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Fake arrests of pastors cause real grief for Summit County sheriff

Beacon Journal staff report

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A video posted on the Internet that shows three Akron pastors being arrested at their churches on Sunday morning has put Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry on the defensive.

On Tuesday, Barry issued a news release explaining that his deputies are not “bad guys” who interrupted church services to arrest local pastors. Instead, the arrests were simulated as a prelude to an upcoming production at the Akron Civic Theatre.

“I want to clarify that none of the arrests were real. It was all part of a skit that went along with the pastors’ sermons that day,” Barry said. “I knew it was being filmed, but I thought it was only going to be shown to the congregation. Once it got out there on the Web, people were commenting about how disgusting we were to interrupt church services to effect an arrest.”

The YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owOZOG1_vgA), put together by Larry James, general manager of Cleveland-based KAZ Radio Television Network, is actually a marketing tool.

“In terms of marketing, it has been very successful because it is creating a buzz. People are asking ‘why are those pastors being arrested’ and are digging a little deeper to find out what’s behind the arrests,” said Edra Frazier, marketing coordinator for the upcoming drama. “We do, however, need to do a more adequate job of tagging the posts with production information.”

The goal of the dramatization is to make people more aware of what it takes for pastors to defend the Christian faith beyond preaching on Sundays.

The drama will be set in a courtroom where local pastors, who are accused of not defending their faith, will respond to the charge by explaining how their ministries require them to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Frazier said.

During the mock arrests, sheriff’s deputies entered church sanctuaries to serve warrants for the arrests of three pastors for Defending the Faith (the title of the play). The deputies were accompanied by a crew from KAZ, but most parishioners were unaware that the arrests were fake.

As each pastor was taken to an awaiting cruiser in the church parking lot, Frazier stood before each congregation to explain that the arrests were part of the marketing strategy for the production at 7 p.m. March 22 at the Akron Civic Theatre as part of the fifth annual Past Unforgotten Project.

The project includes a drama, musical celebration and an awards ceremony, which honors people who are making a positive impact on the community.

Barry said his deputies (two who were off duty and unpaid and two who were on duty and paid) participated as an act of good will to help the faith community in its efforts.

“I feel we have an obligation to the community as part of our community policing and community relations,” Barry said. “It took nothing away from their assignments and it was a good way to continue building relationships.”

None of the three pastors who were “arrested” on Sunday — the Rev. Melford Elliott, pastor at Greater Bethel Baptist Church; the Rev. Robert Golson, pastor at Prince of Peace Baptist Church; and the Rev. Vincent Peterson, pastor at Providence Baptist Church — could be reached for comment.

Barry and Frazier said the mock arrests will continue on Sundays leading up to the production date.

“Our hope is that as sheriff’s deputies continue to make their way to churches throughout the community, members of that congregation will see that their pastors truly are defenders of the faith,” Frazier said. “Even though it starts with a negative image of a pastor being arrested, this is a dramatic way to deliver the positive message that our spiritual leaders are doing a lot of good in our community. Hopefully, they will get excited about the production and spread the word.”

Tickets for the production are $25 each or $30 at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Greater Bethel Community Development Center. For more information, visit Greater Bethel Baptist Church on Facebook or call 330-724-0718.


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