Holy pokies dispute

Churches are  divided over the sinfulness of pokie machines, with some dioceses applying for grants from pokie trusts while others denounce them as evil.

A schism was revealed in the Anglican Church recently when a pokie trust escaped censure for refusing to give $500,000 in grants to the Christchurch Cathedral rebuild.

The trust turned down the application partly because some Anglicans had spoken out about the "corrosive" nature of pokies.

The Catholic Church also has a range of views - spokesman Simone Olsen said it had no national policy on applying for pokie money, allowing dioceses to make their own decisions. The Salvation Army decided in 2008 it would not ask for pokie grants.

Internal Affairs last week ruled Pub Charity had no case to answer over the Cathedral after a complaint by the Green Party MP Denise Roche. Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain had also asked the department for an explanation.

Documents attached to the Internal Affairs' report reveal a deep divide in the church over poker machines, with Auckland Archbishop Ross Bay refusing to resile from a strident anti-pokie stance, while Christchurch Archbishop Victoria Matthews wrote letters of support to chase funding for the new cathedral.

After the Christchurch diocese applied for $250,000 towards the "cardboard cathedral", Pub Charity boss Martin Cheer was quoted saying: "You can't have it both ways. You can't actively campaign to get rid of something then apply for money from it."

Cheer wrote letters to church figures trying to get a definitive policy statement, but was told all 13 Anglican dioceses were entitled to independent opinions.

Even the Christchurch diocese admitted they had split opinions, diocese manager Pamela Galbraith writing that "there are many views in the diocese and the position might be said to be one of respecting individual concerns and ethics . . . the nature of the debate and of trying to balance social justice issues and ethical concerns with the reality of fund raising in a challenging environment".

Cheer also spoke to Bay, who reiterated the diocese's 2005 ban on applying for pokie funds because of the "detrimental impact on society and people's lives" and "the destructive and corrosive effects of gaming machines".

The initial application was declined due to this uncertainty, and a second application for $250,000 refused due to lack of funds.

Roche complained because she felt Cheer was using "bullying tactics" to silence pokie critics. "I am a bit dissatisfied with the department's report - they've issued Martin Cheer with a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket, but that's frequently the only tool in the toolkit the DIA has," said Roche.

Pub Charity's board made a decision not to comment on the report.

Christchurch's Anglican diocese has subsequently voted to refuse pokie grants, driven by their Social Justice Enabler, Rev Jolyon White, a long-time anti-pokies campaigner. White, who runs a small social work unit, said the church was diverse and had "no central rulebook" but most within it realised the damage of poker machines.

"The church has had ethical investments, so it is not a new thing to be considering where our funding comes from. And to have funding from essentially the most vulnerable people in society . . . is a terrible way to run any society in, but it's particularly appalling for a social service agency or a church."

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said it was a moral debate similar to the argument over sponsorship of sport by the tobacco industry in the 1980s.

"The critical moral question people are grappling is, should they benefit at the expense of harm to others? And that's made much more complicated by the dependence we've created for so many groups on this funding - that's the real addiction.

"I do think we look for churches to take the lead on social and moral issues, but we understand the dilemma many of them are caught in."

Sunday Star Times