Members of Wetumpka’s First Baptist Church voted Feb. 10 to return a $25,000 donation from the Wind Creek Casinos, citing a conflict of interest and gaining nationwide attention for the decision.
The donation to FBC Wetumpka was one of three donations made by Wind Creek Casinos, which are owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, following the storm. The casinos also gave donations to the Wetumpka Police Department and the First Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian church was completely destroyed in the storm.
“We are tremendously moved that they cared enough to think of us in the community because we really don’t have contact with the Poarch [Band of Creek Indians] very much,” said James Troglen, pastor of FBC Wetumpka.
The church’s Impact Center, a two-story multipurpose building, received irreparable damage in a Jan. 19 tornado. The church’s historical chapel was also damaged.
However, FBC Wetumpka has long taken a stand against gambling and that stance meant that the donation from the Poarch-owned casinos was problematic, a topic Troglen said he addressed in his Feb. 3 sermon taken from Matthew 17.
Troglen said he is usually not so direct on a particular issue, but in this case, he made his opinion clear — the uncashed check needed to go back to Wind Creek Casinos.
“I pointed out we can’t keep this,” he said. “If it keeps one person from listening to us with the gospel, we can’t keep it.”
The uncashed check remained in a lock box until Feb. 10, when the church held its regularly scheduled business meeting.
“Some 300 people were in attendance,” Troglen said. “To have that many on Sunday night is unheard of. But this decision really helped our people understand Baptist polity more. Their vote did make a difference. What they said mattered.”
The vote was not unanimous, he said, and some members gave reasons why they thought the church should accept the donation. But in the end, an overwhelming majority agreed the check should not be cashed and should be returned.
Troglen emphasized that the church is grateful for the generosity of the Poarch Creeks and that the decision not to accept the donation was not meant to be a major statement on a moral issue. However, when the Associated Press picked up the story, the headline appeared in newspapers and on-screen news tickers across the country, including The Washington Post and Fox News’ “Hannity.”
Troglen said he hopes the money can be given to others in the community to whom $25,000 might be a “life-changer.”
He said FBC Wetumpka’s damage estimate from the tornado totals approximately $3.3 million, and a settlement with the insurance company should come by the end of February.
The money in question could go farther for those who were uninsured or underinsured, and those who suffered losses could “benefit tremendously” from it, Troglen said.
The church is also waiting on word about its historic chapel, whose roof was damaged in the Jan. 19 tornado. The building had a temporary roof but that too was blown off in a storm on Feb. 12.
“Everything inside was soaked—the old pews, the stained glass, the carpet, the Corinthian columns, everything,” Troglen said.
Dehumidifiers have been placed to try to prevent mold and a new temporary roof is being constructed. But the future of the chapel, built in 1852, is not certain, Troglen said.
“In another week or so, we’ll know if we’ll be able to save that building.”
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians operates several gambling operations under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Wind Creek Hospitality owns casinos in Wetumpka, Montgomery and Atmore and a greyhound race track in Theodore, according to its website.