Gambling pastor finds media redemption

gamblingA couple of days ago, The Des Moines Register ran a very long piece -- just under 2,500-words -- on a pastor and his incredible ability to overcome challenges and seek and receive forgiveness for his sins. The sins in this case would be gambling. In particular, the pastor's sin was gambling (and losing big) with church money. Needless to say, this pastor was fired from his job. The Rev. Dave Clark was the pastor of a 1,900-member United Methodist congregation in Indianola, Iowa, just south of Des Moines. The 1,900 figure is significant because a 2000 census listed the town's population at 12,998. The town is also home to the United Methodist Church's liberal arts college, Simpson College.

Clark seemed to have a lot going for him, as the story takes pains to tell us, but at some point, something went wrong:

Still, Clark never saw himself as a gambler. He played penny-ante poker and played the tables or slots infrequently. It was "a few cents here and there," he says, "never a concern."

The same could not be said of the church he led. The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline, a social behavior guide for the denomination, "opposes gambling in any form" and believes "gambling is a menace to personal character and social morality."

Clark saw those maxims as a holdover from the old days of the church, when Methodists saw dancing as "adultery set to music," as an old church saying goes.

The article never really addresses whether or not the church actually believes the rules prohibiting gambling have gone by the wayside. If that has indeed happened, then that is significant. As the story notes later on, was Clark's sin that he gambled and lost a lot of money or that he gambled with church money?

After the news of Clark's removal became public, the Indianola newspaper ran an article about the incident. The headline read, "Gambling Methodist reverend removed." The article ran next to one about an Indianola man who hit a big Powerball jackpot.

When Kinkade saw the newspaper, she made copies and sent them to friends.

"The irony was just overwhelming," she says. "In society, you gamble and win, and you're praised. You gamble and lose, and you're a bad person."

A reader sent us notice of this story along with this helpful and insightful comment about the story:

Me thinks this is a thinly veiled PR piece to shine his tarnished image -- sadly I am afraid that he still has a way to go regarding his gambling problem. Why did the paper seek the forgiveness angle? I don't read any repentance on the side of the fallen pastor ... and no opportunity to comment from the UM Annual Conference that he used to belong to.

Indeed, there is little to no comment from the church officials who banned him from teaching in a Methodist church. Perhaps they understandably did not want to comment on the issue? If so, reporters should inform the readers of that important aspect to the story.

Overall, the piece is very positive. As the "big city" newspaper seemingly swooping into Indianola to cover the pastor scandal, the redemption angle is not the only perspective the reporter could have taken. But it certainly works for the pastor and his new church.

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