Church can help and God must be the focus
THE Methodist Church in Singapore views gambling “as a form of bondage and social sickness motivated by greed and covetousness. It is also a menace to society as it compromises the best interests of moral, social, economic and spiritual life of the community” (Social Principles, The Book of Discipline).
Pathological gambling is addictive, and the person is not unable to resist the impulses to gamble. In most countries, 2 to 4 per cent of the people develop gambling habits and pathological gambling affects 1 to 2.5 per cent of adults, men more often than women. This behaviour, also recognised as a form of mental disorder, usually progresses from occasional gambling to habitual gambling and the gambler usually relieves the tension by more gambling.
The entire way of living for the gambler has many ramifications, and treatment requires the management of various aspects of his life. Right from the beginning the assessment must include an understanding of the multi-faceted problems. Problems include social pressures, depression, multiple addictions (drugs or alcohol), stress-related physical ailments, work disruption, attempted suicide and crime. The impact especially of pathological gambling on families is significant; children from families with pathological gamblers are likely to attempt suicide, suffer in their studies and prone to substance abuse. Studies suggest that children themselves are more likely to indulge in gambling.
The treatment of a gambler is therefore complex and the necessary support and counsel must be holistic. To cope with the demands for this holistic recovery, the Church must be prepared to make two changes.
The first deals with the structure of the Church. Churches running Family Service Centres (FSC) must ensure that counsellors are equipped to identify the different types of gamblers and channel the compulsive ones to CAMP (Community Addictions Management Programme) for treatment. For others without the FSC, a review of the present structure of the counselling support is necessary.
Treatment requires a multi-disciplinary approach and our Christian counsellors and outreach partners must be familiar with prevention, research and training programmes. The continuity of treatment should include support groups for the gambler and family. In the United States and Britain, a common strategy is the partnership of the Church with the Gambler Anonymous that provides support and establishes alternative social contact in a group setting.
The second change deals with the mindset of the Church. We are dealing not only with the gambler and his family but also the community. Education in the Church must go beyond the raising of awareness of the complex issues of gambling, community resources and help services. Education must return to the basis of our beliefs, God and His word from which a holistic approach to the entire support can be derived.
The ultimate issue is the gambler’s understanding of God who clearly has the power to overcome the power of addiction. Our counselling must, in addition to the use of practical strategies, assist the gambler to turn from the attachment of objects to the attachment to God who deserves his devotion and trust (Mark 12:29-30).
The recovery process might identify a character flaw, for example, his frequent lies. But this identification is only effective if he sees the need to surrender to this ultimate realty. In the long run, this restoration brings him closer to God. Meticulous handling of spirituality results in overcoming the bad habits and rebuilding the flawed self-image.
As for education, the Church must, first and foremost, clarify its position and the teachings of the Bible, which provide clear principles that highlight the problems associated with gambling. The Christian’s character and his relationships with both God and man are severely affected.
In terms of character, gambling reveals the root of the human problem (1 Timothy 6:9-10a), fosters a something-for-nothing attitude and breeds a form of covetousness that goes against the teaching of the Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17).
Gambling destroys families as it draws the attention of the gambler from his loved ones. A neglect of the biblical responsibility to care for the family (1 Timothy 5:8) results in failure to fulfil parental responsibility (2 Corinthians 12:14) and to earn an honest living based on the fruits of their labour (2 Thessalonians 3:12).
Erosion of the core values of the work ethic affects the relationship between the gambler and his fellowmen. He is expected to work hard and set a good example in the work place (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10), but gambling breeds indiscipline and a temptation to cheat his employer.
Besides providing clear biblical teachings, the pastors and church leaders must also address the growing common concerns of ministering to those who are working in the casino and its related industries. The Church should receive established working policies, agreements or guidelines to assist them, and determine what gifts and donations are acceptable or appropriate.
Gambling undermines the moral fibres of society and the Church has a key role to play in maintaining a high moral and healthy standard for the faithful. In doing so, the Church must foster a responsible dialogue with the Government and address the problems of the members’ apathy and a lack of awareness.
God must be the focus of the believers and the Church should free persons from the grips of all forms of legal and illegal gambling. Its rehabilitation of compulsive gamblers should restore the divine-human relationship.
Chan Yew Ming, a lecturer at Trinity Theological College, worships at Fairfield Preaching Point in Woodlands.
‘The ultimate issue is the gambler’s understanding of God who clearly has the power to overcome the power of addiction.’