March 1, 2013
Lately, I have had a couple of inquiries about the United Church’s policy on gambling. Some church people in Toronto and Hamilton are organizing to object to proposed casino developments, and an awkward question came up. “What about the grants some churches get from the Ontario Trillium Foundation? Isn’t that lottery and gaming money? Are we being consistent here?”
They are confronting the uncomfortable news that it is one thing to take a principled stand, but more complicated when it might prevent taking advantage of funding that is important for the work of the church.
Someone mentioned that actually the Ontario Trillium Foundation is funded from the general treasury of the provincial government, which includes gaming money and tax money and everything else. So if that’s the case, maybe it’s a false issue. Or depending how you look at it, maybe that just means that everything funded by government – hospitals, schools, roads – is tainted.
Maybe the real question is whether the church still feels strongly about gambling. In an earlier day, our forebears were clear that gambling was a sin. So was drinking alcohol, and there were various other behavioural prohibitions in those days that may not be seen in the same way today.
Yet gambling has come up again as an issue. These days, the objection is more likely to be on the grounds that it is a “tax on the poor” or a form of addiction that can erode families and communities.
Our morality may not be as clear-cut these days, but it remains important for us to have these discussions and remember that there is a question to be addressed. We need to be continually on the lookout for places of hurt and contribute what we can to making our society a better place for all.
Some years back when I was in Saskatchewan, I attended an event where the then-premier, United Church minister Lorne Calvert, was announcing the approval of a new casino to be developed on First Nations land. My overall experience while with the Saskatchewan government was so positive that this day stood out as a low point. I didn’t like it, yet I understood the complexity, and recognized the strong desire of First Nations to develop economic initiatives that could offer their people employment. After that announcement, I drove back to Regina with a colleague who was active in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. We had a memorable conversation that began with him asking me, “So you mean that your church objects to lotteries but thinks homosexuality is okay?” “Yes,” I responded, and we continued with a conversation that changed neither of our minds, but gave us a little greater understanding of one another and the different ways the scriptures can be understood.
The other night when I was out, I bought a cup of tea from a well-known doughnut shop, and of course was delighted to remember that it’s Lent, and they have their annual contest going on. I rolled up the rim, but didn’t win. Disappointing, but it did let me duck the moral dilemma.