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Religious leaders ask Bush, Congress to address gambling

WASHINGTON (BP)–More than 220 religious leaders have asked President Bush and Congress to address the devastating impact of legalized gambling on American life.

The request came in an open letter from not only evangelical leaders, including several Southern Baptists, but from representatives of the mainline Protestant, Catholic and Jewish communities. It appeared as a full-page advertisement in Roll Call, a twice-weekly Capitol Hill newspaper.

The religious leaders acknowledged in the letter they are divided on many of the day’s critical issues but said, “we are united in our opposition to legalized gambling.”

“Gambling has become a blight on our nation’s cultural landscape,” the letter said. “As religious leaders, we see the gambling-induced pain and devastation among many of those who look to us for spiritual guidance. Thus, we stand together not only in our concern but in our commitment to oppose this predatory and destructive industry. We call on members of Congress to place America’s citizens and families ahead of the false promises and hefty political contributions of the gambling industry and to begin to address this rapidly growing menace to our national welfare.”

The signers listed in the Roll Call ad included Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt; Morris H. Chapman, SBC Executive Committee president; Richard Land, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president; R. Albert Mohler, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president, and former SBC President Adrian Rogers.

Other Southern Baptist signers not listed in the ad included Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Ken Hemphill and former SBC President Tom Elliff. [The letter and signers as they appeared in the Roll Call ad, plus additional signers, may be accessed at www.citizenlink.org.]

Also signing the letter were James Dobson, Focus on the Family president; Bill Bright, Campus Crusade for Christ founder; John Busby, Salvation Army national commander; Chuck Colson, Prison Fellowship founder; author and speaker Tony Campolo; Ken Connor, Family Research Council president; Tony Evans, pastor and president of The Urban Alternative; Presbyterian pastor D. James Kennedy; Max Lucado, author and Church of Christ pastor; Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic priest and president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life; John Perkins, chairman of the Christian Community Development Association; Dennis Rainey, Family Life executive director; Ron Sider, Evangelicals for Social Action president; Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel senior pastor, and Jim Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society.

The signers also included numerous seminary and divinity school presidents and deans, as well as denominational heads, college presidents and ministry leaders.

The number of religious leaders signing onto the letter “communicates with unmistakable clarity the consensus of opinion that America’s religious community has reached on the issue of gambling,” said Barrett Duke, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s vice president for research and its specialist on gambling issues.

“This letter represents a groundswell of monumental proportions that national and local public officials cannot ignore,” he said. “The voice of every anti-gambling activist in our country will have to be taken more seriously by our nation’s public officials, because so many religious leaders have chosen to speak with one voice in expressing their opposition to our nation’s current gambling plague.”

In their letter, the religious leaders cited a litany of legalized gambling’s ills, as well as statistics in support of their assertions:

— It exploits those at the low end of the economic spectrum.

— Gambling cripples families, resulting in divorce, child abuse and neglect.

— It attracts crime to communities and produces new criminals.

— Gambling co-ops public officials and undercuts the government’s role as protector of the public.

— It produces a boom in the number of gambling addicts and in the rate of young people with gambling problems.

More than 15 million Americans are pathological or problem gamblers, according to the 1999 report of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. The NGISC also reported gambling has been at least partly responsible for more than two million divorces in recent years.

The letter followed by six weeks a report of a study that showed Nevada, the center of the country’s gambling industry, may have more than 115,000 problem gamblers. The study, conducted by Gemini Research of Northampton, Mass., found there were 40,000 to nearly 64,000 “probable pathological gamblers” in the state, according to an Associated Press report in The New York Times.

It also reported another 32,000 to more than 53,000 Nevada residents could be described as “current problem gamblers.” The state’s percentage of problem gamblers, 6.4, is greater than any other location where such studies have been done, according to the report.

The study also revealed two percent of the state’s adolescents were problem gamblers and another 10 percent were in danger of developing gambling problems.