Is it morally wrong to gamble and play the lottery?

Posted August 4

Is it morally wrong to gamble and play the lottery? (Deseret Photo)

An Alabama pastor is speaking out against his state's apparent openness to implementing a lottery system, claiming such a prospect would "target the poor" and offer up false hope to those desperately seeking financial gain.

"Many argue that it is voluntary, but the state actually targets the poor, trying to 'con' them into buying mostly worthless lottery tickets with the false promise that it is their way out of poverty," Joseph Godfrey, a Southern Baptist pastor, told The Christian Post in a recent interview.

Godfrey is speaking out after Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley announced last week that the legislature will meet Aug. 15 to discuss the possibility of implementing a statewide lottery system — one that Bentley said could generate $225 million per year in much-needed government revenue.

"After we've exhausted all other options, I believe this is our best chance to solve this problem," Bentley said of the state's financial problems in a video statement released Friday. "But this is not just about a lottery. It's about our people."

Medicaid is apparently one of the most pressing budgetary needs in the state, according to

"I will not, as your governor, and also as a physician, watch as our most vulnerable and most helpless, go without a doctor's care," the governor continued.

Watch Bentley's comments here.

But while the governor is looking to bring in revenues to help the poor, Godfrey told the Post that, "It will be the poor who are targeted and they will often spend their entire paycheck (or a large portion of it) buying lottery tickets."

Godfrey said the Bible commands believers to protect their neighbors and not to take advantage of them; a state lottery system, he argues, does just that.

"Southern Baptists and Alabama Baptists have consistently, through the years, passed resolutions condemning gambling, and especially, state-sponsored lotteries and state-sanctioned casinos," he said.

It's not uncommon for Christian clergy to speak out against gambling. When a record-breaking $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot came to fruition in the U.S. earlier this year, numerous pastors issued cautions.

Christian theologian John Piper said playing the lottery is "spiritual suicide" and cautioned people not to do so, writing up seven specific reasons to corroborate his point. Among them, he said that it is "a kind of embezzlement" and that "it preys on the poor."

The Rev. Franklin Graham also issued some similar cautions as well, questioning the "lottery fever" that was capturing the nation at the time.

"The Bible has lot to say about where to put your treasure. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount to lay up our treasures in heaven. 'Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal' (Matthew 6:19),'" Graham wrote on his Facebook page.

He added, "The greatest treasure you have is your soul — it lasts for eternity. Jesus said 'for what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?' (Matthew 16:26)."

Godfrey and Piper are hardly alone in their fervent opposition to gambling, with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also opposing lottery systems and the government's "sponsorship of any form of gambling."

Some claim, though, that the Bible is silent on the issue and that the question of whether or not purchasing a lottery card is sinful relates more to one's conscience than anything else.

Dr. Roger Barrier once wrote that "gambling and buying lottery tickets are never expressly approved or condemned in the scriptures." He said that whether the purchase of a ticket is a sin is truly dependent upon a person's own convictions.

"Personal convictions are the expressions of our inner conscience," he wrote. "If we think it’s a sin to buy a ticket and proceed to buy one, then we’ve committed a sin because we’ve violated our consciences. Violating our consciences is expressly forbidden in the Bible because a violated conscience impairs our ability to hear God speak."

Barrier did, however, offer up numerous biblical arguments that have led him to personally avoid the lottery.

So, clearly there's a debate on the matter, though opposition to gambling is also prevalent outside of the Christian realm as well, with Jewish and Muslim traditions also restricting and opposing it.

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