PITTSBURGH (AP) — 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.
A message left at the church was not immediately returned, and there was no phone listing for Jordan. Neither were defense attorneys listed on court papers.
Glad Tidings pastor John Lanza said in March that the church was “so saddened” that youth were traumatized during the event, but added that other youth from the church sent emails of support. The church is about 10 miles outside Harrisburg. Lanza said the goal of the exercise was to prepare the youth for what they might encounter as missionaries in foreign countries. He 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 the church had conducted similar events at least twice before, without complaints.