As Powerball Soars Pastors Speak Out on Whether Christians Should Play Lottery

A person holds a Powerball ticket in New York January 10, 2016.
A person holds a Powerball ticket in New York January 10, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Stephanie Keith)

The Powerball lottery purse sits at a whopping $1.5 billion and many Americans are just imagining what they could do with the winnings: give to the poor, help family members or bless their church. But is it wrong for Christians to play the lottery? Would all pastors accept the money?

Ron Edmondson, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Kentucky, isn't worried about trying to figure out whether or not he would accept tithes and offerings from lottery winnings should one of his congregants hit the jackpot, and he even offers a bit of humor regarding the matter.

"I'd rather wait to wrestle through this with God if it happens," he told The Christian Post in an email Tuesday. "Frankly, the odds are in my favor I won't have to do so."

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Edmondson explains that since his church is situated in Kentucky — a state known for a "socially acceptable" rich tradition of horse racing and gambling on the sport — his concerns are for the poor who are lured to gamble by the hope of improving their lives.

"My heart hurts for those who struggle to put food on the table and yet spend money they simply don't have hoping for a chance at a better life," Edmondson continued. "I know intellectually the 'odds' are against them, but the hype of something like Powerball may attract them to do more economic harm to themselves than good."

Edmondson's concerns for the poor are not unfounded. Americans with annual take-home incomes of $13,000 or less spend 9 percent, or $645, of their income on lottery tickets each year, according to a report from The Consumerist.

The poor are also on the mind of Bethlehem College & Seminary chancellor, Pastor John Piper. Last week, CP reported on the pastor's position against Christians playing the lottery with Piper offering seven reasons not to engage in the practice. The theologian condemned playing the lottery, saying that it "preys on the poor."

Piper even warns his parishioners that if they get rich by playing the lottery, they shouldn't bring their winnings to his ministry.

"Christ does not build His church on the backs of the poor," he warned. "Pray that Christ's people will be so satisfied in Him that they will be freed from the greed that makes us crave to get rich."

According to a 2013 report from Church Leaders, however, attitudes toward gambling might be changing within the Evangelical community.

For instance, Chicago's Moody Bible Institute recently modified its policy to allow gambling, tobacco use and alcohol use while off duty, according to the report. In fact, Jerry B. Jenkins, author of the Left Behind series and chair of the college's board of trustees, openly participates in casino poker tournaments.

"Easily half the people I play with in home games are fellow believers," Jenkins told Church Leaders. The author also said that when he gambles in public, he doesn't try to conceal his identity. "I am known where I play, and people know I am a Christian."

Email me: Follow me on Twitter: @kevindonporter

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