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Busting the Myth That Christians Are More Generous Than Non-Believers

Many religious people believe giving to the church is the be-all and end all of generosity.
 
 
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The story has gone viral: A group got together at Applebees. When the tab came the minister wrote on the ticket, “I give God 10 percent, why do you get 18?” She scratched through the automatic large-group tip and substituted a fat zero and signed it with the word “Pastor” in front of her name. The waitress posted an image on Reddit. The pastor called to complain. The waitress got fired. The internet went wild. Last I saw, one story had 80,000 comments and counting.

In reality, the pastor simply exposed something that is all too common to Christian thinking: the sense that giving to the church and to religious charities is the be-all and end all of generosity. As indignant reactions to the Applebee’s incident show, service workers sometimes pay the price:

“I worked at the Outback Steakhouse for 3 years and we ALL dreaded Sundays.”

“The Sunday after church crowd were allways the worst tippers. I found another line of work.”

“As a former waitress who frequently served large parties of CHURCH members and pastors, I can attest to the fact that the majority of them were very demanding, condescending, dismissive and cheap. When 1 or 2 from the party of 12 -15 did tip they would leave pennies and loose change.”

“I have waited tables in the past and I am sorry to say this behavior is not unusual. Often Ministers come into restaurants with their parishioners and treat the staff their to wait on them beyond poorly. They usually come in rather large parties and often leave very little tip for the poor server, who goes out of their way to care for the group.”

“I also provide a service to the public. It is ALWAYS the churches that want something for free or don't tip.”

“I waited tables for over 30 years and I have been stiffed many times by people like her.”

I grew up in a community in which tithing was expected. My parents gave regularly to the church and provided sustaining support to missionary organizations ranging from Wycliffe Bible Translators, which targets isolated tribes for conversion, to Child Evangelism Fellowship which views America’s public schools as a mission field. Our church showcased individual missionary families as well as smart, far-reaching organizations like Focus on the Family. In my memory, it never encouraged generosity toward groups whose primary mission was justice or aid or stewardship. Similarly, church members were encouraged to take care of the elderly and ill—but only those within the church community or those being targeted for conversion. Whether and how to tip a hard-scrabbling waitress simply wasn’t a part of the conversation. 

The practice of tipping taps into two very basic moral impulses – perhaps humanity’s two most fundamental moral instincts: reciprocity and empathy. The reciprocity aspect is obvious: you give good service, I give you a good tip. (Tipping is the reason service is better here than in France.) But as comment threads about the Applebee’s waitress indicate, many of us give generously to wait-staff because we know what it’s like to be in their shoes. “Servers work hard for little money. A lot are just trying to pay their way through college or even just trying to make a little cash in high school, or even supporting a family.” “My friend works in a restaurant and I asked him how much he get paid. He said $2.00/ hr. and only depend on tips. I said, that's against the minimum wage law? I need work just to survive to eat. Thinking about him, I always give at least 18% or 20 for the services they do.” Generosity is rooted in empathy. 

 
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