In 1987 Jerry Collins, a 79-year-old millionaire racetrack owner in Florida, decided to donate $1.3 million to the Rev. Oral Roberts to help the evangelist meet his goal of raising $8 million by March 31 of that year. Mr. Collins decided to make this donation after reading about Oral Roberts’ crusade to raise the money to fund medical scholarships at Oral Roberts University. The funds were thankfully received by Rev. Roberts’ ministry.https://www.nytimes.com/1987/03/22/us/track-owner-pledges-1.3-million-to-roberts.html
In January 2019, Wind Creek Casinos gave over $100,000 to three different organizations in the Wetumpka, Alabama area after a tornado ravaged the community. Employees of Wind Creek Casinos helped in the cleanup, but the organization wanted to do more, so it gave $50,000 to the First Presbyterian Church, $25,000 to the police department and $25,000 to the First Baptist Church. The church donations totaled $75,000, a mighty sum for the small town of 8,000 people.
The First Baptist Church returned the donation. A vote was taken by the members in February to determine the course of action. Almost 300 congregants attended the vote, and voted to reject the donation. The churchgoers believe that accepting the check would be a conflict of interest and hypocritical, given that they believe gambling is a sin. (When they returned the donation, they stated that they hoped that the money could go to helping somewhere else in the relief effort.)https://getordained.org/blog/churches-accepting-money-from-sinful-sources
BTW, just as a side note, the First Presbyterian Church contacted the casino and explained that their insurance would cover the damages to their church and property and asked if it would be okay if they could channel the donation into other community repair needs – the casino agreed wholeheartedly.
These two examples of the use of funds obtained by questionable means came to mind as I read the following account from this week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27.*
The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ “I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.”Genesis 14:21-24
At this point in the narrative, it’s important to recognize what we know about Sodom. First, after the ruckus between Lot’s herdsmen and Abram’s which caused the two to part ways, “Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere … like the garden of the LORD” (Genesis 13:10). The second thing that we know is that “the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD” (Genesis 13.13).
According to the Scriptures, Abram was the son of Terach, who was an idol merchant. According to tradition, in Abram’s early childhood “he questioned the faith of his father and sought the truth. He came to believe that the entire universe was the work of a single Creator, and he began to teach this belief to others.” (https://www.jewfaq.org/origins.htm)
Whether Abram was an idol worshipper or not, the stigma of his father’s profession probably remained in the background of many people’s minds. Commenting on this Joshua stated,
“Thus, says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods. ‘Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him through all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants…”Joshua 24:2-3
With the stigma of idol worship already on people’s minds, it makes sense that Abram would not want to have his wealth and prosperity linked to that of Sodom. Hence his strong declaration, “…I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” Later the complier of Mishlei (Proverbs) would write these words, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth…” (Proverbs 22:1).
So, contrary to the way this paper began, my point is not whether or not we should receive financial assistance or contributions from questionable moral or ethical sources. That topic has been discussed and debated from both sides of the coin (no pun intended). In fact, one common argument is based upon another passage from Mishlei, “And the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Proverb 13:22). My point is that a good name is the more important issue.
We, like Abram, need to be aware that our name and our reputation can be tainted by those with whom we choose to associate, whether through direct relationships or remote acquaintances. Peter offered this exhortation to his communities in the Diaspora,
Keep your conduct honorable among the Gentiles (other people). Then while they speak against you as evildoers, they may—from noticing your good deeds—glorify God in the day of visitation.1 Peter 2:12, TLV
This does not mean that we should isolate ourselves in “sanctified bubbles,” cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. Such action would not be following Yeshua’s example, as he intermingled with the masses; he reached out and touched, delivered and healed them. As Yeshua prayed in John 17, we are to be in the world but not of the world. So, at all times we should be cautious, always on guard to ensure that our actions, our words and even our motives are beyond reproach, thereby keeping our conduct honorable and in all things, bringing glory and honor to HaShem.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible Update (NAS95S), copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Accordance Digital Edition, Ver 4.2