The Story:  A church pastor in Pennsylvania could face felony charges for staging a fake kidnapping of youth group students in order to teach them about religious persecution, reports ABC News.

The Background:  According to the news report, teenagers attending a youth group meeting at the Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in Middletown, Pennsylvania were ambushed by what seemed to be real kidnappers.

Several adults, including an off-duty cop, brandished real weapons and put bags over the heads of the children, ages 13 through 18, and forced them into a church van. The church leaders who organized the fake hostage situation later told law enforcement that the event was meant to be a lesson to the children on how Christians are persecuted in places around the world, but the “educational” event may actually constitute a crime, said Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo.

“We are conducting an investigation. False imprisonment of a child is a felony offense, and carries up to 10 years in prison,” Chardo said. “We are still in the investigative phase, trying to find out what happened.”

Why It Matters:  Is it necessary to point out that staging a fake kidnapping and terrorizing children is something that should never, ever, ever be done? Apparently so. Even after facing felony charges Pastor John Lanza says that in the future ‘I would find a way that we could continue to keep the shock value, but I would find a way to inform the parents (beforehand)’”

Although such activities are not common in evangelical churches, many unbelieving parents will rightly be leery of allowing their children to attend youth groups for fear of subjecting them to such trauma. We should pray that Pastor Lanza’s fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in Middletown will explain to him that such demonic tactics are unfitting of a minister of the Gospel.

Such actions are not only despicable and unloving, but they also fail to teach the intended lesson. “True religious persecution is not something that can be simulated—-attempting to do so only cheapens our understanding of persecution and does little to prepare us for it,” says youth pastor Drew Dixon. As Dixon notes,

Biblically speaking, the way one prepares for persecution is to be “sober-minded and watchful” and setting our “hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). The only preparation that will do any young Christian any good, is to meditate on the gospel, to look to Christ-the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).