The strange nativity tale of Patrick Greene

Posted by : admin | On : March 15, 2012

Column by Michael V. Hannigan

I’ve been lucky enough in my career to break a few fairly big stories, and last December when I broke the story about the nativity scene controversy I knew I had a big one.

Hey, I didn’t know it was international coverage big, but I knew it was a story that was going to draw attention and have what we call a “long tail,” meaning it was going to be around a long time.

But I never expected Patrick Greene.

Greene is the San Antonio atheist who stepped into the debate in February, promising to sue the county if it put the nativity scene up on the Courthouse lawn next Christmas. The important part is that Greene has a history of filing such lawsuits and getting concessions because of the action, so he wasn’t someone to downplay or just ignore.

Greene said he wanted “to show that Christianity does not rule my state of Texas, the Constitution does.”

He contacted county officials, newspapers, pastors, non-profit leaders; he used just about every email address in Henderson County he could find, warning of his intentions. He sent me the beginning pages of the lawsuit.

But now, a month later, Greene tells me he is going to write a book to tell the world about the wonderful Christians in Henderson County and to shame his atheist friends.

What changed? About $400.

Greene has a detached retina and is going blind. Because of that, he dropped his plan to file a lawsuit against the county. He had to leave his job as a taxi driver and was ready to just fade out of the county conscious and start learning how to get to the nearby Walmart using a cane.

Except a group of Henderson County Christians wouldn’t let him just go away. Led by Sand Springs Baptist Church pastor Erick Graham, they talked with Greene and worked with him, looking for a way to help the man who doesn’t have many resources other than his wife of 33 years.

Greene refused help repeatedly. The Christians reached out to him repeatedly.

In the end, Greene gratefully accepted the gift of about $400 to help him and his wife through the gap between losing his job and Social Security kicking in. He said the money helped him with groceries during a tough time.

Believe it when I say the episode has him rethinking some things. Before this, all he had experienced in his life is the judgementalism of Christians, and he has been shunned and outcast at times for being an atheist.

“It is very flabbergasting that Christians would help atheists,” he wrote.

The hope is that Greene, an eight-year veteran of the Air Force, will be able to get his eyes taken care of at a Veterans Administration hospital. He is still working on that possibility.

This would be a beautiful story if it ended here, but life isn’t that tidy.

Not all Christians in Henderson County thought helping Greene was a good thing, and some who wanted to help him only wanted to do so for the publicity it would bring the cause (not Graham, who has kept everything as quiet as possible). While talks went on with Greene, the debate played out on the pages of The Malakoff News Facebook page and website.
As of press time, the debate continued.

Plus the nativity scene story is about to heat up again with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the group that originally started all the fuss, expected to show up in April to renew its part of the fight.

And any day now, Greene could lose his sight.

So it isn’t a story that can be wrapped up in a neat package; but it is one I thought I should tell.

Comments (13)

  1. Kate said on 01-04-2012

    If you would like to help the Greene’s, here’s a link where you can do so.
    Personally, I appreciate the example the folks at Sand Springs Baptist Church set.

  2. Jessica Crye said on 16-03-2012

    This is quoted from Patrick Greene’s email to me today:
    “Please tell everyone who contributed what we did with their money.
    Our cat now has enough food until our social security checks arrive.
    We also have enough food until then
    We did not spend any of it on beer or liquor, because not any of us three drink any kind of liquor.
    We did not spend any of it on sports, because all three of us hate sports. Me, my wife and our cat.
    Our cat is very much into bird watching.”

    • Todd Weaver said on 16-03-2012

      This whole story plays out and reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures.

      Matthew 25:40
      “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

  3. Angie said on 15-03-2012

    “Not all Christians in Henderson County thought helping Greene was a good thing, and some who wanted to help him only wanted to do so for the publicity it would bring the cause”
    Gee, I wonder why there are atheists in the world?

  4. Michael Rainwater said on 15-03-2012

    This story shows how we are supposed to act toward those who do not believe. We need to see the lost as hurting people that need love, not enemies that need to be destroyed. Keep up the good work, Michael.

    • george said on 15-03-2012

      An even better way to treat those that don’t share your religious beliefs would be to not refer to them as lost or hurting.

  5. Todd Weaver said on 15-03-2012

    … and this love for each other glorifies our Father in Heaven.

  6. Jessica Crye said on 15-03-2012

    Thank you Michael for the update and Susan for your support. This is such an exciting thing to be involved in. God is working our great things. It is so humbling to be invoved with this. I have told Patrick that God is using him to change me as much as HE is using the Christians here to change Patrick.

    • Susan Voyles said on 15-03-2012

      You know this whole story reminds me of the apostle Paul. The blindness….maybe God has great plans for Mr. Greene. Who knows Gods plans? Sometimes when we are blinded….we see much clearer!

  7. Tammy said on 15-03-2012

    That is truly a awesome story. I think we Christians should help everyone not just Christians and not just just see what others thinks of us.

  8. Susan Voyles said on 15-03-2012

    I can’t imagine that a true Christian would think its a bad thing to help anyone! Ye without sin….cast the first stone. We are commissioned to spread the gospel, help the poor, the widows, and the children. God heaps blessings on those who give blessings. I pray that all christians and especially those in Henderson County continue to let thier lights shine…so that the world may know the truth. That Jesus Christ is Lord!

    • Lacey said on 15-03-2012

      Susan, I fully agree with what you said as well as Jessica. I find it quite amazing God would use our little town in such a way. God loves everyone, but hates sin. When Jesus gave His life on the Cross, He did for whomever whether or not they ever accept Him as the Truth. And, He knew already who would and would not believe. He did it anyways.