“I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” (with a response from John Wesley)

WNhIP9CYou know the stereotype about the cheapskate Sunday lunch church crowd who shortchange servers on their tips? Well, one pastor in St. Louis decided to try her best to live into this stereotype. She was mad that her church group got a mandatory gratuity charge for their gathering so she wrote on her receipt, “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” And then the server put the receipt up on the atheism page on reddit. Nice witness!!! Well I thought I would share some choice words from John Wesley for that pastor and any other Ebenezer Scrooges out there in the church Sunday lunch crowd. ***UPDATE: The pastor was identified; she complained to Applebee’s and got the server fired. Please pray that the server will be able to get a new job and that the pastor will be sanctified by this experience and not harassed by strangers.

I’ve written extensively about what an amazing farce it is when Christians make no connection between the generous grace they have received from God and how they should then treat other people. The libertarian stinginess that characterizes much of conservative evangelicalism is one of the clearest signs that a major short-circuit has occurred in our theology. In any case, how about this whole 10% thing? Are we really supposed to give God only 10% and keep 90%? John Wesley sure didn’t think so. Here’s how he addresses this question in his sermon “The Danger of Riches.”

I do not say, “Be a good Jew, giving a tenth of all you possess.” I do not say, “Be a good Pharisee, giving a fifth of all your substance.” I dare not advise you to give half of what you have; no, nor three quarters; but all! Lift up your hearts, and you will see clearly, in what sense this is to be done. If you desire to be a “faithful and a wise steward,” out of that portion of your Lord’s goods which he has for the present lodged in your hands, but with the right of resumption whenever it pleaseth him, (1.) Provide things needful for yourself; food to eat, raiment to put on; whatever nature moderately requires, for preserving you both in health and strength; (2.) Provide these for your wife, your children, your servants, or any others who pertain to your household. If, when this is done, there be an overplus left, then do good to “them that are of the household of faith.” If there be an overplus still, “as you have opportunity, do good unto all men.” In so doing, you give all you can; nay, in a sound sense, all you have. For all that is laid out in this manner, is really given to God. You render unto God the things that are God’s, not only by what you give to the poor, but also by that which you expend in providing things needful for yourself and your household. [Sermon 87, “The Danger of Riches,” 2.8]

Everything we have belongs to God, not 10%, imbecile preacher! God does intend for us to provide for our families: “food to eat, raiment to put on; whatever nature moderately requires, for preserving you both in health and strength.” When Wesley wrote this, he assumed there would be a surplus and that every paycheck would be expended entirely, first on your family’s reasonable needs and then on the church’s reasonable needs and then on the poor.

What has entered into our consciousness as the values of capitalism have become more entrenched in the 250 years that separate us from Wesley is that it’s virtuous to save all the leftover money from each paycheck because it’s the responsible means of taking care of unexpected future emergencies and/or our retirement. Though I recognize the legitimacy of this rationale and I do think it’s important to plan ahead and save your money, it can create a huge trap in our thinking because you can never save enough money to be prepared for all possible contingencies in the future. Should we be entirely unfazed by the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21 who decided to plan for the future by building a bigger barn to hold his surplus grain (which is very reasonable by our values)? Is Jesus’ lily of the fields passage in Matthew 6:25-34 a pretty Bible verse we can politely ignore? (Oh well He just says not to worry about the future; planning isn’t worrying; blah blah.)

I think a happy compromise between 21st century middle-class piety and 18th century radical Wesleyanism is to be frugal with ourselves but extravagant with others, especially those of limited income. Because I got to know a lot of people in the restaurant and bar industry in my rock and roll band days, I’ve decided to tip 20% unless there’s a problem. Even when there’s a problem with the service, I usually feel bad punishing the person with their tip because I know how worthless I would be as a waiter. It would be such a nightmare if I ever tried to do it. I would probably get about 10% of the orders right between daydreaming, composing electronic dance music in my head, having theological epiphanies, and checking my iPhone slavishly.

It’s such an amazing irony that Christians who have received grace so lavishly from our savior would quibble over lunch tabs. But I’ll tell you what. That fruit testifies. Whatever theology creates that kind of behavior is an abomination. There are many rotten fruits like this in the orchard of American Christianity. The hard thing is finding the roots.

18 thoughts on ““I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” (with a response from John Wesley)

  1. I respect your posts, but I have to disagree with your advice to pray that the pastor in question is not harrassed. I favor petitions to have that pastor removed from her position!

    The pastor intentionally used God’s name in vain to rationalize her own mean-spirited stinginess towards a server who had tended to her as part of a large table which included children (always a difficulty). When the pastor’s nasty behavior became public, she went out of her way to avoid demonstrating any sort of regret or repentence for her pettiness. Instead, she went to the local Applebee’s and demanded the firing of the server who had pointed out her pettiness, the server she had stiffed (who had done nothing wrong to her), the manager, et al. In this terrible economy when losing a job can make the difference between whether one’s children are fed or go without food, that pastor tried to ruin the lives of people and their families, who had done nothing to her except work at the place she had committed her Ebenezer Scrooge actions while she was pinning the blame for her actions on God.

    In other words, this pastor represents God’s word by trying to destroy the lives of everyone connected to the revealing of her own misbehavior. This would be like the executioners of Jesus then killing all the witnesses to keep anyone from knowing they had executed Jesus.

    Why would you want anyone to pray that this pastor, who by her actions has shown she is clearly incapable of regret and clearly willing to harm innocents for the sake of hiding her actions from scrutiny, escapes the consequences of her actions so that she may continue to preach a poisoned gospel for the rest of her life?

  2. This may not be the most “spiritually-oriented” response, but I believe God wants us to live out practical wisdom in many ways, since Lady Wisdom is shouting in the streets on any given day.

    Some smart person once said, “If you can’t afford to tip or don’t want to, then you can’t afford to eat out.” As a former server for 4 years, I can truly appreciate this proverb. And it pops into my head every time I write a tip on it’s designated line.

    Another good rule of thumb is to simply tip $1 or $2 dollars more than you think you should on dining bills under $50. And if you can spend $50 to $100 on a meal, then you should *definitely* be able to tip at 20%.

    My hourly wage as a server at a midwesten upscale restaurant was $2.13. So, if I didn’t receive decent tips during a shift lasting generally 5-hours, I wouldn’t take home anything that resembled a worthwhile paycheck. I was a person who talked about “being a Christian,” at said restaurant too (albeit very legalistically), so if this note bad been written on any receipt there, I surely would have been called a Holy Roller more than the one time it did happen. (The phrase makes me chuckle, now.)

    Thanks for your commentary on this incident, Morgan. I love the way you think critically and grace-fully about cultural norms in the middle class. I am challenged by these discussions in a formative way.

  3. Why is the pastor only giving God 10%? Isn’t that the minimum starting point? God deserves more and so do those that serve us here on earth.

    • Eh… That looks like a retaliatory strike to me. I think if Ronald Reagan wasn’t circulating it, it might be a little more believable.

  4. Im not an athiest, im studying to be a pastor.this so-pastor,did not practice what paul points out.(dont know exactly whereit is.) But he says that those that labor should be givena fair wage. The wait staff works below the minimum wage. Thats why they work so hard at doing a good job. And actually it is a christians duty to practice kindness when possible. And this includes tipping. Verybad form on the pastors lack of generosity. But badform on the resteraunt for automatically adding 18% on the bill. And bad form on the servers part. The pastor shouldtaken up the issue with the resteraunt concerning the automatic gratuity,and not taken it out on the server. Also i fear the server jepordised their employment art this place.

    • It is not bad form to add gratuity on a bill. If you don’t want that to happen read your menu, it clearly states that parties over a certain number have a gratuity added to the bill. If someone or some group finds that to be wrong, go eat fast food!!

    • This was a topic in one of my hospitality classes and according to the info given the pastor had a party of (i forget the number of ppl) but anyways every restaurant in the world has a note visible for everyone that if a party is of and or over said number, a certain % gratuity is automatically added.

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