Not long ago, some evangelicals broke my heart. They were the family of a vibrant, impressionable, trusting, inexperienced young woman named Micah. In 2009, her husband murdered her. That husband, Thomas Pate, had pretended to be a true-blue evangelical to win her and her parents’ hearts. And he succeeded. It wasn’t until almost the couple’s wedding before his bride’s parents realized he was trouble. By then, she loved him too much to think about breaking up with him. 

This story saddens me because the parents, out of everybody involved, should have known better. They had the life experience here, not their sheltered daughter. But that experience didn’t teach them anything. Thomas Pate fooled them all so easily. Today, let me show you why and how he did it—and the shocking guest star in the story who illustrates these principles on the grand scale. Evangelicals get programmed to take fakers at their word, and all too often that assumption goes pear-shaped.

(From introduction: The National Domestic Violence Hotline website. Their phone number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).)

(This post originally appeared on Patreon on 1/16/2024. Its audio ‘cast lives there too <3)

SITREP: A murder most foul in Tennessee

On April 30, 2009, Tennessee resident Thomas Pate shot his wife, 26-year-old Micah, in the back of her head. Then, he concealed her body in the Loosahatchie River, which runs near Memphis.

In 2011, he took a plea deal in the case and began a 25-year sentence without the possibility of parole (archive).

Initially, Pate had tried to claim Micah had gone missing during a running session. Then, he tried to claim that they’d gone out to a secluded spot to practice shooting, and he’d accidentally shot her there. However, the evidence didn’t agree. She had clean white socks on her feet and no shoes on, which told investigators she hadn’t walked to that muddy area. Also, she’d been shot at close range square in the back of her head, so the injury had very likely been inflicted on purpose.

Evangelicals themselves consider Micah’s murder an illustration of the dangers of using alcohol and pornography. In her prayer journal, Micah frequently mentioned her husband’s use of porn. She also mentioned his mistress.

The Harding College-affiliated creators of a documentary about her life, Missing Micah (archive), hope that it will teach Christians a lesson about following evangelical rules:

“There is redemption, but then there is also ‘What went wrong?’ Something obviously went wrong, but what was it?”

What went wrong wasn’t alcohol or porn or extramarital sex, though these documentarians sure think so. It wasn’t a failure, either, to follow evangelical courting or marriage rules. Evangelicals only wish that!

No, for a long time, Thomas Pate successfully fooled a goodly number of people into thinking he followed all the rules and would be a great husband. The problem here was how easy it was for Pate to fool everyoneincluding his own wifefor years. 

Fooling evangelicals by the book (and that book wasn’t the Bible)

Micah Pate was born around 1983. She grew up in a very religious, tightly-knit family in the small Arkansas town of Searcy (population about 23k). Searcy is vaguely in the northeast quadrant of the state. The town boasts some very old buildings and seems very religious. One of its biggest talking points is Harding University, a private evangelical college. Micah graduated from Harding’s School of Nursing in 2006.

By then, she was already some years into a relationship with Thomas Pate.

The pair met when Micah was only 19 years old, around 2003. Both attended Harding. Interestingly, Thomas came from an evangelical family too. He’d grown up in Atlanta, becoming a big-city boy who loved the outdoors. He’d ended up at Harding after blowing a basketball scholarship at another school. As for Micah, she was an outdoorsy, athletic young woman who also loved playing basketball. And she fell very hard for this tall, lean young man.

The timing here cannot possibly be emphasized enough. The early 2000s were prime courtship culture days for young evangelicals. I Kissed Dating Goodbye came out in 1997, and it took their world by storm. Every utterly weird dating ritual you’ve ever heard of in evangelicalism came from courtship culture, including purity rings, virginity contracts, and creeptastic daddy-daughter purity balls.

Back then, young evangelicals wanted to court, not date. That meant that young women in particular wanted their parents heavily involved, and they wanted to have very chaste, nonsexual dates. Some of these young adults even refused to kiss or closely hug their partners until their wedding day. 

Those dates weren’t meant to just be fun, either. They were meant to give each prospective spouse—and their parents, of course—an opportunity to gauge each other’s suitability for marriage. Not coincidentally, that courtship also gave the couple time to figure out if Jesus was personally ordering them to marry each other.

It all sounded so very Jesusy to evangelicals back then. Micah was exactly the right age to get hammered with courtship bullshit in the leadup to 2003. And afterward, she was exactly the right age to get hammered with their bullshit marriage rules, too.

Evangelicals and the red flags that are so easily concealed

Perhaps that intense Jesus-osity is why it took decades for evangelicals to realize what damage courtship culture had wreaked on its young participants. One woman wrote of courtship culture’s aftermath (archive):

And at twenty-one years old, I realized just how empty it all was. I’m not the only one: I get emails every week from women, asking: “How do I find purpose if I was raised only to get married?” “How do I rid myself of the guilt for dating instead of courting, even when I’m being completely pure?”

I have no idea if Micah’s parents pushed courtship culture on their daughters. I doubt it, though. The writer of the above quote says her parents didn’t “encourage” courtship culture. I’m willing to bet many evangelical parents felt likewise.

But I do think that Micah picked up the idea somewhere. It was just that endemic, that in-the-water, in young adults’ evangelicalism at the time. So when her dad talks about assessing Thomas’ suitability as a husband for his daughter, in an interview filmed for the crime show Meet, Marry, Murder, it really got my attention:

Micah had brought Thomas to her family’s long-running Bible study one evening. And oh, that young man knew exactly how to act perfectly evangelical. Her dad said:

As he came to home Bible study, he had the right words and knew the Christian lingo, so to speak. And so he would say some of the right things and do some of the right things. And even asking him to pray at home Bible study, he would say what I would call a typical prayer.

Absolutely nothing about Thomas seemed off-base. Had the couple lived an ordinary life, her dad would have felt completely confident in allowing Micah to date him from that Bible study onward. Only in retrospect could he and his son wonder if their judgment was sound that evening:

In hindsight, like his father, [Micah’s brother] Dennis Rine wonders just how authentic Thomas was on those occasions. “It was the game that he was playing. He knew the right lingo, and the right things to say to try to impress us, but was he really living it?”

A couple of years later, Micah privately asked her father to let her know if he perceived any “red flags” in Thomas. It’s why I don’t think her parents were into courtship culture themselves. Had they been, her parents would have understood that task as their duty from the first moment their daughter felt any interest in any future husband.

Evangelicals must allow abusers to claim Jesus has changed them

As that crime story goes on to tell us, Thomas eventually began to admit the extent of his bad-boy past to Micah and her family. He’d been involved with drugs, drinking, partying, and off-limits sex in his youth.

But don’t worry! 

Jesus had totally fixed him and forgiven him!

In the normie world, even that claim by itself constitutes a red flag so bright and glaring that nobody could wisely ignore it. But it’s an evangelical belief, one embraced almost universally within their tribe. Their entire worldview hinges on it, in fact. So yes, in Evangelical Land, Jesus magically changes people who believe in him and ask sincerely and intensely enough*. 

(* Terms and conditions apply. Closed course and professional driver. Do not use this product to build biological weapons. Remove infant before washing. All calls are monitored, creatively edited, and then put online. No refunds or take backsies. All disputes arbitrated by a grouchy old calico cat with a sardine addiction. In case of the fall of human civilization, all provisions become a cloud of black butterflies.) 

By couching his past as sinful rebellion and claiming Jesus had forgiven him for it all, Thomas very effectively negated Micah and her family’s entire ability to consider his past choices as an indicator of future behavior. Since Jesus had forgotten all about those sins, it’s considered gauche in evangelicalism to use them to inform one’s choices:

But Micah also believed in second chances. So when Thomas insisted that he no longer took drugs or slept around, she and her family wanted to believe him. “She says, well, he’s changed.”

But Thomas hadn’t changed at all. Not really.

By the time her parents figured out that Thomas wasn’t a good choice after all, it was too late. He’d already proposed to their daughter. Micah was completely invested in their relationship. She refused to dump him.

The happy couple married around 2005. A year later, they moved to Bartlett, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis, where Micah found a good job as a nurse.

About two and a half years after the move, Micah would be dead.

How an abuser hid behind evangelicals’ beliefs about change

Terrible people can easily act a part for a while. Sometimes, they can even act a part for a long while. But that’s not how they prefer to behave. When they feel safe, when they think they’ve really got their marks on the line, they drop the pretense. That pretense is like a pair of expensive high heels for a C-suite businesswoman: A painful costume, an unfortunate necessity that they shed the first moment they’re alone at home.

In evangelicalism, multiply all of the above by ten. It’s incredibly easy for a bad-faith actor to fool evangelicals by acting the part of the chastened, forgiven, redeemed sinner who’s been totally changed thanks to magic Jesus pixie dust.

Thomas Pate easily used the “Christian lingo” Micah’s dad mentions. When called upon to deliver a prayer, Thomas likely guessed that it was more of a test than a friendly requestand he passed that test with flying colors because he already knew what the right answer was thanks to his own evangelical upbringing.

Perhaps Micah hoped at first that his behavior would fall into line with his words. In my end of fundamentalism back in the day, my churchmates (and I) did that all the time. They called it “claiming victory” and “speaking truth to power,” though obviously that latter saying means something completely different now. But I don’t think that hope, if it existed, lasted long. Not long before the wedding, Micah’s dad caught him abusing a puppy in a manner so cruel that I refuse to pollute your mind by telling you about it. (It’s described in the video around 15 minutes in, if you’re dying of curiosity.)

After the wedding, Micah’s parents both caught hints that the young couple was having serious conflicts at home in Tennessee. Again, by then it was completely too late to do anything about it. All Micah could do at that point was try to salvage her marriage.

Alas, because she was a true-blue evangelical, she chose to go with pastoral counseling.

And when I found out the name of that pastoral counselor, I gasped so loudly that my husband and my cat both stared at me.

Andy Fuckin’ Savage was not about to help this couple fix their very real problems

This story has been completely disappeared from the internet, and I’m not even half surprised by that fact. I’m good at search engines, and yet this is all that returns on a tight search for the part of the story we’re about to discuss:

I’m not surprised by that disappearance. After all, that now-erased story concerns Andy Savage, a prominent evangelical megapastor, and his utterly failed attempts to heal the rift between Thomas Pate and Micah Rine. In the story, a judge discusses Savage potentially testifying in Pate’s trial as their counselor.

Thankfully, a commenter at Wartburg Watch caught and reprinted the entire story. Thank you, commenter! (Picture archive. Next time, though, please archive it!)

In 2010, Andy Savage was a huge name in evangelicalism. We’ve talked about him before. He’s also a total hypocrite with a child-rape accusation in his past. That accusation blew up into a viral scandal in 2018. Eventually, he lost his megapastor gig (archive). But immediately, he started a new megachurch.

That new start depended utterly on the architecture of evangelicalism itself.

Two awful tastes that taste even worse together

Andy Savage is still around because he knows how to separate evangelicals from their money. He captured the magic of super-Jesusy advice. None of his advice works well, though. Super-Jesusy advice-givers design it for an imaginary universe—one in which Christian claims are true. 

Indeed, in her prayer journal Micah noted that Savage’s counseling wasn’t working. I’m not surprised. Evangelical marriage counseling is ridiculous.

That said, though, I’m sure Andy Savage wanted no part whatsoever of the Thomas Pate trial. 

Alas for Savage, these two men have more to do with each other than either might imagine.

Andy Savage’s scandal echoes many parts of the Thomas Pate story. The same exact factors in evangelicalism that allowed Andy Savage to sexually abuse a teenage girl in his youth group in the 1990s and get away with it for years also allowed Thomas Pate to completely befuddle and bewitch the Rine parents and their daughter.

Both men learned to play a role. Neither really liked that role, however. They did it only to get what they wanted. And they both succeeded—for a time. Being opportunistic, intelligent, patient, and clever, Savage maintains his ruse over the long term.

Thomas’ fakery didn’t last nearly as long. He’s nowhere near as intelligent, patient, or clever. Shortly after Easter 2009, this couple had hit a serious crisis point. Micah had discovered that Thomas had lied to her yet again. Instead of going hunting, he’d visited his mistress while Micah visited her folks for the Christian holy day. Around that same time, Micah also overheard him talking to his mistress on his phone.

Things couldn’t last like that for long, and they apparently didn’t. Thomas’ illusions had broken apart.

Evangelicals wouldn’t know walking the walk if it exploded in front of them

In that crime show, Micah’s dad discusses how he tried to teach his kids to live out their Christian beliefs:

We wanted to be authentic and actually live our faith.

What’s odd here (to non-evangelicals at least) is that being “authentic” and “actually liv[ing] our faith” involves a lot of outdoorsy activities:

[Dad:] We are a Christian family. And we focus on trying to walk what we talk about.

[Son:] We grew up at Camp Tahkoda, which is a camp about an hour north of our home town of Searcy, and we loved spending that time out at Camp Tahkoda and swimming, and going hiking, and spending that time together.

[Dad:] We wanted to be authentic and actually live our faith.

Micah clearly loved her idyllic-sounding childhood. She loved her family. She felt deeply connected to her community. I’m not saying her parents were bad parents at all.

Rather, I’m saying that without a real god, nothing about Christians’ beliefs can be based on anything real. As a result, there’s really no way to measure the depth or intensity of a Christian’s faith. All evangelicals can go on is how well a person signals faith to other evangelicals. Even then, signals tell them nothing of that person’s inner thoughts.

Making matters worse, though, evangelicals think if someone shows the correct Jesus signals, then they must have all the other good-person traits too.

Because of this programming, when Micah met a bad-faith actor who dearly wanted to get with her, nobody in her entire family had any defenses at all against his faked faith signals.

But there is no walking-the-walk for evangelicals, not really

If someone claims to be a master craftsperson, but their work is shoddy and falls apart, we can tell their claims are false. Likewise, if someone claims to be a professional runner but can’t even get up a flight of stairs without gasping like a fish out of water, we know to doubt that claim.

Even with claims of emotional investment, we can use outward signs to get an idea of how dedicated the person might truly be. I’m pretty sure my house full of Elfquest-related media and my instant recognition of obscure one-off characters’ names qualifies me as an Elfquest fan. Similarly, that’s how we heathens know that love is real through consistent outward signs.

But if someone claims to be a fervent Christian, we have no idea what they’re really like. They could claim to pray every day for hours. They could say they always turn the other cheek and treat everyone with gracious kindness. Outsiders just don’t know if any of that’s true. And anybody can fake any outward signs of Jesus-osity that evangelicals can imagine.

My Evil Ex in particular used this truth to his advantage. Thomas Pate did too. And Andy Savage still does.

That truth is not a weird accident of the overall architecture of evangelicalism. It’s not something unintended, a jagged edge that has somehow escaped smoothing-out.

It is, in fact, exactly why evangelicalism operates as it does. 

When illusions break down, trouble often follows

After her wedding day, Micah began to see the real Thomas Pate. Unfortunately, the real Thomas Pate was a dishonest sleazebucket addict. He maintained his fake personality only barely long enough to bag the woman he wanted to marry.

Micah had been trained since birth to be kind, gracious, and people-pleasing. Amid the deepening disaster of her relationship with Thomas, she worked as a nurse and broke herself to pieces trying to figure out how to Jesus her way to a healed, functional marriage. When her parents called, she tried to put a good face on things. When she celebrated her birthday with them on April 28, only two days away from her murder, she didn’t tell them the secrets she’d uncovered about Thomas.

Only in her prayer journal, she admitted the truth about her life. Indeed, Micah’s prayer journal held a great many answers for investigators after her death. There, investigators learned about his growing trouble with pornography abuse and his gambling problem.

Evangelical prayer journals operate like diaries. In theory, regularly-praying evangelicals write about their concerns and religious victories in them. As you can imagine, blank prayer diaries sell like hotcakes around the holidays. Amazon offers many thousands of different ones. Almost all of them target women. On that Amazon link’s first page, I counted perhaps four out of sixty that evangelical men might consider suitable. I strongly suspect that most prayer journals enjoy a half-dozen entries at most, and then go empty forevermore. In that respect as well as in many others, Micah was an outlier.

If Thomas hadn’t murdered her, Micah would likely have tried her entire life to make marriage work with him. Back in the 2000s, that, too, was a subtle teaching that evangelical women absorbed.

Sidebar: A heartbreaking story all around

Micah’s family still struggles to pick up the pieces after losing her. Her brother visits her grave often. A sorority at Harding College established a scholarship in her name. Her mother, who teaches Bible and ministry courses at Harding, gives speeches to evangelical women about recognizing the potential signs of domestic violence.

Meanwhile, her father now maintains (archive) that he “never” bought Thomas Pate’s performance. With all respect to him and his loss, I don’t believe him. At most, he might have felt a bit of concern over Thomas’ exact level of religious exuberance. But for years, he couldn’t really point to anything that was a serious red flag.

Also, evangelicals don’t do anything without saying they prayed about it. No way, no how would her father have allowed Thomas to set foot in his house without asking Jesus if he was okay. Similarly, no way would Micah have dated Thomas without praying about it first. Nobody writes prayer journals for that long without really actually praying.

As for Thomas Pate, he still insists that he didn’t kill Micah “intentionally.” He denies the story that physical evidence told about his behavior, his affair, his spending, and the murder he committed. As far as I can find, he has never apologized to Micah’s parents for anything. His prison sentence ends in 2032. In 2032, he’ll be 52 years old. As someone just a couple years older than that, I can tell you he’ll still be plenty young enough to wreck some other people’s lives.

This murderer yanked a lovely golden thread out of humanity’s tapestry. Her loss left a hole that is difficult for forget or ignore.

Her father has struggled hard to reconcile his beliefs with the reality of what happened to his daughter. I understand why, too. If his beliefs were based in reality, none of this story could have happened. Thomas Pate’s miraculous Jesus-made changes would have been real—or else Jesus would have informed Micah and her parents that Thomas was not what he seemed to be. Her father said, near the end of that crime video:

There is part of me that felt some relief that this is over. And so I say, that is God’s way of saying, here’s the best blend of justice and mercy. We get to feel some justice that there’s a consequence being paid for what happened to Micah.

Again with all respect, if that’s the best his omnimax god of justice can do, then he is a weak or malevolent god. Either way, such a god is not worth anyone’s worship. The real “best blend of justice and mercy” is Micah alive and not married to an abuserand Thomas Pate imprisoned for something else and not able to hurt anyone ever again.

My heart breaks for this family and what they’ve lost. It rages, too, against the evangelicals who encounter this story and come away thinking, as those Harding College documentarians clearly do (relink), that it functions as a warning about pornography addiction.

Evangelicals’ broken system works great for those who can who take advantage of its reality

For conjobs who need an easy payday, evangelicalism must look like the easiest playground they’ve ever seen. 

Oh, it’s not like evangelicalism is the only game offering rewards. Big business also has its bad-faith actors, its useless nepo babies, its scandals, its crony rings of leaders protecting their own interests. Hollywood has become notorious for its outrageous sex abuse scandals. One can find smaller-scale versions of that abuse in tight-knit, small-town police and sheriffs’ offices around the country too.

But evangelicalism offers the easiest payday of all for the smallest amount of prep work. Its masters designed it to allow them to operate in secrecy, escape the consequences of their actions, and pile money on top of money for doing next to nothing.

Evangelicals produce nothing, really. Leaders like Andy Savage sell books and whatnot, yes, but it’s all evangelical blahblah. So this tribalistic organization survives by the strength of its carefully-crafted moral reputations. Without those reputations, nobody sells anything to anyone. So everyone in leadership protects their reputation. They take this task so seriously that they’ll happily silence abuse victims and circle the wagons for years

At the small scale and the large, evangelicals can’t defend themselves against bad-faith actors

Evangelicalism prepares evangelicals to be fooled by bad-faith actors. I say that because that is what it does. Whatever else evangelicals think is happening when they Jesus the Jesus-Jesus, they are preparing to be fleeced like sheep. They may be getting an emotional high from their Jesusing, sure.

But what matters to the bad-faith actors in evangelicalism is that their marks become compliant victims who’ll give them what they want. It’s almost shocking to me to have two evangelical fakers involved in today’s story who illustrate that truth at both the smallest scale and the largest one. They don’t normally line up so neatly, nor get involved in each other’s stories like this.

It doesn’t matter if a bad-faith actor is another layperson like Thomas Pate, or a big-name megapastor like Andy Savage. If evangelicalism didn’t give them the payday they wanted, they’d go elsewhere to get their desires met. The only reason they’re evangelicals is because that’s the easiest place to get what they want.

Wolves hunt where their prey grazes. Evangelical leaders grow nice green grass for prey to eat.

It’s as simple as that.

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Captain Cassidy

Captain Cassidy is a Gen-X ex-Christian and writer. She writes about how people engage with science, religion, art, and each other. She lives in Idaho with her husband, Mr. Captain, and their squawky orange tabby cat, Princess Bother Pretty Toes. And at any given time, she is running out of bookcase space.


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