The Great Jesus Tip War

The Great Jesus Tip War
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When cultural historians look back on this decade, they will surely scratch their heads over the Great Jesus Tip War of 2013. It all started by accident, and ended with a fake hate crime.

In January, Chelsea Welch, a waitress for Applebee's in St. Louis, Missouri, took a pic with her smartphone of the bill from a table that a colleague had waited on. Welch posted it to Reddit. She insisted the point of the posting was not to make a statement. Rather, it was meant it as a "light-hearted joke," people.

The bill was for a large party. A mandatory 18 percent gratuity was added, as the menu had warned. This is standard practice in the restaurant industry to shield wait staff from being stiffed. They pay taxes on a percentage of sales whether or not they get tipped, so it only makes sense.

Where the tip amount had been added in, the customer scribbled it out with black ink. The woman, who added "pastor" to her name, wrote "0" instead. She lectured, "I give God 10% Why do you get 18[?]"

Looking back, we can see why Welch didn't think this would be such a big deal. Waitresses get notes on bills all the time, with pick-up lines, phone numbers, insults, encouragement, Bible verses. She viewed the receipt as simply par for the main course.

But once you launch these things on the Internet, they take on a life of their own. The "I give God 10%" receipt was shared by hundreds of thousands of people and their closest Facebook friends, as a stereotypical example of Christian cluelessness.

Applebee's brass couldn't stand the heat, so they sent Welch out of the kitchen. She was fired in February. Welch's dismissal led to a small boycott of the chain, and minor celebrity status for her.

The Guardian even included her in its panel of commentators responding to President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address. Spoiler alert: she liked it.

Welch's fate might have made servers a little bit wary about following her example, but not too wary. Stories about good, awful and surprising tippers became a regular staple of the Yahoo! News feed, for instance.

Along the way somebody decided to buy God some good publicity.

At different points around the country mystery tippers started to leave gratuitous gratuities, in the thousands of dollars. They put the tag "@tipsforjesus" on the receipts, but otherwise have not been terribly forthcoming.

Last week, Gawker claimed to have found Mr. @tipsforjesus himself, "Jack Selby, a former PayPal VP with more money than the real son of God."

Yet while it's likely that Selby gave some astronomical tips and used the @tipsforjesus tag, he's not the only one. The Huffington Post reported last week "tips were left in NYC and Mexico on the same night," concluding that only "God knows what's really going on."

While some good times Samaritans were spreading cash, New Jersey waitress Dayna Morales was busy spreading her tale of woe. In November, she posted to Facebook the receipt of a table that gave her an insult as a tip.

The note to Morales, who is a lesbian and looks the part, read, "I'm sorry but I cannot tip because I don't agree with your lifestyle & how you live your life."

Morales's story prompted an outpouring of support, thousands of dollars in donations, and further scrutiny. The customers attached to the bill, a family of four, came forward. They charged Morales with lying and fraud.

First, they hadn't written that note, they said. Second, they didn't stiff her. A credit card statement was duly provided to back up the family's claim. They had tipped about 20 percent.

Gallop Asian Bistro let Morales go this week, after an allegedly inconclusive inquiry. Press reports of the waitress's controversy alleged that she had a long history of making stuff up.

It's unlikely, however, that Morales would have concocted this particular whopper without encouragement. Thanks to social and more stolid media, the Great Jesus Tip War narrative was already firmly in place, of Christians stiffing people because of their intolerant intolerance or what have you. All she needed was the smallest bit of proof.

Writing in the Guardian, the waitress who accidentally started this little war tried to muster sympathy for Morales but eventually gave that up, calling her "little better than the bellyaching liars or the finger-pointing Christians that make life hard for servers everywhere."

Such bitterness in Welch is understandable but awfully disappointing. Clearly the woman needs @tipsforjesus.

Jeremy Lott is editor-at-large of RealClearPolitics and author, most recently, of William F. Buckley.

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