Saturday, August 16, 2008

Question of the Day

Jeremy Smith has a post up about a church that refused a $600,000 donation from a member because that person gave from lottery winnings. Jeremy writes about the moral dimensions of personal and church funding, and concludes that the church acted properly. What do you think?

Should a church refuse offerings generated from lotteries and other forms of gambling?

16 comments:

Stresspenguin said...

If I had to make the call, I'd say no to a donation from lottery or gambling winnings. I'd also refuse a donation made with the caveat that some project--like a education wing or multipurpose building--had to be named after the one giving the money. There's a man in our congregation who makes a big show of plunking down a 100 dollar bill in the collection plate when he comes to Sunday worship, and I'm currently working up the courage to talk to him about it; if he's gonna make a show, then I don't want it.

However...

I can't help but think that God can take what is meant for evil and use it for good. I'm not certain if gambling winnings are in the same boat as Joseph and his brothers, which is the story that comes to mind.

I wonder, when it comes to the General Rules, if the order matters. To accept the money would be to do harm by endorsing participation in an exploitative system in the name of the church. Could any amount of good be done to remedy the harm that gambling has done to countless lives?

Then again, to even frame the argument that way sounds like a "My Name Is Earl" karmic plot line.

I blogged about it a bit here.

Bro. Dave said...

Where does one draw the line? If you won't accept lottery winnings, how about money earned from the stock market, or a more mainstream job with moral implications... say, someone who works for a corporation with questionable business practices -- even human righs violations?
As a pastor, I don't ask where the money came from -- what matters to me is where it is going.

klaxophone said...

I don't think I accept the concept of blood money, but the church was right in this case. It sounds like they thought about it and determined that accepting the gift would do more harm than good.

Matt said...

I'm a member of a startup congregation, and while we could use the money, I don't think I could answer that right now. We have land (and a mortgage for it), but no building, and we meet in a school cafeteria every week, yet we make a commitment that 10% of all of the money that comes into our church, goes back out to missions. I'll let you know as soon as we have someone who donates any part of their lottery winnings. In the meantime, we have many faithful, hardworking, people who continue to give of their time and money.

Stresspenguin said...

@ Bro. Dave - its great that you don't ask (as a pastor, I don't, either), but in this case someone in the congregation winning 6 million dollars is gonna be public knowledge. If you accept it out of pure ignorance of the fact, that one thing, but knowing exactly where it came from is what's problematic. The pastor knew, so the simple options were to stick to his convictions and teachings, to perform some philosophical gymnastics to devise a reason to go against his convictions (which, for me would be tempting), or play dumb (which is lying).

But you're right, where does one draw the line? It's a hard question to wrestle with. Do you preach sermons about social injustice that may cause your biggest givers to leave church? Again, what's more important, encouraging and fostering a desire for personal holiness in the individuals of your congregation, or being able to fund a $600,000 project to wipe out malaria or feed the hungry? Hard decisions.

@ klaxophone - blood money may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the mans winnings is made up of the empty loses of other people--most likely people who cannot afford to lose anything--and who have misplaced their hope into Lady Luck. Not blood money, but perhaps a sacrifice to a cruel idol.

the reverend mommy said...

I'll take it.
=o)

Todd said...

I, jokingly, tell folks who make Tunica or Vegas trips that instead of a tithe they have to give 50% as a sin offering.

I understand the moral implications of accepting the money. But we could also extend the argument to ask, "Do we accept the tithes of the persons who work at the casino? Dealers, waitresses, tellers, etc."

One thing that casinos offer is jobs. So do we ask people who work in those places, and sometimes make better wages than they would in other jobs in the same area, to not tithe or give to the church? Or do we convince them to stop working altogether for the place?

The revenues generated come from the same activity. The casino worker, though, gets their paycheck from the losses of people, not the winning.

Anonymous said...

If against taking lottery winnings, will you turn down lottery funded education scholarships? Are is that different?

Rev. Jeremy Smith said...

Hello, the author of the question above here. I want to throw a wrench into this gnashing of teeth.

The Book of Discipline's focus is two-fold. First, on gambling as a "menace to society," then the "drawing the line" comments from stresspenquin and Bro.Dave are valid. Do we extend the morality code to money from politicians, beer-sellers, and such? Those are valid points and excellent cautions on the slippery-slope we find ourselves in.

However, the second part of the Book of Discipline reads "The Church should promote standards and personal lifestyles that would make unneccessary and undesireable the resort to commercial gambling - including public lotteries."

That's key to what I am getting at: how can we promote standards of living by lowering them when the offering plate is being pushed around? It is not the type of sin or the group of sins that is the focus; it is how the church embodies our values.

If a church values mission money more than a moral witness against gambling, then valuing the ends over the means is their choice. But to the Baptist church in question, clearly their moral witness demands that the means to achieve the kingdom are more valuable than the ends.

Rev. Jeremy Smith said...

Whoops, meant to write a bit more. Here's one more post, sorry about the spam John.

@ todd, ministering to the person is different from accepting money from the person. By Discipline language, it extends to "Christians should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice." Since Casinos do pay better than some similar-grade jobs, then obviously the person has to choose between eating and starving. They are stuck in an economic system, and need Christ. How on earth could we turn them away?

@ anonymous, I'm afraid this isn't a game of follow-the-money; it's the question of how far will the church go to maintain its moral values. Will it allow the ends of ministry (missions) to justify the means (accepting obvious spectacles of lottery winnings)? That's the question to answer here.

the reverend mommy said...

I will say that I have (once) had to make a decision where the rubber hit the road on this issue.

The ladies (UMW) at one of the churches I served (past tense, note) used to sew up a beautiful quilt every year -- and then raffle it off for funds to do mission. The tickets were sold to church members and non-church members. Even though they had done this for years (but we've always done it this way -- you ever heard that in church??), I raised a rather large protest, because of this very issue.

I think I was heard, but they continued to sew a quilt and do a "drawing" of a name -- to get your name in the drawing, though, you had to donate something. Donate and then fill out a slip of paper. What a fine line they chose to walk. What about "no purchase necessary to participate??"

I live in a state where there is a lottery and I cannot believe that the lottery is anything but evil. I have seen people who cannot afford to pay the rent and who are a fixin' to be evicted CHOOSE to buy a lottery ticket with their last dollar. How is this anything but evil? To buy a lottery ticket instead of a pint of milk for the kids?

I voted AGAINST the lottery in my state. The LH calls it the "stupid tax" (harsh, but somehow funny at the same time -- irony.) However, we are stuck with it and I know kids who have gone all the way through school on lottery money.

How about accepting an offering from a known Mafia member? How about accepting an offering from a forger? A embezzler? Do I go up to the convicted felon who has done his time and ask if he got those funds legitimately?

I think, personally, I will leave it all up to God.

And SP -- I'd quote Matthew 6:3 -- "But when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does" and maybe a little of Luke 18:10-14. That kind of behavior drives me crazy!

larry said...

I would not accept such funds for a church general budget. The only way I would accept them would be on the condition that the funds be used to support ministry for those addicted to gambling.

John said...

I'd say that it's probably a good idea to reject the donation unless, as Larry suggests, that it's directed toward an organization that helps people escape from gambling.

Ole said...

Well... if God decided that Person X should win a lot of money, and knew that Person X would donate the money to the church - then it would be God's will that the church should have the money, wouldn't it?

Not that I really believe in such an interpretation, but it seems to be coherent.

(duplicate comment - I hadn't noticed that you have two comment systems)

Dan Trabue said...

No strong opinion. I see both sides.

Our church HAS taken the stand to take a charity donation from a company whom we were boycotting and directing it towards the "victims" of the company.

Dan Trabue said...

I am glad to see churches contemplating economic issues, though. I just wish more would consider lifestyle implications of our economic choices - extend our economic concerns beyond just gambling.