Dirty Money

  • Question from CM, United Kingdom

    I know that churches differ widely on this issue, but does the Bible have a standpoint on whether churches should accept “dirty money” in order to fund work that would otherwise not have been able to take place? By “dirty money” I mean money gained from gambling, the Lottery or even from crime but is given to the church with a giving heart and honest desire for it to be used to glorify God.

    This is a quite a topical issue at the moment for many Christian organisations and churches in terms of applying for lottery funding. But while many churches agonise over whether to apply for money from the lottery, there is an almost hypocritical mechanism at work, in that financial donations from any private individual are never questioned. If a stranger walked into a church and dropped a large wad of notes into the collection plate, would the church hand it back if they knew he was a drug dealer? A cynic’s reply would be ‘Of course not!

    Gambling is often seen as morally wrong, mainly because it can turn into a destructive vice. There is an element of prediction at work and, of course a person places their trust into whether the horse comes home first. There does not seem to be a definite stance taken against gambling in Scripture, though Matthew’s gospel notes that the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothes (chapter 27 v35). This is about the only direct reference to gambling and Matthew mentions it in a neutral way because the writer is more concerned about the fact that it fulfils a prophetic statement from the Psalms that the writer presumably felt applied to Jesus (Psalm 22 v 18 – this Psalm begins ‘My God, why have you forsaken me’, the words Jesus says on the cross in Matthew 27 v 46)

    However, gambling is generally a waste of money and, since the rise of Puritan elements within Christianity during the Reformation, has been generally frowned upon by Christians. As most of the Protestant denominations owe much to Puritan roots, this attitude that gambling is a sinful activity is very well established.

    In terms of using “dirty money” for good purposes, there are Biblical stories that would seem to indicate that this is acceptable. In Luke chapter 7 a woman who “had led a sinful life” (usually regarded as a coded reference to prostitution) broke an alabaster jar of nard, an expensive perfume and anointed Jesus with this. The reaction of Simon the Pharisee centred on the woman’s sinful past and Jesus rebuked him, seeing the use of this perfume, which probably acted as her financial security due to its worth, as indicative of her repentance. Similarly the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector in Luke chapter 19 sees the penitent cheat giving his ill-gotten wealth to the poor, an action that leads Jesus to declare that “Today salvation has come to this house” (verse 9).

    It would seem that in both these instances the change in the individual and their subsequent use of their wealth met with Jesus’ approval. However, this does not provide Christians with a carte blanche to earn money by any means necessary. It is important to note that the money earned through dubious means was done so before these people encountered Jesus.

    The lottery money is there to be spent and, if Christians do not spend it, then other people will. Does that mean its right to use it for ‘the Lord’s work’? Well, the answer to that has to be ‘maybe’. Is God interested in how we earn and use our money? The answer to that is ‘Yes, definitely!’ The rich young ruler in Luke chapter 18 acts as a counterpoint to Zacchaeus. He could not bring himself to give his money away to the poor (verse 23) and the implication is that as a result he failed to enter the Kingdom of God. Yet there is no inference that his money was in any way “dirty”. His fault lay in his heart attitude and that he valued his wealth more than the promise of the Kingdom.

    Thanks for your question, CM. I hope that you found this answer helpful.

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