Wednesday, April 28, 2021

RIP Ole Anthony, God's Abusive Scold

The death of Ole Anthony gives me a chance to ask again what it means to be a good person. Christianity Today:

When it came down to it, Ole Anthony would admit to a lot of the bad things people said about him. “My own grandiose bull— can get in the way,” he told a reporter in 2004. “I was a schemer and a promoter. That’s just the way my mind works.”

Anthony needed to believe he was special, and he convinced those around him they were part of a spiritual elite. He was at times a huckster. He never stopped being a hustler. He exaggerated and lied about his life to impress people. He dreamed up grand plans to feed his ego and confirm his unmistakable charisma, never letting anything be reined in by humility or other people’s good sense.

But in the process he preached a message of God’s grace to those who wouldn’t have heard it otherwise. He founded a radical community of Christians committed to recreating the first-century church. And he took on the work of exposing televangelists who perverted the name of Christ for financial gain as cheap frauds.

According to the small church he founded in Dallas, Anthony was “more like an Old Testament prophet” than anything else. “Any conversation with him left you pondering your relationship with God,” said Gary Bucker, an elder at Community on Columbia.

Anthony's most notable achievement was bringing down the empire of televangelist Robert Tilton, after hearing from a man who said he was bankrupt after giving all his money to Tilton in exchange for prayers. He rooted through Tilton's trash and found that prayer requests had been thrown away unread, with only the cash removed. Tilton claimed on his next broadcast that he was so full of God that the prayer requests magicked their way directly into his brain, but he lost most of his followers and went bankrupt.

Anthony took on more than a dozen other televangelists over the years and got one sent to prison on tax fraud. He once said, “There’s more fraud in the name of God than any other kind of fraud in the world. That’s just heartbreaking.” And he also pursued philanthropic projects. The Times:

Not all of Trinity’s endeavors were so successful. In the late 1980s, Mr. Anthony started the Dallas Project, which proposed that homelessness could be eradicated if every church in America took in one or two people. He promoted the idea heavily, but only a few churches in Dallas participated.

In 1995, the foundation took out millions of dollars in bonds to buy 13 low-income apartment buildings in Oklahoma City. But the cost to run them was higher than anticipated, and Trinity defaulted in 2000.
Some of Anthony's former followers called his church, Trinity, a cult, and described practices like putting one member on the “hot seat” for hours of abuse. Which sounds cult-like for sure, but on the other hand they were trying to recreate the atmosphere of the early Christian church, which was also in our terms a cult. And it's hard to argue with Anthony's commitment to refocusing Christianity on Jesus and the poor rather than grandstanding tv preachers.

Ole Anthony: liar, braggart, abrasive jerk, cult leader, friend to the homeless, bitter enemy of divine fraud, prophet of a tough God. Who will judge him, and say which way the scales tilt?

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Ole Anthony: liar, braggart, abrasive jerk, cult leader, friend to the homeless, bitter enemy of divine fraud, prophet of a tough God. Who will judge him, and say which way the scales tilt?

Well, if we humor the idea that the Christians are somehow lucky enough to have their particular provincial imagining of "the afterlife" be correct, rather than any of the countless other world religion's imaginings, then presumably St. Peter and Jesus and ol' Papa Yahweh himself. And I could only imagine that if you believe in the teachings of Jesus, and then flagrantly break a good number of said teachings in the name of promoting said teachings, the boss man is not going to be particularly thrilled about that hypocrisy carried out in his name.

My observations are that anyone of any faith (or none at all) could have achieved the same good he did - and should have, if it was within their ready power. I'm glad his faith inspired him to expose grand fraud and try to help the homeless, but at the same time it apparently also led him to commit his own kinds of lesser fraud, and to treat many people badly, so it's something of a mixed bag, isn't it?

Personally, I think if devoted Christians really want to make the world a better place, they should just dutifully follow the instructions of their ostensible lord and savior. Jesus would have disapproved heavily of a liar, braggart, bully, and hypocrite - even one who helped the poor and attacked the corrupt. He would have told him to humble his heart, to turn the other cheek, to look to the beam in his own eye before the mote in the eye of another, etc. His was a philosophy of leading by example, not by firebrand preaching - of being the change you want to see in the world, rather than hurling abuse at others to browbeat them into compliance.

It's not my place to judge the man, and so I don't - but I think his religiosity itself invites a certain kind of judgement. If you go out of your way to try to promote a set of standards for other people to live by, it seems only fair that you be judged for failing to live up to them yourself.