September 19, 2008

Tainted Funds: How the Church can use Evil so that Good May Come of it!

Recently, Pastor Bert Crabbe of the True North Community Church in Port Jefferson Station, New York, had a church member win $3 million in the lottery and he decided to give it all to the church. The man wished to remain anonymous, but he won his big prize by scratching off the “Ba Da Bling” lottery ticket. This story has made it around the Christian blogosphere and you can see what some are saying here and here.

From this dilemma Christians have been discussing "Should a Church or Christian Organization take such funds from a organization that destroys lives or causes people to sin?". First, let me say that most of the comments I've read seems to support the idea that the Church should take something from bad and use it for good. Although this seems to be a valid idea on the surface, one must keep in mind that God is not so much concerned about promoting outward benevolence, but rather what effect will this have on the motivation of peoples hearts. In addition, I think many have taken a Robin Hood like approach on this subject and that is take from the bad (gamblers) and give to the "good". I think we need to turn to the Scriptures in order to get some guidance on this matter................

Romans 14:13-15 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.

I Corinthians 8:9-13 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

I would like to point out one very interesting point. Paul says in Corinthians that people watch us and if they see us doing something that they wouldn’t necessarily do, they will become “emboldened” and do what we are doing. We see that God is concerned about how we might be perceived by others (i.e. Non-believers) and that our actions might have influence on the attitudes or behaviors of others. This reminds me of a parent or an adult who drinks or smokes and then tells their children - "don't do what I do". Its the old adage - "Do as I say and not as I do". Sadly, this comes off as being hypocritical and it weakens our influence and reputation as Christ followers.

I realize some might say that taking the money as the end result of gambling is not the same as someone gambling themselves, but we must consider that gambling may be fine for some, but what happens to the person, who sees us (the church) taking and accepting this money and then becomes emboldened, tries it and becomes addicted? Could our acceptance of this money not possibly cause someone to think "Hey those Christians don't have such hard time with gambling after all". Have we not sinned against God and that person?

From these verses I think that we can extract a very good practice for all Christians. Even if an activity is acceptable before God, this isn’t the end of the question. If others weaker than ourselves are caught up into something as a result of our actions and they are in the end destroyed, we have sinned against them and God. Therefore, while the act wasn’t maybe a sin in itself, how we exercised our freedom in Christ was, and we sinned. This is a very serious thing indeed and one that we as Christians must be very aware. Now if God is concerned that our dietary habits might possibly cause someone to morally stumble - then don't we think gambling or the acceptance of the funds from gambling might also be of even a greater concern?

Let me also give another example, would it be alright for the church to take money from the windfall profits made by an abortion clinic or Planned Parenthood? Would the church be OK with accepting money donated from the pornography industry? What if a convicted pedophile wanted to give a $100,000 dollars to a Christian orphanage? I think even many in secular society would have problems with these types of ethical situations. But yet why is it our churches and Christians blogging in the blogosphere seem to take little if any issue with all of this? It would seem to me that by accepting these funds the church could be construed by society as being accepting of these immoral issues.

Granted I've read folks saying "what if a stripper or a thief gave funds to the church, who are we to say we shouldn't take these funds?". But let me ask you this - what if that stripper or drug dealer or thief is giving to the church so he can quiet his or her conscience from their lifestyle of sin?! As a church accepting funds from such persons and turning a blind eye or by not rejecting such behavior, are we not actually contributing to that person's moral downfall? By accepting these tainted funds are we not allowing that person to slip further and further in rebellion and allowing them to quiet their conscience?? What if we caused only one person to sin as a result of accepting these funds would we be OK with that? Is the sins of one really worth any amount of money?

Secondly, God states clearly in his word that we are not to do evil so that good will come of it (Rom 3:8). But I can't help but think that's the attitude of many who have stated that they would accept this money, money that has destroyed countless lives, money that has ruined families and marriages as a result of gambling and now we as Christians want to take that which has resulted in evil and do good with it? Are we not using evil so in hopes to do good??

Finally, as Christians would it not be better to take the route Paul has put forth for us all:

Eph 5:1-5 Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; (2) and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell. (3) But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named (hint) among you, as becometh saints; (4) nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not befitting: but rather giving of thanks. (5) For this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

As Christians we should not even have a HINT of sin among us. But yet why does it seem so many don't seem to take issue with this? Why is it we seem to think that we can take such "blood" money and use it for good? Where is our faith that God will provide - and provide through a better means than gambling profits? Is not our God greater than that? I think churches who are all too willing to jump up and say "well take that kind of donation" is a church that is seeking the approval of men, rather than of God and are not truly thinking beyond themselves.

Side note: I noticed many so called Christians on these blogs have tried to justify gambling by saying its the same as a 401K or the stock market - I have news for you its not!

When you invest in businesses that produce products, you are supplying much needed capital so that they can expand and maintain operations. This in turn will produce an increase in your investment if the company is managed correctly. The goal here is that you have a realistic expectation that the company will succeed. Either you or your funds manager will take the time to research the company to make sure that their business plans are sound and that the risk you take is minimized. Is this the case with gambling? Surely everyone knows that the odds are in the favor of the house. They will not lose money. Yes someone will win some, but at the end of the day, the house will always turn a profit, and a very big one at that. Basically, anyone who views Las Vegas as an investment opportunity is completely diluted at best, and an utter fool at worst.

But some may say that the only reason to invest in the stock market is for money so isn’t the underlying motivation the same? The answer as I see it is no. Investing is a long term approach that will provide fruit over time. You are helping some company succeed in their business which is producing products that people need and want. The overall impact to society by investing in stocks is good. Due diligence and patience is required. Gambling is a rush, a quick fix, and a “trill”. Gambling is not prudent or a wise choice of investment strategies. The casinos are not producing anything useful for society. They don’t even have a product. Their product is the illusion of quick riches.

The Bible speaks of investing in positive terms.

Luke 19:22-23 His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?

Matthew 25:26-27 His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

Does anyone think that the Master would have been congratulatory of one of his servants if he come back empty handed having lost everything shooting dice? Or how about he doubled the Master’s money by rolling sevens? Do you think that the master would have considered this a reckless gamble? I think so, but then again, the reader may have a different view.