A leading pastor is warning Bahamians not to gamble with their future by supporting the legalisation of the numbers business.
The highly controversial issue took centre stage during the nation’s 39th Independence Day celebrations as President of the Atlantic Caribbean Union Mission of Seventh-day Adventists (A.C.U.S.D.A) Dr. Leonard Johnson did his best to sway a captive audience – both on Clifford Park and at home – not to support gambling.
The Christie administration, in fulfilling a campaign promise, has vowed to hold a referendum before the end of the year so that Bahamians can decide for themselves whether they want gambling legalised in the country.
Dr. Johnson says Bahamians should not “resort to the easy way out.”
“Let us not seek shortcuts. The ad says everyone can be a winner, but that is not so. Only in the kingdom of God everyone wins. We must not be bought because people donate millions to charity,” he told a crowd of thousands.
“The people of God must go by the word of God. We must listen to the report of God and depend on God to bless us. I say 39 years later that we must not be mere reflections of other men bought. We must be the pastors and the persons who think and act for ourselves. We cannot force you to act for God; we cannot legislate morality, but brothers and sisters we can preach, ‘thus saith the Lord.’ We can preach to the nation; we can tell people what is in the Bible. It is [then] left to us to decide.”
But, the religious community seem to be split on the issue.
On one hand the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) says it is “diametrically opposed” to gambling, but several of its members say they are open to the idea and have touted the economic benefits.
Twenty local pastors, three of whom are BCC members, said recently that they were “sensitised” to the issue. They felt the country could benefit from the taxes.
Reverend Philip McPhee of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church appears to be on board with legalising the practice.
Critics, however, are concerned about the social costs of gambling.
During Monday’s Ecumenical Service Dr. Johnson said there are other ways for Bahamians to make money.
“As I look at the example of Joseph I see no risk taking; I see no chance taking; I see no gambling for the success that he experienced,” he said. “There is hard work, there is discipline, there is industry, there is trust in God and a situation that seemed impossible God made it possible,” he said.
“When we place our trust in God, when we place our confidence in God it doesn’t matter how [bad] it may appear, it doesn’t matter how difficult [it may be to balance] the budget; when the people of God are trusting in God then God will stand up and bless his people and bless the nation. But, when the people turn from God and try to do it their way they cannot expect the blessings of God.”
Dr. Johnson explained that many of The Bahamas’ former leaders were opposed to gambling.
He said 39 years ago the late Carlton Francis, who served as minister of development at the time, objected to casino gambling.
“That was 39 years ago. Now, 39 years later, where are we? Carlton Francis said we are a small nation that can be easily permeated by any malicious influence that is dangerous. Furthermore he says, ‘I am saying that where we are aspiring to the disciplines of hard work and industry we are not yet off the ground.’ Thirty-nine years later are we off the ground? Are we going back? Are we moving ahead?” Dr. Johnson said.
“Mr. Francis, still speaking about casino gambling said, ‘I believe that there are alternatives. But, no one will find these alternatives so long as they can find the easy way out. Apart from the question of conscience, I don’t believe gambling is good for a growing nation.’ This is one of the founding fathers – one of the leaders who said these words in December of 1973 and [here] we are 39 years later in 2012.”