Recently the question was posed to me, “Pastor, how should we feel about gambling in the church and doing 50/50 raffles as part of fundraisers?”
That’s a great question. To answer, let’s break this down into two parts, “Why would we have a problem with gambling?” And then “Are gambling activities for a church fund raiser (or any fundraiser) actually wrong in that context?”
So let’s start with gambling. Why would Christians take issue with gambling? Well, the Bible talks quite a bit about the fact that we are “stewards”. In other words, we take care of stuff that is given to us by God rather than really owning anything (even though it may seem like it’s OURS). Here’s a list of Bible references about stewardship. When you read through the list, you can see that we’re called to use our money wisely and not to be eager for gain. Instead, we should always be caring for others and thanking God for the blessings he has given to us.
At the heart of gambling is greed. Does that mean that the people who buy a Powerball ticket are going to hell? No, but we always have to be cautious when we go down a path of gambling. Usually, people take a risk with money because they want more money. Even if the odds are bad, there’s always that chance that JUST MAYBE they could hit it big! While people will often try to justify why they want more money, it is usually just covering up covetousness that is at the heart of all of us. We’re warned against covetous desires in the 9th and 10th Commandments and encouraged to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We’re told to look to the good of others rather than only trying to get stuff for ourselves. And when we use our money it should be done wisely rather than hoping on the odds. Can someone get a lottery ticket for fun without being addicted? Certainly. But what is at the heart of why the ticket was purchased in the first place? The state (with the lotto and so on), and other institutions that host gambling based fundraisers know that they’re going to make a lot of money because people want the chance for more and will compulsively attempt to get more. People will buy nine raffle tickets, or scratchers, or Lotto tickets because they want the prize rather than the person next to them getting it.
Now for the second part of the question, “But what about gambling for the church?” Here’s where it’s interesting. Most people who “gamble” at all for a church activity are usually doing it to give money to the church while having fun. Most people I’ve seen do a 50/50 – or something similar – end up saying, “Oh, keep the money, that’s why we’re here anyway.” The bigger question is, “Why does the church need to introduce creative ways for people to give their money?” 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” We are no longer under the law that says we must give 10% of our income to the church. Instead, we’re told to cheerfully give, not under compulsion or begrudgingly. One person gives 1% of his income while another may give 50%. One is not holier than the other, but we’re called to have our hearts in the right place when we do so.
Clearly, the ground has not, to my knowledge, swallowed up a church building which has done a 50/50 raffle, hosted a casino night, or done something else that could be considered gambling as a fundraiser. We should probably ask ourselves what message our actions send when giving involves trying to win a game which we say is not being a good steward of money in other contexts. One could argue that it’s a selfless act to win a game and then say, “No, you keep the money!” That’s true, that is a selfless act, but maybe the question could be, “Why does that system need to be in place for the giving to happen…and in such a way that everyone gets to witness how selfless we are to give back the money that we won?”
This is not being written as a scathing critique of 50/50’s and so on, or those who participate in them (or have in the past). I have participated in a 50/50 before or heads/tails to help a cause. The question came to my mind at the time, “Is this really a good way to do all of this?” But the question posed to me definitely made me sit back and ponder it a little deeper. The people I have known who do them are doing them to give money and have fun. However, the question remains, “Why do we need to do them rather than simply giving because there is a need?” We can have fun together as Christians without money being the centerpiece, and we can give money without being under compulsion or having our arm twisted. Plus, we should always heed Jesus’ words in Matthew 6,
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
So the idea of a 50/50 may start with a conversation about gambling but ultimately the conversation shifts direction towards why we’re doing it in the first place, the impression it gives, and how we’re called to live as Christians as stewards of the money and other gifts God gives to us. The church is called to give money rather than to make money. We give freely and apart from the praise of the world. Can people gamble as a church fundraiser? Sure, people have done it, still do it, and will do so into the future. This will happen because, like so many other practices that creep into churches, the church sees a best practice in the world and pulls it into our practice without necessarily thinking of the repercussions of the actions and whether what the secular world is doing is what the church ought to be doing. The state knows that gambling is a great way to get money, and they get billions each year. It may raise a lot of money for the church as well, but is it the right thing to do based on what we see in Scripture and how we understand our roles as stewards and people who give freely by the grace of God based on the forgiveness and grace we receive from Jesus Christ?
If you have any questions or want to chat more on this topic, give me a call or send me an email. In the meantime. Have a great day and God bless!