Saturday, April 7, 2012

Scared Sacred

Like many churches struggling to stay relevant in an increasingly secular world, Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Middletown, Pennsylvania has implemented innovative methods to keep their youth engaged. While lesser congregations might opt for clich├ęd ice-breaker activities or Bible-trivia nights, Glad Tidings decided to take a more hands on (and prosecutable) approach.

During a recent youth lesson at the church, several ski-masked men stormed into the room, placed bags over the students’ heads and loaded them into a van. They were then transported to the pastor’s home where they were subjected to what they believed to be their minister being tortured. It was only after several of the teenagers broke down in tears that it was revealed that the entire ordeal was staged in order “prepare them for what they might encounter as missionaries.”

The mother of one 14-year-old girl has filed a complaint with the police department as neither she, nor her daughter, had been made aware of the church’s plans to kidnap the seventeen youth in attendance. Pastor John Lanza insists that while he is “saddened” by any trauma that the event might have caused attendees, it was important “to illustrate what others have encountered on a regular basis” while serving as foreign missionaries. Despite the police investigation, Pastor Lanza claims to have received hundreds of letters of support for the program and plans to continue utilizing it while exploring a way to inform the parents beforehand.
Glad Tidings Prepares for Palm Sunday...
I personally don’t know what all the fuss is about. Who hasn’t been abducted from a church Bible study and forced to witness the physical torture of their senior pastor? I am fairly certain that my church has formed an entire committee for this very purpose; and besides, everyone knows preparing a child’s legal guardian ahead of time just ruins the effect. If there was anything to be ashamed of, it was that the fact that the staff shut it down just because a few prima donnas didn’t enjoy riding in a cargo van with a potato sack on their heads.   

I also find Pastor Lanza’s zeal admirable; it takes a certain amount of ministerial gumption to asses a church activity that ended in a police investigation and say, “we are definitely putting this on the calendar next year!” I can only imagine the “spiritual gift checklist” the staff utilized to find adult co-conspirators in the congregation:
   Please mark all that apply:
  •             I enjoy making others feel welcome through meals and fellowship
  •             I enjoy teaching and discussing scriptural passages with others.
  •             I enjoy participating in the church-sanctioned abductions of minors
I am a strong proponent of the modern church preparing our young adults for the “real world” but just because something can happen in life doesn’t mean the church has to prepare us for it through role play. After all, blood-borne pathogens are very real dangers for missionaries as well but perhaps distributing a pamphlet would be preferable to say, injecting an infant with hepatitis.

I would also like to see a second investigation into the numerous “letters of support” the church has received. I cannot fathom hundreds of people so passionate about faux missionary kidnappings that they would be moved to pen a letter. What do these letters say? Did these people misinterpret Matthew 19:14 and think that Jesus said, “let the children come to me the hard way”?

And how in the world did this generate only one parental complaint? It appears that out of 17 legal guardians only one felt that having their underage child terrorized by strange men was uncalled for. Is this poor woman being ostracized for speaking up? Did some of the other mothers downplay her concern with comments like, “Don’t be such a baby Irene. You should have seen what they did to the Charleston girl last year; rumor has it she still sobs uncontrollably when she smells Dijon mustard or sees a Swiffer…”

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