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.