United Methodists are mounting a vigorous campaign to stem what their leaders call a "raging flood" of efforts to bring casino gambling to Maryland.
"We want to explore every option possible in halting this spreading menace," the Rev. Warren Ebinger, pastor of Severna Park Methodist Church, said yesterday.
"Every local United Methodist church should consider this a priority. This is a call to action," he said.
As vice chairman of the Council on Ministries of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the denomination, Dr. Ebinger introduced a resolution on gambling at a session in Emmitsburg Saturday.
About 1,000 clergy and lay delegates representing 730 congregations and 225,000 Methodists passed the resolution unanimously.
It authorizes the church's Council on Ministries to pull out all the stops in opposing the expected surge of lobbying for gambling interests in the state when the legislature convenes in January. The United Methodist Church was also an opponent of the Maryland Lottery.
"We are appalled at the expanding efforts to saturate the communities within the boundaries of our conference with legalized gambling," the resolution says.
It called gambling "a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic and spiritual life, and destructive of good government," and added that Methodists "are called to stand with the poor, who are often severely exploited by gambling's false lure of easy riches without work."
Lobbyists have formed the Maryland Gaming Association Inc. and budgeted $463,000 to try to win legislative approval for "riverboat" gambling along the state's waterfronts. A Virginia businessman is trying to interest a Shawnee tribe in Oklahoma and a New York developer in a proposal to build a gambling casino on a hill near Cumberland.
In recent months, other out-of-state gambling interests have discussed various proposals with elected officials and lobbyists in Maryland, and veterans' organizations are seeking to have slot machines legalized in clubs throughout the state, just as they are on the Eastern Shore.
While both of Maryland's gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Parris N. Glendening and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, have expressed reservations about expanding legalized gambling, neither has come out strongly in opposition to specific proposals.
"We assert that gambling withdraws or wastes resources that should be used to assist the poor and needy," the United Methodist delegates said in their resolution.
In other unanimous action, the Methodist conference expressed concern about the "serious financial, emotional and physical injury" suffered by victims of crime and called on its congregations to support local, state and federal laws protecting "the constitutional rights of victims of crime andtheir survivors."
Church leaders endorsed the Victims Rights Constitutional Amendment on the ballot Nov. 8.
On another subject, the Methodist conference encouraged members' support of "a national effort to bring about the provision of universal health care."
The delegates adopted a nearly $16 million conference budget for 1995, slightly less than the 1994 budget, which Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel said addressed "a crisis" of recent serious deficits of the Baltimore-Washington church bureaucracy.
"Not only were we able to put controls on operating expenses, but we have reduced staffing," said the Rev. Roger H. Strait, treasurer of the conference.
"I think we're moving forward in good order."