Crucifixion Illustration for Youth ‘went too far,’ Church Admits

associate pastor

To demonstrate the suffering Jesus endured on Good Friday, an Ohio youth pastor encouraged students to hit him, spit in his face, and even cut him with a knife. After kids posted video of the incident to social media, parents were outraged.

During Monday’s after-school event, a shirtless Jaddeaus Dempsey, part-time associate pastor at Impact City Church in Pataskala, invited kids to hurt him “without any repercussions.” Although some students refused to participate, one asked if he could spit in Dempsey’s face a second time.

The whole experience was “weird and awkward,” according to a 12-year-old attendee.

‘They are supposed to be role models’

Complaints began as soon as parents saw the clips. “It was disturbing,” says Mandy, a mom whose son was handed the knife. After a friend informed her what was happening at the church, Mandy and her husband, Josh, rushed to pick up their son. The boy was upset and thought he was in trouble, so Josh assured him what the youth leader did “wasn’t OK.”

Another parent, Amanda Quick, says it was a poor decision to urge kids to hurt someone. Pastors “are supposed to be role models,” she says. “They are supposed to be people our children can look up to.”

One mom says, “I feel like there’s plenty of different ways [the pastor] could’ve gone about this.”

A writer says the illustration-gone-awry “became a parable about the readiness of children to perpetrate violence, sending a disquieting signal of how quickly some young people descend into the sort of savagery fictionalized in…Lord of the Flies.

Intent Was Good, Pastors Say in Apology Video

By Tuesday, Dempsey and lead pastor Justin Ross had posted a video to Impact City’s Facebook page, saying, “The illustration went too far.”

“Many of you were hurt by this,” Ross says. “Many of you were very confused on why this would be taking place at a church and a youth event, and we agree. It was inappropriate for this audience, and there’s really no excuse for why it happened.”

Dempsey took responsibility, saying the idea was his and that it “crossed the line” and “was in bad judgment.” (You can watch the full video of the pastors’ apology below).

Ross emphasizes that social media footage doesn’t show Dempsey’s follow-up explanation to students. The youth pastor told them “about this guy named Jesus, who thousands of years ago, he was put on trial for a crime that he didn’t commit, and he was beaten, he was broken, he was whipped, he was crucified, and he died as an innocent man.” Dempsey was simply trying to “share” in Jesus’ pain, Ross adds.

The church’s board of directors will investigate the incident, according to another Facebook post, and staff members will reach out to students and their families.

In some cultures, inflicting physical pain is a Holy Week ritual showing repentance and a union with Christ’s suffering. Some people even endure being nailed to a cross, but the Catholic Church calls such practices a “misinterpretation of faith.”

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Stephanie Martin
Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 26 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.