Back in February, Christianity Today used the Super Bowl as a news hook to look at white evangelicals’ increasing acceptance of gambling, casinos, and sports betting: “Super Bowl Betting Is a $7.6 Billion Problem Fewer Evangelicals Care About.”
Somehow the article never mentions the fact that more than 80% of white evangelicals voted to elect a casino owner president. Here, again, we’re reminded that white evangelical politics shapes and defines and bounds the “biblical morality” of white evangelicalism. The primary identity (White Republican) reshapes the secondary identity (“biblical” Christian).
This is particularly true for evangelicals because they (claim to) base their moral and ethical views on concordance-ism and clobber-texting. What concordance-ism reveals is always contingent on what politics and culture suggests you “look up” in your concordance, and words like “casino” and “lottery” and “gambling” don’t lend themselves to clobber-texting guidance.
White evangelical groups still trying to condemn gambling as immoral wind up treading into the unfamiliar territory of arguing from broader principles and themes, rather than clobber-texts. They’re unaccustomed to forming such arguments, and thus not very good at it (see, for example, the Southern Baptists’ “Anti-Gambling Sunday” bulletin insert). And their audience has been trained — for centuries — to treat such arguments as dangerous, liberal attacks on the authority of the infallible and inerrant Word of God.
Here again I’ll mention Mark Noll’s The Civil War as Theological Crisis. The anti-gambling arguments offered by white evangelical opponents of gambling take the same form as the theological arguments made by 19th-century abolitionist evangelicals. Those abolitionist arguments were powerless when it came to persuading white evangelical Christians trained in concordance-ism and clobber-texting as the only legitimate “biblical” form of argument. That’s why concordance-ism and clobber-texting were invented and designed.
“The Golden Rule is sufficient,” the white Baptist abolitionist George Cheever said. But that was not sufficient as a response to the clobber-texts for slavery cited by his white Baptist and white evangelical opponents. After all, the Golden Rule doesn’t even mention slavery, theft, bondage, torture, rape, or trafficking — so how could it possibly be cited as prohibiting all those things?
The Golden Rule doesn’t mention gambling either, so the spiritual and literal descendants of Cheever’s opponents remain unable and unwilling to regard it as “sufficient” for that “issue” as well.
On one level, it warms my heart to see very conservative white evangelicals like the folks at the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission attempting to persuade their fellow white evangelicals to oppose the promotion of gambling because it harms the poor. But I spent most of the ’90s pounding my head against that very same brick wall, and I know from years of experience how massively ineffective that argument will always be for that audience.
“Preying on the poor is Bad” is not a shared moral premise and won’t be received as one. It will be received, rather, as an invitation to endless bad-faith JAQ-ing (“just asking questions”) and sea-lioning forcing you into a fruitless, exhausting, wholly disregarded conversation defending the legitimacy of “Preying on the poor is Bad” as a biblically defensible moral assertion. At best, hours of effort may produce the begrudging admission that such a statement might be an optional, marginally permissible thing for biblical Christians to say, but it will never be accepted as mandatory or compelling.
And that extremely qualified admission will immediately pivot to a barrage of what-aboutism — BWAA BWAA BWAAAAAAAA! And just like that you’ll no longer be talking about gambling, or about poverty or greed, but about killing babies for Satan. And fine, just for the sake of argument, let’s concede that casino gambling might not be the very best thing for everybody, but are you really going to tell me that killing sweet little innocent babies for Satan isn’t far worse?
This BWAA BWAA dodge is more effective, not less, when it’s directed at ferociously anti-abortion folks like the ERLC. “Gambling is wrong,” the ERLC says, prompting the only response they’ve trained and discipled their people to give: “BWAA? Isn’t abortion far worse?” And they’ll happily agree, “Yes, of course! Abortion is the very worst thing imaginable!”
And the people they’ve trained in BWAA for the past generation will conclude, as always, that this settles the matter, and that any qualms that anyone might suggest having about casinos or lotteries or sports betting are trivial when compared to the bedrock and foundation of our faith, politics, and identity, which is to stand against the Satanic baby-killers by ensuring a federal judiciary that will restore Lochner-era jurisprudence and treat the Reconstruction Amendments as illegitimate.