Lesson on Persecution Lands Youth Pastor with Charges of Kidnapping

Recently a youth pastor attempted to pull off the ultimate of teaching illustrations: a live kidnapping. A group of youth were led to believe that terrorist-types were taking them as hostages.

Now, I think that we need to educate North American Christians about issues that other parts of the globe have to deal with. It is not legal in many places to worship God. Doing so can lead to various forms of harassment such as kidnapping, foul play, imprisonment, and even death. We ought to regularly pray for such sisters and brothers around the world and speak the “truth in love” to the principalities and powers (both seen and unseen) on the injustice of this sort of policy toward any religion, group, or sect.

Having spent 7 years in youth ministry, I love that it often experiments with forms of church that the “big church” often would not think up on its own. Much of the innovation in mission in the past two decades can be directly traced to youth ministry innovation. And to be sure, as an experimental laboratory, we must expect that there will be some ideas that “go bad” or fall flat on their face. I’m certainly no exception. I’ve made several mistakes in my short ministry career (now about 10 years). But then there are the things that just go too far. Kidnapping kids is one of those areas.

Here’s what one article says:

PITTSBURGH — A southeastern Pennsylvania church and a youth pastor are 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 and 28-year-old Andrew David Jordan of Elizabethtown were charged Friday with false imprisonment and simple assault, said Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico.

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 filed a complaint with police.

“This is a sad case for all those involved,” Marsico said, 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,” 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.

I can’t help but think that beyond being a dumb idea, that this was only made possible by creating a church culture that glorifies violence as redemptive. You wont find semi-auto rifles in a church of pacifist (well, not likely). If fact, why should anyone have automatic rifles in any setting? And, why do we want to create the sorts of emotions (which are real emotions in the moment) in order to create concern? We should care even if we cannot relate to the “other.” In fact, admitting that we cannot relate actually is the first step towards authentic empathy.

Consider some further details from another article:

The mock kidnapping occurred in March. During a youth group meeting, teens were taken at gunpoint (with an unloaded gun) with their heads covered and loaded into a van.

A 14-year-old girl who filed a complaint against the church told ABC News earlier that she was terrified and unaware that it was not real….

“I thought ‘why not tell us that it was a joke?’”

The teens were taken to the pastor’s house where they found the pastor covered in blood.

The staged event was designed to teach the youths about the persecution Christians often face in other countries and to prepare them for such situations should they serve as missionaries.

Beyond the issue of violence, lets not forget that this sort of assault potentially creates real memories of emotional trauma similar to *actually* being kidnapped. The psychological effects could be residual for some students, depending on the amount of trauma they had already experienced during their lifetime.

Let’s use common sense and let’s quit creating a culture that glorifies violence. Yes, it was to help students “understand,” but perhaps walking through the radical call to discipleship as modeled in the Sermon on the Mount would be a better place to start.

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  • Nate Heldman

    did all those wwjd bracelets do us any good at all?  ;-)  seems like it could have been avoided by a simple “hmmmm…do these sound like the tactics Jesus used to teach?”  perhaps peter was the one they emulated.  it sounds like something he’d have done…at least if he’d had access to semi-automatic weapons.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

       @google-5545327663ab23e89be6dce7b80db1c4:disqus … Awesome.

  • dawesi

    Um Nate, Jesus, not once, but twice used extreme violence to get his point across whipping people, so yes it is similar in intention to what Jesus would do. ;-) Jesus physically hurt people _twice_

    Secondly, beside being the most stolen item in bookshop history, WWJD bands where a commercial joke, that distorted Theology so badly generations of youth left the church because their faith was tied to armbands and church marketing, rather than Biblical truth. There’s no way you could ever know what Jesus would do in your situation, and it’s irrelevant anyway.

    If you’re wondering what Jesus would do, you’ve not understood Jesus’s ‘teachings’. If you read the Bible and understand it’s motive, then you know what YOU as a individual or community will do.

    Now kidnapping a bunch of cotton-wool surrounded American kids isn’t the smartest practical exercise (as usually their mental state can’t even handle a celebrity breakup), however the reality is that those kids actually got a REAL life perspective, something I’m guessing they’ll never have in such a sheltered society as the US. Now I’d let the law do it’s thing, and reiterate the message that was intended as now it is done, it is better to iterate the message, then lose it (and then pay for good counseling with Psychologists, not social workers (hell no).

    People need to wake up the reality of faith for others, and the consequences other people face and we need to support those who are suffering, rather than live in our cocoon with our head in the sand. That said a armed holdup is a scary thing (I’ve been there), but not something that should effect you for more than a few weeks with a good debrief.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      I disagree with your first point. No where does the New Testament claim that Jesus whipped people. The whip was used to drive out animals.
      KURT WILLEMS
      http://KurtWillems.com
      http://twitter.com/kurtwillems
      http://facebook.com/kurtwillems

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/J2V7N75DX4MUMHKAJBCWGAYQ3I MR

      Contrary to popular belief, you aren’t Jesus, so I wouldn’t go so far as to use violence as an illustration.

    • AmyS

      You make some pretty serious assumptions about what “cotton-wool surrounded American kids” know (or do not know) about suffering. The kids I’ve ministered to have told me about domestic violence, parental neglect and abandonment, sexual abuse, rape, intimate partner violence and terrorism, parental arrest and imprisonment, home invasion robberies, and traumatic deaths of siblings and parents. One of the youth group kids my husband and I worked with years ago witnessed a sibling burning to death in an auto accident, and I could tell you all kinds of things just as horrible. 

      In the case of the “jk” youth group kidnapping, only the kids who were taken and tortured actually experienced the event as victims. The rest of the kids were onlookers (and knew it wasn’t real) or perpetrators (who, even though they know it wasn’t real, may also feel guilty and confused about what they did). If most of the “learning” was vicarious, couldn’t the kids have watched a documentary or a well crafted film drama? Movies can be very effective in both raising awareness and allowing us an emotional window into another person’s reality. 

      Maybe they could have had a personal visit from someone who has lived through persecution. Just a few weeks ago we had a visitor at our church who told us about how she used to live in a forced labor camp. Through tears, she shared with us her deep love for Jesus and her gratitude for the ministry of the church. Trying to “fake” an experience, in order to teach kids empathy for those like her, is no less than insulting and disgusting. And, I sincerely doubt that she would endorse such an activity. 

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    Probably overboard as an illustration, but also overboard as a response.  I know of a case where a pastor arranged with a cop friend to have himself “arrested” and taken out of the church one Sunday morning as an illustration…no real charges ever followed I don’t think.

    It probably would have been wise to do some pre-communication to parents here, asking them to hold the situation in confidence…but I’m not ready to say it was completely inappropriate even if not fully thought through.  Object lessons can be powerful, and their power ought not to be dismissed.  It would depend a lot on the teaching that accompanied it…I know some churches that use their teaching about persecuted Christians as a reason to further peace and justice, and others that use the same subject to teach how much we need to support American war against those “enemies of the faith.” 

    But as to your last comment, I know plenty of pacifist churches where the congregants have quite an arsenal of rifles, shotguns, and occasionally handguns in areas where hunting is a way of life.  And yes, some of those were semi-automatics, though that term may be used in ignorance by the writer to suggest “assault weapon,” that’s actually sloppy terminology.

    • AmyS

      I completely disagree, Dan. The example you gave is very different than the incident that Kurt mentions. 1) there was no perceived threat to the pastor’s life; 2) the pastor was an adult; 3) the pastor knew he was fully in charge of the situation and chose to be fake-arrested; 4) the pastor was not tortured. The pastor knew that the whole thing was a fake and had nothing to be afraid of. The congregation knew that the pastor would be uncomfortable, but there was no implied threat to the pastor’s life. 
      Regarding the youth kidnapping incident, there was nothing fake about it. The fact that there was no ammunition in the gun doesn’t mean anything to the kids who were taken and tortured. These kidnapped kids and their parents had every reason to believe that their lives were at risk. They did not know that they had control over the situation and were not given the choice to participate or not. These are the exact makings of PTSD. Traumatic stress (which results from believing that one’s life is being immediately threatened) can permanently change the brain. It is a real injury that changes one’s life permanently–making the individual significantly less able to manage any future stressors in their lives (including the normal day-to-day work and relational stressors). No amount of good teaching can fix that. Would good teaching fix a broken bone? It won’t fix a broken brain either.The stunt was foolish and arrogant. That youth “pastor” clearly has no knowledge of human development and should not be entrusted with young souls (or any souls for that matter). 

  • Mightyfowl

    It was anything but a “mock” kidnapping. It was real. It’s the victim who determines that, not the intent of the perpetrators.

    Otherwise, every kidnapper could claim it was “mock”, when caught later. 

    The response is just as it should have been.


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