OPED: Reaction to church sign more 'jerk' than 'knee-jerk'

Glen Rock

Spring Grove school board member Matthew Jansen, who ranted in a phone message and Twitter post against a sign at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Dallastown wishing our Muslim neighbors a blessed Ramadan, calls his outburst a “knee jerk” reaction.

Matt Jansen tweeted "Choose your battles but if this is your hill, here is the church's #" after seeing a sign wishing a blessed Ramadan to Muslim neighbors from a Dallastown church.
Deborah Yonick of Codorus Township

Apologizing at the school board’s June 20th meeting, Jansen said that he didn't know how to convey "the level of apology" he wanted to offer, as some in attendance called for his resignation. "I know that what I did was wrong. It was a knee jerk reaction.”

Pastor shocked by Spring Grove Area board member's message

I don’t know, but my reaction when I saw that sign was not the same, not even close. I actually thought it was a wonderful gesture of fellowship, particularly during a time of such divisiveness in the political arena, much of which is currently fueled by the GOP’s ticket topper, Donald Trump. But no surprise here, Jansen is an elected delegate to the Republican National Convention for Trump.

Just to clarify, the definition of “knee jerk” is an automatic, involuntary response. So without thinking, Jansen leaves a voicemail on the phone of the church pastor, Rev. Christopher Rodkey. His message, posted on the York Dispatch's SoundCloud account, called Islam a "godless" religion and said he was “shocked” by the sign. “It is unbelievable ... that you would wish them a blessed Ramadan. Are you sick? ... Is there something wrong with you?" He then continues his reckless rant by posting a photo of the sign on his Twitter page, including the church's phone number, and with the added oomph of tagging conservative writer Ann Coulter, who has nearly a million followers.

It certainly seems that Jansen knew how to convey the level of contempt he has for the Muslim community. Knee jerk also means instinctive, which means natural, inborn, inbred.

There was a lone defender of Jansen at the school board meeting who supported his right to say what he said and that he should not be scrutinized solely because of his position on something such as an educational board.

Spring Grove board member apologizes at meeting

Sure, Jansen has the right to spew his hate, with or without thought, and we have the right to reject it and to reject him when he comes up for re-election. People should be scrutinizing Jansen and his position on the school board when he so thoughtlessly engages in this kind of rhetoric, as he has a hand in making policies that impact children and families in the community. Real leaders don’t perpetuate hate.

Hopefully this story will inspire someone to step up and run against him, and at the very least encourage us all to pay closer attention to who is representing our voices in local government, and to be more involved in the process.

A case of foot-in-mouth, I think Jansen should drop the “knee” qualifier when describing his reaction. The word jerk—defined as a contemptibly obnoxious person—is sufficient.

— Glen Rock resident Deborah Yonick is a professional writer. She is a member of the York Dispatch editorial board of contributors.