Thursday, January 31, 2013

When a Pastor's Bad Behavior in Public becomes Public

Very interesting story making the rounds on social media. 

First an Applebees server posted a picture of a pastor's rather snotty note on a receipt "I give 10% to God why do you get 18%?" and identifies themselves as a pastor.

So that alone sets off a firestorm on social media.  And reveals the dirty little secret that I learned from working as a waitress at Bob's Big Boy on Van Nuys Blvd (yes the very same street cruised in American Graffiti)  - Servers always dread the Sunday after church crowd.  They are the most demanding and the worst tippers.  This is apparently still as true as it was back in the late 70s when I was schlepping food.  And it brought about discussion among Christians about how if are going to publicly identify ourselves as Christians we darn well better do as we say because if we don't people notice, and nowadays they put it Reddit or YouTube.

It also stimulated a discussion about justice and how unfair it is that wait staff are usually paid less than minimum wage and how if you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to eat out.  

Oh it got worse.  The pastor identified on the receipt called Applebees and demanded everybody involved including the manager be fired.  The server (who was not the one who served the pastor) who put the receipt online was fired. 

Then the pastor was identified and it turned out the grumpy old white man most of us were imagining was actually an African American woman.  Which is only relevant in that we imagined something different.  Anyway apparently her reputation was ruined -
Pastor Who Left Sanctimonious Tip Gets Waitress Fired from Applebee’s, Claims Her Reputation Was Ruined

 I know, we are all weeping profusely for her in mock sympathy. 

It's a brave new world we are in. On the one hand, publishing her name on a a receipt was a violation of privacy.  On the other hand, when you write a note and identify yourself as a pastor, it would be fair to assume that you stand by your note and feel justified in doing what you are doing and should not be "humiliated" by other people knowing what you did.   When you put on the collar, you kind of let go of your right to privacy.  On another hand, people can really be vicious when judging others--especially when anonymous online. We don't know anything about this pastor other than she resented having to pay a mandated 18 percent gratuity that is added to group bills.

It also points how easily servers can be fired based on the complaint of customers.  It might give us all pause before we decide to complain about bad service.  Was it really so bad that it is worth someone losing their job over? 

It behooves all of us to remember that what we do in public may end up being even more public than you think.  This may end up being a good thing, maybe we will regain a good sense of shame that will make behave better if we know everyone is watching.  But whether or not it is good thing is moot, it is the world we live in now.  For better or worse. 


  1. I want to know what kind of service they get if they go back to that Applebee's!

    Talk about missing the point of your faith! Oy!

  2. This is why I blog (semi-)anonymously, for all the good it would do me if I said something genuinely scandalous. Not to mention why I'm planning to scrub my Facebook timeline, if I ever get around to it.

    But I do sometimes wonder whether the death of privacy will prove to be a good thing for the church as a whole. A lot of pastors, particularly in mainline denominations, are under pressure to present a public front that is restrained, if not plainly false. Don't talk about sex or politics, don't use four-letter-words, don't come out of the closet, and so forth. All of those things can destabilize our relationship with a congregation.

    Losing what little privacy we were once able to eke out for ourselves will mean that, like it or not, we wind up presenting a more authentic face to the public. The initial shock will be horrible, as congregations all over America realize that their pastors have opinions, prejudices and gonads. You don't want to be there when that happens. But maybe, just maybe, the long-term result will be that congregations begin to accept the idea that their relationship with a pastor doesn't have to be conditioned by either agreement or silence -- that they can actually have a deeper and healthier relationship with a person they really know.

    Or maybe that's all pie in the sky, because the truth is that I'd have a hard time respecting a pastor who got all self-righteous about her lousy tipping.