I have resumed a periodic column with Evangelicals Now. The current edition carries the most recent article. I reproduce it unedited and in full here.
Just over a week ago (at the time of writing), my friend uploaded a screen grab of her less than impressed response to a request from what those of us in Oldham would refer to as a “cheeky beggar”. What followed was over a week-long saga in which my friend’s response, dripping with sarcasm as it was, found its way into the national news. Every day, I saw a new outlet had picked up the story. It hit all the major national newspapers and media groups, making it a matter of true import when it finally hit the big stage in the Oldham Times. The saga – which as I write is still ongoing – was even dubbed #cakegate and, if I’m being honest, I am partly only mentioning it in these pages so Evangelicals Now doesn’t miss out on the bandwagon.
For those of you who missed this story, the salient facts are these. A PR company approached a local bakery asking if they would be willing to produce one big cake, a slightly smaller cake and 100 cupcakes on behalf of their unnamed celebrity client. In return for supplying these products, “payment would be made in the form of promotion on their socials with over 700k followers, as well as promoted in OK magazine.” After outlining the full request, the email signed off “Let me know your thoughts.”
My friend duly replied:
I’m so sorry to hear your client has fallen on such hard times they can’t afford to pay small businesses for their products.
Unfortunately as my mortgage provider doesn’t take payment “in the form of promotion on their socials”, and my staff can’t feed their kids with exposure on Instagram, I’ll have to decline your very generous offer.
Those are my thoughts.
If you google #cakegate, you will no doubt find the full request and complete response.
The unnamed celebrity has since been named and even responded in an ill-advised video. The public response has not been very supportive of the celebrity, to say the least. If I could sum up the mood, “cheeky beggar” is about the best I can do. It has been almost universally accepted (there are always one or two outliers) that small businesses ought to be paid properly and celebrities – who are among the best placed of all to pay – really ought to be doing so and not seeking to take advantage.
Of course, I’m not really writing this to plug my friend’s business. After all, she clearly isn’t interested in promotion on any of our socials. But I think the almost unanimous public response supporting my friend’s stance and lambasting the celebrity for refusing to pay up tells us something of which Christians should take note. Specifically, nobody takes kindly to people expecting professional work, skills and products to be given to them at a loss for essentially nothing.
Why do I say Christians need to take note? Because C-list celebrities are not the only cheeky beggars. Amongst the very worst offenders are believers. Christians, who not only expect something for nothing, but demand it in the name of the kingdom. In effect, they argue, if you really love the Lord, you’d give me this, or do this, for free.
This is not an issue on which scripture is silent. Paul explicitly tells Timothy, ‘The elders who are good leaders are to be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says: Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain, and, “The worker is worthy of his wages.” (1 Tim 5:17-18). Yet repeatedly, it is full-time church elders who are asked, “what’s the least you need to live on?” as if the answer to that will in any way fulfil what the scriptures say. I have seen the same issue raised when it comes to Christian work in general. We frequently do not want to pay the “going rate” for workers, but expect people to scrape by for the sake of Christ when we wouldn’t dream of working for such meagre pay nor do people work harder for you when you don’t value them or care for their needs. But even outside of Christian ministry, we just expect freebies all the time. “It’s for the gospel” is assumed to be the magic word to get stuff for free. But how are we serving the cause of the gospel by going so clearly against what the scriptures say? “The worker is worthy of his wages” cannot possibly mean “unless it is for the gospel, at which point he isn’t!”
In an altogether different setting, Paul talks about a kind of “immorality that is not even tolerated among the pagans” (cf. 1 Cor 5:1). If #cakegate shows us anything, it’s that this sort of entitled behaviour and refusal to give people their due – whether we are claiming it is “for the gospel” or not – is not even tolerated within the world. How can we claim it is “for the gospel” when it is a matter of sin expressly noted in scripture and not tolerated amongst unbelievers? In the name of “good stewardship” many Christians are, to put it bluntly, just tightfisted. Need I mention the reputation – whispered but well known – of Christians in Keswick over the summer and their approach to buying anything and tipping staff? Even the world buys stuff to sit in cafes and tip in restaurants. The radical generosity of Christ is hidden by an approach to stewardship that is both unseen by the world and evidenced in little more than tightfistedness. We simultaneously end up sinning by not paying workers their due and demanding freebies “for the gospel”. These things are not even tolerated in the world!
When Christian culture has more in common with the entitled attitude of a now widely criticised celebrity, and flies in the face of what scripture states in black and white, we surely need to take a little look at ourselves, don’t we? Perhaps we need to rethink our understanding of Christian stewardship and reacquaint ourselves with the radical generosity of Christ. After all, nobody like a cheeky beggar.