Last Tuesday’s Tuscaloosa News carried on its front page two articles about gambling.

One reported that Pete Rose, after 14 years of denial, has confessed that he bet on the Cincinnati Reds while he was the team manager. He is hoping that this confession will bring forgiveness and the opportunity to get back into managing and be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The second was about the opening of a bingo parlor at the dog track in Greene County, Ala. The legislation that provided for this was sold to the Legislature by Sen. Charles Steele as a way to provide funding to help run the government in an impoverished Black Belt county. Its incarnation is something like a casino with over 400 slot machines masquerading as bingo machines. The camel’s nose is indeed under the edge of the tent.

The News recognized this in an editorial citing inconsistency in the gambling laws in the state of Alabama and predicting increased pressure for opening the state to other forms of gambling. Given the financial problems of the state, the supporters of gambling will be able to make a strong case. The camel, with all of its fleas and stench, may soon be our bed partner.

The juxtaposition of the two stories was ironic. Pete Rose is something of a “poster child” for what addiction to gambling can do for a person. His name will ever be tainted. Should a government commissioned to promote the people’s “general welfare” actively promote this kind of destructive behavior?

Sen. Steele is also something of an enigma. He is a leader in both the state and the national Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He has been a champion for justice for the African-American citizens of our state and nation. Yet he has also been a champion for the extension of both gambling and the sale and consumption of alcohol in Alabama. Both have long been seen as unrighteous behavior, with a record of great damage to persons, families and communities.

The Bible stresses both justice and righteousness as the will of God for persons and communities. Often leaders will stress one and neglect the other. Those who actively opposed civil rights in the 1960s focused on the unrighteousness of civil disobedience. They were blind, however, to the justice issues. Perhaps Steele has been so consumed with seeking justice that he has neglected righteousness. My prayer is that he will find balance in his life and work.

God expects justice in the laws of our communities, state and nation; justice in the application of these laws; and justice in our relationships with one another. God also expects righteousness in our attitudes, conduct and relationships. It cannot be one or the other. It must be both.

Gambling does not promote righteousness in or for individuals. It is based on greed. It focuses life on the material. It exploits the weak. It takes from the poor. Winners are filled with pride. When one wins at the expense of another, where is the love that is so central to the Christian life?

The only righteousness that will result from gambling in Greene will be the response of churches and charities to those who come asking for food, assistance in paying their bills and good counseling. Living in a poor county that adjoins Greene and operating the charities of the Baptist association, I imagine that I will be called upon to be “righteous” in my response to those who have squandered their limited resources on the false hope for gambling riches.

A few years ago a young lady came to our office asking for help to pay her bills. She was clad in a T-shirt advertising the Silver Star Casino in Philadelphia, Miss. I still wish that I had had the presence of mind to suggest that she check with the “good times” folk at the casino to see if they would help her. After all their resources are much greater, and they had actually contributed to her condition.

We need to be about developing a Christian culture that permeates our communities. We need for people to understand that they are part of a community, and they need to contribute to the common good. We need to encourage folks to get a good education. We need to develop an economic system where people can earn a living. We need a system that will respond to the needs of those who are unable to work, temporarily out of work or get hurt.

We need to return to an authentic and balanced understanding of Christianity that stresses both justice and righteousness.

Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.

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