By BISHOP SIMEON HALL
“The just shall live by faith.”
– Habakkuk 2:4
I DO NOT play the numbers, nor do I encourage others to do so.
While the scriptures do not have a clear statement “thou shalt not play the numbers”, at its core gambling is “chance-living”. It is covetousness and materialism. Believers in the faith community are called to “live by faith”.
However, the reality is that almost half the Bahamian population engages in this practice. Of course, its popularity does not make it right, but it’s time for us, as progressive citizens, to move forward and regulate this practice. Many who have openly criticised me seem to suggest that my support for the Referendum is the promotion of gambling. No one needs to promote this industry, it is here and we should regulate it.
I commend the Prime Minister (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Successive governments have failed to address this sub-culture head on. Prime Minister Christie and his government are to be commended for bringing it to the people. I stand by this until someone can show me a sensible difference.
I believe if the FNM government had won the May election they would have raised the same issue. Perhaps, if not by referendum the decision would have been made autocratically. Rumour has it that both political parties have benefited from number houses; another reason for regularisation.
I take strong exception to those who say because I say I will vote yes I have done something wrong – sinful or immoral. The government of our Bahamas has the right to govern all Bahamians, Christian and non-Christian, and every Bahamian has the right to say yes or no on this issue.
The “Yes” people are still Christians (Matthew 7:2-5)
Am I less a Christian for taking this position? I know I am not! I think pastoral snobbery, religious bigotry and mental asininity should concern us far more than someone taking a position that opposes ours.
Many persons fail to see that gambling does not begin with the proposed referendum. The referendum will regulate this trade that has been underground before I was born.
That’s the choice we must make. I believe the Christian thing to do is to seek to bring some regulation to this system rather than vote no and leave it as it is.
We are not a people given to mature intelligent debate. Any opposition to our personal opinion we demonise the person. That makes us a god and only Almighty God has the last word.
Gambling has been here for many years (Jeremiah 17:9)
I grew up on Farm Road. And more than 55 years ago, I remember hearing about Stokes Thompson in a building on Market and Lewis Streets as a number house.
My point here is that the referendum on January 28, as I understand it, will not introduce web-shop gambling to the Bahamas, but will bring some regularisation to this industry that has been with us for so many years.
The fallacy of a “no” vote (Matthew 23:24)
A “no” vote will allow this practice to remain underground; benefitting only a few. A “yes” vote will cause it to come under the government’s control and the right to properly tax the system. There is no other group that I know deserves some taxation more than web shops.
The position of some pastors with a Victorian puritan approach to 21st century realities cannot and must not eclipse the inalienable right of all Bahamians to say yes or no in a government-led referendum.
Some gamblers are our members
Some of the 140,000 patrons of web-shops are members of our churches. This is undeniable. It is downright naïve and hypocritical for a pastor to say no one in his church plays numbers. How would he reach this conclusion? Also, I am told all the number bosses attend a church.
The playing of numbers by so many church members shows the disconnect between pastoral dogma and members’ practice.
Any pastor, simple and naive enough to believe his members obey everything he says is being foolish.
Eliminate or regulate
My stand on this gambling issue is not to introduce gambling or encourage it, but since it has existed for almost seven decades; and moreover since there are those who will play the numbers regardless if the majority voted yes or no, I say again, let us regulate and tax this obviously lucrative underground business.
No need to denigrate opposition (Luke 6:28/Romans 14:13)
I believe an intelligent discourse on a national debate should and would help us to arrive at healthy conclusions.
Some persons and pastors have sought to approach this issue from a purely moral or biblical perspective, indeed as we all should.
But these leaders disqualify their argument demonising anyone who differs with them. How can someone seeking to make a position on moral or biblical grounds demonise and denigrate other believers who hold a different position?
This is laughable and persons who were apt to vote “no” come January 28 are now saying they will vote “yes” because they can see the fallacy in some of the “no” vote proponents.
Two pastors have damned me and my family to destruction and hell because I support a “yes vote”. Thank God they do not have the keys to the Kingdom and their record clearly shows that they only experience a mental resurrection during the debate on homosexuality and gambling.
I believe the only way to help right this practice, is that since we cannot eliminate it we should regulate it. The only way to tax this system is to regulate and the only way to regulate is to legalise it
Let’s be factual (Ephesians 6:134):
Some pastors and persons speaking on this issue speak about the referendum as the beginning of a new wave of crime, prostitution and social discontent – but can we say gambling has been the root cause of these things in the last 60 years? If we vote “no” all these vices stand a better chance of increasing because there is no regulation.
I have not responded to some pastors who have berated me on this issue because I believe its importance is so serious it should not be pulled down to a jack-leg level.
I am encouraged that the leaders of two of the major church communities in our beloved nation are on record saying “we should educate our people and let them make mature decisions on their own”.
This is a credible position and I also agree with the position of Archdeacon I Ranfurly Brown, who said that “we must be a little careful of any group who seek to legislate Christian faith and practices”.
Many pastors, including some officers of the Christian Council, privately support the Christie administration in its bid to provide the Bahamian people with an opportunity to bring this issue to the forefront.
Mr President (Galatians 6:4)
Finally, the President of the Bahamas Christian Council is on record saying that “no pastor in good conscience could support the legalisation of the numbers business”.
Mr President, what gives us a good conscience? Is it the willingness to speak one’s convictions or the propensity to join the crowd? It is my good conscience sir that encourages me to bring regulation to this practice.
Mr President, what about the almost 4,000 persons who work in the web-shop businesses? Are they without consciences also? Are they not members of our churches?
Mr President, what about the hundreds of church members who work in the casinos? Ought we as pastors to take their monies to support our church work as “filthy lucre”?
Mr President, a new casino is to be opened in another Family Island in a few months – not one word from the Council.
Mr President, I have told you how dismayed I was that you would name two of the major leaders of the Council’s “Say No Campaign” while they are not registered members of the Council. This in my opinion is ludicrous!
Has the Christian Council ever led a national campaign to reach the hearts of people? Not in recent memory.
How is it that we cannot tolerate differences on this issue when the Christian Council is made up of 20 different doctrinal perspectives on God’s Word?
Let the people decide
There are other more serious issues that deserve a national attention by the Council. This august body has done much good, but sometimes it ought to be more ubiquitous in its observations and its “national campaigns”.
In my 45 years of preaching the gospel I have made hundreds of public statements. I try to stand each day with both feet in the word of God and guided by a clean conscience and a pure heart; listening to the people; the saved and the unsaved.
Ninety-five per cent all my public utterances I have done single-handedly because many pastors lack the personal, mental or religious fortitude to speak their convictions for fear of being criticised or left out. My record verifies that if I believe it, I will say it.
I sincerely believe the Christian thing to do is we should regulate this industry and bring it under government taxation and control.
This is a conscience issue and let the people of the Bahamas vote yes or no and let us live by what the majority says.
The views expressed here are my own.
May God bless us all!
• See today’s Insight fro more on the upcoming referendum on gambling.