An Ohio church is under fire after a video from one of its youth group events surfaced, showing the children spitting on, slapping, and using a knife on a pastor at his invitation.
The associate pastor, Jaddeus Dempsey, said that the exercise was part of a larger lesson on teaching the kids "how much Jesus loved them."
What are the details of the video
The incident took place on Monday afternoon when Dempsey requested that kids at an after-school youth program at Impact City Church in Pataskala, Ohio, line up to perform various acts of disrespect and violence on him.
One of the people in attendance at the event filmed the incident, and the video made it to social media, where it made major waves.
In the video, Dempsey can be seen encouraging kids to spit in his face, then request that they slap him in the face, and finally, Dempsey can be seen encouraging some of the students to cut him on the back with a kitchen knife.
As the kids hoot, holler, and laugh, more and more line up to deliver spit and slaps to Dempsey's face.
Some of the kids seem to have no problem queuing up to abuse Dempsey, spitting on and slapping him, but several of them appear to stop short of actually being able to make a cut in the pastor's back.
The video ends shortly after the knife incident.
What is the church saying now?
The church said that Dempsey aimed to present the exercise as a lesson of the crucifixion ahead of the Easter holiday.
In a video posted to the church's Facebook, Dempsey said, "I am so sorry for misrepresenting the community, the church, the parents, the students."
"It was not my intention," he added. "My intention was to just show them how much Jesus loved them."
Lead Pastor Justin Ross explained that Dempsey presented the opportunity to the children during the program.
"Jaddeus got up in front of the students and he says, 'I'm going to ask you to do something that might seem a little crazy, but if there's anyone here that would like to spit in my face, you can do so without any repercussions," Ross said.
Ross explained that some of the kids were "caught off guard," but others were "excited" because "they'd never had an opportunity to spit in someone's face."
"He had the opportunity to share a message about Easter," Ross added, "and he chose to use an illustration to explain a very important topic about the crucifixion, but the illustration went too far."
During the video, Dempsey added, "It was just not appropriate and it was in bad judgment. I am so sorry for misrepresenting the community, the church, the parents, and the students — anybody that I hurt. This was not my intention. My intention was to just show them how much Jesus loves them and that I love them as a student leader for almost four years now. Tonight was an anomaly and it is not normally what happens. Again, I am deeply sorry for the pain that I have caused."
In a statement, Ross told WBNS-TV, "We exist to create an environment that is safe and predictable for students to come, connect with their friends and grow closer to God. Today we failed at creating that safe, predictable environment. We want to do better," Ross told 10TV.
The church's Facebook page also announced a formal review and investigation into the incident.
"Our pastor is making himself available to meet personally with every student and their parents who were present at the student gathering on Monday," a portion of the post read. "Our staff will be reaching out to these families as soon as possible."
What are parents saying now?
Mandy, a mother of one of the male children who handled the knife, told WBNS that she found out about the incident through a friend who'd seen the livestream of the video.
"The guy that's in there that's getting spit on, turns around and he grabs the knife and hands it right to my son," she said. "I was very disturbed.
Mandy said that her son won't be returning to the church, and she also reported the incident to the sheriff's office.
Holly Collier, who attended the church for two years, told the BBC that she was heartbroken after watching the video.
Her daughter, Kelsey, told the outlet that she doesn't think people should judge Dempsey or the church based on the video.
"Jaddeus and people in that church were always there for us," she said. "They're the most understanding, least judgmental people you will ever meet."
She added, "I don't think someone should be judged just based on one mistake, that one mistake doesn't define who he is."