Old-line Protestant officials in Massachusetts are backing a state referendum that would revoke casinos permitted since 2011. They note that casinos are “bad news” for the poor, don’t create prosperity, breed corruption, and foster addictive gambling, among other negative social consequences.
Good for these United Methodist, Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopal and United Church of Christ officials for seriously addressing a moral issue for which they actually have historical and theological credibility.
Mainline Protestantism across four centuries in America mightily contributed to the ethos of American democracy by not routinely becoming partisan but by affirming honest civic life, opposing corruption, and backing social reforms directly tied to public morals. Protestant social reformers have fought liquor and drug abuse, prostitution, gambling, pornography, and government corruption, all of which were typically connected in a web of social vice. These reformers assumed that democracy could not effectively survive absent virtue.
The churches also long opposed these vices because of a specific Christian anthropology that affirms human dignity, understands the human body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, and believes joyful living is premised on hard work, self denial and delayed gratification. They spiritually recognized that vice breeds more vice, and that the chief victims are typically not the ostensibly consenting adults but the more vulnerable, especially children and the impoverished, who are trapped under the trash heap of social and personal corruption.
Protestant social reformers, dating by to Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop’s “city on a hill,” long had a vision of social righteousness that saw the hand of Providence in the affairs of nations. They inspired and hearkened to the words of James Russell Lowell’s famous 1845 hymn that declared:
Once to ev’ry man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.
The original Protestant social reformers knew that humanity is spirit, and eternal, not just material, and that the soul of a nation supersedes its short term financial interests. Indeed, permanent prosperity can only be sustained by morality and justice. They also began their witness to society with the premise that the church’s first responsibility was to evangelize, disciple and nurture individual souls, guiding them heavenward, towards holiness and truth. A clean society with virtue on the throne would help lead individual souls in the right direction and in so doing glorify God before the world.
Protestant social reform understood it was fighting a perpetual spiritual war against the Devil and human sin. But it was confident in God’s redemptive power both for individuals and societies. In contrast, theological liberalism and the Social Gospel denied the spiritual aspect of humanity’s destiny and turned humans into strictly material creatures with rights to certain material goods, to be guaranteed by a coercive, engorged state.
Traditional Protestant social reform saw a righteous society as a roadway towards Heaven. The Social Gospel rejected Heaven and equated social justice with God’s fulfilled Kingdom.
This stance by Massachusetts clerics against casinos at least faintly recalls the old emphases and verve of traditional Protestant social reform, which was still rooted to orthodox theology, and more accurately understood the institutional church’s carefully defined vocation for political witness.
No doubt most of these Massachusetts Protestant clerics have also endorsed a whole range of fantastic political stratagems of the hyper statist and sexual Left. But at least here they have, at least, however unconsciously, remembered their true selves.