When I highlighted media coverage of a Senate investigation into televangelists, I excerpted a bit from an interview of Ole Anthony, who heads the Trinity Foundation. The foundation investigates televangelists and publishes The Wittenburg Door, a magazine of Christian satire. Most of what I know about Anthony, apart from occasionally reading the Door, comes from a lengthy profile in The New Yorker a few years back:
Ole Anthony is tall and gaunt, with a shock of white hair and searing blue eyes. He has a high, bony forehead and the pale, scraggy features of his Norwegian ancestors (his first name is pronounced "Oh-lee").
His many enemies, most of them televangelists, sometimes call him Ole Antichrist, and it's true that he has a certain familiarity with apocalypse. When he was an intelligence operative with the Air Force, he witnessed a nuclear blast at close range. A few years later, he was accidentally electrocuted.
Evangelists often claim that they've been "slain in the spirit" -- possessed so completely by the love of Jesus that they've died to themselves -- but Anthony, who is sixty-six, really looks as if he'd just stepped off a gurney. He looks the way Moses might have looked had he been born in Minnesota.
Anthony is the founder and president of the Trinity Foundation, a religious community in East Dallas that functions variously as a soup kitchen, a rehab center, a Christian publishing house, and a private detective firm.
Well, as glowing as The New Yorker's profile was, apparently not everyone is a fan. In my previous post, reader Eric W. said:
I wish reporters would quit interviewing Ole Anthony for these stories. A year or so ago it came out that Anthony is himself an abusive cult leader and fornicator. There was a large article about this in The Dallas Observer and I think The Dallas Monthly as well.
For more on this perspective, you can check out Wendy Duncan's I Can't Hear God Anymore. The Dallas Observer ran a huge expose of Trinity last year, and reporter Glenna Whitley updated the story this week. She spoke with former members of Anthony's group who allege that Trinity might need some investigation of its own:
Doug Duncan describes Trinity's most egregious financial transgression as defaulting on $42 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds issued in 1998 for the organization's purchase of 13 apartment complexes in Oklahoma City.
Issued by the Oklahoma County Finance Authority, the bonds were available to Trinity because it was a charitable organization with the stated mission of helping the homeless.
"It was a federal project, underwritten by the government," says Duncan. "This is public money being misused."
The acquisition of 2,045 apartments was ballyhooed as part of Trinity's "Dallas Project" to help the homeless and poor, but from the beginning there were questions about Trinity's ability to service the debt.
From a mainstream media perspective, Anthony's a likable guy who fights big, bad televangelists. But that shouldn't mean they refrain from reporting the full story. Of course, part of the problem with reporting fully on Anthony might be the complexity of the alleged scandal. It's not like this is a "sex scandal of biblical dimensions," after all.