From all the headlines, you'd think Bill Bennett was hiding Saddam's weapons of mass destruction or was Patient Zero in the SARS outbreak. Nope. He just loves high-stakes video poker.

This thunderstorm-in-a-thimble is at the end of its media-saturated life. There were the revelations, the response, the commentary, the more contrite response, the metacommentary, the backlash, and the casual pop culture reference. It was a busy weekend.

Weblog won't round up everything on this. There's simply too much, and too many other folks are doing it. (Check out Howard Kurtz's Washington Post column for the key pieces of commentary.) But here's what the religious pundits are saying.

"While opinions differ as to whether gambling is a vice, few would regard it as a virtue. This is why the news of Bill Bennett's fondness for high-stakes gambling is so disappointing," says Family Research Council President Ken Connor in his Washington Update memo to supporters.

As the nation's leading critic of America's virtue deficit, Mr. Bennett, like it or not, bears a greater burden regarding his personal conduct than the average citizen. The same is no less true for all of us who promote virtue in the public square. While, as Mr. Bennett says, he has done nothing illegal, the sheer scale of his gambling activities [is] troubling. … Gambling is not as benign as he suggests. The gambling industry attracts and fosters such other vices as prostitution, substance abuse, spousal abuse, divorce, and family abandonment. Some gloating pundits, of course, have pounced on the story to accuse Mr. Bennett of being a moralizing hypocrite. The truth is, however, Mr. Bennett has simply shown himself to have feet of clay. We are, after all, made of dust. Christians are called upon to be good stewards of God's blessings. Mr. Bennett has apparently reflected on the quality of his stewardship and issued the following statement late today: "I have done too much gambling, and this is not an example I wish to set … Therefore, my gambling days are over." Good for Mr. Bennett. It's what a man of virtue would do.

Likewise, Focus on the Family's James Dobson uses the controversy to condemn gambling. "We were disappointed to learn that our longtime friend, Dr. Bill Bennett, is dealing with what appears to be a gambling addiction," Dobson says in a press release. "One of the reasons Focus on the Family continues to be strongly opposed to any form of gambling is because it has the power to ensnare and wound not only its victims, but also those closest to them. 'Gaming,' as the industry euphemistically refers to itself, is a cancer on the soul of the nation. We commend Dr. Bennett for acknowledging his problem and for stating emphatically, 'My gambling days are over.' Our prayers will be with him and his family in the days ahead."

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What's interesting about Dobson's statement is his use of the a-word. Bennett denies that he's an addict, as does his wife. Of course, denial of an addiction is almost universal among addicts and their wives, but Dobson does seem to be using a term that few others are willing to use. Note also that if Dobson—a child psychologist—really does believe that Bennett is an addict, it seems inconsistent to give him an enthusiastic benediction without encouraging him to seek treatment. Focus on the Family regularly encourages addicts to seek 12-step meetings and therapy.

Concerned Women for America, on the other hand, says it prays that Bennett "will not hesitate to seek any help he may need in keeping his resolve." In a press release, the group says it "commends our friend Bill Bennett's bold move to cease gambling despite an absence of personal conviction. Taking responsibility for his example to others, he has once again demonstrated good character. America's families are reeling under the epidemic results of rampant gambling. Bankruptcies have increased exponentially; families are crumbling under the weight of irresponsible gambling losses."

Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson, a longtime close friend of Bennett's, doesn't use the word addict in his response to the controversy. In fact, he doesn't even use the word gambling (The word appears only in the press release's title). "Bill Bennett has acknowledged his failure to set a right example and he has stated he will address the problem. Now let us put this issue to rest," Colson says. "In light of Bill's statement, I support him 100 percent. Bill Bennett is one of the most gifted philosophers and public intellectuals of our age. I hope and pray that this unfortunate incident will not in any way diminish him or his influence. All of us should be reminded that according to the Bible, 'All have fallen short of the glory of God.' He made a mistake, he's correcting it; let's move on."

It's odd that Colson has nothing to say about Bennett's gambling, given that he's commented on the vice so often in the past—including an explicit critique of video poker.

The commentary most ripe for dissection, however, comes from Pat Robertson's CBN News. Here's the full text of the report: "Former Education Secretary and author William Bennett likes to gamble. But his wife told USA Today that Bennett's never going to the casinos again. Recent media reports claimed Bennett is a 'preferred customer' at four different casinos and that he has lost millions of dollars over the last decade. Bennett disputes those claims, but does admit he enjoys gambling. None of the reports accuse him of doing anything illegal. Bennett is a leading conservative voice on moral issues and family values, and some question whether gambling is consistent with those values."

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That's awfully objective for a news outlet prone to "directed reporting." Maybe it's because Robertson has been burned on the gambling issue too?

Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America respond to AIDS bill

Yesterday, Weblog lamented that the many profamily groups that had pushed for changes in the U.S. House's AIDS bill last week had nothing to say once the amended bill passed.

Since then, Focus on the Family not only issued a story supporting the bill, but it urged supporters to "contact President Bush and thank him for supporting efforts to make the Global AIDS bill the best possible and most effective response to the scourge of AIDS."

Concerned Women for America also issued a statement supporting the changed bill, though it focused overwhelmingly on the amendments, and didn't say much about tripling anti-AIDS expenditures. "Members [of the House of Representatives" had a choice between the Uganda model and the San Francisco model of AIDS prevention," Michael Schwartz, CWA's vice president for government relations. "The House chose to send life, not death, to Africa."

More commentary on the AIDS bill:
  1. A compromised AIDS bill | A bright spot in President Bush's foreign relations agenda grows dimmer with approval of a global AIDS initiative hamstrung by concessions to the most conservative element of his party (Editorial, The Journal Gazette, Ft. Wayne, Ind.)

  2. Targeting AIDS | Bipartisan vote advances U.S. global effort (Editorial, Sacramento Bee)

  3. Pass Bush's AIDS bill | It's not banged up too badly by conservative amendments (Editorial, Palm Beach Post)

  4. Spirit of compassion pulls factions together in war on AIDS | The fact that the bill didn't fall apart is a testament to the people—including Bush—who have been arguing there is a moral imperative to intervene in the African AIDS emergency (Cathleen Falsani, Chicago Sun-Times)
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Church arsenic poisoning investigation:

  1. Police: More than one person may be behind poisonings | Suspect may not have committed suicide after all (Portland Press Herald)

  2. Police pin blame for Maine arsenic death | But police won't say if longtime parishioner who investigators say is linked to the poisonings committed suicide (Associated Press)

  3. Police say man found shot played a role in poisonings | A spokesman said that a man who died of a gunshot wound last Friday was responsible for the fatal arsenic poisoning at a Maine church, but that he may not have acted alone (The New York Times)

  4. Church confronts tragedies | Sven Bondeson found out Sunday that the shaken congregation at the Gustaf Adolph Evangelical Lutheran Church felt as sorry for his family as they were for the victims of last week's arsenic poisonings (Portland Press Herald)

  5. Church prays for resolve | After poisonings and 2 deaths, Maine parishioners struggling (The Boston Globe)

  6. Parish joins to heal in aftermath of deaths (Boston Herald)

  7. Maine churchgoers return to poisoning site (Associated Press)

  8. Parishioners attend church after arsenic poisoning (Reuters)

  9. 'We have lost our innocence' | The violence - first the deliberate poisoning of 16 people during a church function last Sunday, and then a shooting five days later that left a man dead—has upended this community's sense of itself (Portland Press Herald)

  10. Shooting unnerves town | The investigation into the poisoning of 16 small-town churchgoers took another tragic turn Friday when a man connected to the church was fatally shot at his home in nearby Woodland (Portland Press Herald)

  11. Church arsenic poisoning a bizarre event for Maine | Someone has poisoned members at a tiny Maine church. That's disturbing to many who normally would think such a place was among the safest on Earth (Editorial, Portland Press Herald)

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