Pastor refuses donation from winner of lottery, cites 'spiritual, moral' wrong

March 02, 1991|By David Michael Ettlin

Declaring the Maryland Lottery "morally and spiritually wrong," the pastor of an East Baltimore church said yesterday that he would not accept the donation a jackpot winner said she intended to make.

The winner is 72-year-old Rosa A. Coles, a retired hospital housekeeper who held the sole jackpot ticket from last Saturday's $8.2 million Lotto drawing. She claimed the prize Monday, saying she planned to move to a new home, buy cars for her children and contribute money to Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.

But Mount Pleasant Pastor Clifford M. Johnson -- who heard of Mrs. Coles' plans through news accounts -- called The Sun yesterday to say he would turn down in principle any gift of money won through gambling.

"The word of God sets forth to us as Christians to trust God for our means of support," said Pastor Johnson, 51, who has presided over the church in the 1800 block of East Preston Street for two decades.

"I think the lottery takes advantage of poor people. It gives a false sense of hope.

"Even though the government may say it's OK, I feel it's morally and spiritually wrong," he said. "I believe the church at large should not be involved in that kind of thing -- any church. I think the time has come when we need to make a stand."

Pastor Johnson said he had not talked with Mrs. Coles since she surfaced as one of the richest winners in Maryland Lotto history, but did reach a daughter by telephone to state his position and wish the family well.

Mrs. Coles, who has five children and 18 grandchildren, could not be reached for comment.

At her two-story, brick and Formstone row house near the intersection of Erdman Avenue and Belair Road, a young woman who identified herself as "a close relative" answered

the doorbell. She said Mrs. Coles was no longer living there and would not wish to talk with a reporter.

Lottery spokesman Carroll H. Hynson Jr. said Mrs. Coles and a daughter made an unannounced visit to the agency's main office yesterday to pick up the first of her 20 annual checks -- approximately $300,000 after a required 27.5 percent deduction for income taxes.

Mr. Hynson said that he talked to Mrs. Coles on Monday and that she was "very emphatic" about donating money to her church -- as do many of the people who beat nearly 7 million-to-1 odds to win the Lotto jackpot.

He said Mrs. Coles told him she did not want "a lot of publicity," and he confirmed that she had declined to pose for a publicity picture at Belair Road Liquors -- the corner store where she bought the ticket.

At the liquor store, customers were incredulous that a church would turn down money.

"If they're going to get a donation, they shouldn't care where it comes from," said Harry Matthews, 62, a neighborhood resident.

"Where's the crime in playing the lottery?" he asked.

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