by AT News Team

Invited to be the speaker for an official Independence Day celebration earlier this week, Pastor Leonard Johnson, leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Bahamas, used the occasion to speak out against a proposal to expand legal gambling in the island nation. Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes (representing Queen Elizabeth), Prime Minister Perry Christie, the cabinet, most members of parliament and other national leaders were in the audience for the occasion.
 
Johnson opposed gambling both on moral grounds and because it ends up taking more from the poor and working class than it does from those more able to contribute. He is president of the denomination’s  Atlantic Caribbean Union Mission, headquartered in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas where the celebration was seen by large numbers in Clifford Park.
 
“Fellow Bahamians, I ask you not to resort to the easy way out,” Johnson was quoted in The Guardian published yesterday. “Parliamentarians … let us not seek shortcuts” to balancing the national budget. Instead, he asked that they “rely on integrity and hard work to get them through trying times,” the newspaper reported.
 
He referred to a popular ad promoting gambling with them theme “everyone can be a winner” and said that is only true “in the Kingdom of God,” not in economic reality. It is not true for all who participate in gambling.
 
A referendum will take place later this year to vote on an expansion of legalized gambling. A coalition of gambling companies “said it plans to spend $1.5 million on an education campaign and on community development initiatives,” the newspaper reported. “We must not be bought because people donate millions to charity,” Johnson said in his speech.
 
The coalition is made up of FML Group, Asue Draw, Island Game and Island Luck, according to The Guardian. Another Protestant clergyman, the Rev. Philip McPhee, told the newspaper that he had accepted donations from the group and had become “sensitized” to the contribution that the gambling companies make to the national economy. The Bahamas is a cluster of small islands where tourism is a major industry.
 
The Atlantic Caribbean Union includes the Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands. There are about 30,000 Adventists out of a total population of 453,000 or nearly seven percent, about 16 times the proportion of Adventists in the United States. There are 78 local churches organized into three local conferences.