Gambling pastor finds media redemption

gamblingA couple of days ago, The Des Moines Register ran a very long piece — just under 2,500-words — on a pastor and his incredible ability to overcome challenges and seek and receive forgiveness for his sins. The sins in this case would be gambling. In particular, the pastor’s sin was gambling (and losing big) with church money. Needless to say, this pastor was fired from his job.

The Rev. Dave Clark was the pastor of a 1,900-member United Methodist congregation in Indianola, Iowa, just south of Des Moines. The 1,900 figure is significant because a 2000 census listed the town’s population at 12,998. The town is also home to the United Methodist Church’s liberal arts college, Simpson College.

Clark seemed to have a lot going for him, as the story takes pains to tell us, but at some point, something went wrong:

Still, Clark never saw himself as a gambler. He played penny-ante poker and played the tables or slots infrequently. It was “a few cents here and there,” he says, “never a concern.”

The same could not be said of the church he led. The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline, a social behavior guide for the denomination, “opposes gambling in any form” and believes “gambling is a menace to personal character and social morality.”

Clark saw those maxims as a holdover from the old days of the church, when Methodists saw dancing as “adultery set to music,” as an old church saying goes.

The article never really addresses whether or not the church actually believes the rules prohibiting gambling have gone by the wayside. If that has indeed happened, then that is significant. As the story notes later on, was Clark’s sin that he gambled and lost a lot of money or that he gambled with church money?

After the news of Clark’s removal became public, the Indianola newspaper ran an article about the incident. The headline read, “Gambling Methodist reverend removed.” The article ran next to one about an Indianola man who hit a big Powerball jackpot.

When Kinkade saw the newspaper, she made copies and sent them to friends.

“The irony was just overwhelming,” she says. “In society, you gamble and win, and you’re praised. You gamble and lose, and you’re a bad person.”

A reader sent us notice of this story along with this helpful and insightful comment about the story:

Me thinks this is a thinly veiled PR piece to shine his tarnished image — sadly I am afraid that he still has a way to go regarding his gambling problem. Why did the paper seek the forgiveness angle? I don’t read any repentance on the side of the fallen pastor … and no opportunity to comment from the UM Annual Conference that he used to belong to.

Indeed, there is little to no comment from the church officials who banned him from teaching in a Methodist church. Perhaps they understandably did not want to comment on the issue? If so, reporters should inform the readers of that important aspect to the story.

Overall, the piece is very positive. As the “big city” newspaper seemingly swooping into Indianola to cover the pastor scandal, the redemption angle is not the only perspective the reporter could have taken. But it certainly works for the pastor and his new church.

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  • Pastor K

    Lots of things jump out at me in this story. First, the United Methodist Church is organized hierarchically — each pastor serves according to the bishop’s appointment. Pastors are supervised jointly by the local church’s committee for Pastor-Parish Relations and by the district superintendent. Yet with all of this official oversight, there’s not a single reference to any of those people in this story. The only mentions are these:

    When church officials discovered what happened, nearly three years later, they removed him from his pulpit in Indianola and banned him from preaching at a Methodist church ever again.

    Finally, on a Sunday in February, church leaders announced that Clark had been removed for taking church money to gamble.

    Neither Clark nor Methodist officials will disclose exactly how much money was taken.

    Was Bishop Gregory Palmer overseeing the Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church during this time? Was Wesley Daniel the district superintendent? Why aren’t these officials named – even if its only to say that they declined to discuss Dave Clark’s case?

    Second, the time cues in this story are hard to follow. I found it difficult to piece together what happened when. I think I finally deduced that he was appointed to the church in 2001, his gambling climaxed in 2004, and he was discovered in February 2007. While he could be removed from the church immediately, the surrender of his credentials as a United Methodist pastor couldn’t have happened until the Annual Conference met in June 2007. (Iowa Annual Conference Journal Report – p.234) Why wasn’t this made more clear? Perhaps because enough time has not elapsed to demonstrate the level of commitment to changed behaviors?

    Finally, as the original reader acknowledged, there is no hint of remorse by Rev. Clark but only the desire to preach again. Shame on the reporter for not either reporting the remorse or reporting its lack. In this kind of story, that’s essential. Repentance and forgiveness go together. I’d rather not have an assumption here.

    We do need more clergy redemption stories. As a pastor, I will certainly agree that I am still sinful. I need congregational and personal forgiveness all the time – but not for this type of public disgrace. It’s a delicate balance between pastoral responsibility and personal growth, failure and forgiveness. All our Biblical heroes needed new opportunities – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul – need I go on?

    I pray that Clark truly has experienced a divine moment of forgiveness and commitment from Jesus Christ as the woman did in John 8 – to “go and sin no more” …

  • Pastor K

    Well … for some reason my first attempt at a comment died in the ether….

    As a UM pastor, several things jumped out at me in this article. First, our denomination is hierarchical – pastors are appointed to churches by their bishops. They are told where to go and when to go. They are also part of a conference of peers who make key decisions regarding ordination or expulsion of clergy from the conference. Within the context of serving a pastorate, they are supervised both by the district superintendent and by the local church’s pastor-parish relations committee (PPRC). So, there’s a lot of people involved in pastoral decisions. But in this story, there are no people specifically named. Instead, we are left with vague “church leaders”:

    When church officials discovered what happened, nearly three years later, they removed him from his pulpit in Indianola and banned him from preaching at a Methodist church ever again.

    Church leaders asked Clark about the discrepancies. He confessed and said he was addicted to gambling. He took the money for gambling and lost it.

    The denomination’s leadership asked him to surrender his pastoral credentials.

    Neither Clark nor Methodist officials will disclose exactly how much money was taken.

    The bishop, district superintendent and PPRC chair could have been identified. And I think in this case, at least one of them should have been. Even if their identification was followed by something along the lines of “Bishop Gregory Palmer declined to comment on the details of the Clark case for this article.”

    Second, I found it hard to follow the timeline of events. Only after reading the article several times and doing additional research could I figure out what happened when:
    * Clark appointed to Indianola First UMC in July 2001.
    * Gambling habit led to abuse of church funds in 2004 or 2005.
    * Audit discovered missing funds in February 2007. Clark removed from appointment shortly thereafter.
    * Clark’s credentials as pastor in the UMC Iowa Conference revoked in June 2007.

    Why didn’t the writer make it that plain? Did Clark’s treatment for gambling, re-credentialing in the Disciples of Christ Church and call to serve the Ankeny Christian Church all happen in the last 6-9 months? Is that seriously enough time to evaluate whether or not he’s ready to return to the pastorate? Those are questions that should receive some answers here.

    Finally, I agree with the reader who first brought this story to Get Religion’s attention: Clark doesn’t show much remorse for his actions. For that, I say shame on the writer. If Clark did show remorse and the writer didn’t capture it, that’s a major hole. If Clark didn’t show remorse, the writer should have told me so. Repentance and forgiveness go hand-in-hand within this type of article. Don’t leave the reader assuming one way or the other.

    We do need more articles about pastors being forgiven for their sins – just as we need stories about forgiveness, in general. Overall, we are not a very forgiving society – and those in leadership or celebrity are expected to adhere to a higher standard. But the Bible is littered with the stories of those who failed but recovered: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, Paul …

    The writer did an excellent job is presenting the personal pain and loving commitment of Clark’s wife, Dayna Kinkade. Her side of the story is what makes the rest of the piece credible.

    My personal prayer for Dave Clark is that he has turned over his addictions to God and will prove to be an effective pastor beyond the showiness of good preaching. Only time will tell.

  • Susanna’s Daughter

    Pastor Clark may see the United Methodist prohibition against gambling as “a holdover” from a previous era. I beg to differ.

    United Methodist efforts against gambling are based on contemporary research into economics and health — of both individuals and communities. A gambling research center at UNLV has shown that a community’s economy declines, rather than improves, when casino gambling comes to town. Furthermore, promotion and purchase of lotteries preys predominantly on low-income people; you rarely see a Powerball outlet in a rich neighborhood. And this story shows clearly what happens to an individual’s mental, emotional and spiritual health.

    As with the errors cited in Pastor K’s post, I think this reporter did a very poor job of accurately representing the UMC’s position. Even though Rev. Clark thought the church’s social policy against gambling was an anachronism, he vowed at his ordination to uphold the covenant of the UM Book of Discipline that includes the policy. When he chose to gamble — let alone with the church’s money — he broke his vow and deserved to be removed from the ordained ministry. It wasn’t the church’s old-fashioned attitude that caused him trouble — it was his own hubris, his sin, if you will.

    I sincerely hope that the new church which has accepted him does not put him in charge of money again. It’s a cruel temptation to put a recovering alcoholic behind a bar, and the same is true of giving a recovering gambler unsupervised access to money. God be with him and his long-suffering spouse. May his new church be “gentle as doves” with him as he recovers, but “wise as serpents” in safeguarding him lest he relapse.

  • Matt

    I couldn’t have said it better then Pastor K … too little time has gone by for this to be a redemption story; this seems more like cheap grace.

    Two other thoughts:

    1.) Why were the Disciples of Christ so quick to credential someone whose ministerial credentials had been revoked by another denomination? It seems like bad ecumenical manners to me.

    2.) Just a pet peeve, but how it REALLY bothers me whenever people pretend that Ivy League divinity schools have a competitive admissions process. They don’t. Show me somebody who was rejected by Yale Divinity School; that would impress me a lot more…

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  • Russ Pulliam

    Great blog by Mr. Pulliam, in any case.

  • Russ Pulliam

    I mean the Daniel Pulliam. Of course, I have may be accused of bias here.

  • BeBe

    While I don’t think gambling is the best choice, there are far worse things that the Methodist Church has no problem with, like legalized abortion. Gambling is a small sin by conparison.

  • Victor

    I would like to add some facts to the discussion.

    First, my credentials:
    I’ve read the entire article. My in-laws have been members of Indianola First United Methodist Church for over 30 years. They loved Dave Clark’s preaching and ministry and were heartbroken when his gambling problem and abuse of church funds were uncovered. I’ve heard him preach a few times, and I am active in the lay administration of my own United Methodist congregation.

    The article was written by Daniel Finney of the weekly Indianola Record-Herald but published in the Des Moines Register. It was not presented as a news article but as a lengthy essay. If I recall correctly, Mr. Finney had the byline “Armchair Philosopher.” Mr. Finney was also the author of the February piece that announced Pastor Dave’s dismissal.

    Methodist social policy is set down in the Book of Discipline – our statement of principles and procedures which are updated and approved at General Conference, a quadrennial meeting of locally elected lay and clergy representatives from around the world.

    Excerpts from the 2004 statement on gambling:
    “As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice.

    “Where gambling has become addictive, the Church will encourage such individuals to receive therapeutic assistance so that the individual’s energies may be redirected into positive and constructive ends.”

    There are also sections that recommend abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.

    Clearly, Pastor Dave is a gambling addict. A gambling addict who is using someone else’s money needs to be removed from that situation until he or she has control over the addiction.

    My family holds no grudge against Dave Clark. There is only forgiveness and hope for healing and redemption in their hearts.

    I wonder what would have happened if the church had found out that their pastor had gambled away $135,000 of his family’s savings, but had not touched church funds. Would they have reached out to make sure that he got the treatment that he needed?

  • Don Y.

    You may be interested in an upcoming story in the United Methodist Reporter about the Rev, Brian James, who recently stepped down as senior pastor of St. James UMC in Tampa, FL after admitting that he was addicted to pornography.

    The story says he is undergoing treatment and at the end of that time, he may be readmitted to the UM ministry. I wonder why Dave Clark did not follow a similar path.
    Here’s a link to a UMR blog article on Brian James: