The New Yorker has published an engaging and sympathetic profile of Ole Anthony, leader of the Trinity Foundation, the Dallas-based scourge of TV evangelists. Anthony’s appearances on network television, and the changes he brought to The Door magazine, can leave the impression of a man obsessed with televangelists.
Burkhard Bilger’s 11-page profile, published in the Dec. 6 issue, is not available online. Two paragraphs best capture Trinity’s effects on The Door:
When Trinity inherited the magazine, nine years ago, it was a favorite among seminarians for its subversive wit and its interviews with theologians. The current editor, Robert Darden, is a Trinity supporter who teaches writing at Baylor. He has tried to preserve the magazine’s spirit, but Trinity’s investigations sometimes introduced a strident, acerbic tone. Mild satires like “Harry Potter in the Lake of Fire” now alternate with cover stories on Pat Robertson, “Lifetime Loser,” or on Charlton Heston as a “Christian Soldier of Fortune,” dressed as Moses with a machine gun.
The low point, even Trinity members now say, came when The Door set its sights on W.V. Grant, a local faith healer who presided over a five-thousand-seat church. In 1996, after a two-year investigation by the foundation, Grant was sentenced to sixteen months in prison and ordered to pay three hundred and fifty-three thousand dollars in back taxes, in addition to a fine. Afterward, to celebrate the conviction, Anthony insisted on publishing a Playboy-style centerfold of a picture that a Trinity investigator had found. It showed Grant standing at a window, buck naked and uncommonly hairy. If Darden hadn’t objected strenuously, Anthony would have added a caption in large print: “Even the hairs on his ass are numbered.”
Bilger’s profile tells of Anthony’s decades-long path to becoming a Christian and founding the Trinity Institute — being kicked out of a Lutheran catechism class, taking drugs as a teenager, setting a wooden cross on fire, serving in military intelligence, and witnessing a nuclear-weapons test in 1958:
Anthony’s body still bears traces of the explosion. His blood is so marked by radiation that a doctor once told him he should be dead. His flesh is pocked with more than four hundred lipomas — hard, fatty tumors, strung under his skin like knots in a clothesline. . . . His foundation, as it turns out, is named not after the Holy Trinity but after the first nuclear device, which was detonated in New Mexico, in 1945. “God vaporized my value system the way that bomb vaporized its target,” Anthony says.
The article is most valuable, though, in showing Anthony’s daily life of ascetic discipline, helping homeless people and drug addicts and living among the poor and gang members of East Dallas:
“I couldn’t be a believer outside this community,” he said, when I stopped by his office to say goodbye. “I know my own greed and my need to be right.” He leaned back in his chair and glanced around the room, at the peeling paint and the twittering bird and the books full of words about the Word. “I own nothing, I have nothing, and I make fifty-five dollars a week,” he said. “I’m sixty-six years old, and I have no privacy and no retirement plan. I am a blithering idiot by my own definition.” He shrugged. “The mystery is, this place satisfies every desire of my heart.”