A $10 bill is a joyful sight for a server. But when one waiter went to retrieve such a note out from under a diner's plate recently, he reportedly noticed something curious. The tip it provided wasn't monetary, but took the form of advice. "SOME THINGS ARE BETTER THAN MONEY," it said on the back, "like your eternal salvation, that was brought and paid for by Jesus going to the cross."
The waiter, who makes $2.65 base pay an hour, didn't take well to getting so self-righteously stiffed. He posted photographs of the scene to the social newspaper Reddit, and wrote: "P.S. I have never been more atheist."
"That's not very christian like behavior..." wrote one commentator.
But while that behavior certainly isn't the rule among Christians, it also isn't necessarily an exception. One waiter complained about the proffering of fake scripture-laden bills as tips on the "Friendly Atheist" blog in January 2009.
These phony bills appeared at least as far back as the summer of 2006, at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Greensboro, N.C. One blogger tells of going to a restaurant then and speaking to a waitress who was on the verge of tears. The convention attendees had been atrocious with their tipping, she said, but very generous with Bible verses and phony money.
"She asked us if we knew what it felt like to pick up what you thought was a great tip, only to find out that it was not real, and that the patron had actually been a cheapskate, after she served them well?"
The idea that Christians are poor tippers apparently has been whispered in service circles for a long time. Many waiters try not work Sunday brunch, so as to avoid notoriously stingy churchgoers, claims Justin Wise, the director of a Lutheran ministry in Des Moines, Iowa.
"Christians don't tip very well," he wrote for The Lutheran magazine in January 2009. "As a matter of fact, we're pretty cheap. What makes this worse is that we paint 'cheap' with a religious-sounding veneer and call it 'being a good steward.' Nothing like hiding behind the Bible to camouflage your stinginess."
One woman wrote back: "It was almost 100 percent true that the worst tips were on a check with a Bible verse or fish symbol."
This is a particularly uncomfortable phenomenon to face for a community that values generosity, justice and service.
"By leaving tracts and not tips, that person is saying to their waiter or waitress, 'You are not a person, but rather just a notch on my belt of evangelistic pride,' " explains Daniel Readle, a pastor at a Baptist church in Athens, Ga., on his blog "Christ and Culture."
An empirical study on this topic was conducted recently by Michael Lynn of Cornell University. He found that Christians are not in fact bad tippers; they gave an average of 17.3 percent for good service, well inside the 15 to 20 percent norm.
Only 13 percent of Christians left less than 15 percent for good service. That's a small minority of Christians, but still almost double the percentage of unaffiliated diners who left that amount, and over six times the percentage of Jewish diners.
So while it is statistically false to say that Christians are bad tippers, it is true that Christians are more likely to stiff their servers than people of other religious (or non-religious) bents.
Because of these penny-pinchers, waiters are more likely to give bad service to anyone who appears outwardly Christian, Lynn suggests, or to call in sick for the Sunday shift.
Some things may be better than money, like trust, fairness, and tolerance. But a decent tip to your server can go a long way toward those goals.
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