Growing up conservative, Joe is familiar with the antics of charismatic churchgoers who speak in tongues, worship their pastors as prophets, and — when not serving as online experts in geopolitical relations, the media, and submersibles — lick the cowboy boots of far-right elected officials.
But this? This was just plain weird.
Standing on West Magnolia Avenue on Saturday, Joe watched befuddled as a small group pulled out bottles and began, um, lubing up the sidewalk. One unidentified person, he said, poured what turned out to be olive oil on a stop sign covered with small Pride flags.
Taking to Instagram, Joe commented, “God Bless the Holy Kroger Olive Oil.”
Joe, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect his privacy, had come to this part of the Near Southside to give Roots Markets a hard time. Recently called out for their bigotry, the weekly open-air mongers of produce, crafts, and coffee maintain close ties to a local megachurch whose members clearly think we’re in the middle of some kind of holy war.
And maybe we are.
That megachurch is Mercy Culture, and its leaders have ambitions to “gain territory” across Fort Worth. The congregants may well be duped into thinking that taking over our fair city is God’s will, but the more likely reason is greed. Mercy Culture’s leaders are either Realtors or maintain real estate connections. Charismatic-church doctrine calls adherents to seek cultural influence, and, with its wealth of popular and critically acclaimed independently owned bars, restaurants, and retailers, no area of Fort Worth is more influential than the Near Southside.
For the past few weeks, Near Southsiders, who overwhelmingly embrace diversity in all its forms, have scrambled to organize a resistance to the unexpected but now obvious influx of the casually stylish, often shaggy, almost always white crucifix-sporting, felt hat-togging hordes.
Prompting the uproar was the early-June snubbing of an openly queer former Roots Markets vendor (“Square Roots,” June 7). Carlie Alaniz, owner of The Lucky Pot Co., recently went public about the private message she received from the markets’ co-owners, who welcome money from the queer community but refuse to allow anyone who isn’t cisgender and straight to sell their stuff at Roots.
“The email said they have Biblical values,” Alaniz told us. “I was shocked. I’ve never been discriminated against.”
Mercy Culture Pastor Landon Schott indulged his narcissism by weighing in on Instagram, asking members to support Roots Markets and push back on alleged attacks by Alaniz’ supporters. Alaniz, who said she never heard of Mercy Culture before her interactions with Roots, rebukes the idea that Schott’s followers have anything to fear from the queer community.
“It’s unbelievable to me the lengths people will go to ensure their beliefs are the only beliefs,” Alaniz said. “I never said they are not allowed to believe what they believe in. If Roots Markets had those views from the get-go, they should have said that instead of marketing themselves as a fun place to shop.”
Madelaine Klein said she unwittingly participated in the first three Roots Markets events that started in May.
Alaniz “texted me the screenshots and let me know Roots Markets is not supportive of the LGBTQ community,” the 17-year-old told us. “Well, I’m part of the LGBTQ community. I immediately withdrew. I tried to call them multiple times, and they have gone silent.”
Klein recently launched Magnolia’s Markets (@Magnolias.Markets). All are welcome to participate every Saturday in front of The Usual (1408 W. Magnolia Ave.) from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., she said. LGBTQ members and allies have taken to holding weekly rallies in front of Roots that coincide with the anti-LGBTQ markets’ Saturday afternoon events. Klein hopes her events can restore some of the Near Southside’s inclusivity that she loves.
Several Weekly readers allege Roots Markets does not possess the proper paperwork to operate in Fort Worth. We’ve yet to hear back on our open records request from the state comptroller’s office to confirm whether the markets’ owners registered with Texas as a for-profit business as required by law, but a search of the comptroller’s website found no matches for “Roots Markets.” A city spokesperson said the markets’ owners requested and were given the only form they need from the city, a certificate of “appropriateness,” which insists that outdoor events comply with neighborhood standards.
Just as the election of racist rapist Donald Trump revealed who was OK with voting for absolute trash, Roots Markets shows Near Southsiders which businesses are fine with discriminating against the queer community. At least one private Facebook group has taken to naming Roots Markets’ co-conspirators and, by extension, Mercy Culture’s.
“Who would be interested in T-shirts to show that we are protesting against the market and not for them?” read a recent post in Hate Has NO ROOTS in Fairmount. “Let’s spitball on ideas!”
Another user poked fun at a Roots Markets clothing vendor.
“So, regarding this vendor on Friday, WTF does ‘clothes stained from encounters’ mean?” the comment read. “Monica Lewinsky, anyone?”
Mercy Culture, if you can believe it, does get a little kinky. Large white letters on the blacked-out church building reading, “Holy Spirit Come” have undoubtedly caused double-takes from commuters on nearby I-35 and raised concerns over what Schott means when he calls for God to rain down on us.
In a recent post about the olive oil incident, the jokes continued.
“A little lube ritual as a treat,” someone replied, clearly referring to the meme of gifting your sink with a little olive oil from a used pan. “In honor of Pride Month. Someone should let them know olive oil breaks down latex.”
Rising 35 stories from the southwest corner of Sundance Square, The Tower offers an impressive view of downtown and beyond, plus a private catering kitchen, club room, and a concierge service. 500 Throckmorton Street is home to many of Fort Worth’s wealthy elite and at least one member of Mercy Culture’s senior leadership.
Based on a 2022 tax statement by the office of the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector, the sixth-floor unit owned by Mercy Culture Church pays zero property taxes. With an appraised value of $362,260, that means local municipalities miss out on around $10,000 per year in tax revenues.
“We declare that Fort Worth is yours, Jesus,” Mercy Culture posted on Instagram last year. “We declare your justice and righteousness resound in every part of our city. We declare no other spirit but the holy spirit is seated on the throne of Fort Worth.”
The accompanying photo with The Tower in the background was taken from somewhere on nearby South Main Street. Based on his public statements, Schott has continually called for his disciples to “expand territory” by buying properties and homes through Mercy Culture’s elders/Realtors.
Life must be good for the Tower resident or residents who live far removed from the plight of impoverished Black and brown neighborhoods. Whoever this person is or people are, the move is off brand for a purported Christian.
Jesus is easily one of the most misquoted and misappropriated figures of all time even as his core messages remain clear: Treat others as you would want to be treated and don’t worship money. Historically, Christian factions have been torn between adhering to their savior’s simple guidance and desiring worldly pleasures. Possibly the most dangerous and virulent strain of Christianity gained mass followings over the past few decades, loosely tied by beliefs in living prophets, miracles, and a disregard for the separation of church and state.
Like the leaders of the international megachurch Hillsong, Mercy Culture seeks celebrity status and glamour through highly Instagrammable photos, chic attire, slick video production, social media likes, and other decidedly worldly endeavors. It’s possibly for those reasons that the megachurch’s stooges are drawn to Fairmount — the one part of Fort Worth where artists and other real-world influencers gather to chill, work, and/or run shit.
The Hillside wannabes’ desire to connect with that community is an epic example of misreading the room. The rules of Mercy Culture’s Northside compound do not apply elsewhere and are certainly meaningless in the progressive neighborhood whose inhabitants disdain dogma and the painfully narrow-minded worldview of Mercy Culture’s leaders, who enjoy tax exemptions even while endorsing the self-serving interests of Christian Nationalist politicians and grifting congregants.
Near Southsiders’ mistrust of and open rebellion against Schott’s devotees make for more than just a clash of cultures. Bullies are easy to identify in childhood, but brainwashed charismatic churchgoers are deceptively likable. Cutesie Instagram photos with almost always #blessed white couples hugging labradoodles as part of #godsplan never reveal any core beliefs. Things would be much easier if charismatic churchies, like much of our queer community, would just come out already. Congregants at Christ Chapel Bible Church, Gateway Church, and Mercy Culture are unlikely to post #gaysaregoingtohell or #gunsoverkidslives anytime soon, as refreshingly honest as those disclosures would be.
Along with beliefs in magic, charismatic-church adherents inoculate themselves from any understanding of or appreciation for transparency. Roots Markets’ owners hid their bigotry until they realized they had a queer vendor and even then probably thought their email would blow over.
Those miscalculations are not surprising for zombies living in a fantasy world where, out of 8 billion humans, only a small sliver of one religion has favor with the Almighty. Schott has declared as non-Christian Catholics and members of every other Christian denomination even as his bigotry and idolatry make him more charlatan than pastor.
Several local reverends recently penned an open letter to Roots Markets and Mercy Culture.
“As pastors and deacons who serve open and affirming churches on Fort Worth’s Near Southside, we are concerned that a business in our neighborhood, Roots Markets, ceased working with a vendor upon learning she is part of the LGBTQ+ community,” the letter reads. “Because this action was done in the name of Biblical values, we feel compelled publicly to reemphasize our Christian belief that every person is a precious child of God and should be treated with dignity and respect.”
Although Roots Markets has no shortage of vendors willing to sell crafts, popcorn, and “stained” clothing for the Christian Nationalist cause, several businesses have distanced themselves.
“Hey y’all,” reads a social post by LusterLinks Ft Worth. “Sorry for the last minute notice, but I won’t be participating in the Roots Market tomorrow or in the future. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but I don’t share the same views and am choosing to no longer support this market. Everyone has the freedom to find their own happiness, and anyone who stands in the way of supporting that, no matter what that happiness looks like, is no good in my book. It’s 2023. We are better than this.”
Mercy Culture has been and remains a real estate grift. With thousands of potential customers, Schott’s “prophecies” of gaining territory should be seen for what they are — a business plan.
Based on their 2017 articles of incorporation, Mercy Culture’s founders came from far and wide: Cedar Park, Texas (Landon and wife Heather Schott); Peoria, Arizona (Steve Penate); and Stafford, Virginia (Matthew Saville).
Schott has repeatedly said a vision brought him to Fort Worth, probably seeing himself cash in on a booming real estate market. It defies belief that the elders who have or had real estate connections just happened to show up one day in one of the fastest-growing parts of the country by accident.
Where there’s money to be made, opportunism follows, and Mercy Vulture is just the latest grifting operation to hit Fort Worth. While corporate interests at least have the decency to operate under the for-profit label, Schott and his right-wing elders garb themselves in charismatic-church jargon. It’s a trending fad and one that’s surprisingly if not disturbingly attractive to twenty- and thirtysomethings searching for a spiritual home.
For the past few years, momentum has been with Mercy Culture as the zealots have expanded, opening satellite churches in Waco and Dallas. To the Near Southside’s credit, infiltration by a bigoted market lasted all of three weeks before public backlash and organized resistance ensued. The presence of a church whose leaders and members mock and attack non-Mercy Culture members — and stop signs — has galvanized a tightknit Near Southside community, whose denizens are fully aware of the consequences of losing a turf war with a well-monied and politically connected Christian Nationalist movement.
Keep hanging those Pride flags, keep calling out the hypocrisy, and keep keeping Fairmount suckafree.
This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. He will gently edit it for clarity and concision.