Saturday, December 01, 2007

Question of the Day

Is gambling a sin?


Stresspenguin said...

Of course! haven't you read the Discipline? If there's one thing we Methodists know is a sin, it is gambling.

Divorce is regrettable (161.D).
Family Violence is detrimental (161.H).
We are reluctant to approve abortion (161.J).
We affirm abstinence from Alcohol, Tobaco, and other drugs (162.J and 162.K).
We express disdain at the glorification of violence in the media (162.R).
It is unjust to withhold health care (162.T).

But Gambling--"Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic and spiritual life, and destructive of good government" (163.3).

By far, these are the harshest words in al the Discipline.

John Meunier said...

I'm not sure what is gained by mocking the Discipline here. The Social Principles are not church law.

My understanding of sin is that it is trust in or worship of something other than God. I'm sure that view does not hold up to technical analysis.

I suppose if you believe that God is moving the dice for you, then you could see gambling as complete dependence on God. But I don't imagine most Christians have viewed it that way.

Traditionally, gambling is viewed as poor stewardship of God's gifts - a breach of trust.

I'm interested to see what more thoughtful and informed folks think.

John said...

I'm interested to see what more thoughtful and informed folks think.

That's an awfully harsh tone to take with a rather thoughtful, researched, and carefully cited response to the question. Kurt's point is worth contemplating: does the Discipline take excessive umbrage at a lesser evil in our world than others?

Art said...

Gambling has caused financial ruin for millions, has destroyed families, relationships and lives. I'm not so sure it is a "lesser evil". I do beleive gambling is a menace to society and is a sin.

Mark Winter said...

Gambling has caused financial ruin for millions, has destroyed families, relationships and lives.

Art, you could say the same thing about alcohol, too, but I know plenty of responsible, law-abiding, churchgoing United Methodists who take a nip now and then. So gambling is a wholesale sin in your opinion, are you willing to say that drinking in any way, shape or form is the same, since it has also been known to cause financial ruin and heartbreak?

Elizabeth said...

I do feel about gambling like I feel about drinking. I'm not sure gambling itself is a sin (or drinking) but I think obviously addiction is a huge concern, and many social problems that can go with gambling (or drinking). It's not a problem for me personally, but I choose not to participate (in either) because I have seen what a devastating struggle it can be for others. I don't think gambling (or drinking) contributes anything particularly/uniquely good to society, individuals, etc., so I'd rather just pass altogether.

Also, stresspenguin's comments are funny, and I get the point, but of course the Social Principles and the BoR have a lot more to say and more nuanced things to say both about gambling and the other issues listed...

Todd said...

I am pretty well undecided about gambling. I know that it is responsible for the destruction of lives and families (just as substance or relational abuse). I have parishoners who are recreational gamblers. I have pastor friends who use gambling as their de-stressing exercise.

For myself, I don't care to gamble. But I enjoy going to the casino buffet.

I have resolved myself to urge people to be aware of the dangers and to be aware of its influence in their lives. But they will choose what they will choose.

Until then, I have applied a "sin tithe". If you win, you have to give 50% to the church.

Michael said...

Gambling as sinful is hard to pin down because we know of those who have been hurt, and I'm sure we all know "responsible" gamblers who risk no more than they can afford to lose, but do we consider where the winnings come from? If we are talking about casino gambling as the mother of all gambling, we know (or should know) that the casino as a business is not going to bet its money; the winnings come from those less fortunate. Could those few dollars have been the difference between making the rent or buying new shoes for the kids?

I know that example is a little extreme and can be reduced to "finders, keepers", but it comes from east Arkansas shortly after Mississippi opened its casinos. Churches were being hit pretty hard by such hard luck stories.

So the question for gambling comes down to defining "sin" itself which has become as problematic as defining "moral behavior". For me, to define gambling as "sinful", I have to determine what good for the Kingdom can come from it? What witness will I provide as a disciple and as a pastor while gambling? I see no good that comes from gambling though I acknowledge its reality.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Gambling is a sin; and most (not all) of our Social Principles are not helpful.

John Wilks said...

I think most forms of gambeling are indeed sinful- not only in how the gambler is risking hard-earned money, but in how the games are always rigged in favor of the house. This is most flagrantly true of sinfulness of the lottery- where the State itself is abusing the poor by preying on their hopes and dreams.

And yet, as a pastor, part of my compensation is automatically gambled by the denomination monthly: our pension system invests heavily in the stock market.

I know, I know, some will bristle at my suggestion that Wall Street is basically Vegas for people with business degrees- but the more I learn about the Market, the more I am concerned that 90% of investments are, in essence, glorified bets that some company will do well.

Flame away if you disagree...

The Ironic Catholic said...

Well, I bet the farm it is.

Oloryn said...

My initial response would have been "Before you can answer that question, you have to establish the answer to a more basic question - is acting stupidly a sin?".

It's probably not a surprise that I refer to the state lotteries as VSSMSTs - Voluntary Self-Selecting Mathematical Stupidity Taxes, the only regressive taxes known to get support from liberals.

On a more serious note, if 'is gambling a sin' is hard to determine, it might be productive to start breaking it down into more specific questions:

Is it a sin for the poor to gamble, given that they really don't have the resources to lose on it?

Is it a sin to gamble in the expectation that your winnings will make up for shortfalls in other financial areas?

Is it a sin to, unknown to your spouse, gamble with family money?

Even if you have a hard time determining if gambling, in general, is a sin, that doesn't prevent you from finding that gambling in more particular situations is a sin.

Also, it is important to determine if you can distinguish between gambling in the sense of casino gambling, state lotteries, etc, and taking a risk in a business environment. Though the latter is sometimes referred to in the same terms as the former, is it really morally equivalent to the former?

Keith Taylor said...

A Good Question,

I believe that gambling is a sin. It is a waste of the resources that God has given me. I used to think that if I had the means and I had met my tithing obligation, then what I did with the money that was "mine" was my business. But as I have become older in my Christian walk, I have come to realise that what I give away is God's but what I keep is God's also and I think that gambling is wasteful. If I have an extra $100 to put in a casino hall, is it not also better served to give to someone who truly needs it to make ends meet?

Of course I have also argued the same thing with state lotteries which I also consider gambling. I have had devout Christians tell me that lotteries are good because they are voluntary and they help pay for college (Tennessee and Georgia for example) The problem is that state lotteries are gambling and I'd ask you to look at the average demographic of the folks in line at the gas stations buying lottery tickets. Many can't pay their bills, but they put down money on lottery tickets or scratch off cards hoping to win big money. In the mean time, lottery scholarships are generally paid out to students who have a 3.0 or higher in high school and then in college. Well, what public school districts or from what kind of schools do most of those kids come from?

That is right. you know the answer. The Hope Scholarships in Tennessee and Georgia (the two states I'm familiar with) are paid to the kids who generally can most afford to go to college and the money is funded by the folks who can least afford to buy milk and bread for their elementary school kids. The poorest demographic in society provides the funds for the richest demographic's HOPE scholarships. That is gambling, and it is a sin way to run a state funded program, IMHO.

Larry B said...

I once asked our small group to research this question in the scriptures because of the harsh language in the discipline and the emergence of casino gambling in our state. Most everyone assumed that there was somewhere in the bible that spoke directly to this. (Except for the former Catholic in the group who was a bit surprised by the question given all the Monte Carlo and Bingo fundraisers his church had had when he was growing up Catholic). No one was able to find any direct scriptural reference to the sinfulness of gambling.

Most everyone agreed after researching it, that ultimately, it came down to a persons internal condition when engaging in gambling as to whether or not it was sinful. One has to remember that when engaging in gambling, one's winnings are being taken directly from their neighbor. If one gambles out of greed then that could clearly be considered "coveting thy neighbors goods". Everyone also agreed that if one gambles for entertainment only, then it would be hard to find anything particularly sinful about the behavior. What everyone was concerned about was whether or not they personally could stay on the entertainment side of the line without crossing over to the greed side of the line.

The Methodist Churches hard stance against casino expansion puzzles a lot of the poor people who end up with reasonably paying steady work with the casino. They fail to see how it has hurt them when they didn't have good options for steady employment before the casino arrived. In their eyes, the casino has done more for them than any government or church agency was ever able to do. In that way, that $100 spent in the Casino, does in part go to helping somebody make ends meet.

Larry B said...

John Wilks:

It's probably been hashed out many times before, but there are some fundamental differences behind the operation of a stock market and operating gambling.

The stock market is intended as a place for companies to raise capital to finance operations with the expectation that those companies will use that capital to invest and create economic value through products and services. The companies are expected to make a positive rate of return on the money allocated to them through the market. Their success in doing so is usually reflected in their stock price.

Gambling, at it's core, is simply the reallocation of resources from the player to the house. Anyone who gambles, is engaging in an activity that over time has a mathematically verifiable negative rate of return.

If one invests in the stock market with little knowledge and no effort to make wise decisions, then it is highly likely (although not certain) that one will get a negative return also. This is usually why some people equate investing in the stock market with gambling.

The risk you take in gambling is far different than the risk taken in a market based system. Gambling's risk is that your short term statistics become favorable and you can disengage before the long term statistics take over. The market risk is more directly related to the product being produced and the general condition of the market itself. For me, the more manageable risk is the product and market condition because there are a lot of bright people watching these everyday. No amount of intelligence can beat the statistical certainty contained in gambling.

Investment of any kind involves risk. Even a simple savings account contains some risk. The type of risk, the management of that risk, and whether the activity has a positive expectation of return delineates the stock market from gambling.

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I like what stresspenguin had to say - you gotta wonder about some of the social principle's word-choises.

I also like where a couple of you are going in terms of the stewardship question. We all know that gambling may or may not lead to ruin in any particular family, depending on how responsible the gamblers are - but what about a more global view?
Is it really right to gamble away our money for entertainent while at the same time children are starving to death by the tens of thousands each day? It costs so little to invest so much in people's lives through programs like Compassion International or Worldvision and I wonder how gambling looks when we juxtapose it with those sorts of activities?

revjfletcher said...

Spend money to lose money. That just doesn't like a fun thing to do to me.

Gambling, in my opinion, is a game that plays on people's want for more. Responsible gamblers are those who can go in with a certain amount of money; if they loose more than that amount it's okay?

Of course, how many CDs, DVDs, MP3 players, video games, ties, gallons of Promised Land chocolate milk, monitors, HDTV converters and the like do I have to have before I have crossed that line I stand behind with regards to gambling?

Stewardship is such an important aspect to our lives as CHRISTians; we shouldn't take it lightly.

Steve Heyduck said...

Whether or not gambling itself is a sin, it is a sin for Caesar to sell games of chance so energetically to the poor.

Recreational gambling is no more a sin or waste of money than going to a movie or, for us Texans, a Cowboys game.

If a person has the available expendable income, and chooses to spend his or her "entertainment dollars" at a casino, and has the ability to limit his/her spending to that budget, then it is no more sinful that most any other form of entertainment available to us.

cometothewaters said...

First, a long overdue apology.

That's an awfully harsh tone to take with a rather thoughtful, researched, and carefully cited response to the question.

I am sorry for my poor writing. When I said "more thoughtful" I meant more thoughtful than me. I did not intend to insult or demean Kurt's answer. I am sorry I did not notice this error earlier.

Back to the topic
The General Rules, which certainly have as much if not more force as a guide than the Social Principles, clearly say that we should not take as entertainment any endeavor which cannot be taken in the name of the Lord. (Okay, I don't have my BOD at hand, but that is a rough paraphrase.)

The question of "entertainment budget" may be beside the point if the activity itself separates us from God.

Does gambling bring us closer to God? Does it allow us to show and live love of God and love of neighbor? Does is instill in us the tempers (Wesley word there) that will better seat love in the throne of our being?

Yes, yes. I know. These questions don't bode well for many of my favorite past times either, but I'm trying to figure out a proper Methodist starting point for answering this question.