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Perspectives

A history of church challenges in 'Sin City'

"When thinking of Las Vegas, images of gambling, casinos, showgirls, world-class entertainers, and dazzling lights come to mind. Few people associate religion with 'Sin City.' However, Las Vegas includes a vibrant religious community that has always existed on the shadow side of the neon."

"Nationally, Pentecostalism has been the fastest growing religion of the twentieth century. Several surveys concluded the number of Pentecostals grew from zero to hundreds of millions in just ninety years, and by 1990 the Pentecostals had become one of the most prominent religious groups in Las Vegas."

During his coursework at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas, SAGU professor Stanley Steward wrote a book titled "Where Sin Abounds." Stanley continued, "Although Las Vegas is infamously known for gambling and debauchery, my book takes a look at the strong, healthy and growing religious dimensions within Las Vegas."

The book explores and analyzes several local Pentecostal congregations and the dynamic relationship between the church and the worldly nature of Las Vegas. It shows the strength of Christianity in a secular environment.

Steward grew up in California. In 1956, he moved to the Philippines with his parents who was were missionaries from 1956 to 1960.

Steward received his bachelor's degree in church history from Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) in San Diego, California. In 1974, Steward graduated with a Master's of Divinity (M.Div.) and Master of Theology degree from Princeton Theological Seminary.

After graduation, he settled in Santa Cruz, Calif., and pastored Aptos Assembly of God while teaching Bible and theology at Bethany University. He met his wife Shari who also worked at Bethany University.

During his coursework at University of Nevada - Las Vegas, SAGU professor Stanley Steward wrote a book titled "Where Sin Abounds." Stanley stated, "Although, Las Vegas is infamously known for gambling and debauchery, my book takes a look at the strong, healthy and growing religious dimensions within Las Vegas."

After ten years of pastoring in Santa Cruz, he felt God leading him to minister in Las Vegas, Nevada. He moved in 1990 and became the pastor of Calvary Community Church. In 2004, Steward received a Ph.D. in history of the American West at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and began teaching there soon after.

In 2005 he relocated back to Santa Cruz, Calif., and began teaching history at Bethany University until the closure of the school in 2011.

Steward continued, "I never thought I would stop being a theology teacher. When I became interested in history, I realized that teaching gave me a lens through which theological truths can translate into everyday life."

In May 2012 Steward received a phone call from SAGU Social Studies Dept. Chair Loyd Uglow offering a teaching position at SAGU. "It came completely out of blue. It became clear by the way things fell into place that this was a door that the Lord was opening for me."

"Having a knowledge of the Bible gives us a foundation for our values and a road map for decision-making," Steward shared. "SAGU's Bible core gives students a Christian worldview that guides them in making ethical and Biblical decisions in the marketplace."

Steward said, "I don't want to just teach government. I want the students to realize that by understanding who we are and what we believe as Christians, we can use government as a vehicle to promote our faith and be a light in the world."

Click here to order his book

An excerpt from Steward's book "Where Sin Abounds" is provided below. The book provides a series of stories to provide historical perspectives of multi-denominational outreach in Las Vegas. The excerpt is not intended to represent the views of SAGU or the author.

Excerpt from "Where Sin Abounds"

Trinity was the largest and most influential Protestant Church in town and it served as a conduit linking charismatic faith to the Strip. The rememberances of some of the converts make the point...

A number of dancers and showgirls attended Trinity Temple in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One was Dawn Cottingham. She was a topless dancer in some of the hotel lounge acts. She performed at the Marina, Tropicana, Stardust, and MGM hotels. Dawn was involved with drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, and once had an abortion to maintain her figure. Dawn was afraid she might lose her job if it were known she was pregnant. She harbored a deep-seated guilt and experienced a growing emptiness which led her to dabble in meditation and other expressions of popular spirituality. Meditation, Eastern religion, and the occult were common forms of spirituality among show people. Dawn was searching for depth and meaning in her life and felt debased by performing topless. In 1977, she produced a new "covered" show called “Viva Las Vegas.” A group of dancers were recruited, and they traveled to Acapulco, Mexico, to perform in a hotel there. Dawn met a born-again dancer and converted to evangelical Christianity. The rest of the "Viva Las Vegas" dance team was so impressed with the change in Dawn's life, they also converted. Soon after they contacted some missionaries working in Mexico and were advised to become involved in a Bible-centered church once they returned to Las Vegas.

Trinity Temple was their church of choice. Dawn and her friends liked the energized worship. The congregation clapped their hands to the beat of up-tempo music; they applauded after choir specials and solos, and were animated in their worship and praise. It reminded her of some of the things she liked best about the entertainment industry. Most importantly, Dawn felt "unconditionally loved" and accepted by the people of the church. No one there condemned her or required her to leave her profession.

Condemnation did come but from a surprising source. Criticism came from other, unconverted show people with whom she worked... Dawn began to feel convicted because there was a growing conflict between her faith and her profession. Although her career was at its height and there were lucrative offers to continue dancing. Dawn felt something was wrong. She decided to leave show business even though it meant a loss of income. She left dancing to become a cocktail waitress and said she never regretted the decision. A number of other dancers eventually put Trinity to the test by applying for full membership...