Friday, February 01, 2013

9 Thoughts on the Angry Pastor and the Restaurant Server Who Went Viral

My buddy, Steve Sjogren, first alerted me to the image of a receipt on which a pastor refused to leave a tip because she already gave 10% to God. He suggested I might want to blog on the story.

Since then, I've learned more of the details:
A Friday night meal at Applebee’s resulted in more than either the customer or a waitress working that night bargained for after a pastor’s refusal to pay a tip was shared online.

Though the embarrassed patron has apologized for her actions, the old adage of the customer always being right may have some truth to it, as the waitress who posted photo evidence of the tip snub lost her job for doing so.

The trouble began last Friday, when Pastor Alois Bell went to the local chain restaurant with several others following a service at Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries.

When the bill came, she did not include a tip on the signed copy of her receipt. She did, however, include the reason why.

“I give God 10 [percent],” the note on the receipt read. “Why do you get 18?”

The waitress, who has been identified only as Chelsea by The Consumerist, posted a picture of the note on the popular user-powered news site Reddit, along with the caption, “My mistake sir, I’m sure Jesus will pay for my rent and groceries.”

“I originally posted the note as a lighthearted joke,” she told The Consumerist. “I thought the note was insulting, but it was also comical. I posted it to Reddit because I thought other users would find it entertaining.”

Her post instantly got the attention of other users, and eventually the news media. The popular story also got back to its source – Bell – on Wednesday, though she was less amused than others who had seen it before her. She called the Applebee’s where she had eaten to voice her frustration over the sharing of the image, which includes her signature.

Chelsea was fired by managers at the restaurant following the call, despite reportedly being a model employee before this incident...

In an interview with The Smoking Gun, Bell apologized for her actions, which she described as “lapse in [her] character and judgment,” adding that she did leave a $6 cash tip on the table for the waitress who served them that night – who was not Chelsea.

“My heart is really broken,” she was quoted as saying. “I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.”
Is billing customers 18% for tips a good policy? Probably not and probably not smart either. While many restaurant patrons are no doubt cheap, inconsiderate of the hard work done by servers and other restaurant personnel, a customer alienated because of a set charge for tips is not likely to return, meaning no business and no tips.

Was Applebee's right in firing the server? Probably. Whether it was in the company manual or not, she seems to have willfully violated the privacy of another person for what she characterizes as a lighthearted prank. It hardly seems that.

Was the pastor wrong to refuse to pay the tip and to do so invoking both God and her calling as a pastor? I feel so. I also think that she was right to apologize.

Here's a look at the receipt and Pastor Bell's note.

The entire incident evokes all sorts of thoughts and feelings from me.

1. Let's start with the anger seen in the question, "I give God 10%, why do you get 18" and in the scratches through the levied tip amount.

Anger in itself is not a sin. Jesus, God in the flesh, got angry. (More on that later.) And Ephesians 4:26 tells Christians: "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger."

The takeaway from that passage? If you're angry, don't use it as an excuse to assault another person, verbally or otherwise.

Instead, seek out the person with whom you're angry and, with the idea that you could be wrong, in part or in full, explain your grievance. Seek to get things resolved. (If that sounds like the way Jesus tells Christians to resolve disputes among themselves in Matthew 18:15-20, it should.)

Bell's angry note resolved nothing. In fact, it caused all kinds of problems, for her and for her server.

2. Scripture says that God loves cheerful givers who give "not reluctantly or under compulsion" (2 Corinthians 9:7). Pastor Bell's note made her seem like something other than a cheerful giver! The note comes across as saying that her offerings to God aren't given in grateful response to God for Jesus' death and resurrection, but an obligation she has to keep. "God coerces me to give 10% of my income to Him," she seems to be saying, "You can't coerce an even bigger percentage out of me."

I have to ask myself, "Do I ever unwittingly begrudge God the things I should want to give to Him simply because I know He loves me and I want to love Him back?" I hope not.

3. I feel that Bell mentioned being a pastor in order to give credence to her anger. The message seems to be, "As a pastor, I speak for God. Therefore it isn't just me who's mad at me, it's God too."

That might have carried weight with some people. It clearly didn't with Bell's server.

And here's a news flash for all pastors: Most people in today's society don't respect pastors. They don't regard pastors as authority figures. And most people think that the main thing churches and pastors want from them is money. Your being a pastor does not legitimize your anger! In fact, it should curb it. Not all anger is illegitimate, but its expression by pastors should be rare and thought-through.

If Pastor Bell's server wasn't a Christian, this was the lesson she took away from the pastor's scrawl: We Christians and we pastors are just as self-righteous, angry, and money-grubbing as many people say we are. From Pastor Bell's contrite response to the situation, I doubt that's the impression she wanted to leave with her server.

And I guarantee if you were a spiritually disconnected restaurant server who got dumped on like this by a customer identifying herself as a pastor, you wouldn't be very likely to wake up on Sunday morning and say to yourself, "I want the joy that pastor has. I think I'll go to church today!"

4. I'm not piling onto Pastor Bell here. She has apologized and I believe her apology. But there is a larger lesson here: If Christians or pastors want credibility for the faith we confess, we won't get it by coming across as bullies.

The gospel of Matthew says that the crowds who heard Jesus "were astounded at His teaching, for he taught them as one having authority" (Matthew 6:29). But what Jesus taught wasn't new. Or exotic. And He didn't usually push His "heft" around. Jesus was a servant. He wasn't even too proud to wash the feet of His disciples while telling all who follow Him to be servants, too (John 13:1-16). If God in the flesh served us, even dying on a cross for us, how much more should those of who bear His Name--Christians, we're called--be servants of others.

It's only in being servants, whether we're pastors or plumbers or presidents, that we Christians have any authority.

And, like Jesus, we're to only use our authority (read: the influence we earn through our servanthood) in ways that build people up, even the people we may have to criticize and to whom we may need to speak unwanted truths in love (Ephesians 4:15).

5. Is there ever a time when church leaders should get mad? If Jesus is any example to us, then we must conclude that there are times when anger and setting people straight is warranted. Like when believers who should know better turn their backs on the will of God, or treat each other hatefully, or otherwise sin unrepentantly.

But Jesus never "went off" on prostitutes or extortionist tax collectors. He never blew up on those who were known to have no relationship with God. Jesus always used kindness to lead the spiritually-disconnected to repentance and faith in Him.

On the other hand, Jesus often let some people have it, people like self-righteous Pharisees and temple money-changers who knew God's Word by heart, yet ignored it. His anger then, was aimed at the same purpose as His kindness, to call believers to repentance and faith in Him. For Jesus, anger was a tool expressing God's will and even God's love, not a display of self-indulgence.

Pastors and all Christians are better off to assume that most of the people they meet know nothing about the God revealed in Christ and do all they can to extend to them the same grace, patience, and kindness that Christ shows Christians every single day.

6. Let's assume for just a second that the 18% tip charge came at Pastor Bell out of nowhere. Was it right to just go off on the server?

The better path might have been to ask to speak to the manager about the restaurant's automatic tip policy (and still have left the server with some sort of tip).

Pastor Bell says that she did leave a $6.00 cash tip on the table after writing her note. That amounts to a 17.6% tip, almost the amount that the receipt had charged her in the first place. This tells me that she may have been trying to make a point that she didn't mind leaving tips, only having a particular amount put on her charge account.

I'm glad she left the server a tip. After all, "the laborer deserves to be paid" (1 Timothy 5:18) and most restaurant servers accept lower wages in order to be able to accept patrons' tips. It's not fair to hold a restaurant's policy you find unacceptable against a server who didn't set the policy.

7. In the Internet era, anything we say or do has the potential for going viral. In fact, our deeds can "go viral" even without the Internet, in the swirling cesspool of gossip. This is one more reason I often pray, "God, give me the right words and the right silences. Grant that everything I say, do, and am will bring you glory."

I can't tell you (and won't tell you for fear of it going viral) how often I've gotten in the way of God answering that prayer, not because God couldn't answer it, but because of my words, deeds, and thoughts, I refused to let Him answer it. In the Name of Jesus Christ, I repent for that.

8. Our actions can have unintended consequences for others. Chelsea, the Applebee's server, was, in my judgment, wrong to publish Pastor Bell's signed receipt on the Internet. But her getting fired was in part caused by Bell's ill-advised note. The server still bears responsibility for her action; no one made her send the image of the receipt out onto the Internet. But no note, no appearance on the web, no kerfluffle, no irate call from a violated customer, no firing.

If the server was going to publicize this incident, she would have done better just to post about it on Twitter without Bell's name. I know that the image of the receipt was more powerful than a tweet would have been. But the server would still have her job, while maybe sensitizing some who saw her post on Twitter to be considerate in tipping serving personnel.

9. A final thought: This receipt makes me wonder, "What are the ways in which I indulge my own anger or general sinfulness rather than stopping and asking God to control my thoughts, words, and actions?" How can I be more faithful to Christ while interacting with people in my everyday life?

Those are haunting questions, ones worth praying about.


Bill said...

One minor point of clarification: Many restaurants, including the chain involved in this story, have a policy where large groups are automatically charged a gratuity/tip, and 18% is not unusual. That policy is stated up front when large groups come in to those places. It is my understanding from reading a news report, this pastor was part of such a larger group.

Tracy's Living Cookbook said...

You are correct....our actions speak very loudly. We must be examples of Christ in this broken world. Nice post.

Mark Daniels said...

Yes. I agree with you (and thought my post included mention of the fact) that most restaurants, especially if patrons are part of large groups, will automatically charge a tip.

My own personal tipping guideline is always 20%, whether I'm part of a large or a small group.

Thanks for taking the time to read the blog.

Thank you for your comment. This is something we need to pray about all the time.

Thanks for your comments.

Wayne Nall Jr said...

I appreciate your thoughts! I was appalled when I heard about this, not about the server, who is probably not a Christian, but about the pastor who set a terrible example. I keep thinking about these words from I Peter 2:20 "...if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God." If we are treated wrongfully as this pastor feels she was, how about enduring the wrong patiently? Seems to me that would be the most Christlike response!