The Cult of Ole
The amateur detectives plopped onto couches, waiting to see their handiwork on national television. Nervous? A bit. Excited? Oh, yeah.
For months they'd been sleuthing. Diving in dumpsters, following trails of documents, going undercover, telling lies if necessary, all in the service of God.
And of their leader, a tall charismatic man named Ole Anthony. Many of those curled on the sofas in the office of the Trinity Foundation had been with him for more than a decade. They were idealistic young Christians, drawn in by his energy, brilliance and demand for complete transparency. They'd given up their money, their careers and, for some, their own wills to follow Anthony, just as he followed Jesus, albeit in his own idiosyncratic way.
No one who met Ole (pronounced O-lee) Anthony ever forgot him. Though his blond hair had turned white, his eyes were still the same piercing blue, and they zeroed in on listeners with a ferocity that could be unnerving. Everyone in the room had come under his withering glare at one time or another and they loved him for it, or said they did.
They lived on "the Block," a row of old prairie-style houses off Columbia Avenue in East Dallas, where they studied, ate and worked together. Some had taken a vow of poverty and worked as "Levites" for Trinity, an odd fusion of church, shelter and public foundation dedicated to its role as a religious watchdog.
One major goal of Trinity from its beginnings in the 1970s was to keep tabs on televangelists who exploited the nation's airwaves--the prophets of profit fleecing the flock. And they were about to nail a triumvirate: three high-profile Dallas preachers living large on OPM--Other People's Money.
Everybody hushed when the opening scenes of the one-hour Primetime Live special came on. It was November 21, 1991, and Diane Sawyer was about to make their leader famous.
They had gone after W.V. Grant, Larry Lea and Robert Tilton. But their primary target was Tilton. The rubber-faced televangelist promoted a prosperity theology that Anthony deemed not just fraudulent but blasphemous. Tilton promised to pray for his viewers' needs if they sent him a prayer request. A monetary "seed" would speed the blessing. On TV Tilton shouted, "MAKE YOUR BEST VOW!" God would certainly return a hundred-fold. Tilton and his show, Success-N-Life, had a huge following on religious television.
From the vantage point of a hidden camera, ABC viewers followed as Anthony went in undercover with a producer to interview a man who worked with Tilton's direct-mail operations in Tulsa. Anthony was posing as a minister about to get his own TV talk show.
The man revealed how to build "a big-money ministry like Robert Tilton's." The keys: new names, give them a freebie and pressure people to mail back. Then Diane Sawyer revealed the dynamite evidence Anthony and his acolytes had found while dumpster-diving outside Tilton's bank: thousands of prayer requests stripped of their money and thrown in the trash. Anthony, handsome and eloquent, called it an egregious violation of trust.
The program was a powerful indictment of a callous and greedy preacher. As it ended, Sawyer gave special credit to Ole Anthony and the Trinity Foundation. Anthony and his followers exulted. Many were crying--including Anthony.
"It was awesome," Anthony recalls. "The one aspect of the program that everybody remembers is when Tilton crossed over the sleaze line. They remember the prayer requests in the trash. A producer at ABC told me it was the No. 1 topic on talk radio for weeks."
Among the handful of people at Trinity that night, Doug Duncan was thought to be Anthony's heir apparent: tall and well-spoken, as dark as Anthony was blond. At a press conference in December 1988, Anthony and Duncan had together launched the Dallas Project, a challenge to America's religious groups to end homelessness by taking at least one person off the street. The proposal had grabbed nationwide attention. That would be eclipsed by what happened this evening.
"I was into investigating the televangelists," recalls Duncan, who did trash runs and went undercover in two churches. "I thought they were polluting Christianity with a false gospel."
Within months of the broadcast, Tilton's ministry would implode. As contributions dropped, he pulled back his TV operation. Members began leaving the Farmers Branch church in droves and Tilton was forced to lay off some of his 800 employees.
Back at Trinity, Anthony was basking in media attention. Journalists from around the world descended on Columbia Avenue looking for dirt on other televangelists. They found a unique community that seemed above the fray of religious money-grubbing, a pure form of Christianity that emphasized laying down self in the service of others.
In the last 15 years, Trinity has investigated scores of religious groups, from mega faith-healing star Benny Hinn to an obscure sect that screams the devil out of people. One result of their efforts was a prison sentence for W.V. Grant on tax evasion. Just last week Anthony was on radio talking about Bishop T.D. Jakes' opulent lifestyle.
As Anthony's fame has spread, journalists looking for a comment from a Christian leader have often turned to him. In 2004, Anthony was the focus of a worshipful New Yorker profile. A play based on that story was staged recently in New York. Among his supporters are people in the media, such as journalist John Bloom (aka movie critic Joe Bob Briggs), Ed Housewright of The Dallas Morning News and John Rutledge of the Baptist Standard.
"They don't know we're a bunch of boobs," Anthony says. "The only thing we offer is persistence."
Talking about that day in 1991 brings a wry smile to Anthony's craggy face. His small office is sparsely furnished and imbued with the scent of pipe smoke; a dog lies behind his desk, and a bird chirps in a large wooden cage above his head. Still handsome at 67, he sits behind his desk surrounded by books, his feet up on a pillow, a cane nearby. He grimaces in agony from time to time.
For years, Anthony has suffered the kind of pain that sent desperate people to Tilton's church seeking healing. In 1979, Anthony's left foot made contact with an exposed wire in a steam room at a health spa, searing nerves all the way up to his brain. Prayer hasn't been enough in Anthony's case. For years he's relied on heavy doses of painkillers.
Tears come to Anthony's blue eyes as he tells about the Tilton victim who impacted him the most: a 14-year-old girl suffering from multiple sclerosis. After hearing Tilton's promise that she could be healed if she made a $1,000 vow of faith, the girl got a job and paid off the pledge. But healing didn't come. When the teenager called Tilton's prayer line to find out why, she was told she must have secret sin in her life. The girl went to her backyard, doused herself with gasoline and set herself on fire. The anguish fills Anthony's face as he wipes moisture from his eyes.
There could be another impetus for the tears. Last month, former Trinity member Wendy Duncan, now Doug Duncan's wife, published a book called I Can't Hear God Anymore. Doug, who was once Anthony's roommate, married Wendy and left the group in 2000. Her book calls Trinity a cult. She claims that Anthony subjected his followers to "hot seats," scathing verbal attacks that were supposed to be cleansing but brought them under his control and scarred some so deeply that they will no longer pick up a Bible.
Anthony says he hasn't read the book and brushes off Wendy's criticism, pointing out that the hot seats ended in the early 1990s. A member of Trinity's board of directors, Rutledge, issued a written response noting that Trinity has been accused of being a cult before--by Robert Tilton.
But allegations that Trinity is a cult began as early as the late '70s and have surfaced numerous times since, often by members' families, sometimes by the media. In 1989, Jeffrey Weiss of The Dallas Morning News wrote, "there are times when even to its members the foundation looks like a cult of personality."
More than a dozen former Trinity members interviewed by the Dallas Observer agree that Trinity bears many cult-like traits:
Zealous commitment to a domineering leader not accountable to any authority.
Discouragement or punishment of dissent and doubt.
Use of mind-altering techniques such as denunciation sessions--the infamous hot seats.
Dictation by leadership of how followers should act, sometimes in great detail.
Breakdown of personal boundaries, such as denying members permission to marry.
Encouraging a sense of elitism or special status for the group.
Fostering an "us vs. them" mentality.
They claim that Wendy Duncan's book is accurate and that Anthony's influence caused enormous damage to their lives. "Ole uses intimidation to get his way," says Rick "Beamer" Robertson, a Dallas radio DJ and voice actor who belonged to Trinity off and on starting in the '70s. "It's his will in the guise of the group's."
Some former members blame Trinity for the breakup of marriages. Several members, they say, have had nervous breakdowns. Three members have killed themselves; two died on the Block. Perhaps that's not extraordinary. Many of the men and women attracted to Trinity are people who've come to the end of their abilities and want to throw everything at the feet of God.
What is startling is that the media have largely given Trinity a pass. Though Anthony's theology bears little resemblance to mainstream Christianity, and he's prone to making outrageous statements such as "God hates you" and "Your mind is the Antichrist," journalists rarely delve below the surface. The "media whores," as Anthony calls them, are too busy begging him for incriminating documents or B-roll of the televangelists' shows, which are taped 24/7 at Trinity.
Several former members say the investigation of Tilton was not only a personal vendetta but an attempt to get Anthony a national forum. One of the key members involved in the Tilton investigation now says he is ashamed of it and believes that much of it was not true.
Tilton lost a libel suit against Anthony, Trinity and ABC; it's difficult for a public figure to win such a case. Though back on the air, he hasn't managed to rebuild his reputation or ministry to its former heights.
But an examination of thousands of pages of court documents in lawsuits triggered by the ABC exposé shows numerous misrepresentations by Anthony and his cohorts at ABC, who employed deceptive journalistic techniques that ended up embarrassing Diane Sawyer. Tilton's lawyers proved that the prayer requests discovered by Trinity could not have been found as claimed: Thus, the most memorable part of the Primetime Live story was bogus.
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.
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."
Anthony's Bible studies, held at Trinity's office or people's homes, would last far into the night, sometimes erupting in shouting and profanity and disclosures of un-Christian behavior.
"It was like Deadwood with Scripture," says Robertson, "with Ole as Al Swearingen." The demand for complete transparency among believers sometimes triggered fisticuffs. Blunt talk about sex and liberal use of the F-word were the norm. "People were having affairs," Duncan says. "They would yell at each other and argue, and Ole would yell at people. It was never boring." It was so real and brutal and honest--unlike the churches they'd been brought up in--that Anthony's disciples felt as if they were tapping into a deeper, more authentic Christian spirituality.
Their teacher often held his listeners spellbound with stories of his life. The general themes were intrigue and dissolution. He'd been a spy, a wealthy businessman, a political candidate, a broadcaster and a champion for the poor. Anthony had been everywhere and done everything, including, he claimed, sleeping with hundreds of women.
"Women were preternaturally drawn to him," says Stephen, a former member who got involved in the '70s and asked that his real name not be used. "I have literally witnessed women come up to Ole and just virtually offer themselves to him. He has a charismatic personality women find utterly fascinating."
From 1974 to 1987, Anthony studied, reading the Bible, looking up words in Hebrew and filling notebooks with Scripture references about themes such as sacrifices, purifications and tithes. He delved into the Torah, the Talmud, the Zohar and other Jewish texts. "Ole absolutely believes you can get from the Old Testament everything you need to know about Christianity," Stephen says.
Duncan joined with a dozen or so other believers in the summer of 1977, and they jousted with Anthony over doctrine. Anthony's nimble tongue ran circles around them.
"He was anti-institutional Christianity from the beginning," Stephen says. "I can't remember Ole ever having gone to a church." (Anthony says he's been a member of Highland Park UMC for decades.)
Late one night during a coffee-shop discussion about grace, Duncan had a "snapping" experience. Anthony was insisting that there were no rules for the Christian except living second by second in total dependence on God. "I knew how hard I was working at being a Christian," Duncan says. "Suddenly, it was like, 'Oh my God, what he is saying is right!'"
As that memorable summer came to a close, Anthony began pressuring Duncan, a gifted student, not to return to UT. The only school mentioned in the Bible, he said, was for the Pharisees, religious hypocrites.
Duncan's mother won the tug-of-war. But when Duncan returned to UT, his heart was no longer with the Navigators. The next summer, he started stopping by to see Anthony. Their conversations so confused him that Duncan dropped all his religious activities and started drinking and partying.
Many of those in Anthony's Bible studies were struggling, vulnerable, seeking answers. Larry Ferguson, then a student at Criswell College, was going through a difficult time in his life and liked hanging out with people who, as he puts it, weren't judgmental. "Ole was very helpful," Ferguson says. "He stressed being honest, which caused you to take stock of your life."
Like "Charis-maniacs," as he calls them, Anthony believed in praying for healing and speaking in tongues and emphasized both. Anthony never tried to get people to quit their churches. By the late '70s, the tiny Bible study had grown to 40 or 50 people.
After experiencing a Passover supper with Zola Levitt, a Messianic Jew, Anthony had introduced the idea of following the Jewish calendar, using holy days such as Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles to illustrate truths about Jesus Christ. People loved the intimacy and excitement Anthony created about the feasts, held at a local lake or friend's ranch. He fostered the belief that they were special, worshiping as the first-century Christians did.
But even as new people were drawn to Anthony, other people in the group were backing away. Stephen was disturbed by Anthony's insistence that he'd discovered ancient truths unknown to Christians for 2,000 years. "I always admired his intellect," Stephen says. "But after 2,000 years of people studying the same theology, I can't buy that he's figured it out and nobody else has. In many respects, Ole is a modern Gnostic, which means those who have special knowledge and they impart it once you get into the cult." He came to the conclusion that Trinity was becoming cult-like.
After Stephen's first child was born in 1977, Anthony--who has never married or had children of his own--announced that the baby "belonged to the group." Uncomfortable with that assertion and the hero worship directed toward Anthony, Stephen and his wife pulled away from Trinity.
When Larry and Pam Ferguson unlocked their front door after a 1980 vacation, they found the usual piles of mail and newspapers--as well as a disturbing surprise. Five strangers had moved into their home.
After being involved with Trinity for four or five years, the Fergusons had given a house key to Anthony in case of an emergency. When he learned that a certain couple and their three children were homeless, Anthony simply moved them into the Fergusons' house. Ask first? Ridiculous. The family needed help. Anthony's mantra was, "What's mine is yours. If you don't have what you need, I'll help you get it."
The Fergusons often took in the needy but resented Anthony's presumption. Nor did Anthony or the group help the Fergusons financially during the months the alcoholic couple and their children lived with them. "The family got mad at us because we didn't buy enough meat," Pam says.
In 1978, the Fergusons became the first Trinity "marriage," with Gary Buckner presiding over the nuptials. The second: Doug Duncan, who married a woman he met during his sowing-of-wild-oats phase.
"Until then it was this laid-back, hippie Bible study," Duncan says. The group was soon meeting six nights a week and on Sunday for a meal and "big group," with singing and worship.
The community was taking form. In 1980, Gary and Judy Buckner bought a house on Columbia and started fixing it up; they were followed by John and Joysanna Rutledge. Others would move nearby. Anthony was living rent-free in a home in North Dallas owned by the Rutledges. After taking a vow of poverty, he was being paid $50 a week by the Trinity Foundation.
Many of those drawn to him had troubled childhoods. "It was, 'We're all losers, and I [Anthony] may be the chief loser and this is the last stop before hell,' instead of 'I can do all things through Christ,'" says Larry Ferguson, who was on the board of Trinity for several years. Other former members say the result was a dynamic shaped by Anthony's personality: cynical, contemptuous of the unenlightened, obsessed with sex, backbiting and gossipy.
"Ole didn't really see the value in people," Ferguson says. "He loathed himself. He was constantly trying to build up his sense of self-worth at the expense of others. It's tragic. He has a wonderful mind and a lot of talents."
But as early as the '70s, there were signs that Anthony's behavior and moral standards didn't fit the usual Bible study leader. "Ole was very promiscuous," Ferguson says. "He had lots of women. Some became part of the group, and some were already part of the group."
Ferguson and others, however, still held to the old evangelical standard of no sex outside marriage. And some people dared to call Anthony on it. "There were pretty heavy confrontations," Ferguson says, "and Ole backed away from it...He was trying to have it both ways." (Anthony insists today that he has been "celibate" since his Christian conversion in 1972.)
Betty Olmstead started coming to the Trinity Bible study in the late '70s and credits Anthony, through his radio show, for her Christian conversion. But she remembers being disturbed by the attitude of the women in the group: They, like Olmstead, were attracted to Ole Anthony.
Olmstead says one woman in the group confided to her that she'd slept with Anthony and now he was ignoring her. Olmstead wrote Anthony a private letter saying he needed to address the issue and was stunned when he read it to the entire group. The woman openly admitted her role in the affair, but Anthony insisted the woman was a liar and that he had no memory of the relationship. "He wouldn't be honest," Olmstead says.
The bizarre situation led the group to define what sexual behavior was permitted outside marriage. Anthony's stance: Everything was allowed "except penetration," say several members involved in the discussions.
After hearing Anthony and her roommate going at it one night, Olmstead, who was in an adjoining room, concluded that Anthony exempted himself from that one prohibition. The sex issue simmered below the surface, with standards becoming stricter over time. By the early '80s, Anthony considered unmarried sex "spiritually criminal behavior."
There was one time Anthony tried to turn his back on Trinity--what he calls his lowest point. He'd been teaching for seven or eight years, but people weren't getting it. Clinging to their miserable little identities, they seemed unable to die to self and unwilling to see their idolatries. In a fury one day, Anthony jumped in a car and started driving west. He was done.
When he got to the far side of Fort Worth, it occurred to him that the car belonged to Trinity. He had no money. What would he do when he got to Arizona, where he grew up? His father had died in 1972. When he became a believer, Anthony had mended fences with his mother but rarely saw her. And he wasn't close to his sister, Sandra, seven years younger. Trinity was his family. He drove back to Dallas and apologized. All he could do was to be "faithful to what I see."
Styling himself after the Apostle Paul, Anthony often quoted his famous statement, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." Paul preached to hundreds on Mars Hill. Anthony had a group who could fit in his living room.
It was time to get his own Mars Hill.
When marketing whiz Harry Guetzlaff got involved with Trinity in 1983, he became the official archivist, taping and editing all of Anthony's Bible studies. He sent out letters and press releases, always on the lookout for a way in which Anthony could publicly expound his beliefs.
"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.
"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.
"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."
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.
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.
And little by little, the group was ceding enormous control to Anthony.
Officially, no decision could be made without 100 percent agreement among the elders, the Foundation's board of directors. That protocol was put in place in 1987 after a disastrous stunt. Anthony announced that the community would do a "fire walk," something he had tried in the '60s, to show what was possible by relying on God.
Anthony didn't realize that this old magician's trick depended on using charcoal briquettes burned long enough to form a thick coat of ash, then placed one layer deep along the "path." Ash is a poor conductor of heat, allowing the firewalker to scamper across without getting burned.
The reluctant group stacked up bags of charcoal and set them on fire, creating a path of glowing coals several briquettes thick. Anthony put one foot on the path, then another, then finally leaped off, feet badly burned. After several other people got scorched, he called it off.
Thereafter, all decisions had to be unanimous. But the rule did not take into account Anthony's inordinate control over the board. That intensified in 1988 when he moved to the Block and became Duncan's roommate.
By then, Duncan's life was a shambles. His first wife had left him for a man he'd invited to Bible study. Duncan lost his job. So he became a Levite, willingly impoverished. Both men's rent was paid by the foundation.
Another method of control came with the creation in 1990 of "The Fox's Lair." It began after Anthony persuaded everyone to take a "Nazarite" vow: For 100 days, they would follow an austere diet, also giving up wine, cigarettes and sex. To ensure that everyone followed the diet, the downstairs of a house purchased by Robertson and Ed Housewright became a dining hall. (Housewright declined an interview.)
The diet ended a week early, called off by growling stomachs. But the Lair remained. When homeless people showed up they could get a good meal. A certain amount for food was deducted from the Levites' meager salary, and others paid into a dining fund. They now saw each other at meals, Bible studies and worship services.
Money was another measure of control. Members tithed 10 percent of their incomes. After a Bible study on tithes, Anthony and the elders introduced the "asset tithe." At one point members of Trinity sat down with Anthony and Bloom and revealed all their possessions: stocks, bonds, real estate, cars, bank accounts, belongings. They paid 10 percent of their estimated net worth and "passed under the rod" of the shepherd.
"[This] process was done by all new members in the community for approximately the first 100 years of the church," Anthony wrote in a memo. "It is something that is done only once in a lifetime. It signifies that you've cut all ties to the cause and effect/reward and punishment principles of the world, and that you desire to live only by His grace which is given freely."
Thereafter, each January, a "First Fruits" tithe was assessed. They'd get advice and admonitions if their budgets were off-kilter, if they spent too much on entertainment, eating out, even buying books. What you spent your money on was your god, your idol. For those with jobs, the First Fruits tithe would typically be a week's salary. "You didn't get gouged," Larry Ferguson says, "but we lost all sense of personal boundaries."
The greatest degree of control was vested in the Bible studies: People were expected to take every issue and crisis to their leaders: Anthony, the Rutledges or the Buckners. The lack of privacy drove a wedge between friends, even between spouses. People feared that if they confided in someone, their words might come back to haunt them as people felt compelled to confess. Group unity was paramount.
The Dallas Project tested that unity. Some members ignored the edict, others willingly participated. But it could be dangerous.
The Fergusons came home one night and found their homeless lodger standing in the kitchen wielding a butcher knife. They'd left him while their children were in bed to make a run to the grocery store. "Ole didn't tell us he was a crack cocaine addict and HIV-positive," Ferguson says. The man had hocked Larry's bike, smoked a rock and then grabbed the knife in a fit of drug-induced paranoia. "Ole endangered us for his own hubris," Ferguson says.
Terry and Susan Holden and their three children, who rented one of the apartments, sometimes had more than one homeless person living with them. It cost Susan her feeling of safety. People showed up stoned and stole from her purse. Some had serious emotional problems. One night their 9-year-old son asked his parents why there was a man sitting in his closet. Susan Holden says that all of those they took in ended up back on the streets. Though a few people turned their lives around with Trinity's help, Anthony now acknowledges the Dallas Project was "naïve."
Visitors to the Block, however, saw what appeared to be a harmonious community. The group had added events to the calendar as they studied the Bible. By the late '80s, they were celebrating Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Tabernacles, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover and Pentecost, as well as the Fast of Tammuz and what they called the "Fast of Ab."
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.
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.
It was heady stuff for Anthony--hobnobbing with ABC producers, flying to New York to be interviewed by a reverential Diane Sawyer. The resulting story on Primetime Live was devastating. Lea came off as a liar, Grant a carnie act and Tilton as a callous, greedy bastard who ripped off widows and orphans.
Anthony and crew were mobbed by reporters from all over the world. "We were superstars for being able to do what nobody else could do," Holloway says. Five different law enforcement agencies--the Texas Attorney General's Office, the IRS, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Attorney's Office--announced investigations of Tilton.
Tilton fired back with an hour-long response called Prime Time Lies, which ran for weeks on cable channels all over the country. He accused ABC of distortions and deliberate omissions and attacked Anthony for being jealous and for lying about his background. It was pulled off the air only when Anthony, furious at the attack on his credibility, hired an attorney and threatened to sue the stations.
The David vs. Goliath story was irresistible. On camera, the more Tilton shrieked "I was framed!" the more believable the cool Anthony appeared. Another round of publicity accompanied a press conference Anthony called to accuse Tilton of mail fraud and money laundering. His charge was based on a confidential informant for the DEA who claimed the televangelist was shipping currency in crates of Bibles to the Caribbean.
Tilton's ministry collapsed, Grant went to prison on charges of tax evasion and Lea's ministry faded away.
Holloway, Guetzlaff, Duncan and others at Trinity were thrilled. Their mission of monitoring religious charlatans had proven important to the body of Christ. Contributions jumped 33 percent. To continue their work, Anthony acquired a "master" investigator license so Trinity members could be licensed as PIs.
Tips poured in on the hotline. Informants offered dirt on other televangelists. "Every bug in the world came out of the woodwork," Holloway says. "We had women who claimed to have had affairs with televangelists. Some of these ladies needed some serious Prozac." News crews would show up and stay for days.
At first, Larry Ferguson supported the investigations. "In theory it's OK," he says, "but it didn't take long for me to realize it was a travesty on the body of Christ. It brought nothing but rebuke and ridicule. It's horrendous what they [televangelists] do, but to exploit that for notoriety..."
Ultimately Tilton would win all the lawsuits filed by his "victims." Sad stories, yes, but not actionable in court. Despite federal agents crawling all over his operations, Tilton was never charged with a crime. Few media outlets that carried stories about Tilton reported anything when the investigations were dropped.
And few covered what would be revealed about Primetime Live in the next few years. Reams of documents released in discovery, raw ABC footage and depositions would show that producers had edited interviews out of context, distorted facts and omitted information favorable to Tilton. (Glenna Whitley will report on the Tilton investigation in more detail starting Thursday, August 3, on Unfair Park, the Dallas Observer blog. Visit dallasobserver.com.)
Holloway was stunned to discover that Anthony and the producers had mixed the trash from various dumpsters. "It was on videotape," says Holloway, "Ole and the producers literally playing with the evidence on B-roll." That made Holloway--who'd testified repeatedly about the accuracy of their evidence log--a potential perjurer.
Now a private investigator in Florida, Holloway credits Anthony for his new career. But after apprenticing under experienced PIs, Holloway realizes the Trinity garbologists got too lucky, finding discarded prayer requests where no Tilton mail had been processed for months, unearthing letters before their corresponding envelopes had reached the mail room and discovering mountains of Tilton trash but only a few pieces from other televangelists, though their mail was processed at the same place.
Had ABC used Anthony and Trinity as dupes, pawns to "discover" the trashed prayers? Or had Trinity fooled ABC? That question was never answered.
Anthony denies any deception, but his misrepresentation of the evidence log prompted Holloway to take a closer look at his leader.
ABC had accused Tilton of manufacturing tears; people were noticing Anthony had the same skill. "I think Ole is a classic sociopath," Larry Ferguson says. "I don't think he knows what real emotions are."
They had trouble pinning him down about his past. Though Anthony made a big deal about living on $80 a week--he got a raise in the '90s--he'd go months without cashing his checks from Trinity. In a 1992 deposition, Anthony admitted he had a $26,000 account at Merrill Lynch. He was getting money from an annuity set up in 1986 after his electrical shock: $600 a month for life plus lump sum payments every five years. Over the last 20 years, he has received more than $200,000. Though Anthony told people the money was in a trust for his mother, that wasn't true at the time of the deposition.
But the biggest issue was the far-fetched stories. Anthony always had a new tale: In addition to being a spy, he'd been a helicopter pilot and crashed when he had a backpacking and survival company in Montana, and he was also in Vietnam setting up nuclear test stations and in Colombia trading coca leaves for intelligence and on and on.
Holloway believed Trinity's doctrine and community was the closest thing he would ever find to biblical truth. But doubts were growing.
The last straw was personal. One afternoon in 1995, Anthony called Holloway to his office. Holloway's 7-year-old daughter, Jill, was supposed to be in a ballet recital that night.
"It's all about her high place, and I don't want her to do that," Anthony told him. "You've got to take her out."
Holloway argued; they'd spent money on a tutu and tights and a leotard. His daughter was so excited.
Anthony called down the head of the home school--one of Holloway's Bible study leaders--who agreed with him. Holloway caved. "I knew that I would be squashed like a bug if I didn't. We would have been anathema." Shunned.
He had to walk down to Jill's class and explain that "for spiritual reasons" she couldn't dance that night. "We cried and we cried and we cried," says Holloway, his voice breaking. "She put away the dancing shoes and hasn't taken them out since."
His wife, who wanted to leave Trinity, was furious. "She lost all respect for me," Holloway says. "I'm sure she knew who had the testicles." The couple would later divorce.
In hindsight, Holloway believes the incident was about Anthony showing who's boss. "I'll never get that piece of joy back into her again," Holloway says of his daughter, voice rising in anger. "It was a body part that I cut off. The son of a bitch knew it. That's the part that I hate. He knows those vulnerabilities, and he reads them with absolute exactitude. It's as skillful as a surgeon with a scalpel."
A Martyr in Pain
A Bible is open before him in the Lair, and Anthony rocks back and forth, legs propped on a chair. A microphone is clipped to his white T-shirt.
Someone passes out Gideon Bibles to the dozen or so Trinity folks up for the 7:30 a.m. study. In his measured voice, Anthony refers to Ecclesiastes 6. "What does God think the most evil thing is?" he asks. "Self-seeking, self-realization." All human effort is vanity.
For someone whose theology demands no glorification of the self--even insisting little girls put away their tutus--Anthony has managed to make himself the center of attention for decades.
A new wrinkle was added in 1996, when Trinity became the publisher of The Wittenburg Door, the magazine of religious satire. Trinity teamed with Bloom (as Joe Bob Briggs) to produce "God Stuff," a segment poking fun at TV evangelists that ran for three years on Comedy Central. On this morning in July a documentary filmmaker from New Zealand is at the foundation filming a segment on televangelists. Other TV and film producers are coming in August.
Trinity has changed in the last five years. Anthony has only recently emerged from seclusion. Pain from his electrical shock injury had him taking massive doses of prescription narcotics, what he often referred to as his "knock-out" pills.
Anthony denies he is addicted to painkillers, but financial records show Trinity was spending thousands of dollars in 2002 and 2003 on his prescription drugs. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, Anthony was injecting himself with the painkiller Nubain and taking Zanaflex and Skelaxin (muscle relaxants).
For several years, Anthony would often stay curled on his bed in a fetal position. It was well-known within the leadership, but no one knew what to do. They regarded Anthony as a martyr for Christ.
Anthony was pulled back from the precipice when a doctor at Baylor Medical Center diagnosed a lesion on his brain stem, got him into physical rehabilitation and eliminated all the drugs but a "maintenance dose" of Oxycontin. Anthony has put weight back on his frame and has started teaching and doing interviews again.
What if Trinity had found evidence in Tilton's trash that the televangelist was addicted to painkillers--and that the church paid for them? "Absolute heaven," Holloway says. "That's the kind of cannon fodder we were always looking for."
Doug Finds His Testicles
After driving around aimlessly for hours, Doug Duncan pulled Trinity's van into Highland Park Presbyterian Church in early 2000 and walked into the office. "I'm having a spiritual crisis," he said. "I need to talk to a minister."
No one got counsel "off the Block." But that morning in the Lair, two forces in Duncan's life had collided. Furious because Anthony would not bless their desire to get married, his fiancée Wendy had confronted Anthony, ending the conversation by screaming, "Your voice has gotten so loud, Ole, that I can't hear God anymore!"
Both over 40 and celibate, the couple had been dating for seven years; Wendy had bought a house on the Block. Though Anthony says he barely knew her, she had been made business manager of The Door.
But every time Duncan brought up getting married, Anthony told his heir apparent to wait. "Why aren't you content in the circumstances in which you find yourself?" Anthony asked him.
In Anthony's opinion, Wendy, who had a master's degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, didn't really understand Trinity doctrine. She was at a bad place. If he married Wendy, it would be a disaster. Was Doug 100 percent sure?
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.
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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