gay hate crime

Episcopal Hate Crime Hoax Revisited by the Washington Post

on December 11, 2019

The Washington Post recently published an excellent follow-up piece by Peter Jamison about a widely publicized act of church vandalism that was later revealed to be a hoax perpetrated by a church employee.

News outlets rushed to cover the 2016 story of a small Episcopal church building spray painted with “Heil Trump” and an anti-gay slur in the middle of the night. The story of St. David’s Episcopal Church in rural Brown County, Indiana quickly became national news, one of a series of hate crime reports following President Donald Trump’s election.

“Doing the right thing is not always the popular thing, and if that’s why we were targeted, we’re okay with that,” shared St. David’s priest at the time, the Rev. Kelsey Hutto, in a CNN appearance.

But a detective suspected something was amiss in the otherwise calm rural Indiana community:

“as the first day of the investigation drew to a close it finally hit him. He called his boss, Sheriff Scott Southerland.

“Did you know that church performed gay marriages?” [Detective] Shrader recalled asking Southerland, who replied that he did not.

The detective had put his finger on what was bothering him: the words “Fag Church.” St. David’s was indeed a beacon of support for gay rights. But the fact had gone all but unnoticed outside the church’s several dozen parishioners.

“I didn’t know that. People in the county didn’t know that. People I work with didn’t know that. Someone ‘down the road,’ so to speak, really would not have known that,” Shrader said. He began to wonder if the hateful graffiti could have been scrawled Saturday night by somebody who planned to sit in the pews Sunday morning.

Nathan Stang, the church organist, eventually confessed to police as Shrader’s hunch led him to find information about Stang’s whereabouts the night of the vandalism.

Why would a gay man desecrate his own church with homophobic graffiti?

“I wanted to give local people a reason to fight for good, even if it was a false flag,” Stang rationalizes.

Jamison digs through Stang’s past, including a difficult relationship with his mother: a vocal Trump supporter who, among other theories, discussed the possibility that Queen Elizabeth II and other world leaders are disguised envoys of an extraterrestrial race of lizard people.

Unfortunately, Episcopalians in this community had foul play afoot without the aid of reptilian invaders:

Members of the church council wrote that they had “looked within ourselves to find ourselves guilty of assuming it was done by a ‘certain sort of person.’”

“We forgave Nathan,” the letter continued, “then found we also had to forgive ourselves. We discovered ourselves guilty of the same prejudice we silently accused others of.”

The story is a case study in projection, bearing false witness, and deciding that the correct course of action following post-election anguish is to make your perceived opponents look as bad as possible.

As has been reported on this blog before, most Christians aren’t anti-gay or homophobic. As Derrick Green noted, Christians do not want to be legally mandated into participating in actions that violate their religious sensibilities – sensibilities which are protected by the Constitution.

This story is special in that it both investigates cultural brokenness visible in a political disagreement, but pushes further to discover personal and familial brokenness underpinning the choices of those involved. Readers are left hoping that this isn’t the end of the story, and that God’s grace will redemptively appear in the lives of those involved.

Read the entire Washington Post story here.

  1. Comment by Andy T on December 11, 2019 at 11:19 am

    I remember this event, and it didn’t pass my sniff test for a number of reasons. Above all, that the vandal would also have to possess a visceral hatred of then-candidate Trump. His supporters weren’t ones to conflate him with Nazism. “Hate” crimes are cowardly and despicable. Faux hate crimes are incrementally worse. Love one another my friends…

  2. Comment by td on December 11, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    The incident reported here is all too common for our society – a society that has decided that lying and deception is okay. And our society seems to wholeheartedly endorse lying and deception when it advances our political idealogy.

  3. Comment by David on December 11, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    Attacks on houses of worship are actually quite common. The church I attended in Trenton, NJ, was damaged by arson, the RC cathedral there completely destroyed, and fire bombs placed in other churches in the 1950s. Those that keep track of old pipe organs are aware of many lost by fire, and not infrequently arson. Sometimes church attacks are the result of mental disorder with someone hearing voices, assumed to be divine, advising the action. I recall a synagogue fire that was assumed to be antisemitism until the rabbi’s son was arrested. There are enough problems in the world without people creating fake ones.

  4. Comment by opie on December 11, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    Man’s ways are not God’s ways. What I would like to know is why did God create this planet and place us on it, why did He introduce death and sorrow, where do I go after this life and what will I be doing for the rest of eternity. Please do not bore me with your Medieval scare tactics – want answers, not scare tactics. If your minister cannot answer these basic questions, you belong to the wrong church or have the wrong minister. Until one know the answers to the questions above, they cannot adequately address right and wrong questions.

  5. Comment by Tom on December 14, 2019 at 6:44 pm

    The answers to your questions are all given in the Bible. Why did God create this planet and place us in it? A. Because it pleased Him to do so. He loves us and wants us to exist and to live with Him in eternity.
    Why did He introduce death and sorrow? A. He didn’t. In the first two chapters of Genesis there is no death and no sorrow. When Adam and Eve sinned, they introduced death and sorrow into the world. This death and sorrow will continue until
    Christ returns.
    Where do I go after this life? A. If you have put your full faith and trust in Jesus to save you, you go to heaven. If you have not put your full faith and trust in Jesus, you go to hell.
    What will I be doing for the rest of eternity? A. This one is a little more obscure. We will be praising God–as we take eternity to know the infinite God. We will be ruling over angels. We will have executive responsibility of some sort, though what kind of responsibility is far from clear.
    Hope this helps.

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