November 28, 2005
Gambling with Values and Morals
-- Martin E. Marty
While our gazes were averted for some months, the Christian Right remained in the news. Though moderate publications like Christianity Today scrupulously cover the financial, plagiarism, and sexual scandals that afflict especially the more entrepreneurial evangelicals, publications to its right have been slow to hold up the "values-and-morals" mirror to their own camp. Finally, Marvin Olasky's WORLD Magazine has taken up questions about both the gambling and anti-gambling fronts—"both ... and" because of personnel who cross over from one side to the other, and profit from interests on both sides. Contradictory?
The present case study involves, first, Traditional Values Coalition president Lou Sheldon, a militant moralist. Let WORLD's picture caption summarize the case: Sheldon "opposed an anti-gambling bill after [Jack] Abramoff apparently directed lottery funds to him" ("Bruised Reed," November 19). Frustrated writer Jamie Dean reported that Sheldon "did not return repeated calls from WORLD." At one point, Sheldon had "accused GOP members who favored [a certain] bill of being soft on gambling." But he backed off, the Washington Post suggested, when lobbyist Abramoff "directed eLottery to send payments to Mr. Sheldon and Mr. Reed for their efforts." These favored the casinos of Indian tribes from which Abramoff profited hugely, and from which Sheldon and Reed evidently profited to no small extent.
Which brings us to Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition—a values-and-morals agency—and now candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. Jamie Dean is very hard on Reed, less for playing both sides on the casino front, and more "for not divulging [his] connections" to Mr. Abramoff, who is manifestly not the most savory company for values-and-morals Christians. Reed once called Indian casinos "a cancer on the American body politic," and organized protests against legalized gambling—but now ...? Mr. Reed also will not grant interviews to WORLD. He did acknowledge a $1.15 million fund from which his own group profited. He evidently played a tribe in one state against another tribe in another state, to the profit of his enterprise. Whose side is he on? Dean seems to be asking—and answers that he is on the side from which Mr. Abramoff and the Reed interests profited.
Mr. Tom Grey of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling said that "money was given to Ralph to protect gambling interests, and Ralph Reed became an agent for gambling .... The real story here is that Ralph Reed used social conservatives for his own corporate ends. You don't get much more of a public betrayal than that." The Sheldon and Reed story at least should prompt journalists and social scientists to probe the changes in conservative Protestant attitudes toward legalized gambling. In river towns where economies depend on casinos, the Christian Right has been rather muted in opposition. Anti-gambling may soon fade from their scene, as Sunday-closing laws, divorce, and the like have dropped low, or even off, the morals agenda.
Meanwhile, with Jamie Dean of WORLD, some of us are eager to have Messrs. Sheldon and Reed answer the phone and explain themselves. The Choctaw Tribe has paid millions to lobbying and political fronts to see their casinos prosper, and to deprive competing tribes of chances to pay off and take in as they have done, with Traditional Values-type support.
For Further Reading:
See Jim Galloway and Alan Judd, "Reed's Fees All Paid by Casino," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (November 3):
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.