Archive for Saturday, January 11, 2003

Some churches decline lottery donations

January 11, 2003

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Opposing lotteries is easy.

Whether to accept gifts from lottery winners is a tougher question for congregations divided over what to say to instant millionaires eager to write a check:

"Thanks" or "No thanks"?

"Personally, I couldn't imagine turning away money from that, knowing the good it will do," said Donna Prunkl, communications coordinator for the N.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is lobbying against a lottery for North Carolina. Prunkl emphasized that she was only speaking for herself.

But then there's AME Zion leader Carl Glenn of Chester, S.C., who said he wouldn't use a dime of winnings from the S.C. Education Lottery or any other lottery.

"It could be more of a curse than a blessing," he said.

The issue is heating up as lottery stakes rise nationwide -- and many search for a fast fortune.

In Hurricane, W.Va., Powerball winner Andrew "Jack" Whittaker said he plans to divide 10 percent of his $113 million jackpot (after taxes) among three small Church of God congregations.

One of the lucky churches is Tabernacle of Praise in Hurricane. The Rev. C.T. Mathews said his 100 members -- who annually give $60,000 to the church -- will accept the gift graciously despite their opposition to gambling. The church may build a youth worship center with the $5.3 million it anticipates.

"All things belong to God," Mathews said.

But in Naples, Fla., the Salvation Army returned a $100,000 check from Florida Lotto winner David Rush, saying they couldn't accept the money while also counseling people who have gambled away their rent money.

"Everybody has a right to be sanctimonious if they want to be," said Rush, who took home $14.3 million in the lottery. His gifts of $100,000 to Habitat for Humanity and $50,000 to the Rotary Club of Marco Island (Fla.) were accepted.

Many religious groups -- including Muslims and Southern Baptists -- have long been on record against gambling in general and state-run lotteries in particular.

Jewish law frowns on gambling, said Rabbi Murray Ezring of Temple Israel in Charlotte, N.C., particularly when it involves one gambler taking money from another, as in a poker game.

"I think (a lottery) is a tax on the poor basically," said the Rev. Thomas Currie III, dean of the new Union-PSCE (Presbyterian School of Christian Education) in Charlotte. "It also holds out the prospect of a dream, that you can get something for nothing."

Some try to put teeth into their convictions.

The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission encourages congregations to establish a policy of not accepting lottery or other gambling winnings before a member hits the jackpot.

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