Gambling, Smoking, and Stem Cells

Last Sunday night I was overly cautious in saying that a church could not recommend voting one way or another on ballot issues. Actually, according to a Fact Sheet published by the IRS, “501(c)(3) organizations may take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candidates in an election for public office.”{1} If a congregation wants to hang on to its non-profit status, it must stay away from opposing or promoting any particular candidate. The church, however, can still talk about important issues. So I would like to be more specific about the items I mentioned on Sunday, and add a third issue that seems to crop up every voting season.


State Issue 3: This constitutional amendment would allow up to 31,500 slot machines to be installed at certain locations around the State of Ohio. Promoted as a “Learn and Earn” initiative, the amendment would commit 30% of gambling revenues to college scholarships. It would also skim off 55% of all revenues to slot owners and operators.
Sadly, State-supported gambling usually functions as a regressive tax in which money is taken from the poor to support the not-so-poor.{2} This is especially true when gambling is linked to education. Students from middle class families, whose parents generally don’t play the lottery or slot machines, are the most likely to receive gambling-funded scholarships. The Ohio Lottery has done almost nothing for K-12 education,{3} and there is no reason to think that Issue 3 will fare any better. In fact, Issue 3 has nothing to say about needs-based scholarships, and everything to say about those businessmen who will get rich on the backs of the working poor. Christians should be aware that a great injustice is at foot here (Prov. 13:23; James 2:1-7).
Another major problem is addiction. There is a very short path from that first coin going into a slot machine to the development of a full-blown gambling habit.{4} For this reason slot machines have been dubbed “the crack cocaine of gambling.” In the Parable of the Sower Jesus warns us against “the deceitfulness of riches” and the “desires for other things” that choke our love of the Word (Mark 4:19).{5}
A “No” vote on Issue 3 would stop slot machines coming into Ohio through this constitutional amendment.

State Issues 4 and 5: Both issues relate to smoking, which is closely tied to an incredibly powerful nicotine addiction, an unhealthy treatment of one’s own body (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), and harm to others who must breathe second-hand smoke (Matthew 5:16; 7:12; 1 Peter 2:17).
Issue 5 would introduce a State-wide law banning smoking in most places of employment and public areas. This would include restaurants, but would exclude certain designated smoking areas in lodging facilities, private clubs, and so on. When this came on the ballot, various business concerns introduced Issue 4. This is a constitutional amendment that would override any existing smoking bans and prevent future bans. Restaurants where no smoking is allowed today might be forced, through competition, to reinstate designated smoking areas. If both measures pass, Issue 4 would trump Issue 5.
A “No” vote on Issue 4 and a “Yes” vote on Issue 5 would help restrict the harm caused by second-hand smoke and might discourage the smoking habit.

Stem Cell Research: Currently there is a ban against federal funding of embryonic stem cell research beyond a limited set of existing cell lines. If that doesn’t make much sense to you, the main point to keep in mind is that a human life has to be destroyed to obtain these cells. Sound bites would have you believe a number of myths: opposition to stem cell research is “anti-patient,” embryonic stem cells are the only stem cells worth having, President Bush banned all research, and stem cells are the only hope for Parkinson’s sufferers. None of these myths is remotely true, of course.
It is very important to realize that this ethical hot potato crosses traditional party lines. The current ban was put in place by President Clinton back in 1994. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senators Bill Frist and Orrin Hatch are just three prominent Republicans who want to see the ban lifted.{6} Both Senators are otherwise known as staunch pro-life supporters.
Some candidates might use this as a “wedge” issue to distinguish themselves from their opponents, but Christians need to examine each candidate on a case-by-case basis. Also keep in mind that stem cell research is only one of many moral issues. It is quite possible that no one candidate will hold an entirely Biblical worldview. No matter the outcome we must continue to pray for “all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2).

Endnotes

1. IRS, “Election Year Activities and the Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations,” FS-2006-17, February 2006. Accessed on 10-30-06 from http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=154712,00.html

2. Charles T. Clotfelter and Philip J. Cook, “On the economics of state lotteries,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 1990, 4[4]:105ff.

3. The lottery provides only 4.5% of the State’s education budget. See The Ohio Lottery Commission, “About Us.” Accessed on 10-30-06 from http://www.ohiolottery.com/about/about_us.html. Often additional lottery revenues result in a disproportionate decrease in State education funding. In one such expansion, the State took away $1.60 in direct funding for every new $1.00 in lottery profits. See Doug Oplinger and Dennis Willard, “Ohio Lottery Headed for Big Loss: Commission’s payments to education could be $35 million shy of target by June 30,” Akron Beacon Journal, April 10, 2003. The legislature also has not been shy about rerouting lottery profits from the education budget to the State’s general fund. See Sam Fullwood, “It’s a gamble not worth taking,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 7, 2001.

4. Robert B. Breen and Mark Zimmerman, “Rapid Onset of Pathological Gambling in Machine Gamblers,” Journal of Gambling Studies, 2002, 18[1]:31-43.

5. The “lust” or “desire” (epithumia) in this context is not a mere want, but a drive to do something evil because it brings pleasure, and not doing that evil brings pain (TDNT, 3:171). This closely resembles the modern notion of addiction.

6. Jill Zuckman, “Senate defies Bush, OKs stem cell bill,” Chicago Tribune, July 19, 2006.

© 2006 – 2010, Trevor Major. All rights reserved.

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