A firestorm of articles and comments erupted yesterday over the comment left by Pastor Alois Bell on her dinner receipt at an Applebee’s in St. Louis, Mo last week. After Chelsea Welch, fellow coworker of the server addressed by the note, took a photo of it and posted it to her Reddit account was fired for violating Applebee’s policy, the whole thing went viral. What was initially a difference of opinion between patron and restaurant became a furor of anger unleashed against not only Pastor Bell, but Christianity and the Church in general. Are stories like this continuing to widen a gulf between church and society?
Many of the comments left on articles and social media discussion were expressions of non-Christians stating that this is why they are not Christian and will have nothing to do with it. To them, it seems to be an abuse of the pastor’s position.
People who are Christian have been quick to compartmentalize Bell and her actions by saying that this is not how Christians are taught to behave and have expressed opinions that they believe the Pastor Bell should help Welch get her job back.
Regardless of the details in this isolated incident of religious debate, employee rights, and what some have expressed to be a racial issue, there is a question that looms in the larger picture amid other incidents that have elicited similar responses: Why has this detonated such explosive reaction almost immediately?
In comparison, let’s look at another issue more locally-oriented to Northeast Ohio. Brother Stephen Baker, a former teacher of the Catholic John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Oh, came into the news on Jan. 17 of this year when on Jan. 16 Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian made an announcement concerning mediated settlements that Catholic Church officials were paying to eleven former students of Baker’s. Ten of these students had been at JFK and one had been at St. Mary’s Middle School, also in Warren. More than 80 allegations have surfaced from Baker’s tenure at JFK and Bishop McCort high schools. WKBN Online News Manager Adam Ferrise posted an article yesterday reporting that Douglas Larson, 49, of St. Cloud, Mn told him in a phone interview that he had received a $50,000 settlement in 2005 for having been sexually abused by Baker in the late 1970’s at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church where Baker was a cook and religious teacher.
The Warren Tribune reported Jan. 17 that when Baker was confronted with the allegations he was “flabbergasted.” Baker committed suicide last week. His body was found the morning of Saturday, Jan. 26, in a Hollisdayburg, Pa, monastery where he had been living, reported in the Warren Tribune Jan. 27, by Joe Gorman, Staff Reporter. Baker had stabbed himself in the heart.
One might well wonder, however, that even though considerable public outcry was expressed locally over the Baker abuse allegations, this news paled considerably to the explosive blast that culminated Feb. 1 over a pastor’s opinion over whether God or her server should receive a higher percentage.
Sadly, the public may have become desensitized to allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of church officials, not only those in the Catholic Church. Not so with arrogant pastors quipping off what God and others are entitled to receive.
These events still beg to have an answer to the question of why they touch off highly reactive opinions by people completely unrelated to the event. Decades ago in the middle of the 20th Century, pastors and churches garnered respect from society. At the dawn of the 21st Century, we have experienced a 180 degree societal shift. People within churches who are entrenched in its culture wonder why more people don’t come. People outside the church wonder why anyone would expect them to entertain the idea of breaching a church’s doors.
A societal schism has developed that stories like Pastor Bell’s and Brother Baker’s only further to widen. If this schism is irreparable, the next question that begs to be answered is, “What is the future of the Church in this social network driven society?” Those within the church will probably be doing a lot of hand-wringing over this concern. Those outside the church likely don’t care.