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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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Should Faith Groups Take Lottery Money?
Jimmy Moore
January 2, 2003

What to do, what to do...

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are the leader of a faith-based organization (for some of you, this will be a stretch, but play along anyway). Whether you are the pastor of a church or the person responsible for raising funds for a faith-based charity organization, you are the primary financial caretaker for the ministry you oversee.

Then, one day you receive a check from someone who just won the lottery. This is NOT a joke. There really are five zeros at the end of that check! What do you do? What SHOULD you do? Do you keep the money and thank God for bestowing this gift to you and your organization? Or do you return the gift to the lottery winner and refuse to accept money based on principle because it was acquired by means of gambling?

During this past week, there have been two real life examples of these scenarios. In the first case, the money was happily accepted by the recipient. In the second, the money was turned down because the recipient thought it was morally repugnant to accept the money.

YOU decide which one made the right choice.

On Christmas night, Jack Whitaker of West Virginia was the only person who matched all of the winning numbers in the record-setting $314.9 million multi-state Powerball drawing. Whitaker took the money in one lump sum of $170 million. Although this made him a very wealthy man, Whitaker was already a millionaire as the president of three construction companies.

Whitaker immediately pledged to give 10% of the money he won to several local churches in West Virginia. That amounts to $17 million that will go directly to three Church of God pastors. Although Whitaker’s share of the money after taxes was $113.4 million, he felt convicted to tithe on the gross of his winnings. Whitaker is leaving the decision about how the money will be spent to the individual church leaders.

The reaction of the pastors has been one of gratefulness to Whitaker and to God. One of the pastors said that this monetary gift is “a blessing to have." Another pastor already has a vision for how he will spend the money. He says he wants to create a youth worship center and Christian school as well as a day care center and drug counseling program for teenagers. This pastor added that the money will help his church “get this off the ground."

Whitaker disclosed the reason why he decided to give this money to the churches. He said, “I truly believe this is an opportunity for me to give testimony about tithing and spreading wealth.” While Whitaker believes he is setting a good example for other people who have money to follow. Yet, not everyone or every organization thinks it is a good idea to accept money given to them from lottery winnings.

With all of the focus on Jack Whitaker winning the Powerball jackpot, hardly anyone outside of Florida noticed that David L. Rush was one of four winners in the $100 million Florida Lotto jackpot drawing. Rush decided to take his winnings in one lump sum payment of $14.3 million. And just as Jack Whitaker pledged to give money to the local churches, Rush mailed a $100,000 check to the local chapter of The Salvation Army. However, can you imagine the surprise on the face of David L. Rush when he received the check back in the mail?! Was the Salvation Army blind?! Did they really turn down money that could be used to help people in need?!

But, that is exactly what happened.

The head of the local Salvation Army office in Naples, Florida told Rush that the reason he could not accept the donation is because it was associated with the lottery, which he believes is a form of gambling. A spokeswoman for The Salvation Army said that “there are times where (we are) counseling families who are about to become homeless because of gambling. (We) really believe that if (we) had accepted the money, (we) would be talking out of both sides of (our) mouth.” So, instead of using the money that was given to them to help more needy families, The Salvation Army gave the money back. Rush reaction to the denial of his gift was incredulity and disappointment.

Rush sarcastically commented that “everybody has a right to be sanctimonious if they want to be.” He added, “I respect the Salvation Army's decision (to turn down the money). I do not agree with it, but that is their prerogative.” The 72-year-old Rush reported that he has been giving money to The Salvation Army for 40 years.

Consequently, Rush also donated $100,000 to Habitat for Humanity and $50,000 to the Rotary Club of Marco Island, Florida. Not surprising, both groups accepted the gifts without question.

Rush rationalized that although the lottery is a legal form of gambling, it is different because it has raised billions of dollars for Florida schools. Rush, who happens to be a financial advisor, went on to add that “there's no bigger gamble than investing in the stock market. For (The Salvation Army) to say this is gambling is an overstatement.”

So, who made the right decision? The pastors or The Salvation Army?

This is the bottom-line question that needs to be asked: should faith-based organizations accept lottery money?

One of the basic beliefs that many Christians hold is that gambling is morally wrong. Christians believe that gambling is a sin because it displays a lack of trust that God will take care of the needs of His children. Still, many Christians have rationalized that playing the lottery is not gambling, as David L. Rush claims. And Jack Whitaker thinks he is setting a good example for others to follow by giving away a portion of his lottery winnings.

Although the money raised by the lottery (including our very own South Carolina Education Lottery) may be helping local public schools in a small way, the lottery is certainly preying on people who should not be spending money on anything except on the essentials. Needless to say, althought there is an infinitely minute chance of winning millions of dollars in a lottery drawing, a lot of dirt poor people (many on welfare, unemployment and Social Security) are playing the lottery. The tragedy of the destructive effects of the lottery is that it is supposedly all in the name of helping improve education. What are we teaching the next generation? Are we teaching our children that gambling is an acceptable way of earning money? But I digress.

What to do, what to do...

Is this REALLY such a difficult decision for a genuine Christian to make? The answer to the question should be easy. If I were the leader of the organization, then I personally would not accept money that was obtained from winning the lottery. I believe that accepting that money would be hypocritical of the person or organization who opposes gambling. This is not a difficult decision to make.

Nevertheless, what do you think? Are there any good reasons why a Christian or faith-based organization should accept money that was given to them from lottery winnings? Click on the COMMENT link and let me know what YOU think.

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