Clergy masses against hate directed at South Jersey pastor

Religious leaders and community members pray outside the courthouse in Evesham, New Jersey.

Religious leaders and community members pray outside the courthouse in Evesham, New Jersey. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Religious leaders and members of the community gathered Wednesday morning to show their support for a South Jersey minister who received online threats after speaking out against hate crimes.

When he stood up for a fellow pastor who was condemning hate speech, Rev. Ryan Paetzold of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Audubon said an admitted white supremacist sent threatening messages to him via social media.

“Eventually the conversation on his Facebook profile included references to petrol and matches and chapters of the KKK,” Paetzold said.

A scheduled court appearance in Evesham Townhip for the suspect, a Philadelphia man, was postponed Wednesday.

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Rabbi Larry Sernovitz of Congregation Nafshenu in Cherry Hill said he and other members of the clergy came out to the municipal court to show their support for Paetzold.

“Within the Jewish tradition, we are taught, ‘Don’t stand by while your neighbor bleeds.’ And that’s not just physically, but emotionally when people are targeted in this county,” Sernovitz said. “It’s time we all stand up and say there’s no place for hate here.”

The Rev. David Ford, head of the New Jersey Clergy Coalition, said all men and women of the cloth are against the spread of hate.

“We stand with you at this time, we understand that we must be willing to allow others to know that it’s not right to teach hate but to instill love,” he said. “And so we come not preaching hate, but love.”

Paetzold said he will attend every court hearing for the defendant to reinforce his message that the community will not tolerate hate. He’s not the only clergy member allegedly targeted by the suspect.  Some who were targeted with threats and hateful posts did not want to speak on the record, saying it would exacerbate the situation.

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