A California newspaper owned by a well-known animal rights advocate is calling on authorities to file criminal charges against a group of Christian teenagers and their leaders after they held a pig chase and then barbecued the participants.
“The actions against these pigs was pure savagery, behavior certainly not Christian,” The Santa Barbara News-Press declared in a lengthy editorial titled ‘Barbarism in the Name of Jesus in Santa Barbara.’ “Can you just imagine the horror and fear the pigs faced suffering such cruelty?”
Wendy McCaw is the co-publisher of the newspaper. On her website, she is described as a “staunch defender of wildlife preservation and animal welfare.”
The pig rodeo occurred at a weekend youth retreat for Reality Santa Barbara, a 4,000-member evangelical church that meets in three locations. It was first reported by the newspaper which learned of the event from the parent of a friend of one of the teens.
The youth retreat was held at a ranch. The weekend event included Bible studies, worship and prayer. Church officials said the pig chase involved two pigs purchased from a shop that legally sells the animals to the public.
At some point the teenage boys painted their faces and chased down the grease-covered pigs. Afterwards, licensed hunters were on hand to slaughter and butcher the animals. The hunter explained to the boys how to use each cut of meat so nothing was wasted.
“These acts had nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with sick, depraved behavior,” the newspaper wrote, suggesting the church should have its tax-exempt status removed and calling the barbecue “third world barbarism.”
George Torres, the executive pastor of Reality Church, told Fox News he regretted the way the weekend youth retreat had been described in the newspaper.
“In retrospect, looking at the weekend as a combination of the greased pig contest and the barbecue at one time and one location, along with the painted faces unfortunately created a bad perception and one we regret,” he said.
But he also accused the newspaper of having an agenda and said he was stunned by the paper’s harsh editorial.
“The agenda is obviously anti-Christ,” he told Fox News. “They highlight what they thought was an opportunity to give the Bride of Christ a black eye.”
The Santa Barbara News-Press suggested the church was a cult, “what with replicating third world savagery complete with malicious torture.”
“One would think reading about Reality Santa Barbara’s senseless and barbaric pig slaughter that we’d stepped back in time to the days of the Neanderthals,” the newspaper wrote.
Torres also accused the newspaper of publishing the photographs of teenagers, many of them minors, without parental consent.
“They took them (the photos) off Facebook without permission,” Torres said. “Now they’re calling these kids names.”
Scott Steepleton, the city editor for the newspaper, defended the use of the photos and said they were fair game.
“We don’t have any regrets publishing them, not at all,” he told Fox News.
The Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office said they were aware of the incident but so far no case has been referred to their department. Any criminal investigation would have to originate with the sheriff’s department.
However, a spokesman for the district attorney told Fox News that as far as they were concerned the church did not violate any laws – and the pigs were not slaughtered inhumanely.
Torres said it is deeply disturbing that the newspaper misrepresented the weekend retreat and Bible study. He said what the reporter did was unfair.
He said some of the students involved in the pig chase were members of the Future Farmers of America. No students had weapons and the slaughter was done by a trained hunter.
“He wanted to educate the kids – teach them how you get bacon, ribs,” Torres said. “What he thought would be educational turned out to be something that we never intended it to be.”
Gemma Vaughn, a spokesperson for People For Ethical Treatment of Animals, said she was disturbed by the treatment of the pigs.
“Certainly this event must have been a miserable and terrifying experience for the pigs,” she told Fox News. “It makes it all the more tragic.”
She said PETA would welcome an investigation into the case by local authorities.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. did not return calls seeking comment.
With reporting from the Associated Press.