Last September, I received some emails from various sources saying Dino Rizzo, pastor of Healing Place Church, had stepped down from his position as senior pastor because he was “spiritually depleted.” Digging into the story further, I found rumors of an affair between Dino and a young staff member in his church, Kaycee Morgan Smith. That explained the odd and abrupt manner which he left the church he founded. Further into my research, I found that Dino Rizzo’s mentor as a young pastor was none other than Jimmy Swaggart. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, but Rizzo upgraded from prostitute to mistress.
According to a Charisma News article ran in July, 2012:
As a 23-year-old Dino worked under Baton Rouge icon Jimmy Swaggart as a youth pastor and ran the televangelist’s $300,000-a-month, 30-vehicle bus ministry. He’d been saved in a Word-Faith church in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and at Swaggart’s Bible college, Dino began to merge the bold faith he saw modeled around him with the burning passion he’d always had to reach those less fortunate.
You may remember Jimmy Swaggart from his sex scandal with a prostitute:
On October 11, 1991, Swaggart for a second time was found in the company of a prostitute, Rosemary Garcia, when he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol in Indio, California, for driving on the wrong side of the road. According to Garcia, Swaggart stopped to proposition her on the side of the road. When the patrolman asked Garcia why she was with Swaggart, she replied, “He asked me for sex. I mean, that’s why he stopped me. That’s what I do. I’m a prostitute.” This time, rather than confessing to his congregation, Swaggart told those at Family Worship Center that “The Lord told me it’s flat none of your business.” Swaggart’s son Donnie then announced to the stunned audience that his father would be temporarily stepping down as head of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries for “a time of healing and counseling.”
Like Jimmy Swaggart, Dino Rizzo temporarily stepped down from ministry, a move Church of the Highlands lead pastor, Chris Hodges, seems very proud of. Chris Hodges thinks people are dumb enough to believe that liars can be considered honorable men. In this recorded sermon, Chris Hodges introduces Dino Rizzo in his first time coming back to preaching: http://www.churchofthehighlands.com/media/message/how-to-come-back-to-the-father
Chris Hodges goes on to talk about how his church hired Dino to be on staff for one year to reintroduce him into ministry. Dino will be a “father” figure in ARC (Association of Related Churches) while they are “planting 100 new churches a year” according to Hodges.
Since writing my initial articles here, here and here on Dino Rizzo’s affair, many church members (current and former) have come forward to express how betrayed they feel by Rizzo and the church board. Rizzo’s actions, they felt, weren’t what ruined his reputation in their eyes: it was his dishonesty. Because he misrepresented his situation to the megachurch, several thousand people felt duped. Many have since sent me emails explaining why they left the church and how heartbreaking it was for them. I know the feeling–I worked for one of Dino Rizzo’s best friends and came to find out he lacked the integrity I once thought he had. What seems to happen in cases like Dino Rizzo and Jimmy Swaggart is the power and money (read: greed) are too delicious for them to give up, so they play the Humble Game for a year and then come back full force. Ask any Hollywood PR person what to do in a scandal and they’ll give you the same advice: “Go away for awhile and then return. The public has a short memory.”
Yet devoted Christians and church members don’t have a short memory because this week, once news started spreading about Dino’s return, I received email after email notifying me of his return. These are good-hearted men and women who helped build Healing Place Church and their ministries by hand and they feel betrayed. Rightly so. This must be why Jesus said the meek will inherit the Earth. The most important lesson I learned when leaving ministry was that the powerful and influential ministers of the world are usually the most disingenuous of us all.
So, without further ado, I give you Dino Rizzo, back in action at the Church of the Highlands in an August 7th sermon titled “How to Come Back to the Father.” (Insert eye roll.) How cliche of him.
On a personal note, I do feel sorry for Dino. As I watched him preach this sermon, I could tell he was scared: he was scared that people like me would be watching him, blogging about it. He was scared that no one would believe him anymore, no one would clap for him, no one would pay his gas bill or luxuries. He’s right to be scared. When I wrote my original stories about him, over 10,000 people shared them. Healing Place Church was at the time boasting an 8,000 member congregation. Church of the Highlands states Healing Place Church membership is now at 7,000. I think the word is out that he is a fraud.
Should Dino Rizzo be allowed to return to ministry? Do you think Chris Hodges explanation about the affair was sufficient enough? Do you think Dino can (or did) change? Is it just temporary? Let me know what you think in the comments.
On a related note, any tips or emails I receive on this story will remain 100% confidential and anonymous. You can send stories, tips or any other info to mycultlife AT gmail DOT com.
Related stories here:
More on this subject:
Dino Rizzo to Join the ARC Staff (Press Release)- August 2013
Dino Rizzo’s First Sermon: “How to Come Back to the Father” – August 7, 2013
If you’re interested in watching the train wreck further, Dino will be speaking at Celebration Church on Sunday, August 11. You deserve to be informed.