Three Cheers for the Salvation Army

January 12, 2003

THREE CHEERS FOR THE SALVATION ARMY by Ray Pritchard Would you accept a $100,000 gift if someone told you they won it in the lottery? I suspect that most of us would say yes. Probably some of us would wonder why anyone would even ask the question. Recently the Salvation Army said no and made the news as a result. The story goes like this. A man in Florida named David Rush won $14.2 million in the Florida Lottery. He decided to give money to Habitat for Humanity, the Rotary Club, the Salvation Army, and also to several other charities, including two local churches. The local chapter of Salvation Army decided not to accept the money because, a spokesman said, “We preach against gambling. To accept it would be to talk out both sides of our mouth.” Mr. Rush was understandably not pleased with the decision. “Everybody has a right to be sanctimonious if they want to be. I respect the Salvation Army’s decision. I do not agree with it, but that is their prerog-ative.” He added that he had been giving to the Salvation Army for 40 years. One or two comments are in order. In the first place, churches and charitable organizations routinely accept gifts from anyone who cares to give. When we pass the plates on Sunday morning, we have no way of knowing who will give or how much they will give or why they give or where the money comes from in the first place. We don’t have any reliable way to screen our gifts, and we don’t make any special effort in that direction. We leave that to the conscience of those who give and to the Lord who judges every heart. Having said that, we must add that not all gifts are equal. Motives matter, and the source of the money matters as well. It appears that Mr. Rush made some point of letting others know that the money came from his lottery winnings. If he had just mailed the check to the Salvation Army, presumably they would have cashed it with gratitude, without wondering where it came from. If there is no reason to ask any questions, then no questions will be asked. When you call attention to your gift, you force others to make a decision. The Salvation Army has strong convictions against gambling and should not be asked to give the appearance of compromising those convictions by accepting gambling money. Some people say the church should accept money from any questionable source because “the devil has had it long enough.” I am partially sympathetic to that point of view because I’m sure that we’ve unknowingly accepted gifts from sources that would shock us if we knew about them. But that’s precisely the point in question. You can’t be held accountable for what you don’t know, but you are fully accountable for what you do know. Seen in that light, the Salvation Army did the right thing for the right reason, and I salute them.

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