Where's the Hate?

The Hate Crime that Never Was and a Hoax Nobody's Talking About

Nathan Stang was the first to arrive at St. David's Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom, Indiana, after someone had spray painted a black swastika and the words "Heil Trump" and "Fag Church" on its walls. It was November 13th, 2016, the first Sunday after the election of Donald Trump, and news of the "hate crime" spread like wildfire. St. David's priest, Rev. Kelsey Hutto, appeared on CNN, and Stephen Colbert showed a photo of the defaced church during one of his monologues, prompting hundreds of messages of support for the church from all over.

St. David's left the graffiti up for more than two weeks, partly in defiance of those who would intimidate it, and also to "start a conversation." The paint was then cleaned away as part of a "healing service" attended by more than two hundred people from the church and community.

Six months later, everyone involved was astonished to learn that Stang himself, the church's organist and choir director, had committed the crime. And Stang, all of a sudden, found himself struggling to explain his actions.

"I was just so f***ing – I was just terrified," he told Detective Brian Shrader, whose investigative instinct had led to Stang's confession. He specifically said he'd acted out of fear, and not hostility to Christians. He'd been dreading the prospect of a Trump-Pence administration and what it might mean for him as a gay man, and in a "fog of fear and anger," he wanted to "manifest the threat" he felt and make everyone feel as "scared and lonely as I did." He also said he'd wanted to "mobilize a movement," though he obviously had no particular movement in mind. Clearly, the emotion that drove him to do what he did was fear.

In a thoughtfully honest reflection on the whole saga, Peter Jamison sketches out Nathan Stang's backstory and the aftermath of the crime he carried out. Here are a few noteworthy points about him:

  • Faith: Stang doesn't believe in God, and apparently no one at St. David's was aware of this cardinal aspect of his faith life. The church professes to be Bible- and Christ-centered, but in its zeal to be inclusive and affirming, somehow it failed to manifest the reality of the living Christ to him.
  • Family: Stang's parents separated when he was three, and it appears his mother Rhonda was his only family. They were very close until around 2008, when two things happened. First, Stang, then a teenager, came out to her, and while she didn't in any way reject him, she struggled to accept it. This didn't cause any estrangement, though. That came because of politics.
  • Politics: After the election of Barack Obama, Rhonda sympathized with the tea party movement and later became a supporter of Donald Trump for president. This was more than Nathan could take, and he stopped communicating with his mother during the leadup to the 2016 election.

Given all this, is it any wonder Nathan Stang felt alone? With no connection to God, a man will inevitably feel some sense of being alone in a bewildering universe. When family and friends fail to fill the vacuum, as they inevitably will, that sense of aloneness and bewilderment only grows. Then when your political identity group tells you the opposition group hates you, is it any wonder that some people snap?

The picture that emerges of Nathan Stang looks disturbingly like a cornered animal – confused and terrified in a world in which it feels like nobody can be trusted. On the day Detective Shrader confronted him, Stang was struggling with major depression and had contemplated suicide. Anyone with a Christian understanding of human psychology should be able to see why. On top of feeling alone and bewildered, for six months he'd been carrying the weight of guilt.

After the truth came out, he found himself in the blessed, though equally bewildering, position of being forgiven. The church forgave him, and the surrounding community as well seemed content to let bygones be bygones. He reconciled with his mother, who, political differences notwithstanding, had never exhibited anything other than motherly love for her son. And he still lives in the area and is pursuing a Doctor of Music degree at Indiana University's prestigious Jacobs School of Music. To all outside appearances, people have gone on with their lives, no harm, no fowl.

But we shouldn't go on without observing one fact that came out in the aftermath. The real irony in this whole "hate crime" debacle is that there was never any hate involved. Nobody hated Nathan Stang – not the church he served, not the conservative community that surrounded it, nor law enforcement nor IU nor Donald Trump nor Mike Pence, and certainly not God or his mother.

Arguably the only things hateful in Nathan Stang's life were the LGBT identitarians who told him he was hated. Maybe that's the real hoax in play, here, and maybe that's the conversation we should start.

has a BS in Computer Science and worked as a software engineer with IBM until she hopped off the career track to be a full-time mom. She lives in Indianapolis, IN, and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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