The Cult of Ole

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

The feasts, festivals and fasts brought a beauty and rhythm to life. Everyone looked forward to Purim, when the book of Esther was read out loud. At each mention of the hero Mordecai, they would stamp their feet. Each time the villain Haman was named they'd hiss. And each time the name of Esther was read they would take a sip of wine. Since Esther is mentioned 70 times and Purim is observed after a fast, everyone got smashed.

Weddings were celebrated with great fanfare. After the legal wedding, the bride and groom would return to the Block, where they were feted for a week. Each night, children of Trinity members slept in the same house as the newlyweds, who were prohibited from consummating their marriage until the eighth day.

On that day, the bride and groom were escorted to a tent draped in white flowers, fabric and netting. The couple exchanged vows under a canopy and stomped a wine glass. A huge feast brought an end to the festivities. Now they were considered man and wife and could have sex.

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."

But Anthony's "blessing," required for a Trinity wedding, became harder to obtain. Some were convinced it was because Anthony didn't want his girlfriend at the time to pressure him for marriage. After years of dating and with no marriage in sight, she dumped him.

Tilton in the Bullseye

The tall, gaunt man in filthy clothes was up to his waist in garbage when he got nailed by the flashlight of a security guard. Peering out of the dumpster located behind a bank in Oklahoma, Anthony explained that he was looking for cans, and the guard moved on.

In September 1991, Anthony, Guetzlaff and Holloway began dumpster-diving at four Oklahoma locations at the behest of a producer with ABC's Primetime Live, searching for dirt on Robert Tilton. They made three trash runs that fall. They would hit the jackpot, finding scores of prayer requests mailed to Tilton, stripped of money and discarded. The men would grab bags of trash and take them to their budget motel for sorting.

That fall, Tilton was a rising star. In addition to Word of Faith Church in Farmers Branch, he had a daily cable TV show called Success-N-Life, which featured his quirky facial contortions and campy preaching style. He'd even whack at the devil with his shoe.

Guetzlaff despised Tilton. He had attended Word of Faith briefly, infuriating his spouse by pledging $5,000 to the church's building fund. Even though Guetz-laff didn't follow through, his marriage ended. When he started coming to Trinity, Guetzlaff's company was on the verge of collapse. When a friend suggested God was punishing him for reneging on his pledge, Guetzlaff paid it off, figuring that when God returned it a thousand-fold, as Tilton preached, he'd be out of trouble.

Instead, Guetzlaff ended up with a $500,000 debt to the IRS and civil judgments against him. "The agent of deception was Tilton," Guetzlaff says, "but I deceived myself. I was giving to get." He fell apart. In 1984, Guetzlaff gave his possessions to Trinity and became a Levite. He told Anthony they had to do something about Tilton. "He's a liar; he's taking people's money," Guetzlaff said.

Anthony would later cite Guetzlaff along with Tilton's numerous victims--homeless people who gave him their last dime, the sick who looked to him for healing that never came and those who'd given thousands believing Tilton's formula.

The first call from Primetime Live came in May 1991. Correspondent Diane Sawyer had watched televangelists on TV. She asked a producer to give Trinity a call after seeing a segment of Entertainment Tonight that featured Anthony decrying their abuses.

Anthony opened his files to ABC producer Robbie Gordon, who suggested Trinity set up a 1-800 number for "victims" of televangelists. Gordon decided to focus on Tilton, Grant and Lea.

At the suggestion of Gordon--who'd been told by her bosses at ABC not to participate in the garbage-grubbing--Anthony, Guetzlaff and Holloway made three different trash runs to Tulsa, collecting bags of rubbish at four different locations. "None of us had any experience except Ole," Holloway says. "He was going to teach us how to be spies."

To keep expenses low--paid by Trinity, not ABC--they lived in no-tell motels and ate at $6.95 buffets. They documented the results of each expedition with notations of when and where each piece of trash was found.

"We became the world's greatest garbologists in 10 easy lessons," says Holloway, who was astounded by "the complete and total disregard" evident in the "hundreds of thousands" of prayer requests, tokens and personal items thrown away by Tilton's ministry.

Holloway slept with the garbage in his motel room until the stink got so bad they rented a room just for the trash. "We were taking extreme care to make sure it's bagged and tagged as to where we picked it up and what time we picked it up," he recalls. They brought pickup truck-loads of trash back to Dallas and stored it at Anthony's girlfriend's house.

Duncan and another Trinity member also went undercover at Tilton's prayer call center. Duncan even weaseled his way into Lea's Rockwall house, getting photos to prove that the pastor's claim he'd "lost everything" in a fire that burned his Tulsa home was false.

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