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Lottery & embryo issues fuel on-air stances by SBC’s Land

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It’s a drill that has been repeated time and time again at the offices of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and this time, as every time before, the agency’s president, Richard Land, is right in the thick of it.

The call to arms? Another state has scheduled a referendum on implementing a lottery. Voters in Tennessee will trek to the polls in November 2002 to vote on the issue.

And Land told a Middle Tennessee-area radio station Aug. 27 that the proponents for a Tennessee lottery are trotting out the same empty promises lottery advocates make in every other state they try to enter. The state is one of 13 in the union without a lottery.

“A lottery is about the most regressive tax a state can levy,” Land told listeners to Teddy Bart’s “Roundtable” on Nashville’s WAMB-AM. “Those who can least afford to gamble are the ones who gamble the most.”

Land said at least one of the alleged benefits of a lottery — scholarships — is nothing more a cruel ruse on lottery ticket buyers. “Preliminary results from Georgia show that the families who most often benefit from that state’s lottery-funded Hope Scholarships are those whose family income is between $44,000 and $50,000 a year,” he explained, continuing, “Those who pay the most in gambling expenses are those making between $10,000 and $25,000 a year.

“Now what kind of crazy social policy is it to take money away from those that make between $10,000 and $25,000 a year to give scholarships to the families making $44,000 to $50,000 a year?” Land asked the program’s regulars. “It is just a terribly regressive tax,” he repeated. “It promotes what is clearly an addictive activity for many people.”

There is no question that gambling is sinful if you are a Christian and follow the dictates of Scripture, Land said, noting that gambling violates two and sometimes three of the Ten Commandments. Ironically newspaper headlines the day of the program trumpeted the existence of four winning tickets for the weekend’s Powerball $294.8 million jackpot — the third-largest lottery prize in U.S. history.

“A lottery violates ‘Thou shall not steal’; it’s a zero sum game,” Land said. “For you to win, a whole lot of other people have to lose. It doesn’t produce any revenue; it takes money from a lot of people to give to some.”

He said gambling also is a violation of “Thou shall not envy” because those who play the game are envying what their neighbors have because that’s what comprises the jackpot.

Land added, “If it becomes an addiction, it is a violation of ‘Thou shall no have no other gods before me.'” He said it is no surprise that the proliferation of gambling outlets across the United States is translating into growing numbers of individuals being treated for gambling addiction.

When the government runs a gambling operation, it violates God’s plan for the civil government, Land said. “Chapter 13 of the Book of Romans makes clear that God intended for government to reward those who do right and to punish those who do evil,” he said. “What you have in the case of government-run lotteries is the government prostituting itself and promoting something which is devastating to society for its cut of the action.”

When a state sanctions and operates a lottery, it is reduced to nothing more than a bookie, Land said.

The ERLC has been asked by the Tennessee Baptist Convention and other groups that oppose the lottery to help in the fight, Land said. He stressed that the TBC would lead in the effort and that the ERLC would assist as requested.

“We intend to serve Tennesseans in the same way we did lottery opponents in Alabama in 1999,” Land said, noting that ERLC literature was used by almost all of the denominations in Alabama to turn back the vote to legalize a lottery.

“We had almost as much of our anti-gambling literature distributed in Methodist churches as we did in Baptist churches,” he added. “It was the church that beat the lottery in Alabama.”

While Land knows it will be another pitched battle against well-funded lottery proponents, he remains hopeful about the lottery opponents’ odds: “Lottery advocates have a seemingly bottomless pit of money from which to fund their argument. But it didn’t do them any good in Alabama and we learned some things in Alabama about how to be even more effective in our work against the lottery.”

Land explained that lottery opponents are some of the “weirdest coalitions politically you will ever see,” noting, “Some of the people who are in the room together are never together on any other issue.”

Panelists on the early morning radio program also discussed President Bush’s recent decision to restrict federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Land reiterated the SBC’s opposition, reflected in resolutions adopted in 1999 and 2000, to both federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and any research that involves the destruction of embryos to extract stem cells.

“We are opposed to the United States becoming a society that sacrifices its tiniest citizens for the benefit of older and bigger humans,” Land stressed. “We believe that life begins at conception and that these embryos are human beings. We do not have the right to sacrifice those human beings for the benefit of older and bigger human beings.”

He emphasized that Southern Baptists do not have a problem with stem cell research that doesn’t require people to die to obtain their stem cells.

Land said he had personal knowledge that the president and his staff “really struggled” on this issue. “The White House was calling me and asking me really tough and detailed questions on a fairly regular basis,” he recounted.

In framing his response to the embryonic stem cell dilemma, Land said he believes the president considered how the United States and its allies handled the research findings stemming from experimentation conducted in Nazi concentration camps.

“There was a lot of research done in the Nazi death camps,” Land said. “The public decision was made by the America government and followed by its allies that this research, while it might have some benefit, was so contaminated by the way it was obtained — the use of human beings against their will, many of them dying — that this research would be destroyed and not used.”

Yet information now declassified suggests the United States determined to use some of the research findings in its efforts to protect and save the lives of U.S. military personnel who might be in danger of exposure to the toxic elements of biological warfare, Land said. “Senior advisers at the White House told me that some exceptions were made since the life and death decision had already been made for those victims of Nazi tyranny.

“The question was asked after the war: Will this information directly have the possibility of saving American military personnel lives, particularly the research involving germ warfare?” Land said. “The decision was made because these people had already died and scientists could work to save and protect the lives of American military personnel in the future.” He said the American military became aware that the former Soviet Union had a substantial capability for engaging in germ warfare.

Land said he heard “echoes” of that same reasoning in the president’s speech when Bush said he would permit federally funded research only on those stem cell lines that were obtained from babies for whom the “life and death decision” had already been made, but that he would not allow federal funds to be used for any research that would involve the destruction of additional babies.

While saying he disagreed with the president’s decision, Land, who opposes any federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, added, “The president didn’t cross the one critical line that would have prompted a meltdown among his pro-lifer supporters — the federal funding of the destruction of babies.”

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  • Dwayne Hastings