Standing on Principles – Prostitutes and Lottery Tickets

Today was Ministerial Synod day in North Lancashire. One of the topics for discussion was the church’s outreach to the community. I have struggled with the way the church will go the more social services route without the calling to conversion, but today that isn’t what has me thinking. Our district chair, Stephen Poxon, mentioned two ways in which churches choose to outreach and asked the question ‘Do we stand on principles or provide services for the community actually needs?’ (He may have mentioned more than two, but these were the to that grabbed me:

1) Like village churches, village shops are increasingly unable to sustain viability in small communities. Many people bemoan the loss (but, like it is with churches, you ask, ‘did you ever go?’ and they say, ‘No. I go to ASDA or Tesco.’) Some churches have stepped in and provided space for the shop. The problem, Stephen says, is for the shop to be successful, the shop needs to sell lottery tickets and alcohol.

2) A safe space for sex workers. Stephen noted the need for many women (or at least most of the church’s targets have been the female sex trade workers) for the social aspect in a non-judgmental and non-working (I don’t remember Stephen’s exact phrase) environment.

As I listened to Stephen (who asked the question – principles or service) I found myself wanting to stand on principles for the first, but I am fine with the second. At first, I didn’t know why, and I am still trying to work this out.

In the first scenario, I admit my own ambivalence generally with the alcohol issue. Though I am opposed to these ‘special cases’ the Methodist Church seems to be able to find. As most know, Methodist Churches do not allow alcohol on their premises except in certain places. The biggest example is Westminster’s Central Methodist Hall, which can serve alcohol because their building is in part used as a conference venue. If alcohol is banned everywhere else, I don’t see what point we are making by allowing it to be served in this circumstance. I think it should be one way or the other.

But, the lottery is a case that I do feel strongly about, and I am in agreement with the Methodist Church’s stance on this and have sympathy with those Methodists who refuse even to buy the raffle ticket at the church fair. The Lottery is a pipe dream that causes people to waste money. I do not want this sold on our church property. I remember the story that the coordinator for Habitat for Humanity in the Charleston (SC) area told: a young mother slapped her child’s hand when he went for a 50 cent candy bar, saying ‘We can’t afford that.’ And then she handed over $20 (ish) for lottery tickets. These are needs the church provides for in selling lottery tickets?

For the second, I have no problem providing women a safe and non-judgmental space where they can be free to talk to people in a different environment, and I see no step down from our principles. I see this as giving people a glimpse of what it means to be truly human, rather than a commodity that is bought and sold. Constantly telling them that their sinners and God hates their activity doesn’t do much to alleviate the notions of commodity. God doesn’t view them as people whom he will only love if they give up this lifestyle. God love them where they are and wants them to see themselves differently. This type of outreach can do just that without pushing.

These are just my thoughts – the conversations (though these are general issues facing the church) were confidential, so I won’t say anything other than these are my thoughts. I would be interested to hear any thought about how we make a balance on outreach and principles. I would be interested in hearing any opposing views on the issues above (I’m not above being told I am wrong or self-sanctimonious!).

N.B. Stephen Poxon merely brought this up – he was not making a judgment on anything, so please don’t take I am criticising him. I applaud him for bring them up.


6 thoughts on “Standing on Principles – Prostitutes and Lottery Tickets

  1. I am 100% clear

    – No alcohol

    – No lottery tickets

    – yes to safe spaces for all

    It seems to me that if we simply say the 3rd than the first 2 flow naturally from that anyway. The 3rd would appear to me to be a simple, clear and gospel requirement where there should be no grounds for dissent.

  2. I am in agreement with Dave here. I would even go so far as to say that I do not approve of raffles no matter how innocent they may seem.
    Apparently at the local Church bazarr here last year one woman became very upset when seh was only won three prizes, she had bought 30 tickets!

    As for safe spaces we need them!

  3. I am not sure how I’d phrase the alternative, but I think the contrast between “principles” and “service” sets up a bias toward one answer.

    How would we approach differently if we said in each case, “How does the church best witness to Jesus Christ in this matter?”

    Someone says, “Gee, the small shops in town are being driven out by Tesco.” The church asks itself, “How do we witness to Jesus Christ here?”

    I’m not sure the option of using church space to host the store is an option that would come up in that discussion. Maybe I am wrong. In any event, if we believe that selling alcohol and lottery tickets is not a faithful witness of Christ, then we would not do that.

    It is not about principles vs. service. We are not here for either of those things.

  4. Or…. is it possible for the church to run the shop with the alcohol and lottery kiosk whilst building relationships with the customers and discussing the likelihood of winning, the value of ‘success’, the disproportionate amount of lottery funding to middle class areas whereas disproportionate numbers of people from working class areas buy the tickets etc. If we aren’t there, we can’t have the conversations and build the relationships can we?
    And the prostitutes safe space is not an equivalent; is not the equivalent using church premises to run a ‘safe’ establishment for women to work out of? Where is our principles and service discussion then?
    …oh, i do love discussions like this – thanks stephen and will 🙂

  5. Will I have pondered over how to answer these questions until this morning. I was somewhat bemused when on Radio Lancashire I heard an officer of Blackburn Cathedral announce that they were introducing a range of fine own label wines to be sold in the shop which as you know is inside the Cathedral. They are being sourced through an importer in Clitheroe, which incidentally is where I buy wines for myself and family.At my last visit I enquired about communion wine and was informed that they stock a very fine wine which is sold to many churches in the Ribble Valley and throughout Lancashire.
    There is no need for any shop to sell lottery tickets. I know of many which are thriving without them. I know of quite a few villages where you cannot buy a Sunday paper as the shop is closed.
    I disagree with the lottery but if it was not there the public would be playing bingo, the football pools or betting on racing all of whichare losing out to the lottery. Interesting thought is who makes the most profit out of the lottery? Who sold the franchise, the government, who taxes the franchisees profits, the government, who taxes the income from the winnings, the government, and who at the end of the day charges inheritance tax on the estate of the former winner, the government. There must be a moral to this story.
    I have a friend who comes from the north east and is a psychiatric nurse and a trained counsellor. He deals mainly with drug and alcohol addiction which is financed in the main by social services handouts, family allowances and unemployment benefits. He also tells me that most of his clients buy lottery tickets with the possibility of winning millions. As a cousellor he tells me that he sometimes has to deal with “ladies of the night” which is as he tells me the oldest profesion on earth. Most of them are happy with the work that they do but usually end up with him as a result of beatings from pimps.
    Paul is a born again Chritsian and a good man. He does not think that Stephen’s idea is the answer to their problem.

  6. My first thought is to just echo what Dave said, and Sally, and John – service and principles are neither diametrically opposed, nor the primary mission of church. And when we do not facilitate addictive behaviors, we are creating safe spaces.

    But I do want to say a bit more about gambling. Being against gambling is not a position that the church takes on principle – it is a stand taken out of experience – out of the experience of individuals being exploited, particularly the poor and the vulnerable (no tax is quite so regressive as the lottery), and out of the experience of the flames of materialism, greed, and covetousness being fanned not merely by habitual gambling, but sometimes by the mere contemplation of it (the fantasy of spending one’s imaginary lotto winnings.)

    However, there are many wide easy roads that lead to destruction – not just gambling. Excessive sugar consumption is a feature of many many church gatherings – something I had not fully appreciated until I had gestational diabetes, and had to eliminate all desserts from my diet. Oh, the pressure I received to pile up mashed potatoes and jello “salad” and lemon pie!

    And television! Don’t get me started! I don’t know what the equivalent, if any, might be in the UK, but here in the US, it is de rigeur for church youth fellowship groups to have annual Super Bowl parties — when we gather around the television to watch commercials that objectify both men and women and encourage excessive behavior and spending at the expense of the environment — and then there is the violent game itself, which is played by exorbitantly paid individuals who disproportionately beat their wives (they are one of the top 3 professions in the U.S. angling for the dubious distinction of highest proportion of spousal abusers: soldiers, police officers, and American football players.) I have to wonder why we are going with the flow here. Why are we all in a lather about the lottery, but condoning the Super Bowl?

    So, yes to safe spaces – but let’s continue to expand our view of how we might extend our loving welcome.

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