United Methodists & Gambling: Perspective from Bishop Leeland

Bishop Paul L. Leeland


(Montgomery, Ala.) Lately, our homes have been bombarded with information, actions and tension surrounding the issue of gambling. Whether this comes to us through local television, newspapers, the Internet or even casual conversation with friends, the question is the same, “should we legalize gambling in Alabama?”
United Methodists offer a prayerful conversation regarding a number of issues that impact our life with others because we understand the way in which we live in community with others is a spiritual issue. We do not react defensively, but out of prayerful concern that reflects the practice of our faith in Jesus Christ.

This prayerful conversation, shaped by United Methodists every four years at our General Conference, is written and expressed as our Social Principles. The preamble to these principles states, “We the people called United Methodists, affirm our faith in God our Creator and Father, in Jesus Christ our Savior, and in the Holy spirit, our Guide and Guard…We pledge to continue to be in respectful conversation with those with whom we differ, to explore the sources of our differences, to honor the sacred worth of all persons as we continue to seek the mind of Christ and to do the will of God in all things.”
Our Social Principles remind us that while we may not know everything about each of these issues, we do know and have some understanding which is grounded in our desire to be faithful witnesses to the gospel. This is not a matter of “letting the people decide.” These are moral issues needing more than popular opinion. It is possible, in a democratic society, to have the majority (the people by popular vote) decide to paint a white line at the back of the bus and everyone whom the majority decides would be required to sit behind that line. The people decided – it was done democratically - but that does not make it moral.
So, what do United Methodists believe about gambling?
Our witness as a people of faith declares, “Gambling 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.” It also states, “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.” (The Book of Discipline 2008, ¶163.G).
To offer gambling as an answer to the difficult problems facing our community ignores the negative impact such decisions have had upon our families and local communities. Governments, elected to represent the people, should develop a more equitable form of raising financial funds to serve the larger community. 
I invite you to speak to those within our state legislature and encourage them to defeat any effort to put such decisions regarding legalized gambling before the public. 
***A helpful fact sheet regarding gambling may be found here.