Two months before the referendum on a state lottery in Alabama, Pastor Ed Litton wondered how actively his 3,700-member First Baptist Church of North Mobile should oppose the issue.
Then he read about a church in Biloxi, Mississippi, that voted to sell its building to Beau Rivage Casino. "What I saw is a clear message that gambling ultimately corrupts even the most sacred institutions," Litton says.
Disturbed by the incident, Litton convinced his church's finance committee to give $25,000 slated for a new church van to an anti-lottery campaign. That donation proved to be a wise investment as Alabama voters on October 12 rejected a state lottery 54 to 46 percent. Alabama is only the fourth state—after Arkansas, North Dakota, and Oklahoma—to block a state lottery.
The surprising defeat is being credited to the efforts of Alabama's Christian community, which united support across racial and denominational lines. "The reason we won is because of the church," says Jim Cooper, a deacon at an evangelical Presbyterian church and chairman of Citizens Against Legalized Lottery (CALL), a political action committee organized to fight the lottery.
Churches and their ministers sponsored anti-lottery rallies, preached sermons against gambling, produced signs and T-shirts with anti-gambling slogans, and held round-the-clock prayer vigils on election day.
"It was a spiritual movement that took place in this state unlike anything I've ever seen," says Gary Palmer, president of the Alabama Family Alliance, who took an unpaid leave to campaign against the lottery.
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Before the election, ministers considered themselves in a David-versus-Goliath battle with pro-lottery forces.
Governor Don Siegelman was elected in ...1