What would you do?
This weekend, some unnamed person in Zephyrhills, Florida, became an instant megamillionaire, winning $590 million (nearly 377 million one-time payout), in the Powerball lottery. What if this person was a member of your church? It would not be the first time that a church member won the lottery. What if this person came to you in a few weeks with a check for $37.7 million (let’s just make him a good Baptist tither for record)? What would you do?
- Would you take the check and get started with the plans for the new building project?
- Would you tell him to keep his tainted, gambling money?
- Would you work out another arrangement?
1) I doubt there are many lottery supporters or participants among us. Most of us would agree that the lottery provides a false hope of riches to many people who cannot afford to play. Gambling is foolish. Anyone dispute that?
2) On the other hand, there is no clear and unequivocal condemnation of gambling in the Bible. I’m guessing that the ancient Hebrews gathered at the camel races and took odds. But the Bible is absent of any “thou shalt not gamble” verses. Is gambling sinful? I’m not sure. It is unwise and causes a lot of heartache and pain to families. But is purchasing a ticket (David Worley, how much do they cost?) make you a sinner?
Obviously, if the head of a local escort service or a drug dealer wanted to give, I think we’d all decline. The proceeds of an ongoing criminal and immoral enterprise would hardly be what we would want funding our ministries, right? But buying a lottery ticket is certainly not the same as running a house of prostitution or dealing drugs. Apples and oranges.
3) It is easy in the theoretical to say, “No, I’d turn it down.” When someone stands in your office with a check for $37 million, our true convictions would be tested, would they not?
4) I wonder if the SBC has policies on something like that. If the winner of the lottery sent a check to the IMB or to NAMB, would they cash it or send it back? Maybe someone here knows.
5) Chances are good that your church HAS received donations that come from gambling winnings. You just didn’t know about it. Gambling is everywhere. You may never have a member who wins the powerball, but many of us will have members who have a good day at the races, or at the casino, or in their local poker game in the basement.
So, here are the questions I’d like you to consider and discuss.
1) Is buying a lottery ticket a sufficient offense that the church ought not to receive gifts based on the proceeds? What about other forms of gambling?
2) If we would turn down winnings from gambling, ought we also to enact church discipline against those who buy tickets? Who have a poker game in their basement? Who frequent the local casino boat?
3) A church could do a lot of good with the millions of dollars it would receive as a tithe here. On the other hand, the church and the community would know that it was benefiting from the proceeds of the lottery. Does the good outweigh the bad here?
4) Imagine yourself the lottery winner. Are you not obligated to give generously of your increase (regardless of the source?) If the church does not receive your offering, how can you be obedient to biblical commands?
5) Does your church have an established, written policy on this?
I go back and forth. I do not consider purchasing a lottery ticket to be per se sinful, but I think that the lottery is unwise and tends to be predatory against the poor. For that reason, it is best that Christians not participate and would encourage anyone who asked me not to buy tickets. But, if someone does and wins it, I am not sure that the money is so tainted that it ought to be refused by the church. My views on this are conflicted. I’m interested in the course of the discussion.
Maybe I’d just tell them to donate it to the Dave Miller Evangelistic Association.