This isn’t something you see everyday: a church refuses an offering. The specifics are that a Baptist Church in Florida refused a $600,000 donation from…..a lottery winner.
After Robert Powell hit the Florida Lottery jackpot last month and took home more than $6 million, he thought of his church.
And he offered to drop his tithe, around $600,000, in the collection plate of First Baptist Orange Park.
But the church and Pastor David Tarkington politely declined and told Powell they will not accept the lottery winnings.
Quite the dilemma! If the church deems the origins of a donation unacceptable, then how can they accept the money…even if it is used for God? Read on for more…
It’s a little known tradition that churches can reject large donations. For example, any UMC can choose to reject a donation from an individual if the person puts restrictions on it (“Must be used to buy more cowbell”) that the church deems out-of-sync with their mission.
There’s a lively discussion on the article comments about the church’s actions being dumb, hubris, and steeped in utilitarianism: who cares where it came from if it can do good? From the article:
Many churches do not approve of the lottery and gambling but on the other hand Pastor Dr. Lorenzo Hall of the El-Beth-El Divine Holiness Church says $600,000 can do a lot of good.
“I’m against the lottery, but if one of my members won the lottery, I wish and I hope he would give 10% to the church, we could do a lot of things with that money,” says Hall.
As a Holiness minister, Dr. Hall says he does not ask where members get the money they decide to donate.
In the comments and from the Holiness minister above, there’s a lot of “I don’t agree with gambling, but the money could do good” which smacks of a double standard: how can you oppose gambling but will accept the benefits?
To get at the heart of this dilemma, one has to decide what one thinks about gambling. Me? Glad you asked! For me, lottery money is blood money: a tax on those who are poor that is disguised as a chance to achieve the American Dream. And it is out of that ethic that I support this church’s actions. There are many people in my life who have shown to me the example of rejecting the benefits of injustice.
- A college theology professor refuses to eat bananas knowing the reason that they are so cheap is that they often are picked by children who earn 17 cents a day. Cheaper bananas abuse the working poor.
- A seminary friend refuses to buy diamonds because while there’s all sorts of guarantees that particular ones are not blood diamonds, the entire industry rewards such practices. Cheaper diamonds kill people.
- A fellow colleague actually refuses to buy ethanol gasoline, not because she hates the environment, but she knows that ethanol consumption has tripled the prices of tortillas in Mexico, burdening the working poor. Cheaper gas leaves people hungry.
Ours is a world in which excellence is typically configured within a means-end paradigm where (a) ends are external to means [and] (b) means are merely instrumental relative to those external ends…the judgment that winning is “all that matters” is a judgment inappropriate to a practice.Bryan Stone, Evangelism after Christendom (2007), 50-51
If the means are external and instrumental to the goals of the church, then accepting the money makes sense. But if the practice of the church includes evaluation of the means, then considering the origins of the donation (the lottery) and our ethical stance on the origins must be considered.
So I applaud this church for considering the origins of their donations. They had to decide if it is more important to have money to advance the kingdom of God or to bear witness to the kingdom of God’s stand against injustice.
It is true that I don’t know if any money in my church’s offering plates is lottery money; some of it may be! But in this situation, silent tithes are a bit different than the spectacle of a large offering. When the lottery winner made the gift a spectacle, then the origins are very important. In this case, if the church’s conscience is clear and steeped in prayer, then rejecting it out of principle is clearly the right thing to do in my book. I don’t mean to say that people should be dishonest in how they got money, but making a spectacle out of it exacerbated this situation.
Which will does God value more: money or witness against injustice that makes people say “huh..I wonder why they did that?”
But I’m not the only voice. What do you think? If a person won a buncha money in the lottery and wanted to give it to the church. Or say they got it from the sale of drugs or online poker or prostitution.
- If they got money by the means which you deem unethical, can you ethically accept the donation to the church?
Discuss. Welcome to our first-time visitors and thank you for your comments!