By / May 6

I turned off the video the first several times I tried to watch it. I couldn’t bear the thought of what I knew would be pictured. Many people, from what I hear, had a similar reaction. The violence was so raw that it was painful to watch. And so many other videos and images, showing similar bloodshed, have emerged over the past several years. 

I’m referring, of course, to the video that has emerged in recent days of the killing of 25-year-old African-American man Ahmaud Arbery by two white men in a south Georgia neighborhood. This case will now, with the urging of the governor of Georgia, go to a grand jury to seek justice in this matter. From what reports tell us, Arbery was jogging through the neighborhood and the two men thought he seemed suspicious and took off after him, ultimately shooting and killing him. This was not a case of an interrupted home invasion, nor was it the case of law enforcement personnel involved in an escalating crime situation. 

In almost any breaking news story, I usually ask myself, “What sort of information could emerge to make this the opposite of what it seems to me right now?” In this case, I am stumped to think of what that could be. The video seems to show us exactly what we have seen so often in human history: the violence of armed self-styled vigilantes against an unarmed man. 

The justice system will proceed, of course, and evidence will be marshaled by the prosecution and by the defense, but there’s little question as to what the investigation will be—into a question of murder.

The system of temporal justice is important here—crucially important—but I am perhaps even more concerned about the sort of weariness that has come upon the country, when we use the word “again” about such a case, as if any happening like this should not immediately shock the conscience. The temptation will be to, as I did at first with the video, just avert our eyes. 

Whatever the specifics of this case turn out to be, we do know several things. The first is that the arguments, already bandied about on social media, that “Arbery wasn’t a choirboy” are revolting. We have heard such before with Trayvon Martin and in almost every case since. For all I know, Arbery was a choirboy. 

But even if he were the complete opposite (let’s suppose just for the sake of argument), that is no grounds to be chased down and shot by private citizens. There is no, under any Christian vision of justice, situation in which the mob murder of a person can be morally right. Those who claim to have a high view of Romans 13 responsibilities of the state to “wield the sword” against evildoers ought to be the first to see that vigilante justice is the repudiation not just of constitutional due process but of the Bible itself. And, of course, the Bible tells us, from the beginning, that murder is not just an assault on the person killed but on the God whose image he or she bears. 

Sadly, though, many black and brown Christians have seen much of this, not just in history but in flashes of threats of violence in their own lives. And some white Christians avert their eyes—even in cases of clear injustice—for fear of being labeled “Marxists” or “social justice warriors” by the same sort of forces of intimidation that wielded the same arguments against those who questioned the state-sponsored authoritarianism and terror of Jim Crow. And so, they turn their eyes. 

Now, again, these two men will get their due process, and their day in court. But ought we not to grieve for the family of this young man who is dead at just a quarter-century of life? And should we not lament the fact that there are so many names and faces—from those lynched by domestic terrorists throughout much of the 20th century to the names and faces killed much closer to our own time? Yes. 

And, whatever the facts that are offered up in this case as the process moves forward, we ought to be reminded of the threat of violence that has raged inside of humanity since Cain. The courts will decide whether these men will be punished as murderers—and we can pray the courts are right and just in their verdict—but we also ought to remember that many of our black and brown brothers and sisters were killed by mobs or individuals where there was no video to show anything. 

The memorial sign marking the murder of Emmett Till had to be replaced with a bulletproof marker because too many people were shooting it up, delighting in the lynching of a man by a bloodthirsty mob. And, like Cain, those who do such things always think no one will ever see. But God says to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” (Gen. 4:9). 

And, similarly, Jesus said, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known” (Luke 12:2). Whatever is ruled in this case, we know that the blood cries from the ground in countless matters of violence and bloodshed. And God sees and knows. That’s a word of promise for those weary in seeing justice done. And it’s a word of warning for those who would avert their eyes.

By / Feb 13

Today, nearly 2.2 million Americans are in prison or jail, and approximately 70 million Americans have a criminal record. Prison Fellowship® believes the Church has a unique capacity and calling to respond to the crisis of crime and incarceration. That's why we hosted the Justice Declaration Symposium in Washington, D.C., an event that brought together 80 pastors and church leaders—including ERLC President Russell Moore—to sharpen one another in the calling to restore those affected by the criminal justice system.

Moore served as the event’s keynote speaker. In his opening remarks, he said, “One of the biggest challenges that many of us in ministry have is dealing with multiple constituencies at one time.” Some will ask why bother ministering to those who have done bad things. Others will say justice reform distracts the Church from its mission. Some will think doing advocacy work makes you too political, and others will not think you are political enough. 

To better understand how different American Christians approach criminal justice reform, we commissioned a nationwide poll, conducted by the Barna Group. Here’s what we learned. 

What American Christians think about justice reform

The study revealed some hopeful trends. For example, practicing Christians are significantly more likely than other Americans to agree strongly that restoration should be the goal of the justice system. 

Similarly, because of their beliefs about the inherent dignity of each person, practicing Christians (especially evangelicals) strongly agree that prison conditions should be safe and humane and that caring for prisoners is important. The belief in second chances also ranked high among evangelicals. 

Not all the findings were worth celebrating, though. For instance, only one in five Christians said their church was involved in raising awareness about criminal justice. In fact, criminal justice was ranked as the social issue of least importance to respondents’ churches among several options. 

Also worrisome is Christians’ perception of the crime rate. Sixty-nine percent of practicing Christians and 81% of evangelicals think the incarceration rate in America is rising. But the crime rate has in fact been decreasing steadily since 1960. Meanwhile, the country’s incarceration rate skyrocketed, until a modest decline began a decade ago, thanks to criminal justice reform efforts. Researchers believe that no more than 25% of the decline in crime can be attributed to incarceration. Thus, we have not only misunderstood the problem at hand, but overly relied on incarceration as the solution, despite its devastating consequences on families and communities. To appropriately approach criminal justice issues, Christians must first have an accurate grasp of the situation—and what God’s Word says about it. 

The call to justice reform

What Christians think on any issue should be shaped first and foremost by the Bible. 

Moore, in his address to the pastors and church leaders at the Justice Declaration Symposium, said, “When we are shaped and formed by the kingdom of God, that means that we're going to have a different vision—a different view of what matters. And a different vision and a different view of who matters.”

To appropriately approach criminal justice issues, Christians must first have an accurate grasp of the situation—and what God’s Word says about it.

That “who” includes all those affected by crime and incarceration, from the victim to the community to the incarcerated. In Matthew 25, Jesus specifically calls out prisoners as people who count among “the least of these.” Even with knowledge of this calling, the Church doesn’t always know the answers to every difficult situation, but explained Moore, that’s OK. He added, “What we do know, though, is that we have an accountability before God. Do we act in those capacities in a Christ-like way, or in a non-Christ-like way? Do we try to ignore our responsibilities, or do we seek to act justly?”

Ultimately, whether we get involved with justice reform is shaped by our view of personhood. To this end, Moore reminded the audience that “our incarcerated brothers and sisters are joint-heirs with Christ."

Practical tools to help you get involved

At Prison Fellowship, we are working to equip Christians with the tools and information they need to get involved in justice reform. Here are some ways you and your church can take action:

  • Get free copies of our free Outrageous Justice® small group curriculum: The criminal justice system is complex. It can be hard to know where to begin with justice reform. That’s why we created Outrageous Justice, a small group study designed to help awaken Christians to the need for justice reform and put tools in their hands for getting started.
  • Sign the Justice Declaration: Signed by more than 10,000 Christians and prominent faith leaders, the Justice Declaration is a statement proclaiming the unique responsibility and capacity of the Church to address crime and incarceration. We at Prison Fellowship encourage all followers of Christ to add their names.
  • Host a Second Chance Sunday: Your church can celebrate Second Chance® Month by hosting a Second Chance® Sunday, with pastors or others sharing a message about justice and redemption and offering prayer for those impacted by crime and incarceration. 

You can access all these resources and more for free here. We hope these tools help you and your church respond to God’s call to seek justice.

By / Feb 5

In the final days of the 115th Congress, a significant and bipartisan federal criminal justice reform bill was signed into law at the White House. The First Step Act, which sought both prison and sentencing reforms, enjoyed overwhelming votes in the Senate and House this past December. Yet the bill’s journey to passage was as unlikely as the coalition of conservatives and liberals who supported it.

Heather Rice-Minus of Prison Fellowship was one of the dedicated advocates whose work ensured that this bill became a law. Heather worked at the center of many of the instrumental negotiations on Capitol Hill and in the White House. Heather joined Steven and Jeff at the Leland House to recount the story of what Van Jones called “a Christmas miracle” for criminal justice reform.

Guest Biography

Heather Rice-Minus serves as vice president of government affairs at Prison Fellowship, the nation's largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. She is a powerful, knowledgeable voice articulating the case for restorative criminal justice solutions. She is also the co-author of Outrageous Justice, a Bible study curriculum and book. A native of Virginia, Rice-Minus resides in Washington, D.C., with her husband and daughter.

Resources from the Conversation

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By / May 31

Amidst the ongoing opioid crisis, government agencies are warning about the rise of another deadly illegal drug methamphetamine. As the New York Times noted earlier this year, methamphetamine has “never been purer, cheaper or more lethal.” Here are five facts you should know about this forgotten killer.

1. Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug usually used as a white, bitter-tasting powder or a pill, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Crystal meth is a form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks. Users take methamphetamine by inhaling/smoking, snorting, swallowing a pill, or by injecting the powder that has been dissolved in water/alcohol. Common names for methamphetamine include meth, chalk, crank, crystal, ice, and speed.

2. Methamphetamine increases the amount of the natural chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects motivation and helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Meth produces a “high” (euphoria) by releasing increased levels of dopamine rapidly in reward areas of the brain. Because the effect of the drug starts and fades quickly, says the NIDA, people often take repeated doses in a "binge and crash" pattern. In some cases, people take methamphetamine in a form of binging known as a "run," giving up food and sleep while continuing to take the drug every few hours for up to several days.

3. Use of methamphetamine has been linked to a number of health risks, including severe dental problems (“meth mouth”), extreme weight loss, hepatitis C infection, stroke, psychosis, paranoia, and other forms of psychological distress. A study published in 2014 in the journal Addiction found that violent behavior increased after subjects used meth. The drug’s users also face a higher risk of death than people who use other drugs, including cannabis, cocaine and alcohol.

4. Nearly 30 percent of government agencies responding to the DEA’s 2017 National Drug Threat Survey said that methamphetamine was the greatest drug threat in their areas. Thirty-six percent reported it is the drug that most contributes to violent crime. The methamphetamine threat is particularly high in the west, southwest, and central parts of the country, says the DEA. The agency also notes that prices are the lowest they have been in years (about $5 a “hit”) and the average purity of seized methamphetamine remains at or above 90 percent.

5. According to data from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), over 12 million people (4.7 percent of the population) have tried methamphetamine at least once. NSDUH also reports that approximately 1.2 million people used methamphetamine in the year leading up to the survey. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that from 2010 to 2014, the number of drug overdose deaths involving methamphetamine more than doubled, jumping from around 1,400 to nearly 4,000. Nearly 6,000 people died from stimulant use in 2016, and provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that 7,663 people died from psychostimulant use in 2016, with the majority of deaths in this category related to methamphetamine.

By / Mar 6

Greg Glod from Right on Crime joins Matt to discuss criminal justice reform. The DC team chats about current policies on the ERLC’s front burner including the Conscience Protection Act. Jeff and Matt reflect on Billy Graham’s lying in honor at the U.S. Capitol.

Guest segment: Criminal Justice Reform

Original DACA deadline passes

Conscience Protection Act (CPA)

Billy Graham

Guest bio – Greg Glod Greg Glod is the Manager of State Initiatives for Right on Crime and Senior Policy Analyst at Texas Public Policy Foundation. Based in Austin, Glod is an attorney who began his legal career as a law clerk and litigator in Maryland before joining Right on Crime. He graduated from The Pennsylvania State University with B.A. degrees in Crime, Law, and Justice and Political Science, and with his J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law.


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By / Oct 26

Today the National Archives will be releasing to the public thousands of files related to the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.

Here are five facts you may not know about the Kennedy assassination.

1. A popular movie led Congress to release records related to the assassination

The end of the movie JFK, a popular 1992 conspiracy movie directed by Oliver Stone, suggests that Americans cannot trust official public conclusions when those conclusions have been made in secret. The movie—and specifically this scene—prompted Congress later that year to pass the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, known as the JFK Records Act. The act created the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), which in a final report partially credits the film with promoting Congress’s action. The act also directed the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to establish a collection of records to be known as the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection and requires that each assassination record be publicly disclosed in full and be made available in the collection no later than today—October 26, 2017, unless the President of the United States decides to keep them classified.

2. Two branches of the federal government held six investigations into the assassination—and came to differing conclusions

The FBI was the first authority to complete an investigation in 1963. Their report was given to the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy—known unofficially as the Warren Commission—which issued an 888-page final report in 1964. Four years later, Attorney General Ramsey Clark asked four medical experts to review the evidence, in what became known as the Clark Panel. In 1975, a commission headed by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller—known as the Rockefeller Commission—investigated the activities of the CIA within the U.S. to see if they were connected to the JFK assassination. That same year a Senate committee chaired by senator Frank Church—the Church Committee—also investigated CIA activity as well as FBI conduct related to the tragedy. Skepticism of the Warren Commission finding led the House of Representatives to create the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations to investigate the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. Based on evidence that was later discredited, this committee concluded there was a “probable conspiracy” behind the murder and that it is likely Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone.

3. Oswald had attempted murder before, and murdering a president wasn’t a federal offense

In April 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald attempted to murder an American army officer, Major-General Edwin A. Walker. Upset that the general wanted to invade Cuba and kill his hero Fidel Castro, Oswald used a rifle to shoot at Walker in his home. The bullet missed Walker by an inch, and Oswald escaped. Several months later, on November 22, Oswald was arrested—not for shooting the president—but for fatally shooting a police officer, Dallas police officer J.D. Tippitt. Had he been charged before he was killed by Jack Ruby, Oswald wouldn’t have been charged with a federal crime since killing or attempting to harm a president wasn't made a federal offense until 1965, two years after Kennedy's death.

4. During his life Kennedy was the focus of at least six assassination plots

Two separate plots were planned in Chicago, one in Miami, and one in Tampa was allegedly planned just weeks before Kennedy was killed in Dallas. Another assassination was planned in December 1960, one month after he became president-elect. Richard Paul Pavlick, a 73-year-old retired postal worker, followed Kennedy to Palm Beach, Florida in a car filled with dynamite. Pavlick parked outside the Kennedy’s Palm Beach compound and waited for the president-elect to leave his house to go to Sunday Mass. Pavlick’s plan was to ram his car into Kennedy’s limo, setting off the explosives and killing them both. He changed his mind when he saw Kennedy’s family in the car. Before Pavlick could make a second attempt he was caught by the Secret Service and put in a mental institution.

5. Kennedy may have died because he was wearing a back brace

Kennedy suffered from chronic back pain and had five surgeries to correct the problem. (After a surgery in 1954, his post-operative coma and septicemia was so bad a priest to give him last rites.) On the day he was shot, Kennedy was wearing a heavy, corset-like brace that went from his chest to below his waist. This is why he remained upright after being shot in the back of his shoulder. That same bullet hit Connally and caused the Texas governor to slump over in his seat.

Because of the brace, Kennedy remained in an upright position as the second bullet struck him in the back of the head. The doctor who treated him for the head injury, Dr. Kenneth Salyer, believes that without the brace Kennedy would not have suffered the wound that caused his death.

By / Oct 11

Matt, Steven, and Travis catch up on latest federal policy developments including a legislative solution for Dreamers, Criminal Justice Reform, and two big wins for religious freedom at HHS and DOJ.


Criminal Justice Reform

Religious freedom wins at the agencies

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By / Oct 2

A gunman fired on a crowd gathered for a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip this past Sunday night, killing at least 58 people and wounding nearly 400. The attack is the deadliest mass shooting in modern history of the United States.

When faced with this type of violent crisis we should first turn to our Comforter in prayer. We should seek healing for the wounded, the grieving families, and for our broken nation. Our next step should be to respond as Christians.

Matthew Mihelic offers five ways to help guide our thinking about how to respond to such violence:

1. Love.  Always choose to love. Always choose to forgive. Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), and show empathy to those who are grieving—even if they express their grief in a way that makes you uncomfortable.

2. Seek unity. As members of the body of Christ, Christians strive for the unity that Christ has accomplished with his redemption. Let the church be the model of forgiveness and unity that society is lacking. Let your Christian unity in this hour be the story you pass down to your grandkids when they ask you about these troubled times.

3. Do justice. Do what you’re called to do as a citizen and pray (1 Timothy 2) for government to do what they are called to do as civil authority. Recognize that God has given the sword to the civil authorities to ensure justice. They need prayer. Through prayer and proper honor, seek justice by promoting good government. Because government is intended to be God’s gift of common grace to man, Christians are seeking the good of their neighbors when they seek to promote good government.

4. Soberly recognize and mourn sin’s effects. These events remind us that we live in a cursed world. As we feel the effects of a fallen creation, we must view these events with sober-mindedness. Mass murder are the results of humans being humans in a sinful age. Let us mourn the effects of a fallen world with those who mourn. Sin is tragic, and it is not God’s will.

5. Have hope. You have a home with God where no violence intrudes because Christ has paid for your every sin. Let the victory of the cross in your life compel you forward to courageously seek gospel transformation in your city today. In times such as these, God often uses the hope of Christians to powerfully shine into a culture in despair.

By / May 22

Martial-arts trained priest provoked dissent from his bishop for encouraging parishioners to take concealed pistol license classes at his church last month. Rev. Edward Fride has since cancelled the classes, but the ministers’ differing approaches to neutralizing personal threats of violence offer Christians a quick gut-check on whether their self-defense ethos is biblical and rational, or at least in progress toward both.

Bishopric statements obtained by the Detroit Free Press stressed that “guns and gun lessons do not belong in a Catholic church,” and that Lansing Catholic Bishop Earl Boyea “has never given permission for anyone to carry a concealed weapon in a church or school in the Diocese of Lansing.”

The diocese was responding to a letter Fride recently sent to parishioners titled, “We’re Not in Mayberry Anymore, Toto!” (invoking icons as orthodox as The Andy Griffith Show and The Wizard of Oz):

… It is very common for Christians to simply assume that they live in Mayberry, trusting that because they know the Lord Jesus, everything will always be fine and nothing bad can happen to them and their families. Those who have followed the Lord Jesus for more than 20 minutes, however, have often experienced first-hand that the reality of living in a fallen universe can be very different. How to balance faith, reality, prudence, and trust is one of those critical questions that we struggle with all our lives. Pretending we are in Mayberry, while we are clearly not, can have very negative consequences for ourselves and those we love, especially those we have a responsibility to protect. …

Unity in the body is important—one could argue more important, if Scripture is consulted—than protecting life and limb, so we wish the parish and diocese speedy reconciliation and mutual understanding.

But since lives may be at stake, we can’t dodge the question ourselves, especially when arguments apparently made from Scripture turn out to be less than scriptural. Bishop Boyea’s position presumably rests on a statement made by him in 2012, relayed to the Free Press by diocese spokesperson Michael Diebold:

“We are followers of Jesus Christ, who raised not a hand against those who mocked, tortured, and finally murdered him. … While we grasp both the Second Amendment and the legitimate right of some persons to defend themselves, our churches and our schools are dedicated to a far different approach to life’s problems.”

If the Gospels are to be trusted, the bishop’s appeal to precedent falls both wide and short. All four Gospel writers note the incident of Peter hacking off the ear of a soldier sent to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. All but one records Jesus’ subsequent rebuke of Peter:

“Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Mat. 20:52-54)

Perhaps this is what the Bishop means—that the 10 remaining disciples (sans Peter and Judas) made peace rather than war because Jesus has just told them not to fight.

But that cannot be. The disciples do not make peace. They run away.

According to Mark, which scholars regard as the earliest Gospel, as well as Matthew and John, the disciples’ restraint (if one can call it that) was due to their nearly unanimous abandonment of Jesus at his arrest—not to beatitude or blessed devotion. Exceptions are the “young man” (presumably John) who followed Jesus from a distance after fleeing (naked) from the soldiers, and Peter, who kept even greater distance than John and denied association with Jesus three times before breakfast (and then wept bitterly).

Lest we miss an obvious message in these texts (which aim to report facts, not to convey a theology of self-defense or pacifism)—these disciples had far greater needs than weapons control, advice, or policies. If nothing else, these passages show that their (and our) political problems and spiritual shortcomings required a real Messiah.

End homily. What to conclude from this?

Golf clap for Bishop Boyea for acknowledging the legitimate, constitutionally protected right of Americans (he says only “some” but we’ll roll with it) to defend themselves, and for pursuing what he genuinely believes is a better approach to self-defense than encouraging Americans to go armed.
Thunderous applause for Fr. Fride for proactively engaging to educate and protect his flock from increasing violence amidst budget cuts to armed police response, and for warning his flock that when Jesus said that we should “be wise as serpents, innocent as doves,” he didn’t mean “wise as doves.”
Crickets for Bishop Boyea basing his “different approach to life’s problems” on a puzzling, if not rusty, interpretation of classic Gospel texts, particularly those showing Peter fighting when he shouldn’t, followed by Peter and everyone not fighting because they are too busy abandoning, denying, or betraying Jesus.
An alternative interpretation of Jesus’ rebuke of Peter. Although Jesus tells the fisherman not to fight, he gives his rationale: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” Jesus’ rationale renders his command situation-specific, not prescriptive. Neither Fr. Fride nor nearby Detroit can summon up that many angels in time for the next gang bang. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” we are told—but this does not mean that all can or should be imitated (how’s your carpentry?). Moreover, with the exception of the biblical book of Revelation, no Scriptures are likely to be left unfulfilled by your resisting arrest or surviving an attack. The passage is moot in this debate.
But what about “turn the other cheek”? Now we’re cooking. But check the context. Jesus says the former in a section of his Sermon on the Mount denouncing retaliation—vengeful action taken against a person to evoke a flawed sense of retributive justice. Self-defense couldn’t be further from that.
But what about “love your neighbor as you love yourself”? You must. Just don’t forget to love your neighbors while you are loving your neighbor. Ask your spouse or child or the stranger next to you on the subway how loved they would feel by your not protecting them from rape or robbery or worse.
Lacking a biblical mandate on the subject, Christians are reasonably free to develop different theologies of self-defense, provided they coalesce with Scripture. A good place to start is with Jesus’ statement to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” while praying, “God help us.” He has.

By / Mar 11

Public resistance to tax increases, the political power of gambling interests, and the growing pursuit of easy money have led to the legalization of some form of gambling in the District of Columbia and every state except Utah and Hawaii. An enormous increase in the amount of money Americans are betting has accompanied the wildfire growth of gambling in America. In 2012, Americans spent $91.9 billion on all forms of legal gambling in the U.S. and lost $37.3 billion. It is time to take a closer look at this issue and to develop a response.

The Issue

Since 1890, the Southern Baptist Convention has formally expressed its opposition to legalized gambling. Over the course of more than 100 years, the Convention has adopted 14 resolutions on this issue. The most recent resolution was passed in 1997. It calls on all Christians “to exercise their influence by refusing to participate in any form of gambling or its promotion.” In addition, the resolution urges “political leaders to enact laws restricting and eventually eliminating all forms of gambling and its advertisement.”

While the advocates of legalized gambling promote it as an economic development tool and as a supposedly painless source of tax revenue, there are numerous biblical, ethical, and social reasons why gambling is not an acceptable activity. Below are some of the most obvious reasons.

Gambling Violates Biblical Principles

While the Bible contains no “thou shalt not” in regard to gambling, it does contain many insights and principles that indicate that gambling is wrong. For example, the Bible emphasizes the sovereignty of God over human events (Matt. 10:29-30); whereas gambling looks to chance and luck. The Bible indicates that man is to work creatively and use his possessions for the good of others (Eph. 4:28); gambling fosters a something-for-nothing attitude. The Bible calls for careful stewardship; gambling calls for reckless abandon. The Bible condemns covetousness and materialism (Matt. 6:24-34); gambling has both at its heart. The moral thrust of the Bible is love for God and neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40); gambling seeks personal gain and pleasure at another person’s loss and pain.

Gambling Contributes to Crime and Corruption

The growth of crime in those states and cities that legalize gambling is easily demonstrated. The most comprehensive study to date concludes that after three or four years, counties with casino gambling experience increases in rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft, and human trafficking compared to counties without casinos.

Many careful studies on gambling point out frequent incidents of corruption related to gambling. Police are the most immediate targets for corrupting influences. Since police operate at the entry point of the criminal justice system, they are both more available and more desirable as targets of gamblers seeking to make payoffs and bribes. But gambling corruption is by no means limited to the police. Elected officials as well as individuals in the gambling business are also subject to the corrupting influence of gambling.

Organized crime benefits from the expansion of gambling as well. William Webster, a former FBI director, said, “I really don’t see how one can expect to run legalized gambling anywhere without serious problems . . . . Anytime organized crime sees an opportunity to put a fix on something, to get an edge on something, it’ll be there. And gambling is still the largest source of revenue for organized crime.”

Gambling Disrupts the Economy

Until recently, business and labor leaders have led many of the successful efforts to prevent gambling from entering states and communities because they realized that gambling is bad for the economy and especially bad for relatively low income laborers. Unfortunately, many current business and labor leaders have become either neutral or supportive of gambling because of its alleged economic benefits.

However, increased gambling always results in increases in unpaid bills, embezzlement, bankruptcy, and absenteeism from jobs. In addition, gambling does not help a state’s economy in any appreciable way. A lottery returns to the state an average of only about 32 cents of every dollar taken in. The remainder goes to prizes and administration. In only three or four states does the revenue from lotteries, casinos, pari-mutuel betting, and any other existing forms of gambling contribute more than 3 percent to a state’s total budget. The minimal contribution that gambling makes to a state’s economy is more than offset by the social and personal problems it creates.

Gambling Destroys Lives

Gambling corrupts and hurts people in many ways. The something-for-nothing craving which gambling stimulates undermines character. The hope of winning a fortune causes some to embezzle and steal for a gambling stake. Gambling appeals to the weakness of a person’s character and develops recklessness, callousness, and covetousness. Some gamblers become psychologically addicted to gambling so that they cannot stop gambling and find themselves in a headlong plunge into personal catastrophe.

Gambling Hurts Innocent People

Gambling harms not only those directly involved in gambling but innocent people as well. Especially vulnerable are members of the gambler’s family. Gambling creates financial problems and special tensions in the home. It is difficult to determine whether the gambler or his or her spouse is more physically, mentally, and emotionally damaged by the ravages of a gambling binge.

The children of gamblers suffer when a gambling parent loses the money for such necessities as food, rent, clothing, and medicine. They suffer when a gambling parent abandons them in cars, with neighbors, or in gambling daycare centers while they satisfy their gambling addiction. Communities are hurt by the presence of gambling as increasing numbers of people become addicted to gambling and prey on their communities to support their gambling addictions.

Gambling Defies Justification

Among the arguments advanced to justify gambling is the one that says that all of life is a gamble or a risk. But risk-taking in gambling is different from the risks involved in the normal routine of life. The risks in gambling are artificially created. In other ventures, the risk is part of the creative process. For example, the contractor risks labor and capital to build a house and make a profit. Unlike the gambler, he assumes a risk that is necessary to society’s economic life, and he relies on more than chance in seeking to make a profit.

It is also argued that some people like to spend their recreation money betting on horses or playing slot machines, just as others prefer to spend theirs for a round of golf or a movie. Gambling obviously provides a kind of recreational excitement for some, but the cost to individuals, families, the economy, and society is too high to justify it.

Some Answers

Seen in this light, gambling is personally selfish, morally irresponsible, and socially destructive. Therefore, gambling must be vigorously resisted. Such resistance requires an understanding of the problem, a workable plan of attack, and a personal commitment to work against gambling. The gambling problem results from two interrelated factors: (1) Many people have a desire, often a compulsion, to gamble, and (2) most of these people have access to gambling opportunities.

The ultimate goal of a plan of action is to control the desire to gamble and eliminate the access to gambling opportunities. When the desire to get something for nothing and the opportunity to gamble go hand in hand, resistance to one requires resistance to the other. To attempt to eliminate the desire without abolishing the opportunity is to invite failure. It is a matter of record that as gambling becomes more accessible, more people gamble. Thus, legalization is not the answer to the gambling problem. Instead, it is one primary cause of the gambling problem.

Any adequate plan to deal with gambling must be both extensive and comprehensive. It must be extensive enough to include the spiritual, educational, and legal approaches. It must be comprehensive enough to incorporate the family, the world of work, community clubs and organizations, the church, and government.


A vibrant, growing relationship with Jesus Christ is the only adequate basis for a stable personal life and a sound society. Members of Gamblers Anonymous acknowledge that in order to prevent relapse it is necessary to experience certain personality changes within themselves, and that this involves response to spiritual principles in order to make the changes permanent.

Moral arguments, economic self-interest, guilt, shame, and other lesser motivations will not prevail against the gambling urge or solve society’s gambling problem.


Families, churches, schools, labor unions, businesses, and community organizations can all contribute to an educational program in opposition to gambling. Such education should be specifically designed to result in action. The dangers of gambling should be exposed in such a dramatic way that people will cast it out of their lives and communities. People can be led to understand that it is in their best personal interest to refrain from gambling and that it is in society’s best interest publicly to oppose gambling.


For those addicted to gambling, education alone will prove powerless to deal with their problems. They need psychological help. People gamble for many reasons, and no simple and easy solution covers all cases. Pastoral counseling, psychological care, or participation in a group like Gamblers Anonymous can prove helpful. The community and the church can sometimes work together in providing programs to seek out and help the compulsive gambler and his or her family.


When gambling opportunities are available, both the reformed gambler and the potential gambler are tempted. Since gambling is corruptive and harmful, concerned citizens should work for laws to control and eliminate gambling. Effective legislation both by the states and by the federal government is needed.

Anti-gambling legislation will be effective only to the extent that it is backed up by effective law enforcement. Legislation without enforcement fails to deter gambling and stimulates disrespect for the law. A responsible public will insist on, and be willing to pay the price for, strict and efficient law enforcement. Further, the courts must be encouraged to take seriously gambling cases and levy appropriate sentences. For genuine gambling addicts, rehabilitation treatment can be far more effective than jail sentences.

Some Personal Answers

• Recognize that you cannot get something for nothing.

• Remember that in gambling somebody always gets hurt.

• Refuse to participate personally in even small or occasional gambling ventures.

• Get the facts about existing laws related to gambling, problems of enforcement in your area, and the current mindset on what changes are being made or should be made.

• Arouse public opinion to the fallacy of arguments for legalized gambling and to any weakness in the enforcement of existing laws.

• Bear testimony without being judgmental to friends or acquaintances who may gamble occasionally.

• Actively support laws, lawmakers, and law enforcement officials who oppose gambling.

• Work within civic, community, and business organizations to prevent their sponsorship of gambling in the community.