Righteously Bad Theology

As the Anchoress noted a couple of days ago, a server in Overland Park, Kansas went to pick up a check after restaurant patrons had eaten, and found this message on the bill:

Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD. Queers do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours. We hope you will see the tip your fag choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’S love, but none shall be spared for fags. May GOD have mercy on you.

This is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard for me to be charitable about it. There are places and occasions and relationships where calling your brother to repentance is appropriate, but this is Not How It’s Done. This is not what Christianity is about. This is not the love of Christ made visible in the world.

I could say all kinds of things about the patron who wrote this note, but the fact is, I know nothing about him except the note he left. I could engage in name-calling and speculate wildly about the patron’s sinfulness, but since that’s exactly the kind of behavior I’m decrying I’m not going to go there. (And anyway, I’d only get angry and say something I’d have to repent of later.) Instead, I want to talk about the theology implied by the note itself. Let’s break down the note into its specific claims:

  1. The waiter’s service was excellent.
  2. The waiter has a homosexual lifestyle.
  3. The waiter’s homosexual lifestyle is an affront to God.
  4. The waiter’s lifestyle is sufficient reason to avoid tipping him.
  5. Homosexuals do not share in the wealth of God.
  6. The waiter will not share in the patron’s wealth.
  7. The loss of the tip is the waiter’s own fault.
  8. The patron hopes the loss of the tip will be a wake-up call to the waiter to change his way of life.
  9. It is never too late to receive God’s love.
  10. God’s love will not be wasted on homosexuals.

Let’s take these one at a time.

1. The waiter’s service was excellent. In that case, the waiter deserved his tip. The worker is worth his wages, and it’s unjust to withhold a tip that’s been justly earned if you can possibly pay it.

2. The waiter has a homosexual lifestyle. It’s not clear to me how the patron knows all about the waiter’s lifestyle as the result of an acquaintance lasting the duration of one meal, during which the waiter gave excellent service. This seems presumptuous to me. But for the sake of argument, let’s presume that the waiter is a notorious public sinner, and that the patron truly has the salvation of the waiter’s soul at heart and is truly attempting to speak the truth in love, and see whether the rest of the note holds water.

3. The waiter’s homosexual lifestyle is an affront to God. All sin is an affront to God; and leaving homosexuality to the side, I expect that the waiter has every bit as much of a reason to be ashamed before God as I do. With a slight change in wording, it seems to me that the patron could make much the same claim of any waiter they’d happened to get, gay or not. Why pick on this particular waiter?

The only answer I can see is that the patron is making a distinction between this kind of sin and that kind of sin, and saying that that kind of sin is particularly offensive to God, more so than this kind of sin. And one is undeniably tempted to assume that that kind of sin is the kind of sin the patron isn’t tempted by. But all sin is an affront to God; and none of us have reason to pride ourselves on our lack of it. (In the spirit of C.S. Lewis, who only wrote about sins he himself had trouble with: pride, yeah, I struggle with that.) Pharisaism is an ugly thing, and that’s what I see here. (I struggle with that, too.)

4. The waiter’s lifestyle is sufficient reason to avoid tipping him. If personal sinfulness was a sufficient reason not to tip, nobody would ever be tipped except by an act of altruistic generosity. But per #1, above, the waiter earned his tip, and it is unjust to withhold it. So this is plainly false.

5. Homosexuals do not share in the wealth of God. This is plainly false even at first glance. All wealth comes ultimately from God. The rain falls on the righteous and the wicked alike, the earth feeds us, the sun shines on us all. And all of these things are aspects of God’s continuing love for us, and the waiter shares in them, whatever his virtues or vices might be.

6. The waiter will not share in the patron’s wealth. This is equally untrue, actually, because the waiter is also paid a wage, and that wage comes from the patrons of the restaurant. But it’s clear that the patron doesn’t intend that he should.

7. The loss of the tip is the waiter’s own fault. Said the wife-beater to his wife.

OK, that was harsh.

8. The patron hopes the loss of the tip will be a wake-up call to the waiter to change his way of life. I’m trying to be charitable, so I won’t discuss the patron’s hopes. But as a wake-up call, this doesn’t seem calculated to impress the waiter with the love and mercy of God. Rather, it seems calculated to make him avoid Christians.

9. It is never too late to receive God’s love. Now this is certainly true. It is also never too early to receive God’s love; it is only God’s love that sustains creation in existence, and us with it. If He didn’t love us, the game is over with no replays. More pertinently, it is never too late to turn to God, beg forgiveness, and let Him lead you to heaven one step at a time. So OK; stopped clocks, and all that.

10. God’s love will not be wasted on homosexuals. This the one that really frosts me, because it’s absolute hogwash. Gays are not some special class, unlike all others, who are somehow beyond the bounds of God’s love and mercy.

There is no one that God does not love. We can’t make God love us more by behaving properly, and we can’t make God love us less by behaving improperly. God’s love is a fierce shining light that falls on all us; the only question is, will we turn our backs on it and face the darkness, or turn our faces to it and slowly learn to cope with the brightness.

The Christian life is not a life spent becoming acceptable to God. The Christian life is a life spent learning to accept God’s love.

Let me repeat that.

The Christian life is not a life spent becoming acceptable to God. The Christian life is a life spent learning to accept God’s love.

It’s true that learning to accept God’s love involves learning to leave our sins behind us. I’m not pitching some kind of wimpy universalism: growth in holiness is necessary, and so difficult that without Christ’s help it’s impossible. But God loves us, always and eternally. That’s why He became man, so that we could accept His help.

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