My name is Robert Van de Water and I am writing on my own initiative and of my own volition in defence of One Community Church and its lead pastors Peter and Peggy Rigo. Specifically, I am writing to refute the charge that has been made that the church is a cult and that Pastor Peter and Pastor Peggy are false teachers distorting the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because the value of my witness depends on my background, I am going to start out with a few biographical details and reference my blog (Google “A Thoughtful Christian”).
I should start off by saying that I am not affiliated with anyone else in the church by blood or marriage. Though I first came to the church because I knew one of the families that attended, I was extremely skeptical of the church because I had been given vague warnings that there had been some incidents in the past and that it could be a cult. Because I was extremely skeptical, I went over the teachings of Pastor Peter and Pastor Peggy with a fine-toothed comb looking for errors and I was on the lookout for any sign of false teaching.
Despite my initial skepticism, my experience at One Community Church makes the notion that it is a cult laughably absurd. To understand why, you must know a bit about me. I am a highly educated individual and I have graduated from two of the finest universities in the world. (Google “Robert Van de Water Douglas Frey” and “Robert Van de Water Multimedia”.) I am an independent thinker who left the United States and came to Canada ten years ago because I found the cult of George W. Bush among U. S. churches to be nothing less than nauseating (See my post “Thank God for Mitt Romney!”). I am extremely critical of standard Christian doctrines because I believe the church has misinterpreted the Bible for centuries. (See my posts “Bad Theology” parts I and II and “Exchange with a Young Earth Creationist” for some examples.) I have never left a church service or scientific lecture without a list of questions and objections to what was taught (See my post “Reasons to Disbelieve” for the list of reasons why I have found Christianity difficult to accept as an example of my skeptical approach to Christian teaching.)
Why is any of this important? Because the chief characteristic of a cult is its focus on mind control and its intolerance of dissenting opinion. Despite the fact that Pastor Peter and Pastor Peggy know of my many unorthodox views and despite the fact that I am an extremely passionate, educated and opinionated individual, they have not only tolerated me but welcomed me without reservation for more than four years. Not only that, but I have never seen even the smallest hint of psychological pressure used to quell dissent or discourage independent thought or study. In fact, Pastor Peter and Pastor Peggy encourage independent study of the Bible and prayer. If One Community Church is a cult, then it is unique in the fact that it accepts people who have a history of questioning and rejecting authority and encourages its members to study and think independently.
But my testimony must still leave questions in the minds of many people. “Where there is smoke there is fire”, people will say, “Why the accusations that One Community Church is a cult?” In order to answer this question, I must share some aspects of my personality.
I am a critical, negative, skeptical, pessimist by nature and I find it very difficult to say anything that I believe to be untrue. In fact, just a few weeks ago I got myself into some very hot water by telling one of the pregnant young women at the church that she looked good “from the neck up.” Her hurt reaction still haunts me and though she was quick to forgive me, I am very sorry I ever said anything. This just to illustrate that I am a socially awkward person who is difficult to love.
Why is this important? Because it tells me why people believe that One Community Church is a cult. If a group of people can be unfailingly warm, generous and kind to a person like me for more than four years, then it simply must be genuine. The only other alternative is that these people are the best actors I have ever seen on stage or screen and that I am the victim of a Truman Show level of deception. The fire that causes the smoke is not the fire of a cult that uses drugs or sexual promiscuity to attract followers. Rather the intense loyalty and devotion to the church that constitutes the smoke is the result of a genuine love for Jesus Christ and his people exemplified by the lives of the lead pastors.
Now I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture of frictionless harmony at One Community Church. This would not be true and if Pastor Peter and Pastor Peggy are anything, they are genuine people who are open about their failures. Allow me, therefore, to share a couple of personal experiences at the church that illustrate the mechanism of conflict resolution.
When I first came to the church, I shared how I “hated” a particular passage of the Bible because I found it difficult to understand in a Bible study group. (I chronicled this incident in my post “The Challenge Method of Teaching” and I discuss the passage in question in my post “Obvious Yet Hard to See”.) After we discussed the passage as a group, one of the leaders came up to me. “Our church loves God and loves the Bible. You cannot be a Christian if you do not love God’s word.” Though I still disagree with his interpretation of this particular verse, I have come to appreciate that he was correct and I have learned to be careful to express my disagreements in less objectionable language. This was the extent of this incident and nothing has been said of it since. Does this sound like the workings of a cult attempting to squelch dissenting opinion?
In a more recent incident, Pastor Peg shared her belief that God wanted to use members of the congregation to spread the gospel and asked members to share any visions that they had with the leadership team. In response to that invitation, I shared my belief that the church could reach a large audience by creating a series of apologetic videos that answer the most common questions that people ask about Christianity. I put a great deal of time and effort into outlining video scripts asking and answering the top 20 questions that I have observed in my many discussions with internet atheists. Though they were encouraging about the content of the scripts and urged me to continue my efforts on my blog, they eventually decided that they did not feel that this was a direction that the church should take and rejected my idea. If One Community Church was a cult, then they would never have encouraged the individual members to share their vision for what the church could accomplish and they would never encourage independent thought and action.
To sum up, therefore, I am a highly educated and skeptical individual who has never met an idea he didn’t question. I am also a socially awkward individual who would try the patience of any saint. I do not have a family relationship with anyone else in the church and I have had my share of disagreements with the leadership. All of these facts can be verified by taking a few minutes to do some research on the internet as I have linked above. Having said all of that, allow me to say two things. 1) One Community Church is the most genuine and loving group of Christian believers that it has ever been my privilege to get to know. 2) Pastors Peter and Peggy Rigo are two of the finest human beings I have ever met and they live genuine lives that emulate the love and character of Jesus Christ. I love them and they have changed my life and taught me a great deal about how to be a better man and a better Christian. It grieves me deeply to see them falsely accused.