EVESHAM — A complaint filed against a man accused of harassing a pastor after he stood up to racism has been put on hold, but support for the reverend is in full swing.
Ryan Paetzold, reverend of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Audubon, Camden County, reported earlier this month that he was harassed online by a man who identified himself as a white supremacist.
The case is not being investigated by police, but was scheduled to be heard as a civilian complaint Wednesday morning in Evesham Municipal Court, which coincidentally marked Paetzold’s third anniversary as a pastor at Holy Trinity.
“We showed up today and were told the case was postponed until October,” Paetzold said, noting he was disappointed about the delay in proceedings, but that he was not discouraged.
“We’re still going to show up,” he said.
Despite the absence of a hearing, Paetzold was far from alone Wednesday. More than a dozen religious leaders from across the state and 20 more community members joined him outside of the Evesham Township Municipal Building to denounce white supremacist ideals and other iterations of inequality.
Paetzold first came in contact with the man, later identified as 41-year-old Joseph Baird oh Philadelphia, earlier this month after he joined a Facebook discussion to defend an Ambler, Pennsylvania, pastor. She had become the victim of similar harassment after hanging a banner at her church supporting diversity and penning a blogpost titled “Against White Supremacy.”
Baird reportedly called the actions degrading to white people. When Paetzold replied to that claim, asking how the post was offensive, he got no response. But soon after, Paetzold saw Facebook photos of himself and his pregnant wife circulating after Baird shared them, allegedly writing, “this is the queer that doesn’t like white people.”
The harassment continued to escalate against both Paetzold and the Ambler pastor, eventually boiling over to include violent threats and mentions of the KKK. At that point, Paetzold reported the incident to police in Evesham, where he lives.
Paetzold said Wednesday he’s forgiven Baird for the alleged harassment, because he’s not sure Baird understands the consequences of his words.
Outside of the Evesham building, religious leaders from various denominations stood up and expressed their solidarity with Paetzold. Some took their comments a step further, decrying recent events like the white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that have brought racial tensions back to the forefront of the national conversation.
Speakers came from as far as Elizabeth and Springfield and as near as Cherry Hill to voice their opposition to white supremacy.
“We don’t want to be here today,” said Rabbi Larry Sernovitz from Nafshenu in Cherry Hill. “It’s time we all stand up as a community. It was not so long ago that Nazi flags were flying in Charlottesville. That should not happen in the year 2017 in America.”
Others, like Rusty Williams, shared their own experiences. As a former police officer turned reverend, Williams said he interviewed countless victims and perpretatros of violence.
“What I’ve learned is that there’s something unique about hatred,” he said. “It’s learned.”
Paetzold recognizes that Facebook confrontrations can turn volatile quickly, but takes the threats seriously, noting that social media responses likely reflect a violent, dangerous climate away from screens.
Outside of the court, clergy called on other religious leaders across the state to take a stand against hatred, whether it be based in difference of race, gender, religion or sexual-orientation.
“All of our faiths teach us to be bold,” Archange Antoine, a community organizer for the state-wide interfaith group Faith in New Jersey, said after the event. “When one person is intimidated, all of us are intimidated.”
Amanda Hoover firstname.lastname@example.org.