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Justin Lee

Views & Voices

When Christians are Christianity’s worst enemies

Thursday, January 31, 2013
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Hi, I’m a Christian.

As a gay man, I understand all too well why those words conjure up fear, loathing, and dramatic eye rolls among my LGBT friends. But I’m proud of my faith. I love its emphasis on grace, mercy, and love. I love Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness, service, putting others first, and giving people more than they deserve. I love that he was known for befriending the outcasts and “sinners” while condemning the religious leaders. We could use a little more of that attitude today!

But as much as I love my faith, sometimes my fellow Christians make me want to scream.

Like this week, when a restaurant server posted this photo on Reddit.

The story: The pastor was part of a party of 20 who ate at this server’s restaurant. Like many American restaurants, this particular one has a policy of adding an automatic 18 percent tip for large parties. It’s something the computer does automatically, not something the server has any control over.

According to the server, the pastor and (her) party tried to get around the automatic 18 percent tip by asking for separate checks, even though the same man was paying for the whole table. The server says that everyone was happy with the service; they just didn’t like the idea of a compulsory tip.

The result? The pastor scribbled out the tip, leaving none at all, and adding the note, “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?”

(As a side note, I suspect the server would have been happy with 10% of the diner’s income as a tip. Only 18% of the cost of the meal is a bargain.)

Oh, and just to drive the point home, this cheapskate made sure to add the word “Pastor” above her signature at the bottom. Because, you know, when you stiff a server, that’s going to make them really eager to join your religious group.

In my book TORN: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, I explain to my fellow Christians that one reason so many LGBT people want nothing to do with Christianity is that Christians have, frankly, been really horrible to us.

If modern American Christians had the reputation of acting like Jesus, we’d at least be a bit more eager to invite them to our parties. As it is, American Christians have almost the opposite reputation—not only with LGBT folks, but in other situations as well. It’s as if being a Christian makes you more of a jerk, rather than less.

In the book, for instance, I tell the story of my own first job waiting tables:

“Sundays are the worst,” one of the servers explained to me. “That’s when the church crowd goes out to eat.”

“What’s wrong with the church crowd?” I asked.

“Oh, honey,” she said. “They’re usually the most demanding, and they’re always the worst tippers. I guarantee you, if you see your table praying before the meal, you can mentally subtract a third from your tip.”

Standing nearby, the manager cracked a smile. “They already gave at church,” he said. “They don’t have any money left.”

In conversations with my server friends across the country, I’ve heard the same sentiment echoed time and time again. As a Christian, I find this infuriating.

Yes, a lot of us think the tipping system in America could be improved. In many countries, servers are paid a decent wage, and tips are an added incentive to reward a job especially well done. I know a lot of people who think it should be that way in the United States, too, but it’s not.

In most states, servers are paid only a little over $2 an hour (yes, you read that right), with the expectation that they will make their living from tips. You might not like that system, but if you choose to express your displeasure with it by tipping your server poorly, the only person you’re hurting is the server — someone who is already living on very little money and depending on your tip to help them pay their bills.

As a former server myself, I always tip at least 18-20 percent — and usually more — unless the service was just so unbearably horrible that it destroyed the dining experience.

Even then, I still tip, just not as much. If I can’t afford the tip, I don’t eat out, or I eat someplace where diners aren’t expected to tip. Otherwise, I consider paying my server to be part of the cost of the meal.

I think everyone should tip that way. It’s the right thing to do, regardless of your faith, but I hold my fellow Christians to an especially high standard on this. I believe people who are serious about following Jesus ought to be particularly generous and give more than people expect.

Personally, I’d love to live in a world where non-Christians said of Christians, “I don’t agree with their beliefs, but those folks sure do know how to tip!”

So to my fellow Christians, I say this: Tip your server. Tip them well. And if you refuse, then please don’t go out to eat after church, don’t pray before your meal, and don’t sign your receipt with the word “pastor.” Because your bad behavior is reflecting on my God and the faith that I love.

We Christians are supposed to be the generous ones, not the stingy and selfish ones.

Of course, this isn’t just about tipping. It’s about how we treat people.

So if you’re a Christian who believes your faith is all about preaching at others about their sins and voting to force everyone to live according to your beliefs, all while failing to show a bit of human compassion to your waiter, then do me a favor: Don’t call yourself a Christian.

Use some other word to describe your faith, because the “Christ” in question taught his followers to be humble, generous, and merciful, and your misuse of his name is ruining it for the rest of us.

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Editor’s Note: Although not mentioned in the above article, the restaurant was an Applebee’s franchise in the St. Louis area, and the pastor has since been identified as Alois Bell. Bell has since complained that the ensuing firestorm of publicity has “ruined” her reputation.

Applebee’s issued this statement Thursday, announcing that it has fired the server, Chelsea Welch, for posting the receipt on Reddit.

Our Guests’ personal information – including their meal check – is private, and neither Applebee’s nor its franchisees have a right to share this information publicly. We value our Guests’ trust above all else. Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest’s right to privacy. This individual is no longer employed by the franchisee.

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