Those Who Care know all about Ole Anthony and the Trinity Foundation. John Bloom (aka Joe Bob Briggs) profiled Ole for D Magazine in 1999. Amazing story. Burkhard Bilger wrote about Ole in the New Yorker in 2004 (and quoted our story but wasn’t kind enough to cite D by name). As I say, TWC know all this.
Comes now a somewhat new book about Ole and Trinity that is causing a stir. The book is called I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult, by Wendy Duncan. The title pretty much says it all. John Rutledge, VP of the Trinity Foundation, responds:
A new website promoting a book by one of Trinity Foundation’s former members has caused some of our friends to wonder what’s going on.
We haven’t read the book yet– and we’re not sure we want to spend the $14.95 they’re asking for a copy– but we are sad the author, Wendy Duncan, feels her therapy has to involve attacking her longtime friends.
From the information on the website (www.dallascult.com) it seems the basis for labeling Trinity Foundation a cult or “cult-like” is that Ole Anthony has an overbearing, charismatic personality, that his theology is idiosyncratic, and that he distorts scripture to “break down members’ egos.”
Ole is definitely cantankerous, often irritating and many times stubborn. Part of the story of his coming to faith in Christ is based on finally recognizing this– the moral bankruptcy of his manipulative, self-seeking mind. It’s no secret. He talks about that regularly on the foundation’s morning Bible studies, which are freely available on the Internet. He’s a sinner saved by grace, but, as St. Paul said, he knows he’s still “the chief of sinners” and he reminds us that we are too. That’s always uncomfortable to hear.
From what I’ve observed for 30 years with the group, Ole’s theology is neither more nor less focused on breaking down personal egos than was the Apostle Paul’s. There’s not a more radical statement than Jesus’–“Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” The foundation’s teachings on all this are available to anyone in Bible study tapes, CDs and articles published over a 30-year period.
Like any Christian community, we covenant together to exhort each other toward self-giving love. Of course there’s a challenge to self-sacrifice. Like the historical disciplines of some other Christian traditions, we have a group of people who volunteer to work for $80 a week; others take homeless people into their families, etc. But many members have successful careers and high paying jobs; some don’t ever take in a homeless person. We offer regular Bible studies throughout the week. But some people show up only now and again to meet, just like at any other church. Frankly, a cult wouldn’t put up with the level of disorganization exhibited at Trinity Foundation.
Ole’s teachings sharply challenge some church traditions, that’s for sure. I am a graduate of Baylor University and have worked for 30 years for a Baptist denominational agency, and I grew up in the same tradition as Wendy. I’m a longtime elder in the group and vice president of the organization. Through careful study “to see whether these things be true” I became convinced that Trinity Foundation’s teachings made sense and rang true and that the group was a perfect fit for me. But it hasn’t caused me to leave my job, and my employers haven’t expressed any problem with the foundation or its teachings or activities.
Wendy doesn’t feel the way I do, and she of course had a perfect right to go elsewhere to find a spiritual home.
Somewhere on Wendy’s website there is a list of the characteristics of a cult. None of them, as far as I can see, reflect anything about the Trinity Foundation that I know. Authoritarian? I’ve never heard of any cult leader who would put up with as much good-natured ridicule as Ole does. Deceitful recruitment? Like the Jewish tradition based in the book of Ruth, we “rebuff” three times anyone who wants to join our spiritual community, warning them that they will likely suffer persecution, and that the Christian path is a narrow one. (Now maybe we should warn them that they might show up as an object lesson in someone’s book).
We would have a yearly independent audit if we could afford one. More importantly, I think, we were audited by the IRS in the late 1990s and given exemplary marks. Our annual 990 filing is available for anyone who asks, and is posted on our website and on Guidestar’s website. It’s always been available to anyone who asks.
We are a public religious foundation. During the time Wendy and Doug were here, members of the general public could join with a $10 contribution and an expressed interest in the foundation. The board of directors–currently seven persons–is elected annually by the members. Ole serves as president at the pleasure of the board. Doug Duncan was a board member for about 15 years. He roomed in the same house with Ole for many years. These issues were never brought before the board or the membership meetings or the elders of our church, which met weekly during that time.
By the way, we’ve been called a cult before, first in 1991 by fallen televangelist Robert Tilton in his self-produced one-hour “documentary” Prime Time Lies. That aired in 235 TV markets across the US for over a month-sometimes three or four times a day. It was produced by Tilton’s right-hand man and creator of his broadcast persona. That man is now one of our staunchest supporters.
One reviewer quoted on Wendy’s website refers to the “apparent ‘evangelical mainstreamness’ of the Trinity Foundation” and that “Superficially, the language and doctrine of her leader would be recognizable to any evangelical, although idiosyncratic.”
If being idiosyncratic is a crime, I guess we’re guilty.
But after decades of public scrutiny, being sued in open court by hostile televangelists and publishing a constant stream of public communication about what we believe, couldn’t the reality be that we’re actually not a cult?
We’ve known that Wendy feels she had a bad experience with us. We’ve made countless mistakes over the years, we can’t deny that, and some people have left because of our stupidity. We ask their forgiveness, if that’s the case.
But this book goes over the top by insinuating that all of our members are deceived cultists.
Since Wendy and Doug left the group, whenever visiting reporters want an alternative view from a “disgruntled ex-member,” we always refer them to Doug and Wendy, and I suspect they give them an earful. We do that because we have nothing to fear from the truth. We just never thought Wendy’s problems would result in a book that would publicly hurt people who still pray for her. But if this is what it takes for Wendy to get well, then I suppose we’re prepared to take a few hits.
If anyone wants to discuss any specific allegations in the book with Ole, you can reach him at 214-826-4885 or call me at 214-824-6190.
Of course, there is an open invitation to visit us and stay as long as you want to check out the atmosphere here.
Vice President, Trinity Foundation Inc.