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.