REHOBOTH MILLS: I have used the occasions to uphold our testimony of using the affirmation rather than an oath, when such have come up on legal documents this past year. It always strengthens my spirit when I do so. And yet we must also recognize that the affirmation is becoming in practice another way of saying, in effect, that we just might have a double standard of truth. As such, it becomes an easy escape when we ought perhaps to be refusing to answer at all. I do want to share with Friends the one occasion when I was tendered the oath in a courtroom; this was in the divorce, something that was completely against everything I believed in and yet something that could not be turned back, something that had support in Matthew (and I have been so grateful that Dean opened my eyes to that passage, though he probably does not remember doing so); when I said, “I cannot swear but I will take the affirmation,” the judge gave me an annoyed look, Patt realized that great growth had been occurring in my religious life, and I tasted once again that victory the Lord holds out to His people. Sometimes this happens in the most unlikely places!
With gambling, it is a great strength to be able to smile and simply say, “It’s against my religion.”
But is that a cop-out?
In an age when faith is too often separated from daily life, others are gently reminded in that witness of our need to be consistent to our beliefs. Speculation based on the principles of chance are growing all around us; sweepstakes seem to arrive in the mail daily. I don’t open those envelopes, but there’s still the temptation – and for the person to be notified as a winner, to write in the blank: Olney Friends School or some other worthy cause. But I cannot claim to be completely free of participation in games of chance: among our newspaper features are “The Latest Line” and a new one, “Will Wynn Lotto,” both of which offer gambling information for those betting on sports or on certain state lotteries. Even when I’m not personally selling them (my boss is traveling around, pushing the Lotto feature), the revenue is still a major component of my salary. What guidance do Friends offer? And what about perks – all those bonus points for travel and accommodations? Do these fall in the category of temptations to grow rich at the expense of others?
JANE’S FALLS: I am reminded of how much modern life tries to instill a double-standard of living, not just of truthfulness. Our public life – “a dog-eat-dog world,” as we’re reminded – demands that we override values (that is, ethics) with “objective measures” (profit/loss, price, operating margin, or whatever). Our public life is then further separated from our private spheres, which may go in any number of directions, as the Gary Hart affair demonstrated. As Friends, however, we know that there is no real separation of the two, that we must maintain one testimony throughout.
When I was on the road as a salesman, I was struck repeatedly by the way many obviously powerful men headed straight for the bar after work and hit the hard liquor – it was apparent on their faces that they had done something that day that they wanted to forget, and that the liquor was to deaden the pain. We can see examples of these “objective measures” and lack of values in the decision-making of conglomerates when we observe the closed factories of northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
But if we, as Christians, are to live in Truth, we must strive to make our life’s expression consistent. We are confronted with the use of affirmation rather than giving oath far less often than we are with the more prevalent use of expressions in our workplace that are, often without any apparent awareness of the fact, invocations that debase what is holy and imprecations that are, at the least, unloving. I know I need to be more vigilant in my own behavior in that regard.
With the rise of “sweepstakes” mailings, I appreciate the strength our queries and advices provide every time I overcome temptation and instead throw those vile seductions away, unopened. Even so-called Christian radio stations fall prey to the audience-building practice of free giveaways of concert tickets and records.
While we must be careful to avoid speculation (the recent stock-market crash serves as a good reminder that the pigs always get burned), we must remember the parable of the talents in obtaining a full return on that which is entrusted to our stewardship.
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.