The Cult of Ole

Ole Anthony anointed himself the watchdog of America's televangelists. But who was watching Ole Anthony?

Duncan couldn't say he was without doubt. Marriage was a big step; both he and Wendy had failed at it before. Though Wendy had a good job, Duncan had been a Levite for a decade. "I'd grown too dependent on Ole and Trinity," he says. He had no savings and was taking home $50 a week. Despite all Duncan's efforts and Trinity's boasts, of the three or four dozen street people Trinity had taken in, most ended up right back where they started.

Duncan was the Trinity liaison for another project--in 1998 it acquired 13 multifamily housing facilities for the poor in Oklahoma City valued at more than $40 million--and it was tanking. Anthony had pushed it through the board despite numerous concerns; so much for "unanimity." (Trinity defaulted in 2003, and the project was placed in receivership. Anthony acknowledges it was a disaster. A smaller project in Dayton, Ohio, is still in operation.)

Learning that Wendy had shrieked at Anthony, Duncan dreaded what would happen next: a butt-chewing. Again. Since the hot seat era, Duncan had never been able to go "toe-to-toe" with Anthony.

Ole Anthony (left, in an undated photo) and members of Trinity Foundation lived in community, eating together and sharing their possessions--just like the early Christians.
Ole Anthony (left, in an undated photo) and members of Trinity Foundation lived in community, eating together and sharing their possessions--just like the early Christians.
Women were "preternaturally drawn" to Ole Anthony, one former Trinity member said. "He has a charismatic personality women find utterly fascinating."
Women were "preternaturally drawn" to Ole Anthony, one former Trinity member said. "He has a charismatic personality women find utterly fascinating."

Wrestling with their own problems, unwilling to put up with the attacks dished out by Anthony and others who followed his lead, a handful of core people had bailed out of Trinity in the mid-'90s: Robertson, Williams, the Fergusons, the Holloways and others.

"I haven't talked to Ole since I left, and I never will," Rick Robertson says. Larry Ferguson says he and his wife were "declared anathema" three times. When they left, Larry wrote a letter to the board calling on Anthony to resign and alleging that Trinity was a cult.

Duncan, on the verge of an anxiety attack, had a revelation: He didn't have to wait for Anthony to ream him out. Duncan took the van and drove around, trying to figure out what to do next.

Wendy was convinced their engagement was over. "I always knew that Trinity Foundation was more important to him than I was," Wendy says. But over dinner that night, Doug formally asked Wendy to marry him. The next day, he met with a counselor at HPPC and announced, "I think I've surrendered too much control over my life to someone else."

The counselor said, "I don't hear you having doubts about Wendy. I hear you having doubts about your church leadership."

It was like a veil being ripped from his eyes. A few weeks later, he and Wendy married in a tiny courthouse ceremony.

Duncan believed they could return to Trinity, live in Wendy's house and pick up where they left off. But each was attacked for their behavior; their new marriage almost disintegrated under the strain.

After a tumultuous few months, they left Trinity behind. Duncan went back to school and now works as a therapist. The Duncans discovered that other former Trinity members were trading books such as Toxic Faith, pointing out the parallels between their experience and those of people in cults.

Less than a year after they left, Duncan saw Anthony at a courthouse, where both were testifying in a matter involving a Trinity member. His former leader was kind. "Doug, I need you to know I love you, and I wish the best for you," Anthony said, then started crying.

But the next day, Anthony turned aggressive, grilling Duncan about doctrine, insisting that becoming a counselor was the theology of glory, not the cross. Instead of tearing people down to see their abject need for God, therapists promoted false self-esteem. Saying that separating was "apostasy," Anthony urged Duncan to return to Trinity.

Duncan looked at the man he had followed for 21 years. "Ole," he said, "you have a personality disorder. You are a narcissist."

The conversation ended.

When Wendy decided to publish a book, the Duncans talked to former members still wrestling with their experiences. Most had simply walked away. "It was enormously healing that my last conversation with Ole was me standing up for myself," Doug Duncan says.

He would later write an essay about the experience. The title: "How Doug Got His Balls Back."

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