Back in March of 2012, the youth leader of Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in Lower Swatara Township, Pennsylvania church pulled off a mock kidnapping of its youth group. The youth pastor had four men burst into a youth meeting. One of them was carrying an unloaded gun for added effect. They took the teens, placed pillow cases over their heads and put them in a church van which drove them to the pastor’s home to go through interrogation. They were questioned for 30 seconds and then released.
This is not the first time, nor will it likely be the last time such a youth activity takes place. The idea behind the activity is to give the youth a firsthand understanding of the persecution that missionaries face in countries hostile toward Christianity.
The event led to charges of false imprisonment and assault against the church and its youth pastor after the mother of a 14 year old girl reported the mock exercise to police. According to the Patriot News of Central Pennsylvania, the Prosecuting Attorney said that while the intentions of the church were not necessarily harmful,
“they in essence terrorized several children.”
An agreement has now been reached in the case and the church will pay a $10,000 fine, its youth pastor will pay a $500 penalty, serve a year of probation, and do 50 hours of community service for staging a fake “terrorist raid” during a youth group program. As an institution, the church could not be sentenced to a jail term, but the $10,000 fine was the maximum allowed by law.
Prosecutor Fran Chardo said,
“What they did wasn’t malicious. It was just foolhardy.”
The danger in such a verdict is precedent. Where will it end? A youth group goes to an amusement park and several kids are terrified on a roller coaster? A church hosts a haunted house and guests are traumatized? One cannot be too careful in dealing with parents and children. Do not assume because you are doing something with the best of intentions, that it is the right thing to do in the eyes of all the parents and children. Make sure parents are informed concerning your events. Otherwise, you may end up paying a fine and doing community service because foolhardiness is deemed a punishable crime.
We are living in a new day! Things that we did thirty years ago with hardly a thought, must be well thought out today. And remember, our spiritual lives are not to be compelled by fear, but driven by faith.