Monday, 5 May 2014

Many face ethical concerns when accepting funds

What do you do if you know that money you receive as a gift is from an ethically questionable source?

When I was studying theology at the United Church’s Emmanuel College, Toronto, I had to face that kind of decision.

Students from the United Church’s Hamilton Conference qualified for bursary assistance from the Emily Lucy Eccles Trust Fund. The fund assisted in paying your tuition, especially in your final year of study.

Part of qualifying was an interview with one of the fund trustees. Having never heard of the fund before, I asked where the money had come from

It seems that it was the entire estate of Mr. Gib Eccles, a Toronto stockbroker, who had died and will everything he had, which was a considerable amount of money, to a United Church congregation, for the purpose of assisting those studying for ministry.

The fund trustee also asked me if it was a problem for me to know that the money had come from brewery, distillery and tobacco stocks, which were considered prime investments in that day.

Knowing the state of my bank account, I said that it did not trouble me, although I could hear the sound of my Methodist forebearers spinning in their graves.

Many churches, charities and non-profits face the same kind of decision today when thinking about applying for grants from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Founded in 1982 to disperse the profits of provincial lotteries to the community, The Ontario Trillium Foundation has supported a lot of good work and community development.

But the source of the funds has always been problematic.

As recently as 2009 my own denomination advised congregations seeking funds from it for building restoration or community access and to exercise extreme caution.

In that same time period the government made a huge change in how the Ontario Trillium Foundation was funded.

Instead of acknowledging that the money came from lotteries, the government directed all lottery and gambling proceeds to the general coffers, along with all other tax revenue. The Ontario Trillium Foundation now received grant funding from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. That money comes from the general revenue of the province, including sales tax, fuel tax, tobacco and alcohol taxes and profits, as well as lotteries and gaming revenue.

Just as any other government ministry such as health is funded, so is the Ministry and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

The Ontario Trillium Foundation is no more funded from lottery money than our hospitals, medical care or highways are. There should no be no fear of using money derived from lotteries and gambling if any organization chooses to apply for a Trillium Foundation grant.

If anyone believes that they are touching somehow defiled by lottery money, then I suggest they stop driving on provincial highways or using hospitals and other medical care facilities. The connections are about the same.

While I don’t agree, on principle, with lotteries and gambling, I also recognize that I can not keep myself "pure" from their engagement in our community.

Purity laws really have no purpose other than to differentiate people from the larger society. But when we refuse to apply for grant money because of a fear of becoming impure, then we really do have to take at the impact of our attitude to keep ourselves "pure".

I won’t buy lottery tickets, but if asked, I would not refuse money from the Trillium Foundation. It’s no longer money from gambling and lotteries. It’s another government grant from the big pot we all pay into. And that’s a critical difference.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County