The Cult of Ole

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

Almost certainly bogus as well is Anthony's allegation that a 14-year-old girl set herself on fire because of Tilton. Anthony says he can't reveal the girl's name or where this took place; it wasn't reported in the media, though, and the likelihood of such a spectacular suicide being kept quiet is near zero.

What if Robert Tilton had turned the tables? What if W.V. Grant had dug through Ole Anthony's trash or Larry Lea installed someone undercover at Trinity?

They would have found a man who had taken a vow of poverty, who demanded that followers tithe, but who had not revealed to them that he had a $26,000 bank account at Merrill Lynch.

W.V. Grant (right) was convicted of tax evasion after ABC aired an exposé based on a Trinity investigation of the faith-healing evangelist.
W.V. Grant (right) was convicted of tax evasion after ABC aired an exposé based on a Trinity investigation of the faith-healing evangelist.
Ole Anthony refused to bless the marriage of Doug and Wendy Duncan--triggering their eventual departure from the Trinity community.
Ole Anthony refused to bless the marriage of Doug and Wendy Duncan--triggering their eventual departure from the Trinity community.

A man who created an atmosphere of fear and anxiety and exercised extreme control over his followers' lives, demanding they shun apostates who left the fold.

A man who demanded complete transparency from his followers but lied about his own past.

A man who believed the ends justified the means.

Sex and Scripture

The two teenagers knocked on the door of a cabana behind a Turtle Creek mansion. The door swung open, and there stood a tall, striking 37-year-old man wearing nothing but gym shorts. It was late one August night in 1976, and the two young men had found Ole Anthony.

Virtually penniless, Anthony was the president of something called the Trinity Foundation, but he was living mostly on the tithes and kindness of followers and friends. Established in 1973, the nonprofit foundation's mandate was "sharing the life of Christ through any and all media," but when several projects failed, wealthy backers had pulled away.

Doug Duncan had been preparing to leave for his freshman year in college when his best friend told him about Anthony. "He's the most amazing person I've ever met," Rick Robertson said. "I think he's crazy, but I can't say that he's wrong."

Robertson and Duncan had grown up in Dallas, both deeply involved in Christian studies from a young age.

Between drags on a cigarette that night, Anthony expounded on the Scriptures in a sonorous voice, perfect for the Christian talk radio show he hosted called Cross Fire. He seemed to have memorized chunks of the Bible but also talked about early church history and the zodiac.

"You could have one conversation with him and your whole belief system was shattered," Duncan says. "He was talking about living by principles"--evangelical standbys such as personal Bible study, witnessing, setting aside "quiet time" for prayer--"and how that was a total affront to the gospel."

Duncan was shocked. The next day he found Scriptures that contradicted everything Anthony had said. So Duncan shrugged and went off to UT, where he got involved with the Navigators, an evangelical group noted for its rigorous Bible study.

Back in Dallas the next summer, Duncan was persuaded by Robertson that it was wrong to dismiss Anthony's ideas without careful reflection--that intellectual honesty, at least, demanded that he talk to Anthony again. So Duncan attended a few of his Bible studies.

The Trinity leader stressed communal living. "He talked about Highland Park Methodist being no more a church than a Safeway store," Duncan says, "because there wasn't a sense of community."

Anthony had come to the faith on January 17, 1972, in a powerful road-to-Damascus experience. He was 33, running a public relations firm and working with the Berean Fellowship, which was buying Channel 33. One day, a Berean preacher named Norman Grubb said something that drilled deep into Anthony's soul: "The purpose of every star in the universe, the purpose of every blade of grass, is that you should learn to become a son of God."

Anthony says he was taken "into the heart of God," with light coming from everywhere. He had an overwhelming sense of peace and joy. He left time. When he became aware he was sobbing, Anthony prayed, "God, if you are real and what this guy is saying is true, then this is what I want, and I don't care what it is going to cost me."

For a few years, Anthony did news and talk shows on religious TV and radio and was dubbed "God's hit man" by one talk-show guest.

In a speech, he set a Bible on fire, saying it was only "words about the Word." In 1974, Anthony says, he told a class at Highland Park UMC that "whores on the street are closer to God" than they were. "The minister in charge asked me not to teach anymore. I was creating problems. I was challenging their idolatry."

While promoting his 1976 book Cross Fire, Anthony went on The 700 Club and told the host that he asked God either to find him a wife or stop making him so horny.

His irreverence, passion and off-the-chart IQ attracted members of the media looking for something deeper than conventional worship. Most had roots in traditional churches. Many, like Rutledge, had attended Baylor University or Bible college.

"It wasn't like I was a rube and didn't know anything about Scripture," Rick Robertson says. "He put a hole in my theology you could drive a truck through."

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