We interviewed our volunteer Jennifer Hogg to find out about the motivations, experiences and reflections on her journey lobbying government and being a spokesperson on gambling for the Alliance.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your family life:
Jennifer: I'm married with two teenage children and we live in Guildford, Surrey.
What were you doing before you became a volunteer for the Evangelical Alliance?
Jennifer: I was, and still am, a mother and wife. I still occasionally work as an interpreter for the local police and courts. At the time when I first got involved with the Alliance I was serving as a church warden at my local church, St Saviour's in Guildford.
It was in that capacity as church warden that you first became aware of the problems of casinos, wasn't it?
Jennifer: Yes. As an avid reader of the Surrey Advertiser, one Friday in February 2002, I saw a full page spread advertising 'something for everyone in inspirational surroundings' - St Saviour's, you might think! No - a nine-floor casino in our parish, among the mega-pubs. I was horrified and got on the phone to clergy to ask permission to give a notice about it on Sunday. I hoped that somebody out there would know what to do…and do it!
How did you start to campaign against the casino in Guildford?
Jennifer: I started a churches' petition to the planners to express our objections, little imagining that this was the first hand in a very long game – which I am still engaged in five years later. That started a long and often terrifying process of lobbying the council. I gave evidence against the scheme in August at a public appeal. The developers thankfully lost that appeal and the nine-floor casino has now been ruled out because the council finally vetoed casino licences outright.
How did you get involved with the Alliance?
Jennifer: I phoned them up for urgent help! Alliance advice was key in helping me see off an aggressive barrister at the public inquiry. Later, the Alliance invited me to write a submission and give evidence in person to a committee of MPs and Peers considering the Gambling Bill on the failings of the planning and licensing processes regarding casinos.
Other than the casino in Guildford being vetoed, have you encountered any other successes in your capacity as Alliance volunteer on gambling?
Jennifer: I've discovered you can have an effective voice against gambling and for God in the parliamentary process. The Gambling Act is being implemented bit by bit, and for each raft of regulations, public consultation is carried out, the "mega-casino" being the most profile of these recently announced. Officials involved are keen to hear what faith groups (including the Alliance) have to say about gambling.
Many Christians wouldn't see lobbying against casinos as a high priority. Why do you think it was so important to speak and campaign against gambling?
Jennifer: The Bible actually says very little about gambling. But as I researched it, I discovered a few biblical principles underpinning our instinctive aversion to gambling: it's a failure to hope in God, by hoping instead in money; it's a failure to love our neighbour, in that the winner takes money from the loser without any benefit to them; it's a poor use of our money; and a failure to earn an honest living, as instructed in scripture. Furthermore, it is taken as read - and blindingly obvious - by all parties in the gambling world that the poor gamble proportionately more of their income than others, as shown in the National Expenditure Survey 2000.
How important has your faith been in all of this?
Jennifer: Very! I have been pulled out of my comfort zone time after time while campaigning and lobbying against gambling with the Alliance. I know now that if there is prayer and seeking of God, His word will come to my lips when I need it. This is not a lonely undertaking: although I have never formed a group or committee, I've been held up by masses of informal encouragement and prayer that has kept me well protected, fuelled and sane. People from St Saviour's and other churches have been fantastic. What has proved incredibly powerful and effective nationally is this: the Evangelical Alliance has access to 1.39 million Christians. I have detailed local experience. And behind me, there's a strong praying community. So that's a tripartite team that's really effective – and biblical.
Jennifer wrote "Help - there's a casino coming!" to help other towns who fear the consequences of casinos in their local areas.