Photo: spike55151, Flickr
Because, really, what else would compel a restaurant goer to tuck a gospel tract into a check presenter? Folks who haven't worked in the service industry are always startled to learn how frequently servers' hard work earns them a pamphlet about heaven and hell instead of a cash tip. The practice is so widespread that tract publishers have even devised literature that looks like a dollar bill, allowing diners to fool and cheat their waitresses in one fell swoop.
To be clear, I have no problem with my customers unobtrusively spreading the gospel. I wish more diners would include printed material with their tips; I'd love to amass a collection of poems and news clippings my customers considered noteworthy. But the critical phrase here is "with their tips." What's infuriating about the gospel-tract habit is that the tracts are rarely accompanied by money.
I imagine tract givers would argue they're leaving behind something more precious than cash. Since I hate to wade into a theological debate, I'll just quote what a self-identified Christian blogger says on the subject of evangelical etiquette:
"May I challenge you to not only leave the gospel tract, but also to leave a generous tip?," Ashspeaks writes. "If we are God's children, and the money we receive is not ours but His, how can we hold on to it like that when we know the waitress is doing a wonderful job and probably needs it more than you (who has everything in Christ Jesus)?"
Christians are among the harshest critics of hit-and-run tract distribution, which they condemn as "bad testimony" and harmful to their reputation. When I called the American Tract Society, which has been pamphleteering since 1825, to learn more about the origins of tracts as tip substitutes, the staffer I reached groaned when I broached the topic.
Nobody at the American Tract Society had any idea how the tract-only method of tipping got its start. While I imagined my tract-leaving customers inspired by a grubby hand-wringing flim-flam preacher, there doesn't seem to be any one person behind the trend. Tract publishers universally exhort their customers to leave their literature "with generous tips at restaurants."
Diners who slip out the door, leaving only a Biblical flier behind, may call themselves Christians. We servers call them cheapskates.