Clergy stance is no secret

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In a story that may well be apocryphal, a man was asked after church what the preacher talked about in worship that day.

"Sin," the man replied.

"Well, what did he say about it?" came the query.

"He was agin' it."

The other day, in this fine publication, a letter to the editor was published in which two questions were asked: "Where is the church? Where are the God-fearing preachers?" The writer was lamenting what he perceives as the relative silence of the clergy contingent in Cape Girardeau about the upcoming November referendum on casino gambling.

I'll chime in about my own reticence to speak up on the subject. I'm not persuaded that people want to hear from their clerics on this issue. To put a fine point on it, folks already know we're "agin'" it. The vast majority of clergy are queasy about gambling, and our general opposition is no secret.

Voters may consider this as a factor in making their decision, but they are aware of our collective opinion. They know that Roman soldiers gambled (cast lots) for Jesus' clothing while he hung on the cross. They know that clergy consider gambling a kind of magical thinking that has the effect of pushing aside a reliance on God's providence for each of us.

Also, I suspect there are voters who think most clergy have little understanding of economics. As we offer our moral and theological arguments, some believe we don't give much weight to job creation. Jobs will come; they may not be high-paying, but work is work. A new revenue stream will materialize; it may rob income from existing businesses, but out-of-towners who wouldn't normally come to Cape Girardeau will be drawn here. They will spend their money -- yes, to gamble but also in restaurants, service stations, et al. There are folks who think clergy don't care about the content of those last three sentences.

Mainly, it is my observation that many folk want clergy to stick to what they know. Teach biblical truth and principles and leave temporal matters to others. St. Paul never would have been satisfied with that limitation. Neither would Martin Luther King Jr., who made his name during the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott in the mid-1950s. Most of us, though, are neither Paul nor King.

I had an opportunity to speak to the Missouri Gaming Commission when it appeared at the River Campus on Monday. I was asked to address the gathering by a leader in the "anti" faction. I declined while being flattered by the invitation. Far better that nonclergy have their say.

In an admittedly convoluted way, I am trying to answer the call of the letter writer. I'm opposed to casino gambling, and this column is my forum to say so. But I trust the people of Cape Girardeau to connect their own dots and make their best call Nov. 2. They've heard the moral and theological arguments before. They'll decide whether the prospect of more jobs and a different revenue (and tax) stream outweighs the possible change to the quality of life in Cape Girardeau. Either way it turns out, there will be ministry to be done. And I and my colleagues, and the churches we represent, will be there -- God willing -- to step into the breach.

Pray and then vote. The Lord has his hand on this whole matter, and my trust -- and ours as believers -- should be in him.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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