Warrior Preacher |
By Daniel R. Gangler
"This isn't a Sunday school picnic. We're in a tough fight, said the Rev. Tom Grey as he touched down around noon Sept. 18 in Portland, Ore., to meet with grassroots troops wanting to battle against state-sponsored gambling. With a strategy outlined on an airline napkin, he headed for his first meeting.
Grey, a 57-year-old United Methodist clergyman and Vietnam veteran, fights hard and long against overwhelming odds to stop the expansion of gambling in America, and he is succeeding. He views each trip to help another grassroots group as visiting troops in the trenches.
When he comes into a meeting, he takes off his coat, loosens his tie and rolls up the sleeves of his white shirt as if getting ready for a street fight. Oregon was the fifth state Grey visited in September, and he had five more scheduled before the end of the month. He has been in 35 states this year. His trip to Oregon helped organize another anti-gambling coalition of church, business and political leaders intent on removing state-sponsored video poker gambling. The battle will come during the 1998 fall political campaigns.
Grey boasts an incredible record of 19 state battles won and 5 losses, plus countless local battles won during his three years as executive director of the Washington-based National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. The coalition runs on a shoestring budget and a staff of two.
He came to Oregon in response to requests for help from United Methodist laywoman Ruth Hutchens and trial lawyer Greg Kafoury. This pattern repeats itself over and over. Even while in Oregon he was receiving 25-30 calls a day from Minnesota, Florida, Oklahoma, Montana, Idaho, Massachusetts, Iowa and Nevada wherever citizens want to fight the gambling industry trying to force its way into communities and states with government-sponsored lotteries, video games and casinos.
Why do people call?
"Gambling is every person's story," he responds. "A lot of people have gotten reamed by gambling." He is an advocate and catalyst for people like new anti-gambling activists Harvey and Diana Hafemann in Oregon. Their son Bob committed suicide last year as a result of his addiction to state-sponsored video poker.
Grey came to Oregon to help the Hafemanns, politicians, church leaders and business people and to further his own hopes of reversing gambling trends nationally.
He says Oregon is key to his national efforts. Even though anti-gambling efforts have stopped the expansion of gambling in 35 states, no group has succeeded in rolling back state-sponsored gambling. He hopes Oregon will be a first state and start a domino effect.
A wiry, physically fit war veteran, Grey was a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves serving as a chaplain as well as a pastor of a Galena, Ill., United Methodist church when he started his work against gambling four years ago. He lives in Hanover, near Galena, in the northwest corner of the state on the Mississippi River.
There as a pastor in 1993 he first battled casino gambling on riverboats and, to his surprise, won. The press nicknamed him "Riverboat Rambo." He employs a military vocabulary, giving numerous battle analogies and telling stories from war movies while speaking to groups. He labels those who fight gambling as Gideon's army (Judges 7) because the forces are small but committed, wise and powerful.
He also talks in sound-bites, using a multitude of facts stored in his head and creatively begins his numerous presentations with a medicine-show bottle likening the gambling industry to snake-oil salesmen.
"These are bottom line people," says Grey. "What's theirs is theirs, and what s yours is negotiable."
He became a nationally identifiable figure on Aug. 17 when CBS-TV's "60 Minutes" news show aired a quarter hour segment about him and the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.
The David-and-Goliath story showed him doing battle with Frank Fahenkopf, president of the Washington-based American Gambling Association. The two also have gone head-to-head 30 times this year in town hall meetings. "60 Minutes" filmed and interviewed Grey over a nine-month period.
When asked what the national TV exposure has done for him, he said, "Given me $10 and 50 more phone calls from people needing our help."
He said he believes that church and civic groups have a window of opportunity to beat state-sponsored gambling and casinos if they act now. He quotes from the United Methodist Social Principles: "Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government" (Para.69 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, page 100).
"If the church doesn't get behind this issue now, we might lose it [the fight against legalized gambling]," said Grey. "I don't think there is a coordinated understanding (about gambling) at the church's national level."
Even though he is somewhat critical of the denomination, he receives a stipend of $24,000 from United Methodist churchwide funds, but this source was scheduled to run out Oct. 1.
"Where is the church?" asks Grey. "I am the only one speaking out(nationally) against gambling. We need interviews (about gambling) with bishops." He has brought together people at opposite ends of the ideological pole. Both Ralph Reed, former executive of the Christian Coalition, and the Green political) Party's Ralph Nader say they support the national coalition's work against gambling. Jokingly, he says the rest of America is somewhere between the two Ralphs.
As he seeks new funding from mainline denominations, he also will seek support from evangelical groups such as James Dobson's Focus on the Family ministries based in Colorado Springs.
Grey says his national campaign to stop and roll back gambling is going to draw national attention from now on. "It's winnable," says Grey, "because truth is wonderful. It marches."
Posted October 13, 1997
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