The Cult of Ole

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

"Once he got that kind of power, that's when things changed, when it went from being a fringe group to a cult," Ferguson says. "It may have been before, but that's when it became malevolent."

As the tenor of the Bible studies shifted, Anthony became more ruthless, challenging members' worship of success, wealth, education, any means of self-aggrandizement.

The group was doing well, with tithes and contributions in 1985 of $44,000. But Anthony decided people weren't "getting it," Duncan says. "He felt like there had to be a way to push people deeper, to a purer version of dependence on God."

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."

And so he instituted the hot seats.

Chief of Sinners

When the invective and verbal attacks slammed into Powell Holloway, he flinched. A large man, then in his mid-30s, Holloway sat on a chair in the center of a circle of about 20 Trinity members while they proceeded to tell him he was the lowest, most evil piece of crap on earth. Anthony led the assault.

Holloway, who was new to the group, had volunteered to sit in the "hot seat." It was early 1986, and Trinity members had decamped to a retreat near Lake Texoma.

Each person was required to make a list of every shameful thing that had happened to him, every reprehensible deed he'd done. The idea was to be "naked and unashamed" before each other.

Now the group took Holloway's list and ripped him. The goal: to attack until he broke. Some hot seats would last until after midnight and begin again the next day. "It was brutal," Holloway says. "The whole purpose was to die to self, to get in touch with the fact that you were chief of sinners." After reducing Holloway to a sobbing wreck, everybody hugged him. He felt numb.

"I'm confident that this is what Christ did with the disciples," Anthony explains today. In his theology, if you are not at "perfect rest and peace" when time ends, you cannot enter God's kingdom. Wrestling with his own anger, anxiety and spiritual angst, Duncan embraced the idea.

During Duncan's first hot seat, Anthony bored in with laser eyes and razor tongue.

"Imagine the most intense prosecutor you have ever seen multiplied by the most intense detective," Duncan says. Taking notes, Anthony went after secret sins, sexual kinks, weird proclivities nobody knew about. In his deep "God voice," he'd interrupt with rapid-fire questions, accuse Duncan of lying and shout down his answers.

It was a contest between Anthony and the devil over Duncan's soul.

But Duncan wouldn't break.

On the second night, the group whaled on Duncan but had given up when Anthony asked a musician in the group to play a song. Lying on the floor, Duncan began bawling in true repentance. "Ole was hugging me and sobbing, and everyone came and started love-bombing me," Duncan says. "It was like, 'Doug's one of us.'"

He soon became zealous at eviscerating others on the hot seat.

The hot seats went on for six or seven years. They followed a pattern: First would come the early false repentance, but Anthony would keep drilling. Those not getting it could be sent out into the night, into the darkness, to see where their idolatry and sin left them. The pressure was intense. "He'd say stuff, and I'd agree with it," Pam Ferguson says. "Then I'd step away and say none of that was true."

In her book, Wendy Duncan points out that people would confess to "pedophilia, voyeurism, bestiality, incest and prostitution." Some of the revelations were true; some were confabulations, made up under extreme pressure from the group.

"One guy had a psychotic break," says Doug Duncan, who had to go get the man when he started to walk back to Dallas. "He washed his hands until they bled."

When others tried to put Anthony on the hot seat, he refused--proclaiming none of them skilled enough in spiritual discernment. "I make no apologies for the hot seats," Anthony says. "I do apologize if anybody thought there was any compulsion to do it."

By the late '80s, hot seats would break out "if anybody got into a weird place, if they challenged Ole anytime," Duncan says. He estimates he was in the hot seat 15 to 20 times. Over time, Anthony wore him down.

The Lair

As the TV cameras rolled, Ole Anthony and Doug Duncan stood shoulder to shoulder in 1988 to announce Trinity Foundation's revolutionary program to end homelessness: The Dallas Project.

There were more than 450,000 churches, synagogues and mosques in America, Anthony proclaimed, and an estimated 600,000 homeless. If every church adopted at least one homeless person or family, there would be a revolution in the welfare system. Duncan would spearhead the Dallas Project.

It was all part of getting Anthony a national forum. Overnight, Trinity became known as a compassionate champion of the homeless. Never mind that Anthony had no children and didn't understand the rational fear people had about bringing drug addicts, alcoholics and the mentally ill into their homes. He'd found street cred.

Duncan and Holloway began writing grant applications to attract funds. The Block had major advantages over individual homes: The rambling houses had lots of rooms. There was always some kind of work to be done, so people could earn a few bucks. Homeless children could attend Trinity's home school. They were living their faith.

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