Last weekend, self-described “militant atheist” James Maxie went to church with his girlfriend and ended up severely beating the pastor, Rev. Norman Hayes, after Hayes asked his girlfriend if she felt safe with him:
As I wrote earlier this week, Pastor Hayes did nothing to deserve the violent attack on him, while Maxie deserves whatever punishment he has coming his way.
It’s also worth noting that Maxie’s atheism was pretty incidental to this whole story. He didn’t beat up the pastor because he was a pastor; Maxie did it because he was provoked by someone and he had a short fuse. (Maxie once spent two years in jail on an assault conviction, by the way.) I’m not excusing him from his actions, only pointing out that religion wasn’t the primary cause for this attack.
But a headline reading “Criminal Commits a Crime” wouldn’t be very interesting… so the “militant atheist” phrase was used in every story I saw about the assault (and I feel justified in using it for that very reason).
That’s what worries me. I don’t want this particular incident to affect the atheist community at large because some Christians may argue that Maxie, despite being an anomaly, somehow “proves” that godless people are immoral or violent. We know the reality is far from that, but many others in our society don’t.
I reached out to Pastor Hayes (and a local reporter) earlier this week to see if there was anything we could do for him, but I didn’t hear back… until today.
Pastor Hayes called me this afternoon and we talked about what happened at church last week. He was quick to point out that his and Maxie’s differences in religious beliefs weren’t central to the attack, saying “I didn’t even know he was an atheist [until after reading the news stories]. The idea of atheism had nothing to do, in my mind, with what happened.”
I asked him how he’s feeling and whether he’s still injured. He told me he’s doing better but he’s far from recovered. He’s gone to the hospital a couple of times already and will likely make more visits in the near future.
I wondered if he was planning on preaching this Sunday. Hayes hasn’t decided yet. It may be too soon, emotionally and physically, but it’ll be a game-time decision.
Finally, I learned that there was a way we could help him. Some members of Pastor Hayes’ church have created a fund in an effort to raise money to pay his medical bills. They’re looking to raise about $25,000:
Norman has racked up a lot of medical expenses over the last week or so and his wife has lost time at work. The last thing we want our pastor’s family to have to worry about at this time is their ability to take care of their financial responsibilities.
Pastor Norm has had a great impact on people over his years in ministry, and it has been his life’s ambition to invest in others. Please join us in donating to alleviate the stress that comes with the burden of medical expenses and allow him to focus on the physical and emotional healing needed to continue pouring himself into the needs of others.
All donations will go directly to:
- Pastor Norm’s medical expenses after insurance
- Counseling for the family
- Financial needs because of time away from work
- Potential legal fees
- Any overage will go to their general financial needs during this traumatic time
Just to be clear — and I verified this with Pastor Hayes — none of the money will benefit his church (despite the donations being directed there because of its tax exemption). It’ll go toward the cost of healing and any potential legal fees. I know we have strong issues with his theological positions but I hope you’ll agree that they’re irrelevant here.
We may not be able to control future incidents like these but we can control how we react as a community. That’s why I’m donating to the fund and I’m asking all of you to chip in as well.
Hayes seemed genuinely surprised by the outreach he’s received from people everywhere, including from atheists. But it shouldn’t be a surprise that atheists would want to help him out after something as awful as this. It should be a given. If God’s not looking out for us, we have to look out for each other.