Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Lutherans on Gambling

In further response to Rob's question about gambling:  The most comprehensive and sophisticated recent Christian statement I know of on gambling is from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the "mainline" or more "liberal" Lutheran body.  The study is online here.  A couple of key quotes:

Christians have traditionally offered four reasons to be concerned about gambling: first, because the games focus on acquiring wealth, gambling can encourage the sins of greed and covetousness; second, the emphasis on chance can be an occasion for despair and distrust in God's promises; third, gambling can lead us to misuse stewardship over our time, talents, and resources; and fourth, gambling can place vulnerable members of our communities at risk of great harm. . . .

Insofar as gambling is entangled with greed, hopelessness, selfishness and careless stewardship, it is an activity that is incompatible with the godly life. If our gambling can avoid these vices or "desires of the flesh" (Gal. 5), however, then gambling belongs within the broad area of Christian freedom. This analysis leads us to conclude, in the words of the 1984 ALC statement on gambling, that "there are no biblical or theological grounds for any absolute prohibition of gambling." Gambling is not intrinsically wrongful. It belongs to each Christian to decide whether he or she can, in good conscience and without self-deception, participate in gambling.

The fact that gambling is not intrinsically wrongful does not, however, mean that gambling is a matter of indifference. The Christian's freedom is quite different from the freedom that the modern world proclaims. Where others might assert their liberty to act in any way they see fit, so long as it is not prohibited, the Christian's freedom is always the freedom to be a good steward of God. In addition to the stewardship of our time and resources, we are also called to be stewards -- caretakers -- of one another. Cain's question to God is met with the Christian's response: we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers.

The study is notable for its description of the current state of gambling in America, its separate focus on state-run lotteries and on operations run by Native American tribes, and for its careful theological analysis.  I recommend reading the whole thing.  It was written -- or at least an earlier version of it was written -- by friend and lawprof Bob Tuttle of George Washington U. Law School, who has a Ph.D. in religious social ethics under his belt.

Tom B.


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