A southeastern Pennsylvania church has been ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and its youth pastor ordered to do community service after a March 2012 mock kidnapping in which he and fellow church members interrogated 17 teenagers in an unconventional lesson about the dangers of missionary work.
On Thursday, Jan. 24, Judge Andrew H. Dowling charged Glad Tidings Assembly of God, located in Middletown, Pa., and its youth pastor Andrew Jordan, 28, with simple assault and false imprisonment, charges which were reached by a plea agreement with prosecutors.
In addition to the church's $10,000 fine, Pastor Jordan will reportedly pay a $500 penalty, and perform 50 hours of community service while serving up to a year of probation, according to Harrisburg Patriot-News.
"It was an appropriate punishment for what they did. And I'm confident they aren't going to do it again," First Assistant District Attorney Fran Chardo said of the sentencing.
"They're not bad people," Chardo continued, adding, "what they did wasn't malicious. It was just foolhardy."
Chardo went on to say that the court wants to make sure churches understand that they must receive parental and child consent before performing an act like this, which Glad Tidings reportedly did not do before the incident happened.
The incident occurred on March 21, 2012, when members of the congregation staged a mock kidnapping in an attempt to show 17 youth group members the dangers of missionary work abroad.
The mock kidnappers reportedly ambushed a youth event at the church, covered the heads of each youth member, ushered them into a van, and then interrogated them on the way to the pastor's house, where they pretended to torture the pastor while the children waited.
The kidnappers then revealed themselves and explained that the event was staged. However, the mother of one 14-year-old girl, who reportedly received bruises from the fake raid and was crying during the exercise, filed a complaint with the county's police department, and the case was then pursued by a grand jury probe.
The girl's lawyer, Christopher Marzzacco, told WHTM-TV that the family is pleased to put the court case behind them.
"The victim and her family are relieved this criminal matter has been resolved. They would like to thank Detective Applebee and Fran Chardo for their work to bring those responsible for this outrageous behavior to justice," said Marzzacco.
"They hope this deters the church from engaging in future irresponsible behavior that is harmful to others, especially children," the lawyer added.
Both Pastor Jordan and the church initially pleaded not guilty to the charges in November, arguing that they were attempting to show the students what had happened to missionaries in the past.
The church's head pastor, John Lanza, told the New York Daily News in March 2012 that he was planning on tinkering with the "shock" value of his future youth programs.
"I would find a way that we could continue to keep the shock value, but I would find a way to inform the parents [ahead of time]," the pastor previously said.