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Ashton Smith: “Mercy Culture staffers look at me sideways because I am wearing this or that. I should be able to wear whatever I want.” Courtesy Ashton Smith

The recent indictment of the disgraced grifter-in-chief riled Mercy Culture’s congregants, not due to the former guy’s lifelong disdain of Jesus’ teachings to not lie, steal, or commit adultery but rather because the folks at the megachurch are proud members of Cult 45.

Ashton Smith, a Black woman, recently fled the Northside compound after two years of experiencing alleged harassment by Mercy Culture staffers and racist remarks by congregants.

“Black Lives Matter shirts aren’t allowed” at Mercy Culture, Smith told us, adding that MAGA gear and merch are condoned if not outright encouraged at the Christian Nationalist church of choice for County Judge Tim O’Hare, District Attorney Phil Sorrells, Sheriff Bill Waybourn, and many of the other right-wing crackpots running Tarrant County.

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Trump’s 34 felony charges for allegedly falsifying business records to cover up his affair with a porn star emboldened Mercy Culture’s congregation to go full-on racist and homophobe, Smith said.

“I will not go to a church that talks about Donald Trump,” Smith said. “It is one of the worst churches in Fort Worth. They told me I look like a thug.”

Alleged racist remarks and outright calls to murder anyone part of the LGBTQ+ community by Mercy Culture members unsettled Smith, but a recent confrontation with one Mercy Culture staffer led Smith to finally sever ties with the church. Smith alleges that a female employee recently cornered her, questioned the way Smith dressed, and ordered her to leave or the police would be called.

Smith, a four-time gold medalist at the Special Olympics World Games, acknowledges her muscular build and preference for wearing slacks in lieu of dresses make her appear androgynous. While she considers herself an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, Smith alleges that she was misrepresented by homophobic Mercy Culture followers as transgender.

“It is sad that I was told to leave a church” over misconceptions, Smith said, adding that she dresses in men’s clothing because she lives in an underserved community and knows women are more likely to be assaulted. “Mercy Culture staffers look at me sideways because I am wearing this or that. I should be able to wear whatever I want.”

Smith filed a police report, alleging Mercy Culture staff harassed her — a potential Class B misdemeanor — and plans to follow up with a civil rights lawsuit. Allegations of abuse by leaders at the place of worship founded by Gateway Church, the pro-tRump charismatic operation that has infested several states and counting, are not new to our readers.

While non-brainwashed places of worship focus on biblical teachings, Mercy Culture fixates on worldly desires like grifting congregants into buying homes from church elders who conveniently work as Realtors (“ Mercy Culture Wars,” May 2022) or allegedly spiritually abusing human trafficking victims (“Masters of Manipulation,” July 2022) and children (“Grooming Christian Nationalists?” June 2022).

Pastor Landon Schott is obsessed with politics even as the New Testament teaches putting heavenly aims above the petty, self-serving acts of politicians. Schott and his cohorts appear willfully ignorant that the Bible says oppressing others is a one-way ticket to hell.

Schott’s sermons and social media posts that mock non-followers of charismatic Christian doctrines poison the minds of congregants who may have been otherwise tolerant of others before buying into Mercy Culture’s cult of personality.

The anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric from Mercy Culture elders sometimes leads to epic and hilarious blowback. A recently resurfaced video of Mercy Culture elder Nate Schatzline, a state representative who authored a bill to ban drag performances, shows him prancing in a black sequined dress while in college. (Hey, Nate. Unlike you, we’re not judging, just pointing out the hypocrisy. You do you, brah.)

The Northside megachurch is running afoul of federal laws banning discrimination and entangling church and state. Schott frequently endorses Republican candidates during sermons.

“The law has to be equal for everyone, not just Christians,” Smith said.

The vapid, anti-homophobic rhetoric by Mercy Culture elders sometimes leads to epic blowback, like the time video footage of State Rep. Nate Schatzline in drag went viral across several social media platforms earlier this year.
Courtesy TikTok

She added that congregants and elders made veiled and not-so-veiled threats against her. On one occasion, a Mercy Culture staffer told her they were going to “Jezebel her ass,” which Smith took to be a threat of bodily harm, given the biblical reference to the female pagan thrown from a window and devoured by dogs.

Smith has found a new place of worship, Broadway Baptist Church on the Near Southside. With time comes perspective, and she occasionally thinks about the many doors at Mercy Culture with keycode locks and all the rooms with mirrors that may have allowed Mercy Culture Stasi to spy on congregants and other staffers. The megachurch, as we’re frequently told, relies on surveillance and marked and unmarked security personnel to keep everyone in line. Unauthorized visitors with cameras are viewed with suspicion and frequently questioned.

Mercy Culture Church’s cult-like behavior would not likely be the subject of ongoing reporting and commentary by our magazine were it not for the church’s political activism that solely serves the interests of sexist, racist, homophobic Christian Nationalists seeking to install a Christian caliphate here and across the country. Our top county leaders are aware of and condone the toxic beliefs that fester at Mercy Culture. Rather than advocating for tolerance and respect for our country’s foundational separation of church and state, our DA, county judge, sheriff, and state reps allow Mercy Culture leaders to pave a path of destruction and anguish through Fort Worth. Why? Because O’Hare, Sorrells, and Waybourn care more about massaging their egos and generating votes than serving the people of Tarrant County and protecting this county from a powerful, dangerous, and emboldened Christian Nationalist movement.

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