Poker was popular in the wild west, it was popular when I was in high school (1978-82) , and it is extremely popular today. The World Series of Poker is part of the fixture of ESPN. Poker is now a major sporting event. Funny, back in my high school days it was called gambling. I don’t play poker these days and haven’t since my college and high school days. Some of my most exhilarating and depressing moments was playing poker. I was never a big stakes gambler, just coins and the occasional dollar bills. But quarters can add up for a high school student. Ironically, the friends that I played poker with the most were church friend. We played basketball and then played poker (for money). When we went on a youth retreat, after sleeping through the worship service, we would gather into one of the rooms and play poker. I will never forget the time when my father, a pastor, along with a few other pastors were doing room checks and found his youth group kids, his own sons, playing poker with coins littered on a blanket. My father, rightly, slapped me in the face.
Rightly or wrongly, I have attached poker (gambling) to my old sinful way of life. I rededicated my life to Christ in my senior year in college. For me, it was “I have decided to follow Jesus. The world behind me, the cross before me.” I renounced drinking alcohol, pornography, and gambling. It was part pietism and part genuine life transformation.
Now a days, I meet some pastors – good pastors, theologically sound pastors – who have no problem playing poker (for fun but also for some small stakes). I know this not because I saw it first hand, but because pastor freely, unashamedly tell you they play poker. I was even invited to a poker game at a pastors’ meeting. I didn’t go. These days, there is no older pastors to come around and slap anyone’s face.
Now, I don’t want to begrudge anyone their Christian liberty, but I wonder if it is such a good thing for pastors to be known as poker players. I’m not talking about the inherent deception that is part of poker, but the gambling. What do you think of pastors and poker? Is this a good way to connect to the men of our church (and many women too)? Is playing poker no different from playing golf or basketball?
For me, I don’t think I could play poker, even without money, with a clear conscience. It brings back too many of my worldly memories from the past. However, can I say it is wrong for other pastors? I don’t know, yet. However, one thing I am clearly troubled by is when pastors who are at official meetings such as General Assemblies and Presbyteries and use their together to play poker more other spiritual edifying ways of fellowship. These meetings are meant to strengthen the body of Christ, and I don’t see how playing poker together strengthens our witness to the world.
I would like to know what you think?