BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP)–Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 3, Tennessee Baptists have a 60-day window to mount a campaign encouraging fellow citizens to vote against a state lottery on Nov. 5 and keep Tennessee gambling-free.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention will distribute 3.2 million bulletin inserts and 75,000 copies of a 32-page magazine to 67 association offices by the first week of September. Baptist associations, in turn, will be responsible for getting materials to every church, said TBC Executive Director James M. Porch.
The TBC is taking a lead in strategic planning and providing information for use by churches and individuals because “with gambling, nobody wins,” Porch said. “We have the opportunity, through our Baptist churches, to make a strong statement against gambling.
“If we lose this opportunity to defeat the lottery, the future influence of Christians in Tennessee to affect any moral issue will be compromised,” Porch said.
While acknowledging that current polls show 58 percent of Tennesseans support a lottery, Porch expressed optimism that the tide can be turned by election day.
“The biggest difficulty we’re facing is apathy,” he said. “We must move this issue from the head to the heart.” Defeating the lottery requires 50 percent plus one vote of all votes cast.
Efforts to organize support for keeping Tennessee gambling-free began in November 2001 when association and TBC leaders met to discuss the issue. Then, in January, Porch sent a letter to associational directors of missions asking four questions:
— Has the association developed an organized group to fight the lottery?
— Who is leading the associational group?
— How can the Tennessee Baptist Convention Lottery Committee assist you in developing your response to the lottery?
— What efforts have been made to raise money to combat the lottery?
Strong support was garnered from associations and Porch said approximately 59 of Tennessee’s 67 associations now have plans in place to oppose the lottery.
Porch also invited Alabama Baptist leaders involved in the successful 1999 effort to defeat a lottery to share their expertise. “They won. I wanted us to hear from winners,” Porch said. “They have been extremely helpful.”
Then in the spring of 2002 when the challenge of producing needed resources seemed overwhelming, Porch said an offer of help came from LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“LifeWay came to us at a time of great need,” Porch said. “I’m indebted to Jimmy (LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr.) for their great contribution.”
Draper said LifeWay was anxious to support efforts to defeat a lottery because “the lottery is the most regressive form of taxation there is. It especially affects the poorest people of the state.”
Also, because LifeWay has been based in Nashville since 1891, “we feel we have an obligation to stand for what is best for the community. We need to say a lottery is wrong and we are against it.”
Porch said the partnership with LifeWay has enabled the distribution of four bulletin inserts, which he hopes will go in every bulletin of every Tennessee Baptist church during the month of October, and the 32-page magazine being produced.
Each insert includes information about the vote and addresses a key topic related to the lottery. Titles include: “Lottery Gambling Puts Children at Risk,” “The Lottery Does Little for Education,” “The Lottery Takes Advantage of the Poor” and “The Lottery Is Bad for Tennessee’s Economy.”
“We believe the bulletin inserts will capture attention of the resident membership” and educate them about dangers of a lottery, Porch said.
Also, Porch said he hopes the magazine, titled “Keep Tennessee Gambling Free,” produced by the Baptist & Reflector state newsjournal, “will become the primary teaching piece” in the churches.
The magazine can be a resource “during discussion times and educational settings to deal with the issue of the lottery,” Porch noted.
Baptist & Reflector editor Lonnie Wilkey said one copy of Keep Tennessee Gambling Free will be mailed to every Tennessee Baptist church by the end of August. Additional copies may be obtained from associational offices.
“We wanted to do our part to keep Tennessee gambling-free,” Wilkey said. “We feel this magazine will be a good resource and we encourage churches and individuals to make use of it.”
Wilkey said the magazine includes human interest stories about people whose lives have been impacted by gambling as well as information on what the Bible says about gambling, how a lottery could impact churches and 10 reasons to oppose the lottery in Tennessee.
“We hope the human interest element will help people think even more,” Wilkey said. “We tried to put faces to the facts.”
He urged Tennessee Baptists to read the magazine, share it with friends, and take copies to office waiting rooms and other places where magazines are read.
“People might look through it and maybe have a change of mind,” Wilkey said.
As soon as the bulletin inserts and the magazine are ready for distribution, Porch said they will be personally delivered to all 67 association offices by Tennessee disaster volunteers driving vehicles normally used to travel to the site of a flood, storm or other disaster.
Facing the prospect of huge shipping costs, he said leaders studied a map of interstates in Tennessee and plotted delivery routes.
“Disaster volunteers will deliver the inserts and the magazine in two and one-half days to 67 associations. It will cost us the gas for the trucks. We’re ready to go as soon as the resources are ready,” Porch said.
Porch and Draper urged Tennessee pastors to address the lottery issue from the pulpit and to use the resource materials to warn as many people as possible about the dangers of gambling.
They also urged support for the Gambling Free Tennessee Alliance chaired by Joe M. Rodgers, former ambassador to France. Paul Durham, pastor of Radnor Baptist Church in Nashville, is treasurer.
The alliance has conducted nationwide research on the impact of gambling and offers factual data and promotional helps. Extensive information is available on the alliance Internet site at www.gfta.org.
Information also is available through the Tennessee Baptist Convention site, www.tnbaptist.org.
Porch warned that the lottery could be only the first form of gambling in Tennessee.
“If the lottery becomes reality in the state, it will be the first step toward other forms of gambling,” he predicted.