested that England at the time was no more than "one vast casino."

Along came Wesley, who recognized that handing over money for a chance to take money from other people weakened a nation’s ethical backbone, increased rates of unemployment, promoted bankruptcy, gave rise to fraud, forced sales of major assets, increased other addictions and wrecked families. Thus, no Methodist gambled, and any who persisted despite warnings to stop were kicked out of the classes and societies.

It was serious business to the father and forbears of Gov. Bryant’s denomination. And, as weak-kneed as Methodists can be on some doctrinal aspects, their current social principles are firm on this issue. Gambling, according to the United Methodist “Social principles”…

is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, destructive of good government and good stewardship. As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice…. The Church’s prophetic call is to promote standards of justice and advocacy that would make it unnecessary and undesirable to resort to commercial gambling—including public lotteries, casinos, raffles, Internet gambling, gambling with an emerging wireless technology and other games of chance—as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public revenue or funds for support of charities or government.

I recently challenged one of this state’s leading evangelicals to speak up to government officials about the apparent pell-mell rush towards more betting. He responded, “I have a tough time getting excited about the issue. It is a stupid tax and I am not stupid.”

But I know Phil Bryant. He is, I think, more morally attuned to the egregious impact of enlarging the footprint of gambling in our state. Certainly he is better than his recent proposal suggests—that the answer to our crumbling infrastructure is a practice deemed by his own denomination as a menace, deadly, destructive.

Bryant knows the right thing to do. Staring at insurmountable funding issues, he has flinched. But he is capable, even at this late date, of corrective measures.

Encourage him.

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