Christianity in America
There is no doubt that Christianity is the largest religion in the US, with over 70% of the population. Christianity came to the shores of this vast continent in the 16th century with the first British settlers. At the time, the American continent offered safe refuge from persecution for many protestant Christians. It so happens that the perpetrators of the oppression were their catholic brethren in Europe.
As a religion, Christianity flourished in America. The faith even prevailed over the turbulence of the Civil War that had spilt the continent in twain. The original Christian denominations have spilt multiple-times over time, with offshoots morphing into distinct denominations at every turn. The eventual outcome is that the America of today is host to the largest number of Christian denominations on earth.
Gambling and Christianity in America
When you consider the proliferation of Christian denominations in the US, you may find yourself asking this question. Do all American Christians confess the same beliefs? Do US Christians have the same stance towards major social issues? Do all the various denominations have the same opinion about gambling? In our attempt to answer these questions, we will try to understand how Christian doctrine contributes to mainstream Christian attitudes towards gambling.
Christian-backed anti-gambling rhetoric has been part of the American political and social-economic landscape for a very long time. Pressure from Christian lobby groups had, at one time, led to federal regulations banning gambling from all states except Nevada. Las Vegas was the only government-sanctioned gambling destination in the US. However, government policies towards gambling have become lenient, and casinos are currently prime contributors to state revenue.
Gambling Not Exclusively Mentioned in Scripture
The opinion of most Christians is far from being adiaphorous when it comes to the issue of gambling. Conservative Christians firmly believe that gambling is a vice that should be banned within the US. Others have a milder stance and find certain forms of gambling allowable. This notable difference in opinion might have more to do with church doctrine than sound scriptural teaching.
No direct reference is made towards gambling within the bible, either as an outright vice or as a practice that can be condoned. This premise means the vast majority of anti-gambling church rhetoric arises from subjective opinions of church leadership. Church leaders, however, assert that their sentiments towards gambling are derived from the proper application of biblical principles. Let us look at some commonly referenced bible verses and how they apply to gambling
Some Christians consider Gambling Okay
There are Christians who do not see any harm in gambling if they make a budget beforehand. This view proposes that as long as one does not compromise on life essentials, then one is free to gamble. Christians who commit to this belief view gambling as nothing more than harmless entertainment. As such, any gambling expenses, thus incurred, would be no different from the money spent at an amusement park.
Does the bible allow for such a liberal opinion of gambling? The answer depends on how you look at one particular verse. 1st Corinthians 6:12 grants a Christian the right to do anything provided that he/she is not mastered by anything.
Biblical Teaching used to imply Gambling is wrong
There are several verses in the bible that have been used as the basis for anti-gambling rhetoric. What follows is a general discussion of these verses. We look at what they say and how their message is interpreted.
2nd Corinthians 6:14
The portion of the verse inferred to gambling has to do with ‘not being yoked together with unbelievers’. This verse is used to extort Christians from associating with unbelievers at two levels. The first interpretation has to do the physical aspect of the association. The verse is thus used to imply that Christians should not attend the same venues as unbelievers. The second interpretation has to do with the social outlook of a Christian. A Christian is thus extorted from engaging in behaviours associated non-believers. The first inference is therefore made against attending casinos while the second inference prohibits gambling as a vice.
The relevant portion of the verse that has to do with ‘greed for unjust gain’. This verse does appear to refer to gambling when you consider that gambling does allow for a disproportionate gain. Using this inferred aspect of gambling, preachers have condemned the activity as an avenue for greed that Christians should avoid. However, the rest of the verse does make things clear. The warning contained therein has to with the accepting of bribes and not gambling.
1st Timothy 6:10
This verse is a favourite for many pastors and preachers as a scriptural principle against gambling. The verse warns against ‘the love of money’ as being the ‘root of all evil.’ Preachers assert the main reason why people gamble is the desire for riches, and as such, this desire would ultimately lead a Christian to greater evil. Is the desire for money the sole reason why people gamble? Indeed, it is a significant reason, but it is not the prime reason. As with previous verses, this verse is also open to interpretation.
This verse warns against ‘causing one of these little ones to sin.’ The verse is broadly interpreted as a warning against introducing children to corrupt practices. Thus the verse is used to rally Christian parents to actively participate in efforts to shut down gambling establishments in a neighbourhood. You should note, as with the other bible verses above, this verse does not directly refer to gambling.
The Church’s Stance on Lottery Winnings
Many churches across the US have at one time or another, accepted lottery winnings as church contributions. These contributions have been made by devout Christians who firmly believe in the biblical obligation to tithe. One such gift in 2008 saw the True North Community Church in Port Jefferson receiving $100,000 annually for 20 years. This arrangement between the state lottery and the church came about after a parishioner donated a lottery ticket worth $ 3 million.
But does the acceptance of tithes from lottery winnings imply that gambling winnings can be used positively? Opinion on this particular point varies. Indeed, there is a deep divide between conservative preachers and more liberal pastors when it comes to accepting contributions originating from gambling activities. Conservative preachers and Christians alike stick to the position that gambling is a modern vice arising from the mother of all vice, Greed.
Although liberal Christians do not condemn church contributions from lottery winnings, some do limit their approval to lotteries. To this faction, the purchase of ticket lotteries is acceptable because a fraction of the money is meant for charitable contributions. This premise thus validates making church contributions from lottery winnings.
Christian opinion of gambling is mostly negative. However, Christians have begun to realize that a would-be vice like gambling can have desirable aspects. It is also evident that Christianity is becoming, increasingly, accommodating towards gambling. More and more Christians are letting go of the hard-line views put forth by leadership in the church. Ultimately, these liberal Christians will the majority, and Christianity will be negative towards gambling no more.