Sometimes You Feel Like a Cult, Sometimes You Don't

We can't get enough of Ole Anthony. C'mon. Look at him. He radiates charisma. That's what his lady followers say, anyway.

The controversy surrounding Dallas-based Trinity Foundation and the book I Can't Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult, by Wendy Duncan, is going national next week. And then, it's going international. Of course, we were here first: In August we ran a story about Duncan's book in which she says Anthony, who built an international reputation by busting televangelists such as Robert Tilton is spiritually and emotionally abusive toward his followers. Duncan also claims the Trinity Foundation a cult. Though many of his former followers agree, Anthony and members still involved with the group deny many of her allegations.

This month, the book received a rave in the Cultic Studies Review; Dr. Lois V. Svoboda called it a "page-turner" and insisted it "ranks along side of Hassan's Combating Cult Mind Control and other first person cult narratives." On February 8-10, at the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions conference in Birmingham, Alabama, David Clark, an international expert on cults and thought reform, will host a session called "Ole Anthony, the Trinity Foundation and the Cult Controversy." Then, in June, he'll do the same thing at the 2007 ICSA International Conference on Cults in Brussels, Belgium. There, 100 speakers from 22 countries will conduct sessions on everything from recovery for former group members to recent research developments on cult-like behavior.

Which is just dandy with the Trinity Foundation; at least, so it seems from the sounds of silence coming from Anthony's people. But a spokesman for the foundation said in an e-mail that "we have chosen not to respond to the book in order to leave open the possibility of reconciliation with Doug and Wendy."

Because that'll happen.

The program for Clark's session says: "Involvement in [Anthony's] group has produced testimony how people can be made vulnerable to the psychological manipulations and spiritual abuse of a 'skilled spiritual leader.' The book also focuses on how to regain psychological and spiritual health after leaving this group and explains how others caught in similar circumstances can do the same. The workshop will cover how anyone can be vulnerable to join a cult. How the new community and the cult of personality change a person into a new identity will be explained."

Clark says the Duncans will be attending the presentations. But he's had no contact with Anthony or other members of the Trinity Foundation.

Clark, who lives in Pennsylvania, says he has been intrigued with Anthony since they met in 1994 at a conference called "Evangelical Ministries to New Religions." Clark had seen Anthony going undercover to bust televangelists on ABC's PrimeTime Live with Diane Sawyer. Since he had worked for months with Sawyer for an expose on cults, Clark wanted to know more about Anthony. "I thought the guy was eccentric," Clark says. "Ole Anthony is an articulate person, but there's an off-beat quality about him."

He was taken aback because Anthony refused, unlike other EMNR conference participants, to allow his workshop describing the Trinity Foundation's structure and mission to be recorded. "I was struck with that," Clark says, "What is his problem here? What struck me then was his us-versus-them mentality of him about the mainstream church."

Last year Clark met Doug Duncan, whose story is chronicled in his wife's book, at a cult conference in Denver. Clark found the Duncans' involvement in the Trinity Foundation similar to his own experience in a cult called Church of the Living Word in the early 1970s. Since then, Clark has spent his life studying cult dynamics. He was a founding member of the Former Cultists Support Network.

"When I met Doug, I was impressed with him personally," Clark says. "I thought he was level-headed. His story had the ring of truth to me. The factual foundation of the book is extensive and supported by former members and eyewitness testimony. It was eerie because of my own experience. I'm used to listening to a lot of first-hand stories of eyewitness accounts. I deal with so many groups that are like this."

Clark decided to do a workshop on Trinity this month because the group has an internationally high profile but few insiders have ever described their own experiences inside the group. What the outsider sees is very different than what the insiders see.

"The way the organization is set up concerns me," says Clark, "this role Anthony has of opening up the mysteries of the kingdom of God. He's known for quoting Scripture. He dazzles people with a tap dance about the Bible. He's like a psychological pit bull."

Wendy Duncan's seven-year involvement with the Trinity Foundation ended after Anthony repeatedly refused to consecrate their marriage. "Anthony said he didn't give a 'rat's ass' about their marriage," says Clark. "That says a lot about what he's like."

Clark praises Anthony for raising issues of homelessness and simple living. "A lot of the stuff he points out publicly is very noble and noteworthy," Clark says. "I find Trinity very resourceful. I think in the anti-cult community he's known for all those resources he makes available. But he points out that many other leaders of cult-like groups are known to be humanitarian. One example: Jim Jones, who led his followers in a mass suicide. "Very powerful people were associated with Jones and he was known for his social work with the poor," says Clark.

Duncan, naturally, is pleased that her book will be getting attention at the two conferences.

"When I set out to write the book, I had no intention of starting a war with Ole Anthony or his group," Wendy Duncan e-mails. "I only wanted to write about my experience in order to provide an alternative perspective on the Trinity Foundation other than the one which has been publicized in the media. Additionally, I wanted to write something that would help others recover from a cultic or spiritually abusive experience. I hoped that by sharing my story former members of Trinity Foundation and other similar groups would begin to heal from their experience.

"The one thing that puzzles me, though, is The Dallas Morning News' continued silence over this cult controversy. The fact that someone has described the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation as a cult is newsworthy enough that it has been written about in the Dallas Observer and a national magazine [Charisma], yet the local paper of record has not taken note of it. My husband, Doug, says that they know they are complicit in building up Ole's celebrity, and they do not want to print anything that could put themselves in a bad light."

She doesn't point out that several members of the foundation work at Dallas' Only Daily.

"As I began writing the book," Wendy writes, "I assumed that everything Ole told us about himself and his background was true. It never occurred to me that a man who preached rigorous honesty and demanded accountability from the televangelists would not hold himself to the same standard. However, in the course of writing the book my research turned up some discrepancies between what Ole says about himself and what could actually be verified...

"In my opinion, Ole Anthony is running a religious cult, although he has presented himself as one of the guardians of Christianity against the excesses of the televangelists. However, there are serious issues that call his motives and credibility into question. I think it is this lack of veracity that is gaining notice for my book in certain circles-especially the various apologetics and anti-cult groups." —-Glenna Whitley

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky