New-age messiah John deRuiter was begged Friday night at a crowded meeting in the basement of a southwest Calgary community centre to discourage a local woman from joining his growing Edmonton-based “truth” movement.
Marilyn Lunge has been a follower of deRuiter for two years and wants to move to Edmonton where he holds meetings four times per week.
“Marilyn says she knows you’re the embodiment of Christ or truth,” deRuiter was told by her husband, Bob Lunge.
“I’d say yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything,” replied deRuiter.
A Stettler native with an intense gaze who once made orthopedic shoes for a living, deRuiter has said Christ first appeared to him 10 years ago when he was driving.
He claims that, since then, Christ has appeared to him thousands of times.
Followers of his religion claim deRuiter can look right at the essence of persons by staring into their eyes. While Bob Lunge spoke, deRuiter sat silently at the front of the room at the South Calgary Community Centre, surrounded by followers who meditated or wrote, and later spoke in quiet, even tones to more than 200 people.
Allan Stodalka, father of Marilyn Lunge, pleaded with his married, middle-aged daughter to stay in Calgary.
“We urge you to remember the love your family has for you, and come back to your family,” he said.
DeRuiter said he wouldn’t tell Marilyn whether or not to pull up stakes and join his movement. Instead, his advice was “to clean the whole table in terms of Calgary or Edmonton, her family, herself and me, so there’s no personal preference involved. Then look inside and see what comes up. Whatever Marilyn honestly knows is true, she should follow that.”
But, in an open debate with Bob Lunge, deRuiter said he hasn’t met anyone with a higher awareness of truth than himself.
A married father of three in his late 30s, deRuiter said he quit work to pass along what Christ taught him and now has more than 200 followers, half of them in Calgary.
He has described emotions as surface resources which confound peoples’ abilities to find out who they really are. To truly find themselves, people must develop honesty of heart, he says.
Stephen Kent, a University of Alberta sociology professor and an expert in cults who has been following deRuiter’s movement, says his followers are convinced they are part of a “spiritual unfolding that will have global consequences.”
He would not go so far as to call the group a cult, but said some of deRuiter’s followers become dependent on him and his preachings of cultivating goodness.
While deRuiter’s teachings promote independence, the process of bringing people into the fold is through manipulation and control, said Kent.
“People have loved ones, often relatives, who are leaving behind their lives to follow Mr. deRuiter.” Though his approach is intense and his eyes seem to penetrate the very core of his worshippers, there appears to be nothing sinister about deRuiter’s motives, added Kent.
“I don’t see any wicked plotting to take over people’s lives. But in effect, people are relinquishing power to John. It’s a real delicate balance between freedom of religion and choice and prevention of potentially harmful choices.”
DeRuiter follower Adrienne Prince supported Lunge’s desire to move, noting, “I believe Marilyn’s served her family well for many years, and for once, she wants to do something for herself. Marilyn has a right do to that.”
Neil Williams, a skeptic who attended the Calgary meeting, declared deRuiter’s movement is a cult. “There’s no way to dance around it. Look at the control he has over her (Lunge),” said Williams.