Obituary: Ole Anthony, our president, pastor, friend, and longtime nemesis of televangelists, dead at 82

ole_anthony600Ole Anthony, 82, president of Dallas-based Trinity Foundation Inc. and a thorn in the side of “prosperity gospel” televangelists, died Friday, April 16, 2021.

He was known as a fierce critic of TV preachers like Robert Tilton, Benny Hinn and Jan and Paul Crouch, and was often seen in news interviews critiquing their lavish lifestyles.

Anthony also served as the founding elder of a small congregation that modeled itself on first-century Christianity in lifestyle and mission, meeting in homes and gathering often. In the 1990s the foundation began the Dallas Project, taking homeless people into the homes of members and encouraging other religious groups to do the same. The church continues to provide low-cost housing for needy families on the East Dallas block where many of the members live.

After finding that some of these desperate people had been persuaded to give money to TV preachers, Anthony started to look into the lifestyles and fraudulent behavior of local pastors like Tilton and W. V. Grant.

Trinity Foundation eventually obtained a private investigator license and gained a reputation as a valued source for investigative journalists. For more than 30 years Anthony was a frequently interviewed expert on religious broadcasting, consulted by major newspapers, national TV news programs and the international press. Our foundation continues to be a resource for those investigating religious fraud worldwide.

From the early 1990s through the 2000s, Anthony and Trinity Foundation were involved in high-profile investigations (and lawsuits) involving Tilton, Grant, Hinn and the Crouches as well as many other TV preachers and megachurch ministries. From 2007 to 2010 the foundation assisted the Senate Finance Committee in its national investigation of televangelist abuses.

Besides monitoring religious broadcasting, Anthony led daily Bible studies in the East Dallas Christian community that was formed out of a study group he led in the mid-1970s. The resulting community was small, never exceeding 60 members, but its influence was wide.

 

From 1996 to 2008, the foundation also took over the job of publishing a national religious satire magazine, The Wittenburg Door.

Originally from Minnesota, Anthony grew up in Arizona. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1956 until December 1959 as a “special weapons maintenance technician” and had a top-secret clearance. He monitored hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific and often told of one explosion that dissolved the island where it exploded and almost blew him off the little atoll nearby, where he had set up his equipment.  It rolled him along with some of his equipment into the water.

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When Anthony left the Air Force, he first went to work at Teledyne Inc., one of the country’s first high-tech conglomerates. Later he served as a political consultant for Texas Senator John Tower and then for Dallas Mayor Wes Wise. He owned a public relations firm. He even ran for the Texas Legislature as a Republican, losing “by only a few votes” as he liked to say.

Anthony, who was raised a nominal Lutheran but became an agnostic, said his life was transformed one night after hearing a former missionary, Norman Grubb, talk about the meaning of the cross of Christ and the concept of “death to self.” He described his experience as an instantaneous  “Damascus Road” flash of understanding. The cross became the lens through which Anthony interpreted the scriptures and the mission of the church.

In the fall of 1972, he was part of a small group of Christian leaders who created Trinity Foundation Inc., named for the Trinity Flats, N.M., site of the first thermonuclear explosion, because, he said, the group hoped to create the same sort of “explosion of faith.”

At first the foundation sponsored events like music concerts, and Anthony hosted a radio talk show interviewing celebrities like Roger Staubach, Billy Graham and most of the Christian luminaries of the day. He also had secular celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Jim Brown and Madalyn Murray O’Hair on his program. He later authored a book that included some of these interviews called “Crossfire.”

But Anthony grew disillusioned with the feel-good “niceness” of the churches he visited and the sometimes blatant hypocrisy he encountered. Eventually the foundation’s activities wound down to a standstill. His secretary opened his eyes one day when she told him, “There can be no ministry until there is a body.”

The spiritual “body” that began to gather around Anthony was much different than the Dallas businessmen and dignitaries he was used to. The new congregation was a rag-tag collection of struggling blue collar workers and recovering drug addicts – needy people, as well as some curious students and a few media and business professionals – first meeting in a small office in Dallas’ Oak Lawn area.

As part of his quest to replicate first-century Christian lifestyle, Anthony became interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity. He had no formal theological credentials, but spent years studying informally at a local synagogue. Based on his studies, his congregation began to celebrate Jewish feasts and to read through the Bible using the liturgy set by the “Three-Year Cycle” of Torah readings, which had been used by both Jews and Christians in first-century Palestine.

Anthony appeared more like an Old Testament prophet than a modern preacher. He could most often be found sitting on his back porch, swathed in tobacco smoke from his ubiquitous pipe.

Gary Buckner, a Dallas contractor and fellow elder at the church, described Anthony as “Blood and guts. He was not a fan of small talk, and any conversation with him left you pondering your relationship with God.”

John Rutledge, another church elder, said Anthony’s penetrating insights from scripture “could cut through a listener’s fog of self-delusion and clarify the need for redemption. It did for me, at least. At the same time, he could sit for hours, patiently listening to people’s problems and offering counsel.”

Anthony adopted the saying of Martin Luther, “CRUX sola est nostra theologia,” meaning “The cross alone is our theology.”

He preached that a life of faith should be guided by self-denial, or what he described as self-forgetfulness and abandonment, based on Matthew 16:24-25 – “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

He also adopted what he called a “vow of poverty”: “Whatever I have that you need to have, I’ll give you; whatever I have that you need to use, you can use; whatever you need that I don’t have, I’ll help you obtain.”

This wasn’t just a guide for others, Rutledge observed, “And he didn’t believe life is divided into separate secular and sacred arenas.” For decades, Anthony along with some other staff members received only a token salary. And for a while, he slept on the floor of his office while a homeless couple stayed in his bedroom.

Anthony’s version of “full-contact Christianity” demanded a high level of commitment. Always a controversial figure, he had a sonorous voice but an often confrontational and abrasive style that rubbed many people the wrong way. In the early 2000s a number of the members of his Christian community left the group, some accusing him of cult-like tactics. Most disagreed and remained, however, and the community he founded survived and evolved.

In 2010, the church congregation officially spun off from Trinity Foundation, with the church – now called Community on Columbia – taking over the Bible study and ministries to the needy, leaving Trinity Foundation to continue investigations and monitoring religious broadcasting. Both entities have remained on good terms, and as long as his health lasted, Anthony remained an active part of both organizations.

Anthony – afflicted with a cascade of health issues over the years – was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017, which later spread to his liver and brain.

Never married, Anthony was preceded in death by his sister, Sandra Anthony. He is survived by her daughters, nieces Brenda Stubbs in Yuma, Ariz., Ranae Dunne in Dover, Penn., as well as a number of caring cousins living in and around St. Peter, Minnesota.

Anthony will be buried in St. Peter, Minn.  In lieu of flowers, donations to Trinity Foundation are welcome.

A memorial service is planned for  2 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at 5644 Columbia Ave, Dallas TX 75214.

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