Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) spent a lot of time during last week's inauguration praying. But now political reality is setting in, and many members of the clergy say they are worried about two key elements of the new administration's plans -- reestablishing the death penalty and legalizing gambling.
"Religion is important to both of us. It is something that has a place in a secular society," Ehrlich said after a prayer service last week at Bowie State University.
Ehrlich, the first Republican to be elected governor in 30 years, is a member of the Arbutus United Methodist. But one of his most vocal critics is the Rev. Felton Edwin May, presiding bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, who expressed his opposition to Ehrlich lifting a moratorium on the death penalty and the governor's desire to bring slot machines to racetracks to help salvage the racing industry.
"It is premature for the Ehrlich administration to set aside the death penalty moratorium," May said after he delivered the benediction during Ehrlich's inaugural prayer service. May also said slot machines "are completely out of the question," because gambling takes advantage of people "to balance the state's budget."
The Rev. Reston Jackson, pastor of A Word of Grace Outreach Ministries in Capitol Heights, expressed similar worries.
"Our financial situation is very critical," he said, referring to the state's possible $1.7 billion budget deficit. "But I don't believe that slot machines are the answer. Good sound fiscal policy will be the way," said Jackson, who attended the prayer service in Bowie. "I am also concerned about the new government's position on the death penalty."
Other clergy members are more willing to consider gambling as a means of raising revenue for the state.
The Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of the 14,000-member Bethel AME church in Baltimore, said there are other issues that concern him more than slot machines and the death penalty.
"The slots really don't bother me. It maybe is a quick start to the economy; the question is how we frame the discussion," said Reid, who is a frequent preacher in the county. "Instead of fighting slots, they could be a blessing in disguise."
"Our concerns are economic development," Reid said. "It is not just a concern for Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, it is also a concern of Baltimore city and Baltimore County."
As he tried to cultivate voters, Ehrlich said during the campaign that he would establish a state office for faith-based initiatives, modeled on the Bush administration's federal proposal, that would be responsible for easing state regulations so that churches and faith-based groups provide more social services to people in need.
But this also has some religious leaders worried. The Rev. Marian Wood, executive director of Community Ministry of Prince George's County, said there isn't a need for something new.
"I would prefer to see monies released into existing programs," Wood said.
"Faith-based initiatives are nothing. As long as churches have existed they have helped the needy, so I don't know what a faith-based initiative is. We are just doing it."
Vivian Gibson attends the Mass at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Landover Hills on Jan. 12, the second day of events leading up to the inauguration.