Monday, October 30, 2006

How great thou art

Part the first
You may be surprised to hear it, Windsor, but The Trail is actually a born and bred Catholic. Oh yeah, babies, I'm talking school uniforms, church on Sunday for most of my life, sacraments, the works.

To be honest though, my churchgoing days are long gone [I doubt forever, but for the moment], though I still maintain a healthy dose of the guilt and righteous indignation that is part and parcel of the faith. And nothing arouses my ire more than self styled preachers who get into people's heads and tell them how to believe. Perhaps I'm an old fuddy duddy, but I believe anything calling itself a church has to be organized, there have to be checks and balances like anything else. Some might argue that same organization has done more to damage the Christianity's rep than anything else, but that's an argument for another time.

Also, the Jesus I came up on was a teacher, one who was certainly firm in his beliefs, but enjoyed discussing and debating Scripture. Maybe that was the fault of the Catholic school system when I was a kid, but there you have it.

Weirded out, yet? Yeah, I don't blame you, but there is a point to this.

This past weekend CTV's W-Five program ran a profile on something that's been going down in Hamilton, Ontario the past few years. They called it "The Pied Piper of Hamilton," and the hour dealt with the Dominion Christian Centre and its pastor, Peter Rigo. The whole episode is available for viewing in five parts, plus there's a transcript, but here's some of the highlights

Starting with some footage of the hour-long concert that kicks off every Sunday service [a reinterpretation of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way,"] we see the usual faces in the small yet passionate crowd. Predominantly white and female, swaying and jumping in that off-putting way that crowds at Christian rock concerts do, jamming to the band, which features Rigo on the drums. I'll refrain from making a snarky comment on that.

I know, I know, you think I'm hating. "Let the babies have their bottles," you say. But Rigo's ministry goes from eccentric to creepy pretty damn quick. Case in point: the first footage from his Sunday sermon.

Here's Rigo's interpretation of churches who canvas and compete for believers:
"And then we compete with the world - Our God is better than yours. Our girls give better blow jobs, that's right, we get laid twice as quick in Christian school. Our God's better than your God."
Now, I've heard a Catholic priest drop a cuss word a time or two, Windsor. Even had frank discussions with one on the whole celibacy thing. But never during Sunday service in front of a room full of people. But Rigo would have no time for a person like me, or most people I know. he doesn't want people who try to live their best lives, attend service on Sunday and deal with that pesky real world every week.

No, Rigo wants, by his own admission, people who will devote and live their lives for God, and for the people at the DCC, that is every available hour. Says Rigo, "A lot of teaching goes on in the name of God, very little living. So the standard that I read in a relationship of God and of the Word is - if you love me, you'll obey me. Not if you love me, you'll learn about me."

To that end, Rigo did his best to set up a self-contained mini society where his flock could live, work and pray with little distraction from outside, and started working on tactics to disarm any criticism. My favourite of these is straight out of the right-wing playbook [and The Trail's, to be honest]: mock any accusations to disarm them of their power.

In his best hangdog, 'did I do that?' expression, Rigo addresses the cameras in the church at the time of the filming.
"I've had the cauldron brewing all this week conjuring up my manipulation spirits, working my hocus-pocus magic. So far all I can gather up with power are a handful of young people and a couple of moms and dads so I'll keep working on it cause you know, we gotta get to the people with the money if we're gonna succeed."

He follows up with an alleged quote from his neighbor: "I'm talking with the neighbor yesterday and he says, 'You know what? If you're a fucking cult, I'm joining it!' I know you can't say that word on TV. But you sure can in the house of God."

Umm, no you can't.

So what do his followers say? Well, said one, "If this is controlling, it's absolutely wonderful, because before coming here I was very uncontrolled."
Said another, "It's cost me family, it's cost me my own way of thinking. But it's not really a cost. It's more a privelege to lose those things." Uh-huh.

Part the second
Regardless of what I might think of Rigo [which is 'sorry, misguided, vain fool,' by the way] or his church [which is not affiliated with any larger organization at the moment. Strictly the Rigo show], there's something larger going on here.

As alluded to by that last quote, Rigo allegedly has no qualms with telling his followers that if their families won't get on board with what he's teaching, then they're better off without their families.

Which is happened to the Brun del Re family. Their daughter Mirella joined Rigo's church a few years back [even got herself a spot playing violin in the band] and ended up spending every spare minute there.

According to the family, Mirella's opinion of them shifted from indifference to outright hate, until she settled in at the church full time. The Brun del Res began to get concerned, and as they began to ask questions, a whole underground of people who had issues with Rigo and the DCC emerged. Soon stories of family separations and Rigo's rage and controlling nature began to come out. The longer their daughter stayed there, coupled with the more they heard about the DCC forced the Brun del Res to make an unfortunate choice they felt they had to make.

On the morning of December 21, 2005, Mirella Brun del Re was abducted by five men, including her father Renato and brother Giancarlo. She says she was handcuffed by her family who attempted to 'deprogram' her, going so far as to fly in noted cult expert and deprogrammer Mary Alice Chrnalogar to try her hand at changing Mirella's mind. According to W-Five, Chrnalogar agreed to talk to Mirella on the condition that the young woman be allowed to leave at her will. So after a few hours, Mirella leaves and goes right back to the DCC.

Her father and brother are facing kidnapping charges and forcible confinement, her mother faces the latter charge. All are facing lengthy prison stays, maybe even life.

Now, anybody's capable of anything, I will grant you that, and maybe some families just can't let go and let their kids make their own decisions. But at the risk of stereotyping, the Brun del Res do not seem like irrational people. The father is a doctor, a family physician; the mother a french teacher at a secondary school. These are not the sort of people who would do something rash unless provoked. And I find it hard to argue that Peter Rigo didn't provoke them.

Mirella Brun del Re was just like a lot of young women The Trail's met: a little lost, looking for something to give their lives a deeper meaning. She wanted it so badly, she doesn't even care that it's destroyed her family. And the Brun del Res might be the most extreme example of the destruction Rigo has wrought, but they're certainly not the only ones.

This is not a new story, Windsor. But I don't know if I can think of another time when it's happened in Canada. We expect this sort of thing from the States. We gleefully lampoon it. But we think we're above it, and we're not. This sort of thing is happening in our own back yard under our noses. Some shyster seduces teenagers and young adults to keep his "ministry" afloat, because grown-ups won't buy what he's selling.

"We gotta get to the people with the money if we're gonna succeed." I hope you're right, Peter. Because the people with the money will see through your tactics, and won't give you a dime.

Hopefully that happens before the damage you've done to so many Canadian families can't be undone.

But what do I know, I'm just a dirty sinner?


Anonymous Ogata said...

you are absolutely right! now if only the people in his so called church could see that!

4:43 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought professional journalists were supposed to research both sides of a story and provide an unbiased account of what's really going on, rather than base thier arguments on a third party's interpretation of the events and people involved? Just because what you saw and heard doesn't gel with your notion of what a church should be doesn't make it wrong. Have you ever read the subject matter that's actually talked about in the bible, because it's a lot more brutal than what was talked about on that W5 program and a lot more explicit. Jesus never discussed and debated the Word of His Father. He preached and taught the principles of the Kingdom of God. He didn't invite and accept interpretation like so much of North America loves to do. Whoever you want God to be that's who he is. That's fine if that's what you believe but that's not what the Word of God says.

10:54 PM

Blogger The Trail said...

Thankfully, I'm not a professional.

I am enough of a grown up to sign my name to anything I write online, however.

Jordan Ferguson

4:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, any church that supports a man, yes a man, that encourages one to diwown their family because they do not believe in the same thing is ludacris. Jesus spent his time with his diciples and with non-believers, he preached the word of God. You talk of the bible be explicit, yes at times it was, but that doesn't make it okay for some 'guy' to tell people what they should take literally. I do not attend church myself at this time, but i have studied the Bible, and other world religions. As i recall, is it not about a personal relationship with Jesus?? Not letting some 'guy' tell you you should disown your family. We were taught to obey our mother and father. I wonder what RIGO would think if one of his own daughters decided to take a different path in life. Also, someone with RIgo's background shouldn't be giving advice to young people. It's okay to be, born again, if that is what you call it, but he shouldn't be aloud to preach, or controll a congregation. The bible is not about Rules and controll, that is where RIGO is mistaken. It is about joy and love and prosperity. AND, peter rigo is interpreting his own version of the bible, so he is just as bad as everyone else. I just hate it when people read half the bible and ignore the rest. So, to his congregation, OPEN YOUR EYES. Using the word blow-job in the context he did does not bring anyone closer to God. Oh, and just cause you 'rock out' and don't sing Hymns on Sunday morning, doesn't make you any better than anyone else. It's what in your heart that really counts!

7:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was a former member of DCC under the rigos. i welcome any dialogue via e-mail at

2:28 AM


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