CHICAGO — A prominent atheist blogger is offering to raise funds for the medical bills of an Ohio pastor that was beaten this past Sunday by a self-described ‘militant atheist.’
As previously reported, Pastor Norman Hayes of Bridge Community Church in North Hampton says that following Sunday’s church service, James Maxie, 28, and his girlfriend came to talk to him. When Hayes asked the woman if she was being abused, the man reportedly became angry and punched him to the floor.
“He was very, very upset that I’d even suggest that he would hurt her,” Hayes told the Dayton Daily News. “Then he turned around and hurt me very badly.”
Police Chief Jarrod Campbell remarked to the publication that he has rarely seen “an incident this brutal.”
As Hayes lay on the floor, Maxie sat on top of him and repeatedly beat him until Hayes began to fear for his life. He begged Maxie to stop.
“It was fortunate he did stop,” Hayes explained. “I really believe my life was in danger if he hadn’t stopped hitting me in the face over and over.”
Maxie then fled on foot into a nearby cornfield and was later found hiding behind a house. He told police that he had gone to church to seek God, but claims that Hayes told his girlfriend that she was “going to Hell for dating me.” Maxie said that’s when he made the “mistake” of beating the pastor to the floor.
Hayes suffered a broken nose in two places, and cuts and bruises around his eyes and ears, some of which required stitches. Maxie, who has a past criminal record, is being held on $51,000 bond and may face multiple charges from the incident.
In the meantime, Hemant Mehta, a popular atheist blogger and author, tells reporters that he is offering to raise money for Hayes’ medical bills. He wrote on his blog this week that his “heart goes out” to Hayes and that he felt that he should discuss the matter with readers “because it turns out Maxie is a ‘militant atheist.'”
“You could make an argument that it’s wrong to say ‘an atheist beat up a pastor’ because it’d be much more appropriate to say ‘a criminal beat up a pastor,'” Mehta wrote. “Fair point. I completely agree. [But] there’s no getting around that detail, though: Maxie was an atheist.”
“[A]nd we’d be foolish to pretend he wasn’t ‘really’ an atheist just because he attended a church or was trying to regain his faith,” he continued. “Does he represent all of us [in what he did]? Of course not.”
Mehta told Religion News Service that he felt moved to help the pastor after coming to this conclusion.
“I looked at his Facebook page,” he told the outlet. “The things he liked and the things he had on his wall were friends of mine and he is a supporter of groups I like. So he is not just some random dude; he is someone who is a part of this movement in some way, and that is something to think about.”
“I think [raising money] is a nice gesture to say we feel horrible for what you went through,” Mehta stated. “This shouldn’t have happened. We disagree with Christians all the time, but that is not how we resolve our debate.”
But Hayes’ son Andy tells Christian News Network that the church has already started a fund to help the wounded pastor with medical expenses, counseling and other financial needs. According to the fund site, PastorNormFund.com, Bridge Community Church is seeking to raise $25,000, and over $2,500 has been pledged from supporters nationwide. Some donations appear to be coming from Mehta’s readers, and others are from concerned pastors and fellow Christians.