NORWAY – Church leaders across the region say they are opposed to having a casino in Oxford County, but members of their congregations must decide for themselves

“We encourage them to decide for themselves,” said Pastor Dawn Mitchell of Deering Memorial United Methodist Church in Paris. “We really do leave it up to the individual. It’s a personal decision.”

Voters will decide in a statewide referendum Nov. 4 whether to allow a casino in Oxford County.

Pastors of five area churches representing Evangelical, Congregational, Methodist and Episcopal denominations said they did not hide their views from their congregations.

“We let the congregation know, ‘Here is how the pastors feel and here’s where this crosses the line’ and that it is a moral issue with real consequences,” said Pastor Eric J. Hanson of the Hosanna Church in Oxford. Hanson said the church’s two pastors and trustees stand together in opposition, but it is not something he will preach specifically about in his sermons.

“We address principles of, ‘What does God have to say about how wealth grows that benefits people and doesn’t hurt anyone?” said Hanson, whose church displays a sign on Route 121 near the Route 26 intersection in Welchville that proclaims prosperity comes from hard work and prayer, not gambling.

The Bible does not directly address casinos.

“You can’t look it up in the biblical rule book,” said the Rev. Anne Stanley, pastor of Christ Episcopal Church in Norway. “You have to consider how things have changed and what God would want us to do.”

She said the Episcopal church does not tell people how to vote. “I’m very clear about that. I tell people that when they vote, to make sure they do so in a way that affirms their baptismal covenant and to uphold the commandment to love God and their neighbor.”

The First Congregational Church in Paris also does not take political positions.

“We allow people to be led by the spirit in all aspects of their lives. We let them interpret things how they will. That’s the whole essence of the congregational way,” said the Rev. Don Mayberry. “I’m more culturally opposed to it and the cultural change it would bring to the community.”

The Rev. Frank Jewett, a 20-year pastor of the Advent Christian Church in Oxford, which has a congregation of about 250 members, said the Bible does not use the word ‘gambling’ but it certainly addresses the issue of greed.

“The Bible takes a stand on that. The word ‘gambling’ isn’t in the Bible but the word ‘greed’ is,” he said. “If you can gamble without being greedy you’d be all right, I suppose. But, I’m not sure if that can happen.”

The pastors of Oxford County recognize that there is a need for jobs, but how to bring more jobs to the area is the question.

“Obviously, we need more jobs in the area. I’m not convinced the casino is the answer. It would create more hardships,” Stanley said.

“We’re concerned,” said Hanson, who said his wife worked in a convenience store for several years and watched people come in daily with state welfare checks that they cashed in for lottery tickets.

Hanson said research he conducted shows that the promoters’ promise of high-paying jobs is an attempt to hype a few high-paying jobs averaged out with a lot of low-paying jobs. “It doesn’t take many six-figure salaries to make it propaganda,” he said.

Hanson said that based on conversations with leaders of liberal and conservative churches throughout the area, he believes there might have been organized opposition among some of the churches if leaders had gotten together earlier to develop a plan.

“We believe casinos in general are bad news,” Hanson said.

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