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Anthony Hurls Challenge to Televangelist Robert Tilton
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Anthony Hurls Challenge to Televangelist Robert Tilton

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DALLAS - As the hidden camera rolled, the vision rose before

Ole Anthony's eyes.

"A nationally televised talk show. A pulpit from which

to preach. A book a month.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars."

His thoughts raced.

"We can never make payroll. We're always out of money.

There's a million things we could do."

The camera, provided by ABC's "PrimeTime Live" and worn

by a cameraman posing as a media consultant, was trained

on the president of a Tulsa direct-mail firm. He was talking

about his client, Dallas television evangelist Robert Tilton,

and how the company had helped Tilton raise tens of millions

of dollars. What he had done for Tilton, the president offered,

he could do for Anthony.

Anthony was there to help "PrimeTime Live" expose the

inner workings of Tilton's lucrative operation, but for

a moment he was seduced by the fund-raiser's promises.

He did not turn off the camera.

For Anthony and his small band of followers, who live by

an ascetic discipline in a community modeled after the first-century

Christians, facing the cross means hurling a challenge in

the face of wealthy television evangelists like Robert Tilton.

They describe that challenge without embarrassment as one

of good vs. evil, of poverty vs. wealth, of giving yourself

vs. giving money.

"The Bible is full of these confrontations," says Anthony,

who earned $4,160 last year and lives below the poverty

level. "Jesus denounced the Pharisees as hypocrites and

expelled the money-changers from the temple more than once."

Tilton speaks to this challenge only from his 5,000-seat

Word of Faith Family Church in suburban Farmers Branch,

Texas, and his television show, "Success 'N Life." Neither

he nor his attorney, J.C. Joyce of Tulsa, responded to requests

for an interview.

But in his sermons and broadcasts, Tilton makes no apologies

for his lavish lifestyle or gospel of prosperity. He has

castigated Anthony and the journalists who have investigated

the Word of Faith ministry as instruments of the devil.

Three months after Anthony faced down his own temptation

in that Tulsa office, a national audience watched his secretly

filmed meeting during a recent "PrimeTime" expose of Tilton.

Among the allegations, all of which Tilton has denied from

his pulpit, was that thousands of prayer requests intended

for his eyes were emptied of their money by his bank and

data-processing center and thrown in the trash.

Ole (pronounced O-lee) Anthony, 53, the son of Norwegian

immigrants, sat quietly. At the show's end, ABC's Diane

Sawyer extended "a final word of thanks to that Dallas

minister you saw, Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation,

who helped us gain access to key parts of this investigation."

And it didn't end there. The Texas attorney general, the

Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. postal inspector and

the FBI have announced inquiries into Tilton's ministry.

That moment changed the community on Columbia Street, where

many of Anthony's core 100 followers live. The offices of

the Trinity Foundation, the non-profit corporation that

serves in place of a church, were inundated with calls from

reporters, radio and talk-show hosts, legal authorities

and ordinary people expressing their support.

Like Sawyer, outsiders invariably describe Anthony as a

minister or cleric. Yet he never has been to seminary. He

prefers the title rabbi and the ancient interpretation of

that word - teacher, administrator, overseer.

His 6-foot-3 frame holds, at once, a gentleness and a great

force. He is quick to pick up the community's children and

hold them in his lap. He exudes a natural authority without

being overbearing.

Tilton, or Pastor Bob as he likes to be called, is not the

leader of a new denomination but an advocate of an ancient

way of life that he says any church can duplicate to strengthen

its sense of fellowship.

Anthony's teachings, and the practices of the community,

are culled from 20 years of research in ancient theology,

first-century writings and the Talmud (writings on Jewish

civil and religious law).

Community members eat in a communal kitchen and operate

a school for their children. Every Sunday evening they meet

in groups of no more than 20 to share dinner and to read

from the Bible. They gather as a community afterward to

sing and discuss community business.

Their property is individually owned. Everyone works, from

those with professional careers to the homeless seeking

refuge, who are given paying jobs by the foundation. No

one is on welfare. The community looks after its own needs,

banding together to collect money for someone's bus fare

or to repair aging plumbing.

Trinity is a public foundation, with seven elected board

members. Anthony, the foundation's president, is hired by

the board and paid $80 a week. The community can vote out

the board members, or fire Anthony, at any time.

The road to what he calls his Damascus experience, referring

to the conversion of St. Paul, led him first to service

in U.S. Air Force Intelligence, to a management position

with Teledyne Inc., even to a $3.5 million Wall Street fortune

that he later lost in an offshore oil drilling business.

He was the late Sen. John Tower's regional campaign manager

in 1966 and former Dallas Mayor Wes Wise's finance chairman

five years later. He ran, unsuccessfully, for a seat in

the Texas Legislature.

Then he had a revelation that when Jesus spoke his final

words from the cross, "It is finished," he meant it.

He became a religious talk-show host on "Club 33" on Channel

33 in Dallas. It was while he was there, in 1972, that he

had a brush with televangelism that left him with a passionate

aversion to what he believes is an unholy trinity: God,

television and money.

As the key fund-raiser for the station's telethon, he pleaded

for viewers' dollars to keep the station on the air.

"I've sought the forgiveness of God," he says, "for doing it.

"There were a lot of silent years," Anthony says of the

time that followed, "when I didn't do anything."

A phone call in 1976 changed that. A church secretary from

a large congregation called Anthony. A man had wandered

in, sick and bleeding, but there was no one to help. Anthony

went to him, took him to Parkland Memorial Hospital and

paid his medical bills.

"All of a sudden it struck me that something was wrong

with this system; something is violently wrong with this

system," he would say later.

Since that first call for help, the Trinity Foundation has

worked to meet the needs of the homeless, taking them into

members' own homes, giving them food and clothing and helping

them find work.

The foundation conducted demographic research on the followers

of televangelists, and Anthony traveled to Washington, D.C.,

in 1987 to testify before a congressional subcommittee.

"These evangelists are not fishers of men, but are in truth,

keepers of a very small aquarium filled with dying fish."

He says repeatedly that it is not Robert Tilton, the man,

that he is after, but the gospel of preachers who promise

that the way to heaven is through your checkbook.

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