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New governor’s pro-lottery stance draws opposing Baptist petitions

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–As the threat of a state-sponsored lottery looms at the outset of Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman’s administration, Baptists are gearing up for the fight with a petition. Baptist churches around the state began circulating a petition opposing “any gambling legislation, including lottery” during the first week of January.
“We want to be ready in case the governor calls a special session [for the lottery],” said John Long, second vice president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention. Long, director of missions for Baldwin Baptist Association, presented the idea and a copy of the petition to the state’s 75 directors of missions during their annual December meeting. They responded positively and took copies of the petition to give to churches in their associations.
With more than 3,150 Alabama Baptist churches, “we could do anything if we could stand together,” said Butler Baptist Association director of missions John Upchurch. Long was encouraging associations, churches and individuals to sign the petition and pass it to others before Jan. 24, when the directors of missions would present the signed petitions to their local legislators. “We want the legislators to know how many voters oppose the lottery,” Long said.
“The petitions give church members and individual adults a chance to do something,” he noted. “It is a chance to display concern about the issue and show legislators what the people in their district believe about the lottery issue.”
Wayne Traylor, director of missions for Bibb Baptist Association, said, “The greatest benefit for legislators is when they have something tangible in their hands.”
Franklin McLelland, director of missions for Choctaw Association, said he hopes the petition will provide legislators more to consider than recent polls showing a majority of Alabamians favoring the lottery. “The polls only show what a fraction of the people believe.”
Jack Wright, director of missions for Clarke Baptist Association, agreed. “Exit polls showed only 15 percent of Alabamians voted for Siegelman because of the lottery,” he said. But “Siegelman said, ‘… this is a mandate to bring the lottery into Alabama.'”
Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, said, “Siegelman has said that his education lottery is a train that will run over anyone who refuses to get on board.
“But there are some people who are going to get on the tracks and try to stop the train,” Grey said while in the state Jan. 7 for meetings with religious groups.
Siegelman “has declared that the people stand behind him,” Grey said. “The people better let him know that he doesn’t speak for them.”
And the petition is a good start, Grey said. Alabamians also need to flood the governor’s office and their local legislators’ offices with phone calls in opposition, Grey noted.
Dave McAllister, director of missions for Geneva Baptist Association, agreed. “A few phone calls can rattle their cages a little bit.” “We have to act,” Grey said. “This is not a fight for the sanctuary, this is a street fight,” he said, noting that all efforts will help.
Grey, who is a Methodist, encouraged Baptists especially to support the petition drive and other means to oppose the lottery. “Baptists are the heavyweights [in Alabama]. “This month is going to decide the future of Alabama,” Grey said. “There is an immediacy and need to do something now.”

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  • Jennifer Davis Rash