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Ballot initiatives draw United Methodist advocacy

U.S. citizens line up at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist in New York to cast their vote on Election Day. A UMNS photo by the Rev. James K. Karpen.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Nov. 7, 2008

Ballot initiatives on hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage, casino gambling and state income taxes drew the attention of United Methodists this U.S. election season.

United Methodists in Arkansas were dismayed that an amendment to the state constitution to start a state-run lottery won voter approval by a two-to-one margin.

In a statement issued on election night, United Methodists Against Gambling and the church’s Arkansas Conference expressed deep regret about the outcome. "We felt, and continue to feel, that a state-run lottery is not in the best interest of the people of Arkansas," the statement said.

"Our next step must be to persuade the legislature to reject lotteries or, at the least, severely restrict them, while finding other revenue to fund college scholarships," said Scott Trotter, an attorney and co-chairperson of United Methodists Against Gambling with the Rev. Roger Glover.

In Ohio, a ballot measure to permit casino gambling was voted down for the fourth time since 1990.

United Methodist Bishop Bruce Ough and members of the denomination’s West Ohio Conference, commended Gov. Ted Strickland, a former United Methodist pastor, for his opposition to gambling and had called for a "no" vote on that issue. The conference represents nearly 1,200 congregations in 58 Ohio counties.

"I am dismayed and outraged at the repeated, relentless and reckless efforts to expand gambling in Ohio," Ough said at a Sept. 25 press conference. "With blatant disregard for the citizens of Ohio who have consistently and resoundingly said 'no' to the expansion of gambling, the gambling industry has once again mounted a well-funded campaign to introduce casino gambling to our state."

United Methodists also supported Strickland’s signing of a tough new law that limits the interest rates which payday lending institutions can charge Ohio citizens. That law was supported under another ballot initiative.

Slot gambling

In Maryland, less than a day after voters approved a referendum to amend the state constitution to allow slot machine gambling, Baltimore officials proceeded with a $4.1 million purchase of land for a casino, which will be built south of downtown.

United Methodists from the Peninsula-Delaware Conference joined church members in the Baltimore-Washington Conference in the attempt to defeat the slot machine proposal, following the denomination’s official opposition to gambling.

The Rev. Christine Elliott introduces speakers at a community forum held at Calvary Church United Methodist in Arlington, Mass., on a proposal to
eliminate the state's income tax.
A UMNS photo courtesy of the United Methodist New England Conference.

Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Philadelphia Area and Bishop John Schol, of the Washington Area, who both oversee churches in parts of Maryland, were among religious leaders signing an Oct. 23 statement opposing the slot machine referendum.

"Introducing slots into our state sends a message that dollars are precious and people are expendable," the statement said. "This is not true. Marylanders will work creatively together to insure children are educated and fed without gambling revenue. In fact, gambling revenue will worsen the plight of children, youth and adults within Maryland by increasing addiction, divorce and poverty."

Massachusetts voters soundly defeated a ballot question that would have eliminated the state’s income tax. United Methodists in the state worked with the Massachusetts Council of Churches and other groups to educate citizens about why the tax should not be dropped and secure pledges for a "no" vote.

Calvary Church, United Methodist, in Arlington, for example, worked with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization to hold community forums on the issue and collect pledges. "This is a justice issue, a moral issue," the Rev. Christine Elliott stated. "The drastic cuts to services required if this measure passes would affect children and the most vulnerable and at-risk citizens in our commonwealth."

Same-sex marriage ban

In California, voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage after the State Supreme Court there had declared such marriages legal last May. Same-sex civil unions still will be allowed in California, and Attorney General Jerry Brown said he believed the marriages already performed will remain valid, according to The New York Times.

The United Methodist Church opposes same-sex unions and forbids its pastors from performing such ceremonies or allowing them to take place in United Methodist churches.

When the denomination’s Western Jurisdictional Conference met last July, however, it passed a resolution celebrating the California court decision. The resolution stated, in part, that the conference supports "same-gender couples who enter into the marriage covenant and encourage(s) both congregations and pastors to welcome, embrace and provide spiritual nurture and pastoral care for these families."

In June, the church’s California-Pacific and California Nevada conferences, which are part of the Western Jurisdiction, passed resolutions supporting clergy who choose to perform same-sex marriages. Bishop Beverly Shamana ruled the California-Nevada statement to be void. Later, the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, meeting during the same week as the Western, voiced support for those clergy as well.

Voters in Arizona and Florida also approved bans on same-sex marriage.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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