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Published: Wednesday, 10/30/2013

Atheists come to aid of Ohio pastor

BY ANDREW McGINN
DAYTON DAILY NEWS

The Clark County pastor recently brutally beaten inside his church said he believes God let him live.

But, a week after the incident at the Bridge Community Church in North Hampton, atheists around the world are rallying to at least make sure he doesn’t have to worry about the cost to recover.

An online recovery fund for the Rev. Norman Hayes had netted more than $5,300 as of Tuesday, with a goal of $25,000. Many donations had been made by people identifying themselves as atheists or humanists — a response to Hayes’ alleged attacker labeling himself on Facebook a “militant atheist.”

James Maxie, 28, of Springfield was indicted Tuesday by a Clark County grand jury for felonious assault. He’ll be arraigned Thursday.

Maxie, who previously has served prison time for felonious assault, allegedly was argumentative during the Oct. 20 church service.

In a hallway afterward, Hayes, 57, asked Maxie’s girlfriend if she felt safe, apparently sparking the assault that left the pastor so bloody, he said he left blood-stained handprints on the church walls as he tried to feel his way out.

Regular services were held this past Sunday, but Hayes didn’t preach.

“I haven’t been able to wrap my head around stuff,” he confessed Tuesday before an appointment to have a second CT scan. “It’s hard to concentrate.”

Blogger Hemant Mehta, a high school math teacher in suburban Chicago who runs the site FriendlyAtheist.com, was among the many who contacted the Hayes family to see how they could help, said Andy Hayes, the pastor’s son.

Andy Hayes last week set up www.gofundme.com/pastornormfund for people to contribute, and the “Friendly Atheist” has been directing people to the fundraising site.

“If God’s not looking out for us,” Mehta wrote on his blog, “we have to look out for each other.”

A $100 donation was accompanied by the comment, “Atheists can be just as decent as anyone else. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.”

The person who gave a $15 donation posted, “Whether or not there is a god, what happened was unacceptable. Here’s to humanity making things better.”

The outpouring of support from many anonymous atheists has been meaningful to Hayes.

“It hasn’t changed my theological point of view,” Hayes said, “but it makes you realize we’re more than just what our theology is.”

Donations, according to the site, will go toward medical expenses, counseling for the family, financial help for missed work time and potential legal fees.

“We’re getting past the physical part of it,” said Andy Hayes, a Springfield graphic designer. “But there’s a lot of psychological and emotional stuff still there.”

Hayes’ church was founded nine years ago, and has a congregation of 80, he said.

Maxie’s girlfriend and her family have been members of the church for five or six years, Hayes said.

Hayes said it’s time churches — like schools — have a conversation about security procedures.

“The church should be a place of open arms, but at the same time, you need to do that with wisdom,” he said. “We are and still should be welcoming, but the scripture says, ‘Be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.’”



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