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
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."