I was surprised last night, when my wife and I dined at a local eatery, that our server had not heard the now infamous story of the lady in St. Louis, Alois Bell, pastor of a church of about 15 people, who lost her cool after an 18% gratuity was added to her bill. Applebees tacks that on automatically if a party is 8 or more people, even if you split the bill as Ms Bell did.
Angered by the automatic amount, Ms. Bell crossed out the tip and added a message that said, “I give God 10%, why do you get 18?” She then took the extra step to sign her bill “Pastor Alois Bell.” Well done. If you are going to behave this way, make sure everyone knows you are a pastor.
The server showed the bill to another server at the restaurant, whose name was Chelsea. Chelsea, being like many today, had one thought and one thought only. “Let’s post this on the internet.” She took the picture you see at the left and put it up on Reddit. She hid neither the merchant number nor the signature of the cardholder, so she was easily identified.
It soon went viral.
Alois Bell, of course, has been held us to massive amounts of scorn. Just google her name. There’s hardly a newspaper, TV station or blog in America that hasn’t weighed in on how horrible she is. Her first action after finding out about this was to call Applebees and demand that “everyone” be fired. She then released a statement apologizing for her action, but also claiming the whole thing was “blown out of proportion.” She was sorry that this had embarrassed her church and her ministry. She then went on TV in St. Louis to offer a more complete apology.
In the meantime, Chelsea, the server who posted all of this on Reddit, was fired. Applebees can’t have their servers posting the credit card receipts of customers on the internet, so they promptly terminated Chelsea’s employment. For the record, the server who actually waited on Ms. Bell’s table was not fired. The buzz that, “the poor waitress got fired” is not accurate. It was her friend who got fired, for posting a credit card receipt on the internet.
Here are some of my reflections on this sad episode.
1) If you can’t leave a generous tip, eat at McDonalds.
My son waited tables at Olive Garden and Buffalo Wild Wings. Waiters get paid well less than minimum wage and they depend on tips to make a living. If you aren’t willing to leave a generous tip (15% is an absolute minimum) then eat at a fast food place where tips are not expected. Seriously. if you go to a restaurant where they serve you at your table, leave a tip. No argument. Because I said so!
2) If you bow your head in prayer before the meal, leave a GENEROUS tip afterward.
Even if the service was bad or your food tasted like shoe leather. You publicly identified yourself with Christ and your witness is more important than whatever you are feeling about your food and your service. If you bowed your head to pray, then you tip by grace if you cannot tip on the basis of the works done by the server!
You represent Christ everywhere you go, especially if you are a pastor. It is a generally known fact that servers hate working the Sunday church crowd. We are, according to many, both demanding and cheap. We complain and then we don’t tip. This needs to end.
Sure, it may not be you that does this, but it is enough of us that we have to raise awareness of the embarrassment many are causing to Christ and his church by their behavior at restaurants after they have prayed to “bless the food.”
3) With social media, every stupid thing you say or do can go viral in hours!
This is the new reality folks. Everyone has a camera and internet access. Yes, it ought to have been enough that our actions are seen by God, but it doesn’t hurt to ask yourself whether you really want this little episode to be a viral video that the whole world judges.
I’m so glad we didn’t have camera phones and the internet when I was 18!
4) Half-hearted repentance is not repentance.
Ms. Bell’s first statement here was how sorry she was about the embarrassment she had caused herself, her ministry and her church and she qualified it with the fact that the whole thing was blown out of proportion. It sounded more like public relations and damage control than a contrite and broken heart. Two critical points here:
If you are trying to justify your sin, you aren’t really repenting of it. When you are repenting, it is not for you to try to put it in perspective.
Embarrassment is not repentance. Repentance is directed toward God and toward those whom we have sinned against. I have read one apology and I saw another in a TV interview. Her apologies did not come across well (not judging her heart, just the way it came across).
5) Don’t feel too sorry for Chelsea, who posted the picture.
There is a movement to try to get Chelsea, the waitress who posted the picture, reinstated. I disagree. She fully deserved to be fired. I am a regular at the Applebees that is less than a half mile from my church. They know me. But if one of them ever put my credit card receipt, or anyone else’s at the restaurant, on the internet, it would likely be the last time I ever darkened the door of that establishment. Chelsea posted a customer receipt on the internet, with the customer’s signature. No matter how boorish Ms. Bell’s behavior was, a server cannot post private information on the internet and expect to escape trouble.
If Applebees didn’t fire her, they would have been negligent. Chelsea got her 15 minutes of fame, but it RIGHTLY cost her a job.
6) Even jerks need grace.
Alois Bell behaved badly, fulfilling every stereotype that atheists and skeptics like to paint about Christians and pastors. She gave us all a black eye. But we, as Christians, need to be careful about jumping on the bandwagon to beat her up. I was infuriated with her when I first read about this. I wanted to personally give her a piece of my mind.
But she is a human being, one who today is in need of grace. Not that she didn’t deserve it, but can you imagine how it would feel to know that the whole world hates you? Scorns you? Is making fun of you? Assuming that she is genuinely saved (from what I’ve seen, her theology is a little wacky), she is my sister in Christ and her sins have been put under the blood of Christ.
Hey, let’s get real. Who among us has not done something stupid that we would be horrified to see in a viral video?
Something about, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” comes to mind here.
7) I’m not a fan of second-party apologies.
Posts have appeared apologizing on behalf of all Christians for the actions. But only the guilty party can really repent. If Alois Bell was part of my church or especially my staff, then I could apologize on her behalf. I stood with Southern Baptists many years ago to repent of the racist and discriminatory actions of our predecessors. I am part of an organization that condoned sin. But I have no relationship with Alois Bell except that we both have the first name “Pastor.”
Only Alois Bell can repent of this sin.
And let’s face it, a second hand apology is really more of an accusation than it is an apology.
8) Generalizations are evil and unfair.
Pretty much every report on this sad event has trumpeted the fact that Bell is a pastor. In fact, she wrote it on her receipt. The secular press and those who despise Christians have jumped on that. I have an atheist friend who could barely contain his glee at the fact that a “pastor” had done such a thing. Alois Bell, according to him, is representative of all of us. He used one person’s sin to generalize and condemn an entire group of people – Christians in general and pastors in particular.
And that is wrong. I eat with pastors all the time, and I don’t know a single one who treats servers badly or tips poorly. It is an unfair generalization.
If the press emphasized the fact that Alois Bell was a woman, it would rightly be called sexist – generalizing the behavior of a whole class of people from the behavior of one woman.
If the press emphasized the fact that she was an African American, it would rightly be called racism. You can’t slam all people in a race because one behaved badly.
But it is acceptable to smear all Christians and all pastors because one behaved badly?
9) There is a danger in unaccountable leadership.
Alois Bell pastors a church of about 15 people. It doesn’t take much these days to call yourself a pastor. It is her ministry. Like so many small churches, there is really no accountability. If the signature on the bottom on the ticket was mine, I can assure you that there would be a meeting with the leadership of my church this week to talk to me about my behavior. I don’t know, frankly, if I’d get fired for something like this or not. But I’d certainly be called to give account.
The modern movement of pastors who are supreme leaders in their churches and answer to no one is not a healthy thing, in my humble but correct opinion.
10) There is only one solution to this.
There is a very poor public perception of Christians today. We do not need a public relations initiative or an advertising campaign. And we have to understand that as the world hated Christ and falsely accused the early church, it will despise us if we stand for truth and it will often engage in unfair generalizations, blanket condemnation, and dishonest caricature of us as believers. That is part of living in a fallen world.
But the only real solution to this is for each of us who bears the name of Christ to behave in such a way that unbelievers see God’s grace in us, not the works of the flesh. Eating out is the new American pastime. So, when we who name the Name go out, we need to remember that we represent Christ and we need to behave in such a way that he is glorified in all we do.