by Amy Lawless Ayala
by Rev. J. Michael Solberg
at The Union Church of Hinsdale, U.C.C.
From the 9:00 a.m. Service
on Sunday, January 11, 2015
Text from Rev. J. Michael Solberg’s section of the morning service:
“Why I Support DuPage United”
When I served a church out in Rockford, one of the community issues I got involved in was gambling. Like almost all Christians everywhere for 2000 years, I believe gambling is wrong. It is not wrong in the sense that if you do it you are a bad person and God doesn’t like you. If you put 20 bucks into an office pool and fill out your brackets for the NCAA basketball tournament, or if you bet $100 with your sister-in-law about who is going to win the Super Bowl, hey, no harm, no foul. But organized gambling, legalized gambling that is run by corporations and basically sponsored by the government, is wrong in the sense that those who benefit from such gambling are most often taking advantage of people who can’t afford to lose $20 or $100, or often $1000 or $10,000 dollars, as well as those who, by simple facts of brain chemistry, are more prone than others to gambling addictions. In Illinois, which now has very high levels of state sponsored gambling through the lottery and casinos, low income people lose a much higher percentage of their income to gambling than higher income people. 38% of low-income people said in a survey that buying lottery tickets was a reasonable way to plan for retirement. Slot machines are carefully, scientifically designed to manipulate dopamine levels in the brain, exactly the same chemical affected by using cocaine. So, in the name of Jesus, I worked over a period of years to keep a casino from coming to Rockford.
And get this, on the other side of this issue was every single powerful organization or institution in Rockford. The city government actively lobbied Springfield for a casino. The Chamber of Commerce and the rest of the business community actively supported a casino. Labor unions encouraged the effort. Social service organizations actively supported bringing a casino to Rockford.
In many cases, the people who ran most of these organizations were people I knew quite well, people I liked and worked with on all sorts of community based issues. So I could talk with them about this casino issue. And frankly, their support of a casino was grounded in a selfish cynicism I could hardly believe. Leaders of city government wanted a casino because they believed it would increase tax revenue, which would give them more power. Business leaders wanted a casino because they believed it would increase their profits. Social service organizations, the very ones who would have to serve those who ruined their lives through gambling, wanted a casino because casinos often dole out money to such non-profits as an act of community good will. The leader of the police officer’s union even told me that he knew a casino would increase crime in Rockford, but more crime means more resources going into law-enforcement, so there was no way the union was going to reject that.
I found that the only allies I had in that fight were those who were motivated most of all by compassion for others. That’s why I got interested in community organizing. I realized more clearly than ever before that when it comes to making decisions and setting priorities that affect people’s lives and shape the community as a whole, those at the table of power do not always have the best interests of others in mind. Community organizing, the type of organizing done by DuPage United, is nothing other than an effort to bring people together who are willing to let the good of the community be their top priority and motivating vision.
The golden rule of community organizing is to never do for others what they able to do for themselves. People who are poor, people whose interests are not always served by the structures and organizations of power, people who are socially marginalized, do not simply need hand-outs, they need power, and community organizing is about helping them claim every type of power they can.
I believe that is exactly what Jesus did. When Jesus declined the offer of the devil to turn rocks into bread and give the greatest handout ever to the poor, Jesus refused. They didn’t simply need a handout. They needed power. And that is what Jesus gave them. He gave them power by rejecting every notion that marginalized people deserved their position, that they were somehow inferior to others. By his words, his actions, his touch, and his respect, he showed people that they were people, full, beloved people, just as deserving of respect as anyone else. And he gave others power by bringing people together. In spite of what some people joke about, and others even truly believe, the church was not an accident. Jesus intended for the church to grow from the foundation of his disciples. And in significant part, the church is a group of people who follow Jesus down the path of always acting with the best interests of others in mind, or as we say it, loving our neighbors as ourselves. And I still think that can change our community, can change DuPage County, and can change the world.
You can see a list of all available UCH sermons online at: http://Hinsdale.Church/podcast