Some things make me uneasy. At times it has been simple to pinpoint what it was that made me uneasy, and then I simply had to decide whether it was something I needed to get over or actively oppose. Some things are less straightforward than that, however. Holy Rollers, a film about card-counting Christians, was something that made me immediately uneasy. Before viewing the film, I had a lot of questions.
The documentary itself is well put together; the production and editing are both well done, and I was impressed with the quality of it. Not every day do we see films about or related to Christians that are considered quality. I was glad that I didn’t need to wade through shoddy editing, poor filming, or uninteresting dialogue.
The content itself, of course, was tricky. Here’s the premise (though I do recommend viewing the film): a group of believers ended up forming a card-counting league, where they would hit casinos on a regular basis. This was, for many of them, their primary source of income, sometimes supporting their families, often helping support their jobs in full time ministry. From this, a story about trust, gambling, and conviction quickly emerges.
So what do we do, as Christians, with the suggestion that our brothers and sisters gambled for a living, for at least a few years? On the one hand, most of us would recognize gambling, at least at this level, as an unwise use of our funds; we would be bad stewards of the provisions God has given to us. On the flip of this–and this is what a lot of those involved on the so-called Church Team often argued–taking money from the casinos in a legal way allowed those involved to both fund their ministries and it had the benefit of ‘beating the bad guys,’ so to speak. It’s easy to make an argument for either position, though I find myself landing squarely in the first camp, at least generally speaking.
Here’s the issue I have with the whole concept: most of the time, it feels like the underlying ethic is utilitarian; the ends justify the means. While many of those involved in this league would certainly draw the line somewhere, the principle lurking beneath the actions remain the same: we do what we do regardless of its moral quality in order to fund what we believe to be a noble cause. Whether or not the cause is holy, I don’t think we can justify acting in what I would call sin to get there. One of the gamblers came to this conclusion, and he left the team. He was convicted initially that he himself couldn’t do this for a living, but then later he made the shift to say that he didn’t think that that gambling for a living was appropriate for any believer. I think the stronger statement is accurate, and I’d be willing to stand by it.
The tricky part comes when some of the members of the team felt as though God specifically called them to the gambling ring, as if it was their vocation. My hesitation here is simple: if God truly spoke to and called someone, I wouldn’t want to be on the side of attempting to invalidate that. Of course, I don’t think this is the case here: since my conviction (and, I hope, my understanding of Christian ethics) tells me that being involved in an organized (albeit legal) gambling ring is a problem for believers, it follows that I can rightfully say those involved were in the wrong.
While a discussion of ethics naturally comes out of this documentary, it isn’t one that takes place in the documentary itself, at least not to any conclusion. Those involved consistently question themselves, justify their actions, and speak about their convictions. I was impressed with the way the film handled the faith of its subjects; I never got the impression the Christians were polished, but I also got the sense that they truly believed what they did with good reason. These were reasonable people who made informed decisions, even if I ended up disagreeing with most of them.
I recommend watching the film and making up your own mind, however. It’s a fascinating documentary, and well worth checking out.