MARCUS ROBINSON examines the transformation of a likeable, compassionate young Canadian into an abusive Christian zealot.
THE first I’d heard of street preacher Matthew Carapella was when I read a September 2017 report that the people of London in Ontario were being subjected to homophobic and other forms of abuse by Carapella and another preacher named Steven Ravbar.
Things had become so bad that Cory McKenna, a pastor at the Harvest Bible Chapel on Commissioners Road, had to get a trespass order issued against both Carapella and Ravbar after the pair refused his repeated requests to stop confronting his parishioners.
McKenna said the men regularly showed up during service and challenged people in the congregation about their beliefs. They even confronted women about what they were wearing. Soon after an online petition was launched asking that Ravbar and Carapella be barred from verbally assailing passersby in London’s centre, the pair moved their message to Kincardine, around 100 miles away, and beyond.
During a short stop in Kincardine, for example, they railed against the LGBT community, short shorts on women and “the atheists, God-haters and make-believe Christians”.
Normally I disregard the antics of street preachers but what made me dig deeper Carapella’s behaviour in particular was the speed of his transformation from being a well-balanced athletic philanthropist into a raving misanthrope.
I wasn’t the only one puzzled by his transformation. Sheryl Rooth, writing for The Londoner, said: “There is a difference between sharing the word of God and screaming into a microphone at a woman wearing a skirt and telling her she is a whore. A difference so gaping it creates a chasm to be filled with anger, fear, and the potential for violence. Let’s not confuse being a God-fearing Christian with fearing a hate-spewing misogynist with a microphone . . .
“I could stand in front of him all day and argue that women are not responsible for the world’s problems. Nor are we harlots because we wear pants or high heels. Our children are not suffering because we have our own identities. Husbands do not cheat on their wives because women have careers . . .
“How does someone go from one extreme to another in such a short amount of time? Maybe he did receive a message from Jesus to change his life. Perhaps there are mental health issues or this is a side effect of having the most career interceptions in football. The brain can only take so much before it starts to give in to the pressure. Regardless of the reason, when I see Carapella on the corner, I almost always think of his family and how they are coping. It can’t be easy watching this unfold knowing there is little they can do.
“Religion should bring comfort, structure, guidance and commitment to a person. Conversations should be full of grace, not apprehension and admonishment. What is happening on our street corners is not preaching of the gospel.”
On investigating further, I learned from a website called “Seek the Truth” that in 2013, Carapella, then aged 26 and a successful football player was publicly recognised for being a role model for youngsters. He worked for one of the most successful construction firms in Canada, and lived life to the fullest, engaging well with his community.
He did his best to help others and make a positive impact and his passion was to help underprivileged children. Working with the London Community Foundation, he started the All for the Kids Fund to help provide needy youth with funding for activities such as sports, music, art, dance, drama, as well as the basic needs such as food and clothing.
He wanted to ensure than no child in his community went without.
Soon after, Matthew came in contact with Steven and Rudy Ravbar. Like Matthew, they placed great value in their faith, but did not feel the Christian churches in London, Ontario were the answer.
Instead they chose to follow a form of fire and brimstone Christianity popularised William Branham, and got their ideas from some 1,100 recorded sermons of the Pentecostal evangelist which were preached during the 1940s through the 1960s.
These sermons, according to the Ravbars, held the key to unlocking “true salvation” while the rest of the Christians in the city had placed their faith in a “cheap imitation”.
Said the author of the “Seek the Truth” piece: “Unaware that Steven and Rudy were recruiting him into a destructive religious cult, Matthew began spending time with the Ravbars to learn more about the esoteric teachings of William Branham.
“The cult identity that had formed in Matthew continued to change his personality to match William Branham’s pattern of verbal abuse, while Matthew’s aggression towards the city of London continued to worsen. He began verbally attacking any passerby who gave the slightest impression of similarity towards the opposite gender, calling them an ‘abomination’.
“He began targeting specific churches in the community, harassing parishioners and religious leaders about their beliefs. He began visiting other churches during services and harassing church members for their apparel or their beliefs.
“Church leaders have been forced to ask for police intervention. Cult leaders have manipulated his emotions, placing him in a state of fear. That fear has now created a barrier between him and the outside world, enslaving him to the clutches of a destructive cult. The real Matthew is now buried deep inside, longing to be set free.”