Considering the Alternative

Undeniably the most discussed and debated topic during the past months has been gambling. Unfortunately, it would seem to be polarizing the nation. Arguments have been made for and against the legalization of web cafés (commonly known as “playing numbers”) and also a national lottery. As such I weigh in on the debate by sharing this article, calling all citizens and residents to consider alternatives. Therefore, it is hoped that this article will help to elevate the discussions beyond just the yes/no debate.

Adventists’ View of Gambling
The Seventh-day Adventist Church stands opposed to all forms of gambling, inclusive of raffles and lotteries to raise funds for charitable organizations. It views gambling “as a paid game of chance . . . winning at the expense of others” not comporting or lining up with Christian values and principles. For example, consider the principle of love for neighbor. How can one who loves his brother feel good in winning knowing that it is at the expense of his brother? Additionally, stories of how addiction to gambling has negatively affected and continue to impact families and societies exist all around; therefore we cannot turn a blind eye. Accordingly, the following questions are most appropriate: “What is the alternative?” “What can one do to raise money in place of gambling?”

Consider Some Alternatives
As the Bahamas marks its 40th year of Independence, I am informed that nearly 40 years ago the late Carlton Francis appealed to his political colleagues to shun what I term the easy way out or short cuts in building a new independent nation. Said Carlton Francis, the then Minister of Development, “We are a small nation that can be easily permeated by any pernicious influence.” He added, “I am saying that where we are aspiring to the disciplines of hard work and industry we are not yet off the ground.”

Also, I read with interest an interview with former Minister of Immigration, Loftus Roker, as recorded in The Nassau Guardian, December 24, 2012. He recalled that when the then PLP campaigned in ’67, “it was against casino gambling.” It was not until they won the government that some in the party felt that the closure of gambling casinos would have a negative effect on tourism; therefore casino gambling was allowed. Concluding from these and other records, it is clear that the subject of gambling in one form or another has been with us many years. Nevertheless, 40 to 45 years later where are we in discipline and industry as touted by Carlton Francis? In fact Mr. Roker in his interview with the Guardian did not see the need for legalizing gambling some 44 years later. Therefore, whether the pending referendum on gambling receives a “no” or “yes” vote, the need for alternatives must not be ignored. Life continues and the nation needs to continue building.

Deliberate and intentional ways must be sought to further empower our people regardless of color, politics, gender, or where they were born- if the nation is to truly develop maturely. People need to be taught how to survive --not to be dependent on government. It would seem to me that with the pooling of ideas through discussions and town meetings, and even the talk shows, ideas can be gotten that will serve to inspire and motivate our people as well as result in strategies that can impact the economy positively. Consider the example and by extension the principle of 2006 Noble Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus. Muhammad pioneered what is referred to as microcredit. Using loans of tiny amounts, he sought to transform destitute women into entrepreneurs thus creating economic and social development from below.

It was the first time the committee for the Noble Prize was awarded to a profit-making business. It was because “The selection seemed to embody two connected ideas that are gaining ground among development experts: that attacking poverty is essential to peace, and that private enterprise is essential to attacking poverty.”
Dr. Yunus, ”founded the bank in his native Bangladesh to lend small amounts of cash — often as little as $20 — to local people, almost always women, who could use it to found or sustain a small business by, say, buying a cow to sell milk or a simple sewing machine to make clothing.”

It was observed that the traditional banks considered “such people too risky to lend to, and the amounts they needed too small to bother with.” However, Dr. Yunus thought otherwise. He reasoned that, “the poor could be as creditworthy as the rich, if the rules of lending were tailored to their circumstances and were founded on principles of trust rather than financial capacity.” Additionally, he found out that “they could achieve lasting improvements to their living standards with a little bit of capital.” Isn’t that amazing? Drawing on this principle, could we not take some examples from the Grameen Bank? Though Bangladesh may be different from the Bahamas in some ways, isn’t there a definite need to continue the fight of the early fathers of this country in empowering people as opposed to making them dependent on others?

So, rather than setting up web cafes in close proximity to each other, creating a sense of false hope and not lifting the values and morale of our people, let’s seek ways to empower them. There must be local Muhammads existing throughout the country. Let’s harness, process and implement some of the doable ideas resulting from our think tanks, radio talk shows and town meetings. Even the ideas of those Bahamians outside the country as well as the non-formally educated ones must not be ignored; for God does not discriminate in blessing people. To me, this is better than hoping for “a certain number to fall,” or hoping to win a lottery. Yes, some will win, but too many will lose. I must also mention the likely vices that could result from gambling, especially when one loses. Our people must be innovative and not just follow-along consumers.

The Church Is To Play a Role
While the church has received much criticism, it is to play its role. Using the Bible as its guide, it realizes that according to Genesis 1-2 man was made in the likeness of God and endowed with much potential and usefulness. Accordingly, the church seeks to get the message across to all mankind explaining that God has a purpose for one’s life. He/she was designed for more than waiting and just hoping for something to happen. God wants all to recognize what He has already placed in man to help him realize his design for greatness.

At the same time, employing the example of God, the church recognizes that God gave man a choice; and as dangerous as that ability is, God empowered human beings with it. There was that risk that man would choose to go contrary, but God still gave the choice. However, the church observes that the gift of choice does not mean that the church shirks its responsibility of teaching and informing mankind of consequences of decision-making. In fact, it is more incumbent on the church to instruct and inform but never to force one against his will. Therefore the Seventh-day Adventist Church will not argue against one’s right of choosing, but seek aggressively to inform and instruct in the ways of God. We have been doing this prior to the announcement of the referendum, and even after it, we will continue. However, as this article is about alternatives, I turn to a biblical example in summing up.

Recall the Joseph Principle
The world of Joseph, as recorded in Genesis 41, was headed for the worse recession to be brought on by a seven-year famine. Nevertheless, God in His own way chose to communicate in a dream a plan to a heathen king --one who did not worship Him. However, He would give the ability to interpret that dream to a young Hebrew prisoner in Egypt named Joseph. I noted that the plan He gave Pharaoh through Joseph was a simple but a powerful life saving one. It required planning and discipline. Pharaoh was encouraged to collect 20% of all the produce during the seven years of plenty in order to prepare for the seven years of famine. The rest of the story reveals that people from everywhere came to Egypt for sustenance during the lean years. Now think about how many would have died had God not provided the plan! Fast forward from then to our time. Is there no God? Doesn’t the same God exist in the Bahamas today? I declare that He does. He wants His children to recognize that which He placed within each of us. Says the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” Were it not for this hope being revealed to me some 35 years ago, I would be hopeless and lacking in my interest and concern for others. There are alternatives; and they will be found when we seek God. Also, this example teaches us the value of saving for the lean years. The country during its prosperous years must learn to put aside for its not-so-prosperous ones. It is simple but calls for discipline!