What do Mennonites do with gambling donations?

April 19, 2010 | Feature | Number 8
By Deborah Froese |

Mennonite organizations tend to agree that gambling is wrong, but few policies are in place to respond to donations of gambling revenue. Perhaps this is because of a prevailing sense that such donations are rare or non-existent, and could be dealt with on a case by case basis if the need arises.

“Mennonite Church Canada has not yet, to my knowledge, dealt with a situation in which the question of accepting lottery winnings has needed an answer,” says Mennonite Church Canada general secretary Robert J. Suderman. “If it would happen, we would process our response as we usually do: at the general board level.” That process would include biblical study, dialogue, prayer and, if necessary, broader consultation.

Area churches in Eastern Canada, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia have no set guidelines on gambling either, although Jim Shantz, conference pastor for Mennonite Church Alberta, says, “It may be a timely issue for us to address . . . as there seem to be casinos springing up like weeds all across the province. Particularly vulnerable have been our native communities.”

MC Manitoba has a written fundraising policy that prohibits the executive director from accepting donations “from private or public sources that involve games of chance, offer substantial rewards or prizes, or are part of events that would be deemed inappropriate by the membership . . . .”

The Manitoba area church has had the opportunity to consider its approach in the past: once through the potential donation of monies raised through a quilt raffle and another time in regard to a provincial grant of which about 3 percent was generated through a lottery. Executive dirctor Edgar Rempel says that, because lottery winners are highly publicized, area churches would probably be aware of a lottery-based donation. However, he says that, as a rule, “we as an organization don’t ask the person where they got the money.”

Rick Fast, director of communications for Mennonite Central Committee Canada, concurs. He says that MCC does not ask donors what they do for a living, but they also do not accept grants or donations that they know come from lottery funds. “During the Haiti earthquake we had an offer from an organization in Winnipeg that holds bingo events and we graciously declined the offer—and they were understanding,” Fast says.

Lois Nickel, director of Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) programs and region relations, speculates that if the organization was aware of a gambling-revenue-based donation, it would be examined at the board level and probably turned down because a large number of MDS constituents would be opposed to it. But she raises the question of how to tactfully ascertain the source of a financial gift without asking the donor. “That would seem rude,” she says.

Whether or not organizations accept private donations based upon gambling revenue is one issue. Acceptance of government funding is another. Gambling profits form a percentage of provincial coffers across the country, and those funds are used to support healthcare, education and other programs that may directly or indirectly affect Mennonite organizations and their members.

See also:
Chances are . . . you worship with a gambler (feature article and discussion questions)
Caught between dice and a hard place 

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