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Fear Factor ministry: Florence church youth swallow live fish

FLORENCE (AP) — The First Assembly of God Church has a Fear Factor ministry that had youths swallowing live goldfish — if they were up to it. The church's youth minister says it teaches children about fear, but a grandparent questioned it and a pet shop owner called it animal cruelty.

"Fear Factor" is a reality TV show in which contestants compete by participating in dangerous activities or by eating stomach-turning foods for cash prizes.

"We need to be realistic about what the Bible says about fear and not be afraid to share our faith in school," youth minister Anthony Martin told the TimesDaily in a story Thursday. "We can't let that fear rule our lives."

Martin said the ministry's participants are between the ages of 14 and 21 and that they had to get their parents to sign a waiver to be involved.

"Through this ministry, kids are surrendering their lives to Jesus and developing a deeper relationship with Jesus," he said. "The method of the ministry that we use to bring people is going to change, but the message is going to stay consistent."

In teaching the lesson about fear, participants in last week's round were asked to pull a number — between one and three — from a bowl that would indicate how many live Comet goldfish would be swallowed.

Martin said 12 of the almost 20 young people who participated advanced to this week's round of activities, which involved undoing chains and getting out of a real coffin, with the eight fastest advancing. The final four will compete for $250 by the ministry's final week.

Martin said he had been contacted by one participant's grandmother, who was angry about the activity, which he said was used for the first time last year.

"We resolved the issue, and when I explained what happened and that we were using it to draw kids to Jesus to have a deeper relationship with him, she seemed to simmer down," Martin said.

Paula Keeton, manager of Pet Depot, which sold the fish, said she considers the church's action as animal cruelty.

"It's against our policy to sell to people if the animal will be killed," Keeton told the TimesDaily. "To me, it's the same as taking a dog or cat and killing it in front of a group of children."

Martin said about half of the participants in the Fear Factor ministry are members of the church, which has about 300 people attend Sunday morning services, and others are guests.

Not forced to participate

Martin maintains that the children are not forced to participate and there is no peer pressure involved. But there is no alternative to the activity and not participating means forfeiting the right to advance in the game.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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