OP-ED: A prayer for Hanover
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist.
"Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.
"Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.
"Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
— Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany during the rise of Nazism
Yesterday, I received a hate-filled, racist, disturbing flyer libeling the Borough of Hanover’s new Mayor, Myneca Ojo, and Hanover Borough Council.
In the bash piece, our mayor is shown in a split screen visual reflective of negative political television campaign ads. Her visual on the right makes her look like an electrocuted automaton or a horror flick villain.
She is called a racist, a socialist, a communist, African feminist, a Nelson Mandela worshiper and a Bolshevik who has a secret agenda to bring in thousands of poor people and racial minorities to the Hanover area. She is called an outsider from the “Republic of Harrisburg.” Communist sickle and hammer symbols complement the vile bile. The flier also calls borough council arrogant, liberal, lazy and socialist.
I want to thank our local elected officials for serving with no pay and being first-responders for democracy; they are on the front lines engaging the public. That can be very difficult and stressful. These servants deserve our respect, admiration, support and love, as do our municipal employees.
The tragic pamphlet is full of tried tropes and tired tricks of bigotry and division — deplorable, disgusting and disgraceful.
Hate must be brought out of the shadows into the good citizens' enduring light of goodness, reason and decency to be burnt to ashes like a vampire in the sun. Hate must be demystified and objectified. Brushing methodically planned bash pieces like this one under the rug does us no good. Putting ostrich heads in the sand does us no good.
Not only does disengagement normalize hate speech and attitudes, it sends a message that the community is docile and fertile for more infiltration and inflammation.
Finally and most importantly, disengagement from what is a persistent reality ignores the potential for us coming together as citizens and pushing plans into action to send clear, lasting messages that we are a community of openness, equality, inclusion and peace.
Many moons ago, I was a teenager learning from the likes of the Rev. Bruce Bouchard, the Rev. Charlie Keller, Dr. Dale Schaeberle and Van Sheffer among others in the wake of race confrontations, turmoil, violence and property damage in downtown Hanover. These civic giants rolled up their sleeves and started Hanover United. They proactively engaged those who were involved in the turmoil. They brought different religious denominations, rich and poor, and black and white together to work for equality, diversity and non-violence.
Bigotry, hate and ignorance must be confronted head on with unflinching eyes and relentless moral authority. Bigotry, hate and ignorance metastasize in silence. Apathy and indifference are their greatest allies.
The flyer's delusional diatribe is right out of the Nazi propaganda playbook, and it spreads lies, paranoia and conspiracies. Such are devastating to democracy, goodwill and wisdom.
Garbage like this threatens our fragile democracy, fans the flames of paranoia and scapegoating, and pushes the impressionable and vulnerable toward violence. It has no place in our community, York County, and our great nation.
I respectfully call on our faith-based community to speak out about this disgrace and to bring people together to support and pray for our elected leaders and civil servants. I call on our faith-based community to send an open letter invitation to those who published the hate mail to attend an ecumenical service or vigil that shows the transcendent power of unity under God.
We are better, much better than this.
Only sunshine and love and more sunshine and love can drown out ignorance and hate.
I am an eighth-generation Hanoverian. My family’s first Hanover settler, Ulrich Bernhardt, fought in the Revolutionary War and is buried off of old York Road. I believe that all people are God’s children, and that we, as a community, county and nation are at our best when we learn from each other and work together bearing our talents, gifts, work ethics and love onto an ever-thirsting community and world.
The lost souls who published the subversive broadside brutalize and degrade our democratic system by maligning and slandering the very people who are good enough and committed enough to serve with honor — loyal enough to sit through hours and hours of meetings and to make tough decisions.
Below is a prayer dedicated to those lost soul anarchists — the would-be destroyers of people and institutions — who wrote and distributed the tragic pamphlet:
“Dear Lord, have mercy on their souls. Please grant them the courage and curiosity to get out of their comfort zones to discuss issues with people who were born differently from them with civility, open minds, open hearts and open arms. May they realize as an essential joy of life the extraordinary quest to learn from others, to appreciate the otherness of others, and to find more joy and wisdom within by expanding and deepening their conversations and relationships with others. May they find the courage to come forward so those who also care deeply about our community can engage them in healthy conversations and soul-searching. May they learn to expunge hate, reckless generalizations, racist stereotypes and tropes from their souls, tongues and laptops, and may love reign.
"Dear Lord, may I reach deep within the wells of me see my wayward brothers and sisters as works-in-progress, not unlike me, to turn the other check when they lash out at me, and to still love them as my brothers and sisters and children of your glory awaiting epiphanies and raptures of civic virtue, Christian forgiveness (of ourselves and others), the Golden Rule, and American equality and freedom. May we all find Forgiveness, Grace, Hope, and Peace within our souls and the momentum of Love, Compassion, Respect, Goodwill, Mercy, and Charity in our Hanover and beyond. Amen.”