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  • Feb12Fri

    High Stakes

    Should The Salvation Army accept donations that come from the proceeds of gambling? February 12, 2010 by Rob Perry and Captain Rick Zelinsky
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    Should The Salvation Army accept donations that come from the proceeds of gambling? The Army is an outspoken opponent of gambling and sees the devastating effects it has on the people we serve. But funding for crucial social programming often comes from questionable sources. Is it acceptable to take that money and use it for good?

    This is the second in a series of Point Counterpoint debates in which a variety of Salvationists will explore two sides of an issue that is critical to Army mission.


    Yes, “tainted” money can be redeemed. Our concern is not with how the wealthy spend their money, but how we can stand in solidarity with the poor.


    In this age of Lotto 649, Pro-line, 50-50 draws and PartyPoker.net, many of us know someone who has been adversely affected by gambling. Gambling addiction is a serious problem. However, this is not an argument as to the harmfulness or morality of gambling. Rather it is a discussion as to whether The Salvation Army's integrity would be compromised by accepting donations that come from the proceeds of gambling.

    Micah 4 tells of a future filled with peace, prosperity and joy. It speaks of nations that turn to God and others that don't. The chapter concludes: “ 'I will give you hooves of bronze, and you will break to pieces many nations.' You will devote their ill-gotten gains to the Lord, their wealth to the Lord of all the earth” (Micah 4:13).

    This is the culmination of Micah's vision of Israel defeating its enemies and restoring peace. The plunder or “ill-gotten gains” of wicked nations will be taken by Israel and used for God's glory. Something that was meant for evil can be transformed into something life-giving. As Joseph said to his brothers after they mistreated him, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). It's about redemption.

    The same was true for Zacchaeus, the diminutive tax collector whose life was changed when he encountered Jesus. Appropriately, Zacchaeus' approach to finances reflected his new life: “Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount' ” (Luke 19:8).

    Jesus does not stand up and say, “Hold on, Zacchaeus. While I appreciate the sentiment, you earned your money cheating your own people and colluding with Rome; therefore it is tainted money, and it is wrong for you to give it to the poor.” Instead, Jesus is silent on the issue.

    It's about redemption, but also about identification. As The Salvation Army, do we align ourselves primarily with the wealthy individuals and corporations who donate, or do we mostly identify with the underprivileged who are the beneficiaries of these donations? If it is the donor, we must be careful to walk alongside them in truth, and be prophetic about how they should make and spend their money. However, I believe that The Salvation Army's primary identification must be with the poor. It is our privilege to stand alongside the beneficiaries: the homeless, the addicted, the starving. While the Bible has much to say about how the rich should acquire and spend their wealth, it is decidedly quiet about where the poor should find their help.

    As someone who lives and works in an underprivileged community, part of my job is to be a surrogate beggar, more commonly known as a fundraiser. When I have the privilege to rub elbows with wealthy individuals or corporations to whom my people have no access, I get to “beg” on their behalf. It is one of my least favourite parts of my job. It is humiliating to me (as begging always is), and if I am not careful, it can border on exploitation. Yet I do it because the people I am representing need the programs and help this money will offer. After all, the money I raise is not for me; I am just the middleman.

    If I asked the people in my community if they were concerned whether or not program money comes from the proceeds of gambling, their reaction would be confusion and incredulity. Most of them receive aid from other social service providers that are funded in part by gambling. Some of them even dream about the vast sums they will donate to The Salvation Army when they win the lottery. They do not care where our money comes from any more than a beggar on the streets of Jerusalem would have cared where Zacchaeus got the money to put in his cup. And nowhere in the Bible does God tell them they should worry about it.

    When William Booth was criticized about receiving “tainted money” from wealthy donors, he replied, “We will wash it in the tears of the widows and the orphans and lay it on the altar of humanity.” In his words we find identification with the poor and redemption for the lost. Instead of piously turning aside proceeds from gambling, we can accept the gift, pray for the giver and use the money for the good of the poor.

    Rob Perry is the ministry co-ordinator at Corps 614 in Regent Park, Toronto.

    No, accepting gambling funds is hypocritical and weakens our prophetic voice. When it comes to gambling, our words must match our actions.


    gambling2My counterpart in the “yes” camp has invoked our Founder's words about cleansing filthy, sinful dollars in the tears of the poor. If only the issue of taking gambling dollars were that easy. But the practical benefit of accepting gambling revenue clashes with the Army's ethical stance and covenantal relationship.

    My previous corps in Williams Lake, B.C., was positioned across the street from the city's only bingo hall. It was disheartening to see people lining up to gamble away their money only to end up crossing the street for assistance with food. Our corps was a sign of hope; the bingo hall a sign of hopelessness.

    When asked about the Army's stance on gambling, I would always reply, “My family will not go hungry if I spend a loonie or even $20 a week on the lottery, but our people lining up for bingo will. So, as Christians, we choose to abstain.” I say “we” because our faith is more than a personalized shopping list of choices—it is the life of the body of Christ, the Church lived out in community.

    We must continually ask what it means to live as Jesus' followers. When we accept gambling funds, do we fund our services on the backs of those we seek to save? Are we complicit in the deception that gambling leads to wealth and happiness?

    Perhaps a better question is, Are we taking full advantage of our prophetic voice to the community? Theologian John Howard Yoder notes that it's hard for the Church to be prophetic when it's tied to government dollars. Without a clear distinction between church and state, writes Yoder, “Social ethics means not what everyone should think and do about social questions, but what people in power should be told to do with their power.” Christian “morality” becomes another means by which the state enforces its will.

    Refusing gambling money signals our unwillingness to collaborate with a corrupt system. As Yoder puts it, we must not “use unworthy means even for what seems to be a worthy end.” This strengthens our solidarity as a covenanted people and maintains a consistent testimony to the world.

    It should be noted that the biggest beneficiary from gambling in Canada is our government. Revenue from gambling helps fund our health care and education. Does that mean I'm complicit in gambling if I visit the doctor or go to school? Of course not. Christians have to live in the world. We can't reduce our hospital stay by 20 percent in protest. We can, however, approach our local school boards and offer to help with fundraising that doesn't involve gambling to reduce dependency on those funds.

    At a minimum, the Army should refuse grants from gambling revenues. In our community, receiving such a grant would have given permission to the Lottery Corporation to advertise our organization as a recipient. Translation? Bingo dollars are good for the community and social work agencies. There are strings attached to those dollars and a price to be paid.

    So how do we compete in the non-profit marketplace without relying on gambling? It sounds easy, but the answer is faith. God doesn't ask us to accomplish what he cannot provide for. James tells us “we have not because we ask not,” and the gospel writers remind us to “ask and it will be given.” This doesn't mean we “hunker in our bunker” and wait for the cash, but if we are doing all we can, then God will provide.

    Part of our prophetic stance requires us to recommit our time and resources to God's work. In most corps, the majority of funding comes from a small percentage of the congregation. Fewer and fewer corps in this territory are self-supporting. Many corps that struggle financially may be tempted to take the tainted money just to survive. The best way to stave off temptation is to redouble our generosity.

    In Williams Lake, our corps took a public stance against bringing a casino to the city. We called on local government to take the high road for the sake of all its citizens. A building contractor for the casino told me, “Rick, I think you're out of your mind on this—but I gotta hand it to you, you're consistent.”

    May our words always match our actions.

    Captain Rick Zelinsky is the director of field education at the College for Officer Training in Winnipeg. Visit www.cfot.ca.


    On Thursday, February 25, 2010, Paul said:

    Tis an interesting question I we proberbly are all correct in 1 way or another.
    In New Zealand we have an organisation called Pub Charities. And the collect the proft from slot poker machines in pubs and distrubute the money. They provide the money to many community groups and this has included Salvation Army community projects and services. Not to long ago the decision was made by the Leaders of the Salvation Army to no longer accept money form this group. It was interesting to wonfer where we were going to replace the money given through such proceeds as poker machines. Yet now 18 months later and in the middle of the world wide recession God has been faithful to that choice. Public donations have risen to more than compenstate the lost of revenue. Does this mean we should not accept tainted money. William Booth is to have said that the only problem with tainted money is that there in taint enough. I feel we need to becareful where money does come from but if we have question then as in all things we should seek God's will and maybe that will be to take a stand.

    On Thursday, February 25, 2010, Tony Brushett said:

    Penny Henny;

    I have been pondering this whole question since becoming an officer 4 years ago and I have been looking for the right words....All I have to say is Amen Sister, your words are exactly my thoughts on this. Every week when we sit down to do corps finances, we could drive ourselves up the wall if we were to stop and look at each donation and consider how each family makes an income and where the portion of that money that is intrusted to us comes from.

    In short, I beleive we can indeed accept funds that God will bless, and who knows, maybe, if we are indeed accepting money from someone who gets it from questionable sources, just maybe, some day we will see that person in a program that we can only offer because of this money, seeking our help. I don't think we are living in the real world if we think we can do this soley on our own.

    Major Gerard, I'm with you, let's get back into the pool halls and pubs and bingo halls, and if someone wants to give me $10.00 while I'm there, I'll take it. It will benifit my Salvation Army and it's $10.00 less they will have to spend on their vice.

    Anyway, I wish I had more time, but duty calls...I'm on the way to a Canada Day meeting at the Lions Club in full uniform (I wonder if the bar will be open :0)

    On Tuesday, February 23, 2010, Henry Armstrong said:

    The late Brig Bill Shaver would get donations weekly from the bingo halls. Years back in Winnipeg the officers would stand out side the polo park race track to get donations. Some would like to hold casino night at the Corps thats a no...

    On Monday, February 15, 2010, Major John Gerard said:

    During one of my PR Appointments I was asked to go to a Bingo night for Seniors and accept a cheque for $ 5,000.00. Looking over the room I saw some players who would be looking to the Army for their Christmas hamper. No problem for me to accept the funds, thank them, and be on my way. God used the money!. In one appointment, my saturday night Pub round was to a community Bingo game. When I entered the room I went from table to table selling and distributing the War Cry without problems from the management or players. I was expected every saturday night. This was a field open to harvest and many times I took a name and address to visit someone the next week. I did not stumble over doctine or feel we have double standards. I hope the dear Captain is not speaking officially for the Army.Let's get back to the pubs, pool halls and civic centres, where the people are to spread the Good News. Amen

    On Saturday, February 13, 2010, Kathie Chiu said:

    Thank you for two very well thought out positions on this issue. First of all, I want to say that although I appreciate Rob Perry’s view and his reasoning, I must say that on the issue of accepting money from government lottery corporations, I must say I disagree.

    Of course the Army accepts tainted money. We always have, and as Rob pointed out, our founder knew that too. However, the idea of The Salvation Army accepting proceeds from government sanctioned gambling, of which the government is the biggest benefactor, would absolutely be anathema to those who see, day after day, the devastating effects of gambling on our communities.

    A couple of years ago our City Council decided to hold several community forums to hear from the people how they felt about council bring a casino to our town. I had the opportunity to be present at one of those forums with several other community groups and social service providers. As I sat there, I was puzzled by the lack of voices speaking out against it. Then I realized that none of the others had a voice. I, however, did. And I used it to speak out very deliberately. I was able to outline The Salvation Army’s position – completely uncompromised because, unlike all the other agencies, we did not accept funds from the BC Lottery Corporation. Fortunately, we did not end up having a casino in Maple Ridge, but that was because of other political considerations by the BCLC.

    Our stand is not about accepting money from the proceeds of gambling from individuals. It is really a very important statement to our governments and the communities we minister in that we do not agree with gambling and we do not agree that the government should be involved in the degradation of its own citizens. It is the principle of the matter.

    In BC, the total revenues from commercial gaming in 08/09 were $2.61 billion, yet only $156.3 million was redistributed to charities, just 6%, including arts organizations. In 2009, the BC government decided that in light of the economic situation, they were going to take back much of the money promised to charities and arts organizations to cover their deficit. Because many of those service providers I met with that day depend on that money, some are now scrambling to find other sources of funding just to continue to operate. Some services have disappeared altogether.

    In refusing to accept funding from the proceeds of gambling from governments, The Salvation Army continues to stand by its positional statement with integrity. If we change our stand, we will lose our voice. And that would be a shame.

    Major Kathie Chiu
    Maple Ridge, BC

    On Friday, February 12, 2010, Wendy and Vince Hackett said:

    Wow this is a toughy. Money is money in a way its almost impossible to say exactly where it is actually coming from when it arrives. I can ask for sponsers for a fund raiser but i can not gauntee you if its legal or not i have to take the word of the sponser. If the Rich donate than are we to not accept. Im not sure exactly where i stand on this one yet. Great articles on both sides. Like i say this is a real tough issue in todays world. Good luck on your decision.

    On Friday, February 12, 2010, Penny Henny said:

    I just read the article about gambling and am mystified by the Army's stance. As an Adherent I find it hard to comprehend why the Army seems to believe that everyone who has some interest in gambling or drinking is an addict, or at least your policies seem to make it seem that way. My husband and I agreed to allow $50 between us each week for leisure activity. Some weeks we go to a movie together; some weeks we go to a play; some weeks I'll go with friends and so will he; some weeks I go to a bingo and some weeks he plays poker with his friends. It's just a leisure activity and whether the discretionary income is used for a movie, for a church concert or to play bingo what difference does it make? It's worse for the Catholic church to get my $25 fun money than it is for Famous Players? Also if I happen to win say $200 when I go to bingo, my church should decline the extra $20 I put in the envelope as a gift to God? I realize that some people do have addiction issues and it's wonderful the Officers help those people but don't force those beliefs on others if they want to use some winnings to help others because some people can't handle it.

    If your policies are going to dictate that no money can come from gambling or alcohol sales then I suggest you disallow any restaurant, pharmacy or variety store owner from donating or putting money in a collection plate since a vast majority of their profits is from alchohol or lottery sales.

    I realize these policies have been on the "books" forever but at some point you have to acknowledge that not every penny that is donated to the Army either in a kettle or in an envelope comes from means that you deem acceptable.

    I sure hope the Army wouldn't turn down a donation of say $10,000 to the Haitian Relief Fund because it came from a lottery win. You may say it's "ill gotten gains" but tell that to the family who won't be able to rebuild their home or put food on the table in the upcoming months because the means for that donation offends you.

    Penny Johnson (aka Penny Henny)
    Whitby, Ontario

    On Friday, February 12, 2010, Sandra Jones said:

    I read with interest this article regarding fund raising with gambling proceeds. Both of your contributors make excellent points in their presentations for and against, however this article opens up a real "can of worms". The opening question asks should the Salvation Army accept donations that come from the proceeds of gambling? The statement following says "The army is an outspoken opponent of gambling and sees the devastating effects it has on the people we serve." In the early days of the Army prior to this debate on gambling, our leaders were very much aware of the devastating effects of alcohol on people, and The Salvation Army spoke out against drinking from the pulpit, in their literature and in their witnessing on the street corner. However we had no qualms about going into the pubs on Fridays and Saturdays and "selling War Cry's" and accepting donations from the patrons.

    Many a small town Corps benefited financially from the "Pub Ministry" that was carried on weekly. "Tainted money" obviously could be and was redeemed. I am not certain if the Pub Ministry is as viable in today's world as it once was, however in light of our statements as to what we support and don't support we need to look to our past methods of bringing income into the local Corps. We didn't support drinking but we had no problem entering the drinking establishments with donation boxes in hand.

    As to the question as to whether we should accept funds derived from gambling, I believe this is a much bigger picture than just accepting or not accepting a cheque from the local bingo parlor. If "accepting gambling funds is hypocritical and weakens our prophetic voice" as in the statement preceding Captain Zelinsky's presentation, where then do we draw the line with acceptance of donations and how closely do we scrutinize our donors. Is it okay to accept the $750.00 cheque from the local service club, only to find out later that they had a Bingo night and a raffle the week before and part of the money was given to the Salvation Army. Because the cheque was written on a Club Cheque, does that make the funds any more acceptable? Do we return the cheque if indeed the money did originate from the Bingo game? Do we stipulate to each of our benefactors that no part of monies donated may originate from gambling? What about the fellow who comes to your Christmas Kettle and says I just won a $100.00 scratch and win and would like to give you $50.00. Do you accept this gracefully and say thank you, or do you gracefully decline because the Army does not support gambling nor do you as a uniformed Salvationist? Are we sure that the $50.00 bill in the offering plate didn't result from the "luck of the draw" at the Casino the night before. Can we ease our conscience by saying "we don't know the source of the money, so it is okay to accept it"? " I can accept the cheque from the club, however I'm pretty sure that the money came from gambling of some kind"?

    If we are going to take a black and white stance on whether we accept money from Gambling, then perhaps we need to re think putting our Christmas Kettles in the local liquor stores and accepting money from the fellow with 3 cases of beer and a couple of bottles of wine in his cart. I admire Captain Zelinsky and the strong stand that he has taken, and I also admire the Salvation Army Leadership for also taking a stand against Gambling, however in the light of these "Stands" there should therefore be no "questionable sources" of income from any activity that leads to the depravity of mankind, be it Alcohol consumption, gambling, or a donation that might come from a prostitute. I think we will need to look to our leadership at the Divisional, Territorial and International levels to set out some very definitive statements and guidelines as to where The Salvation Army accepts funding from. Will it be black and white or will it be Black, White and Grey? Non questionable or questionable? Am I going to far to ask the question, will the need for The Salvation Army to "stand in solidarity with the poor" determine whether the Guidelines will be Black and White or Black, White and Grey.

    May God continue to bless and guide our Army as they are faced with difficult decisions.

    In Christian Love

    Sandra Jones
    Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

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