This is the farce that the Assembly of God has degenerated into!
A youth pastor, as well as his church is facing criminal charges for a mock kidnapping of a youth group that was meant to be a lesson in religious persecution.
The Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Middletown, Pennsylvania, as well as 28-year-old Andrew David Jordan were charged with false imprisonment and simple assault, authorities said.
The church staged the event in March. Mock kidnappers covered the teenagers’ heads, put them in a van, and interrogated them. Neither the young people nor their parents were told beforehand that it wasn’t real.
The mother of a 14-year-old girl, identified only as K.T., filed a complaint with police after she returned from the ‘object lesson’ traumatised and covered in bruises, and with a cut lip.
According to the York Daily Record, K.T. had been attending events at the Glad Tidings Assembly for less than a month.
‘This is a sad case for all those involved,’ Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico told the Associated Press, adding that while the church’s and Jordan’s intentions were not necessarily harmful, ‘they in essence terrorized several children.’
‘We need to protect children, no matter where the harm occurs,’ Mr Marsico said, adding that a grand jury recommended the charges. He noted that some of the teenagers in the group were not members of the church, and that a semi-automatic rifle was displayed in the exercise.
A message left at the church was not immediately returned, and there was no phone listing for Jordan. Neither had defence attorneys listed on court papers
The girl, who has asked to remain anonymous, described her terror to abc27.com in March: ‘They pulled my chair out from underneath me, and then they told me to get on the ground,’ she told the station. ‘I had my hands behind my back. They said, `Just do as I say, and you won’t be hurt.’’
The girl said she and about 17 other teens were taken to the pastor’s house, where it appeared he was being assaulted, covered in what looked to be blood.
Eventually, she said, the adults in charge revealed it was a staged event, telling the traumatized teenagers that Christians in other countries battle with realities like that every day.
One of the two ‘kidnappers’ was an off-duty police officer who was carrying a real gun, according to abc27.com. However, the gun was unloaded at the time of the raid.
The girl was shocked that no one told her and the rest of the youth group the raid was only a drill. ‘They heard me crying,’ the girl said. ‘Why not right then and there tell us it was a joke, when you see me crying?’
Glad Tidings Assembly of God’s pastor, John Lanza, told the Associated Press in March that the church is ‘so saddened’ that the girl was traumatized at the youth meeting.
But he said his intent was never harmful – instead, it was designed to prepare them for what they might encounter as missionaries.
Lanza didn’t disclose the names of those involved but said the mock kidnappers included an off-duty police officer and a retired Army captain.
‘It was a youth event, to illustrate what others have encountered on a regular basis,’ he said, adding that the focus of the lesson was ‘the persecuted church’ in other countries.
Lanza said there were about 17 students at the meeting and the mock kidnappers covered the students’ heads, put them in a van and interrogated them.
Neither the students nor their parents were told about the raid beforehand, he said, though it was discussed with the parents of one youth who might have health issues.
Lanza said the church has conducted similar events at least twice before, adding that ‘there was much thought given to the safety aspect.’
‘If anyone was ever uncomfortable, they would be removed’ from the exercise, Lanza said, though part of the idea was to shock the students with the experience.
Lower Swatara Township police Chief Richard Wiley declined to comment until an investigation into the raid is complete. The names of the mother and daughter who complained haven’t been made public.
There could be consequences if the teens didn’t know what was going to happen and didn’t agree to be a part of the event, Dauphin County First Deputy District Attorney Fran Chardo said.
Tom Copeland, who studies international affairs and terrorism at Geneva College, a Beaver Falls school that emphasizes a ‘Christian worldview,’ questioned the wisdom of submitting a youth group to a mock kidnapping.
‘It just seems inappropriate for that age group. You would think there would be permission from the parents,’ Copeland said, adding that he’s never heard of anything like that happening at a church.
He said that while there have been highly publicized episodes of violence directed against Christian missionaries in other countries, it seems those countries’ local religious groups are more at risk.
Lanza said members of the church have made numerous mission trips overseas and have learned to be cautious. He said they were planning a trip to Mexico but reviewed current news and advisories and decided it was unsafe.
Lanza said he ‘would love to’ apologize to the girl and her mother but feels he can’t until the police investigation is done.
He said the church wants to keep doing the program but would make changes.
‘I would find a way that we could continue to keep the shock value,’ he said, ‘but I would find a way to inform the parents (beforehand).’