The Cult of Ole

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

"The main thing the foundation was doing was trying to get Ole a forum," Doug Duncan says. "He had discovered this great doctrine, these forgotten truths that had been lost to Christianity."

But Anthony was a hard sell. While capable of compassion and generosity, he was unable to hide his contempt for those less intelligent. He had a wicked sense of humor but also a malicious streak. He'd been known to inject ribald, rude and sometimes ridiculous statements into Bible studies. According to one longtime member, he'd say things such as, "You're jacking Satan off" or "You're sucking on a menstrual rag."

And he refused to censor himself for anybody.

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."

"Faith has to be total or it's not anything," Anthony says today. "If something comes to my mind, I say it. Therefore I make a jillion mistakes when it comes to dealing with people." (When Guetzlaff gigs him during an interview about treating his mother rudely, Anthony shoots back, "I treated my mother just like I treat everybody else." "Yeah, shitty," Guetzlaff says. "I just think your mother would have appreciated a little warm human interaction.")

Anthony's unbridled tongue was the reason his radio show got canceled in 1976. While Trinity's early efforts in producing radio and television programming tanked, preachers such as Robert Tilton were taking off. Surprise! People would rather hear Tilton purring that God loves them and wants to bless them than Anthony telling them "die to self, you miserable wretch."

Anthony couldn't flip the channels without getting furious at televangelists' blatant heresies and greed. That's when Trinity found its Mars Hill. Anthony gave speeches at National Religious Broadcasters conferences, testified before Congress and lobbied for tighter controls on religious fund-raising.

With no denomination, no real church, no money, no theological training and only a handful of core followers, Anthony proved a genius at leveraging what he did have: charisma and a gift for turning a phrase, plus dedicated "Levites"--core members, such as Duncan and Guetzlaff, who lived in community and conducted research on religious broadcasters and their latest antics.

Inch by inch, Anthony became a go-to guy.

And by the mid-'80s, Duncan had become Anthony's go-to guy. "He was one of the first guys I laid hands on to be a teacher," Anthony says. "He was an elder in the community and on the board of directors."

Trinity had become Duncan's life. Disapproving of his marriage and Trinity, which they considered a cult, Duncan's parents had cut him off. Duncan started selling mobile homes to support his wife and three children. They moved to the Block, but his long hours took a toll.

"People would make comments about the idolatry of success," Duncan says. To save his marriage, Duncan quit his job and finally found another one as a welfare caseworker. He made less money but had more time for Bible studies.

Lea Williams, who got involved in Trinity as a student in the early '80s, says the intellectual approach to Scripture that had attracted her subtly shifted. "It became more bombastic," she says. And more personal and nasty, as when Anthony pronounced Williams a "ball-buster."

Trinity theology was being shaped by a concept introduced to the group by Anthony and John Bloom, who was also teaching a Bible study. The writer and Anthony had met in the '70s. Bloom's office at Texas Monthly was next door to Trinity's. But they became estranged after a bizarre trip to Europe and the Middle East in 1980 while Bloom was pursuing a story about the Mafia selling stolen art to rich Texans. Anthony--"experienced in military intelligence"--was on board as the writer's "control." When Anthony inadvertently blew their cover, the writer had to flee for his life. Anthony was held hostage in a Lebanon hotel for eight hours. When he was rescued, he had a mental meltdown. Bloom couldn't believe the super-spook who preached that the fearful wouldn't inherit the kingdom had rolled over like a Chihuahua when tested. (See "The Italian Connection," Texas Monthly, November 1980.)

The men wouldn't speak for four years. Then their friendship took up where it had left off, reinforced by their common interest in the Bible, history, Jewish mysticism, mythology and the occult. Now they brought to their respective Bible studies a new wrinkle: the concept of "high place identities."

In the Old Testament, a "high place" is a place to worship idols. True identities were based on spiritual gifts lived out in the body of Christ. High place identities were roles people played in the world system, the body of Satan.

"Everybody has a 'high place,'" Larry Ferguson explains. "You are either manifesting a high place or you are a true worshipper. You're either in the natural or spiritual realm."

But the idolater cannot see his own high place. "You need someone else to identify it," Ferguson says. "Everybody tried it, but Ole was the master."

In his spirit, Anthony could see that Duncan was a "wandering beggar." Others were labeled "high priestess," "temple prostitute," "mourner" and, in one case, "bisexual whore for approval." Anthony proclaimed his high place identity as "whoremonger." The labels allowed members to say vicious things to each other that they might have thought but otherwise kept to themselves.

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