The very nature of the lottery lends itself to daydreaming. Participants think of debts to pay off, jobs to leave, and exorbitant spending, not necessarily in that order. Whenever the numbers for the latest Powerball drawing start climbing and even climb over a billion in awards, those dreams reciprocate in size.
And each time in pastoral circles a similar debate is brought up. Should a church receive monies earned through a process seen historically as unbiblical and bad stewardship? Pastors are people too, and it’s not hard to imagine all the good uses that money can go to now that the devil no longer has it.
First Baptist Moreland pastor Daniel Ausbun suggested in a Facebook post that covetousness would be a more apt word instead of daydreaming. It didn’t take long before someone placed the scenario of a member at his church winning and offering a tithe off the winnings.
Ausbun responded with a real-life anecdote about another church that split over the scenario after the pastor refused such a gift but the deacons wanted it. Reiterating his position to refuse the money, he also acknowledged the allure of being able to pay off a new church building.
“I don’t think people realize how devastating a gift like this would be to a church,” said Northside Baptist, Newnan pastor Brian Carroll later in the comment thread. “Imagine a real ‘tithe’ off this PowerBall jackpot – $150 Million immediately given to a church. It is one thing to receive an ‘estate’ gift of a few hundred thousand, but with this kind of sudden wealth, it would bring out the worst in people.”
Effects on a church, individual
The difficulties many lottery winners face with such windfalls is well-documented, with many expressing their intent to donate a percentage to their church and often carrying out that promise. Those stories aren’t difficult to find online, seeing the short-term effects on those churches in the form of new vans and building debts paid off.
In February 2015 the media presented Marie Holmes as a feel-good story when the single mother – one of her four children has cerebral palsy – won $188 million and vowed to tithe to her North Carolina church. She made good on the promise, giving $800,000 to Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist near Shallote, NC., which Pastor Vaughn Cherry says will be used for repairs, updates, and a new church van.
Personally, though, Holmes has also been in the news for paying the $21 million bail of boyfriend Lamarr “Hot Sauce” McDow, who was arrested on drug charges. Holmes herself was recently arrested for threatening to inflict bodily harm on a woman.
In 2002, Baptist Press reported on Pastor Scott Thomas of Lake Charles, LA. Thomas, a New Orleans Seminary graduate, endured a difficult period after learning a deacon had donated a large sum of lottery winnings to his church. At first the deacons decided to reject the money before reconsidering, without Thomas’ knowledge, to put the matter before the church for a vote. The congregation decided to accept the money before later rejecting it. Only a few months later, Thomas was out as pastor amid the turmoil, recalling emotional meetings where “everyone was broken.”
A legitimate response
Jackson pastor Jay Sanders addressed the scenario on his blog Jan. 12 and its connection to the perception of growth.
“Yeah, I know. Think of all of the gyms and programs and buses and pews and computers and other shiny Jesus stuff that could be bought with that money,” he wrote. “How on earth did the early church grow from just a handful of folks to an international movement that continues to thrive two thousand years later without that ten percent from some guy’s Powerball winnings? It’s almost like they had something supernatural behind their growth and influence. Hmmm.”
Douglasville pastor Josh Buice, in an open letter to the lottery winners, warned against how such a windfall could leave effects further than the receiver could imagine.
“Perhaps the most dangerous trap of suddenly becoming a very rich person is the deception of personal autonomy. If you didn’t have a need for God before you won the lottery, it’s very likely that your money will only add to your perilous condition,” he stated.
“Your money will make you feel strong and powerful. Your money will insulate you from the real pains and struggles of the working class of this world. Your money will build a sense of personal autonomy and fool you into believing that you have no need for God. Perhaps your money will make you believe that God is for the weak and poor, but not for the rich.”
In a commentary, Buck Burch of Georgia Baptist Cooperative Program Giving and Stewardship boiled it down to three theological issues: an individual’s participation in folly, the Christian’s participation in financial management, and the church’s receipt of ill-gotten gain.
The mathematics of the lottery don’t pan out for rational people, said Burch. “In a state or federal lottery, no matter what the dollar amount, there is only one guaranteed winner – a corrupt government. Therefore, most participants are losers in the game,” he stated. “Most lottery participants cannot afford their losses, and yet they foolishly throw their money away at a small chance of winning big.”
Christians, and by extension their churches, need to look at perceived benefits through the lottery in the proper context, Burch said one had to go back to the beginning of the process.
“For a Christian to have the remotest chance of winning the lottery, he has to initially buy a lottery ticket with the Lord’s money,” he said. “In all likelihood he is in reality just throwing the Lord’s money out the window. Therefore, in his participation he has stolen missions money and sinned.”