Book Review Brent Thomas, Teaching Pastor Grace Community Church
This post can be found at http://www.colossiansthreesixteen.com/archives/1271
There is perhaps no story more difficult to tell than our own, especially when we’ve come through difficult times. Recognizing upfront that her story is subjective, Wendy Duncan has set out to tell of her time in the Trinity Foundation, a non-profit organization located in Dallas, TX, which she claims, is actually a cult. According to the Trinity Foundation website:
“Trinity Foundation began in November 1972 as a public, nonprofit organization serving the public interest through religious communications. The foundation produced its own concerts and radio and television programs for the first few years of its existence. However, we quickly became disillusioned with religious broadcasting, having determined that the only way to truly communicate the love of God was by deeds, not words. Accordingly, we have been providing food, shelter, and a sense of community to the poor and distressed since 1976.”
The Foundation owns a neighborhood in Dallas where most of the members live together, apparently trying to emulate the Acts 2:42-47 communal lifestyle of the early believers. Members share property and chores, leave their doors unlocked, share childcare and burdens. They welcome the poor and publish what they call the only religious satire magazine, The Wittenburg Door. The magazine’s stated purpose is to deflate “religious pomposity wherever it has been found.” The life of the community revolves around the festivals, an intriguing selection of highly allegorized Old Testament festivals. Though they do not seem to call themselves a church, they do revolve around a central leader and a very specific teaching.
Many will know the Trinity Foundation and its charismatic leader Ole Anthony (pronounced Ole-eee) from their “undercover investigations” of some leading televangelists. Their detective work (apparently digging through dumpsters, etc.) led to national attention being focused on Robert Tilton and others. This is all the more shocking amidst the claims that the Foundation itself is actually harming its members.
It should be noted that in preparing for this piece I contacted the Trinity Foundation via e-mail to ask two questions: 1) if they had a response to Duncan’s book and, 2) if they would be willing to answer specific doctrinal questions raised by Duncan. In response to the first question, I was told that they were refusing to respond publicly because they were holding out for Matthew 18:15-20 principles, but I was referred to what they referred to as “an independent third party who knows both Trinity Foundation and the Duncan’s well” (read that response here). In response to the second question, I was told that a Bible Study teacher would contact me which has yet to happen.
It’s not hard to see why such a warm and supportive community would be attractive, especially to the hurting and those who’ve felt rejected elsewhere. Wendy found herself in just such a situation when she came in contact with the unusual lifestyle presented to her by the Foundation. Duncan painstakingly, and most likely, painfully details how she came to be involved with the group and how things went sour.
In cases like this, one of the immediate questions a reader must ask is whether or not the term “cult” has been rightly defined and applied. Duncan, who holds an MA from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is careful not only to define the term to carefully demonstrate how and why it ought to apply to the Trinity Foundation. She has provided numerous quotes from varying sources and taken the time and effort to demonstrate how they specifically apply to this group and its leader. Though the group will undoubtedly deny such allegations, Duncan has done well in showing that there is indeed cause for concern.
The controversy centers on the group’s leader Ole Anthony. Anthony not only lacks formal biblical training but castigates those who have pursued such training. Anthony claims a higher knowledge and teaches members that their reason and mind is actually an enemy which cannot be trusted must be overcome. By instilling members with a gradual loss of self-identity, castigating those with other interpretations, implying that one cannot rightly think for themselves and that they have found a leader who does in fact understand the Bible, Anthony has created an environment ripe for destruction. Duncan describes things this way:
In many ways, Ole had discovered the perfect mind control doctrine. Ole continually exhorted his followers to “go to war with your minds” and in doing so, he corroded their self-trust. Ultimately, this had the effect of changing Ole’s disciples’ perception of reality, and they became increasingly dependent on their leader who claimed that he could see in the spirit.
Duncan notes that “Ole would often ridicule anyone with a religious background or anyone who had theological training.” She notes that he would say things like “I don’t care about your silly schools of thought derived by man. I’m about the real truth.” Later, she says that “Ole often said that at the point he became a believer, he had been given all knowledge and understanding and that he never learned anything that he did not know on that spectacular day.”
It’s interesting that for all the liberty that such knowledge ought to bring, Anthony’s group as described by Duncan actually lives in an odd antinomian legalism. Anthony promotes cursing and intoxication by alcohol, both prohibited by Scripture while constructing a rigid list of festival attendance and participation which becomes necessary for “believers.” Members were subjected to odd fire-walking ceremonies and what was known as the “hot seat,” where Anthony and other members would bring up all of your sins, past and present and air them publicly to make you feel their weight. The idea was that you couldn’t experience grace without understanding the weight of judgment. The effect was breaking people’s wills.
Duncan notes that Ole also teaches that “God abhors the human race,” often explicitly saying “God hates you” and taught that if one left his group, then of course, they were not a true believer. This, coupled with the unspoken rule never to speak critically of leaders (who claimed special insight) led to an uneasy devotion to the rulers of the group, even when they appeared to contradict Scripture. For example, Duncan notes that:
I was told that not praying was a good thing. Prayer was simply an attempt to manipulate God in an effort to get something from Him. Prayer was just talking to God about your problems or concerns or whatever, and thus taking thought for self. Prayer in Ole’s theology, was about the individual trying to get something from God – using God as a cosmic Santa Clause. Besides that, praying was presumptuous. Ole’s rationale was this: “Why would the God of the universe give a flip about you?”
I received no response from the group about clarifying some of the doctrinal assertions made by Duncan, but the teachings she cites certainly border on heresy. Regardless of whether or not the group’s beliefs qualify as heresy, their manner of treating people has certainly proved destructive. Duncan has cited personal experience as well as citing other past members. While there are certainly members who will not share Duncan’s perspective, the presence of such concerns certainly deserves a public forum, which the Foundation refuses to entertain. Personal conflicts are one thing. Contradicting Scripture is another.
Duncan writes in a clear, easy to read, informed and informative style. She cites many sources and tries whenever possible to include quotes from Ole himself along with various academic sources, both in reference to cults and Scripture. Duncan is to be commended for her courage to share such a painful story. While the Trinity Foundation’s silence on the personal charges is understandable, their silence on the doctrinal assertions is not and their silence on these issues is particularly troubling. Hopefully, Duncan’s efforts will spare others from the trauma she experienced.
Book Review by Debbie Kaufman
I have just finished reading the book I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life In A Dallas Cult written by Wendy J. Duncan, who has graciously asked me to review the book on my blog. This is Wendy’s seven-year account as a member of the Trinity Foundation of Dallas, headed by Ole Anthony, who gained wide media attention by exposing Robert Tilton. As one readsWendy’s story however, it seems that Ole is no different than Tilton. Ole’s group is what is classified as a cult.
Wendy comes from a Southern Baptist background, went to seminary at SWBTS, yet because of rejection from her church due to an earlier divorce, Wendy felt displaced. She, began looking for a way to serve God without being rejected for her past. Wendy gave some numbers that were surprising. For example three of the four elders in Ole’s foundation came from a Southern Baptist background. There were other former Southern Baptist church members who were members of Ole’s foundation. This is one reason, despite Wendy’s seeing in scripture that Ole’s teachings were wrong, she continued with the group. She felt comfortable there. Since former Southern Baptists were a part of this group, the doctrine couldn’t be that wrong. They also knew of her earlier divorce and a later second divorce from an abusive marriage, but were very accepting of her. This began a down hill decent into the cult world.
This book is well written, with enough information to keep one well informed without getting bogged down with too much detail. Each chapter tells a different aspect of the Trinity Foundation and the increasing hold Ole had among the members. One learns the subtle ways that a cult uses to lure people in. In fact I was amazed to see how many Southern Baptists got caught up in this movement alone.
I was impressed to read in the Prologue, that accuracy was important to the author. So much so that she made sure to check her story with others who were there to insure that her own prejudices, which could be distortions, were not written into the book. The result is a factual yet sensitive perspective of how cults twist scripture and theology to control their members. The book also gives detail into her leaving Ole and her road back to God, but not without lingering psychological effects. Wendy writes with great conviction and a desire to educate both layman and professionals on not only the danger of cults, but to give hope to those who have been in a cult. In her own words from an email to me Wendy writes:
“I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult was written for all the former members of this group and groups like it who have lost their way. I pray they will find hope and inspiration from my story, and learn that, even after being involved in an abusive religious cult, there is a way back to psychological health, freedom, happiness, and, ultimately, even a way back to God.”
I believe she accomplished this in a very well-written book.
With Easter fast approaching I am reminded of how special it is. Of course we remember Christ’s death and resurrection every time we participate in a communion service but many of us also see Easter as a time for our own spiritual ‘death and resurrection’ by either rededicating our lives to Christ as I did twenty-one years ago or by surrendering to Christ for the first time like my father did six years ago or by acting in obedience by being baptised as some will do at my church this coming Easter Sunday. Those of us who choose Easter as our time of submission, do so because we understand and believe what the Bible tells us about Christ’s death burial and resurrection. It is a wonderful hope of new life and freedom from the bondage of sin and death. We begin to see things in a new way and as we read the Bible day to day, we hear God’s voice helping us and guiding us and making us new. But what happens when some other voice becomes so loud that we can’t hear Gods voice anymore?
‘I Can’t Hear God Anymore – Life in a Dallas Cult’ is a book written by Wendy Duncan who experienced just that. Reading her story was almost like looking in a mirror. I had that feeling also when I read Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton and Churches That Abuse by Ron Enroth. Wendy’s story is so familiar, not in the details, but in the pattern that seems to fit almost every story of someone in an abusive and oppressive environment. A person is in a broken and vulnerable state feeling rejected by those who should have been there for support and affirmation but weren’t. Then that person looks for or is found by a group or charismatic leader who offers hope, direction and understanding and takes them in. Once in, the person feels accepted, loved and appreciated. Needs of emotional support and affirmation are met giving the person a feeling of acceptance and security. That security then turns into submission of will and thought to the group and/or leader. The group and/or leader then takes advantage of this submission to a level of abuse that is difficult to understand for the outsider. Why would anyone allow someone to abuse them so? Why not just leave?
This is the story told over and over by so many who have left abusive groups. So what has this got to do with Easter anyway?? Easter is a time of hope and new beginnings, new life!! Why on earth are we talking about abusive groups? Why? Because stories like Wendy’s are Easter stories. Christ was betrayed by someone closest to Him. He suffered abuse that none of us can understand unless we have gone through it ourselves. He was beaten, crucified and died but He rose again! Wendy was betrayed by someone she trusted. She suffered abuse that no one can understand unless they have gone through it themselves. Part of her died inside but by the grace of God she overcame it and rose again! Victorious over what she had endured, the power of God gave her the strength and courage to put her story in print and share it with others. I for one am grateful that she did because despite the fact that her story follows a familiar pattern, just like all personal stories, hers is unique. It is unique in that the group she was in and the man who leads it, do not match the typical profile of what we would consider a cult. In some ways it does as it has a single charismatic leader and is composed of a relatively small group of people living communally in a small neighborhood. What makes this group unique is that it is one that I personally could have joined easily even though I have been examining the marks of cults for twenty years!
“How’s that? Come again?” some of you are asking. This group didn’t really live in a small isolated commune but rather a small residential neighborhood and although they did live somewhat communally, sharing everything in common, some members did own title deeds to their own homes and did not hand them over to the leader, although The Trinity Foundation did own property with apartments that members lived in if they chose to. They also ran as a registered tax-exempt charity and did reach out to the homeless and downtrodden. The leader did not demand lots of money, or any money for that matter. Although he did live off the income of his members it was a humble lifestyle unlike the health and wealth televangelist preachers that he helped to expose as frauds, not only to the Christian community but to the secular world as well through nationally televised exposes. For someone like myself in discernment ministry, this looks pretty good! It also looked pretty good to Wendy Duncan who is a licensed social worker. Surely someone in that profession and someone like me in discernment ministry would be able to recognize a manipulative cult leader from a mile away. Well you would think so but it looks like we were both fooled. For me it wasn’t so bad since I was never personally involved and have never even visited Texas (once for an hour in the Dallas airport waiting for a stop over flight) but for Wendy it was devastating. I had seen the leader of this group on television a number of times as the secular press began to adopt this person as an expert on religious frauds. He appealed not only to the non-Christian viewers as he exposed ‘Christians’ for they always ‘knew’ about them anyway, as a bunch of frauds after your money but he also appealed to Christian viewers as well as someone who was helping to ‘clean house’ as it were, getting rid of the bad apples in the bunch that make us all look bad. He was appealing to a number of people who lived in the area also as they saw him as a charismatic although man of humble means who accepted them as they were without judgement. Wendy Duncan was one of them.
So who is this guy anyway and if he sounds so good and he is doing good works then what’s the problem with the guy anyway? His name is Ole Anthony and he heads a group known as the Trinity Foundation. We first heard of him when he appeared on Primetime Live With Diane Sawyer, November 21, 1991. Here he was shown with members of his group digging through the trash of Robert Tilton and other health and wealth televangelists. From that moment on good old Ole Anthony became a friend of the networks and someone people could admire for his Christian charity, humble lifestyle and seeming dedication to truth. I say seeming because according to Wendy and others who have left the Trinity Foundation, Ole Anthony had his own definition of what truth was. Wendy’s husband Doug recalls Ole Anthony telling him to “forget everything he learned in the Navigators,” because Ole had the real truth. Wendy also remembered Ole Anthony saying things like, “I don’t care about your silly schools of thought derived by man. I’m about real truth.”
So with that said, it is now evident what the problem is. This is the classic statement made by all leaders of abusive groups. Once they have gained your trust and submission, they then abuse that trust by reinterpreting, twisting, and taking out of context the Scriptures in order to manipulate you into following them instead of God. Wendy quotes Ole Anthony:
” The biggest lie of modern Christianity is the idea of spiritual growth. Any effort on our part to become more like Christ is utter sin – for it is self-effort and God abhors the self. Trying to be a good Christian (reading your Bible, praying more, etc.) by your own self-efforts is pure vanity.”
It almost sounds as if Ole Anthony took his lessons from a Watchtower magazine! The Watchtower discourages independent thinking and independent Bible study and self directed prayer. All cult groups calling themselves Christian will tell members that they cannot understand the Bible by themselves and any showing or demonstration of independence is sin.
I really appreciated Wendy’s inclusion of the definition and description of narcissistic leaders. Wendy quotes Len Oakes:
The primary characteristics of the narcissistic personality disorder are a pattern of grandiosity, an excessive need for admiration, a sense of entitlement, and a lack of empathy for others. Individuals with this personality disorder have an exaggerated sense of their own importance and a constant need for attention. … An emotionally needy mother may hinder the child’s movement from the symbiotic stage, resulting in an exaggerated sense of entitlement and pattern of grandiosity and that continues throughout the individual’s life.” (Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities [New York: Syracuse University Press, 1997] 2-36.)
This helps readers understand how and why these leaders do what they do to vulnerable unsuspecting people. Without excusing their behaviour and disregard for the Scriptures, we can at the very least have a clearer picture of how people like Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell and many others, includingOle Anthony become the people they are. With this picture in mind we can also have a better understanding of why the church needs to reach out to needy families who are struggling whether they be single parent families or low income families or families on the verge of divorce. All of these men had troubled families regardless of what the ‘official’ accounts tell us. Troubled families that have negative church experiences are breeding grounds for future abusive leaders. That is not to say that all troubled families will necessarily produce cult leaders. That’s absurd, but all abusive church and cult leaders share this characteristic in common.
Wendy understood this. She had been rejected by the church for employment opportunities because of past mistakes and failed marriages. Instead of a healthy recognition of her repentance and subsequent spiritual growth she felt she ‘tainted’ by her past which only served to further shame her making her vulnerable and and easy prey for any cult group posing as Christian. They would be willing to overlook her past and accept her for who she ‘is’ instead of judging her for who she ‘was’. Of course there is need for careful scrutiny of anyone being considered for employment in the church or Christian organizations and often a persons’ past is crucial to the decision making process. So we cannot blame the church for Wendy or anyone else joining a cult but more often than not, if you interview any member of any cult, they will tell you that they joined the group they did because it offered them something that the church should have but did not. Walter Martin used to say, “The cults are the unpaid bills of the church.”
Thankfully, there are churches and leaders who are gifted and equipped to to help those who have been taken advantage of and abused by those who would use hurting people to meet their own needs. Wendy and Doug found such help when they finally recognized the trap they were in when year after year, their ’spiritual covering’ aka ‘Ole Anthony’ refused to bless their desire to be married even after seven years of dating. That’s when Wendy cried out, “I Can’t hear God’s voice anymore! Your voice has gotten too loud!” With that statement as an inspiration and epiphany if you will, both Wendy and Doug finally saw what they did not want to see before and left the Trinity Foundation to seek help and begin a new life.
Wendy’s story is an Easter story. She has done what many and probably most Christians do not have the courage to do. That is, to expose abuse for what it is even though it appears to outsiders as a healthy and much needed ministry in the body of Christ. Wendy has looked to the risen Christ for her own salvation and spiritual resurrection from death unto life. Her story serves an example to people who have been abused by those in authority, that they don’t have to be afraid of speaking out against abuse. By abuse I mean ‘real’ abuse of Scripture twisting and manipulation and control of members, not just disagreement over management decisions or office procedures. Her story also serves as a light to those of us in discernment ministries to show us that we are not immune from practicing ourselves the very forms of abuse that we attempt to expose in others. We must now examine ourselves and our own motives for exposing error. Do we do it to protect the body of Christ like anti-biotics protect our own bodies, or do we do it to satisfy our own needs for attention, self-gratification and narcissistic tendencies?
This Easter remember Christ’s death and resurrection. Remember that no matter what your past is like or what your present circumstances may be, you can turn to Jesus as your healer, friend, saviour, and Lord. He died and rose again so that you might have life everlasting by trusting in His sacrifice for your sins so that you might be reconciled to God. There is hope and Wendy’s story is just one of many that we can learn from.
If you or someone you know is in need of this kind of story, in need of a helping hand, in need of a redeemer, then there is no time like the present, Easter time, to share the good news of Christ’s resurrection and hope for all mankind. Share this story with them. It is worth sharing.
Happy Easter and Blessings to you!
Book Review Mark Shea
It’s the old story of the charismatic leader who gathers a following because of his Unconventional Defiance of Authority. He’s got some good things to say. He’s not a monster. He’s often quite brilliant (and just as often quite half-educated and beholding to nobody). But he cannot brook dissent and when his theories start to make him act a little inhuman, there’s nobody in his circle who dares to tell him he’s wrong. Nemesis follows hubris and the Leader goes on to destroy himself and those around him.
Not a little of my gratitude to the Catholic Church is that it acts as a powerful check on this sort of phenomenon. It’s not utterly impossible, of course. Little sects do still arise here and there with rather too much devotion to the Founder’s personal tics. But an *awful* lot of anguish is saved lay Catholics by their reliance on the sensus fidelium (the little voice that says, “There’s something not right here”) combined with the Catechism (which says, “You’re right. This guy’s a quack.”) and even, mirabile dictu, canon law (which says, “You know, you don’t have to put up with this crap. You’ve got rights.”) As the Scandal has shown, the Catholic system is not proof from abuse. But all the same, it’s pretty hard for somebody like an Ole Anthony to get away with this sort of stuff in the Catholic communion. That’s no small reason why guys like him tend to found their own sects. One common complaint among some fundies is that the Pope is a dictator. But the reality is he’s bound by centuries of tradition and precedent and has, in fact, very little direct power over the the Church and virtually no direct influence in the lives of individual Catholics. In sects like this, people like Ole Anthony have direct, dictatorial, emotional and spiritual control over people in ways that are practically unimaginable to cradle Catholics and which are ultimately untethered from anything apart from the Founder’s (increasingly unstable because unquestionable) whims.
Duncan’s website is here. Her book, tragically, is called “I Can’t Hear God Anymore”. I hope the title does not become her identity and that she is able to move past her trauma into healing. It’s easy to get stuck in rage at this sort of abuse. As far as I know, the only way past it is to bite the bullet and obey Jesus’ command to forgive. I hope she finds her way to peace and one day soon visit her local Catholic parish to sit before the tabernacle and just be loved by our Lord.
Monday, February 05, 2007
I read a lot of books and review a percentage of them.Because I’m a reviewer, I receive far more books than I could ever review. Occasionally, a book comes my way that I want to review but can’t, for whatever reason (it’s self-published, my clients aren’t interested in the topic, every client’s slate is already full, and so forth). One such book is Wendy Duncan’s I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult, a fascinating look at Ole Anthony’s Trinity Foundation, a Dallas-based organization that does a lot of good and publishes the incredibly funny but often malicious The Wittenburg Door, “The World’s Pretty Much Only Religious Satire Magazine.”
But Duncan, and others who have a history with the foundation, maintain that Trinity is a bona fide cult, and in her book she describes her and her husband’s experience during the time they were involved with the group. She also describes what happened to other people they knew at Trinity. Her book, which released last year, is finally getting the attention it deserves; I just found out that Wendy and her husband will be involved in two significant upcoming conferences on cults, one in Birmingham, Alabama, and the other in Brussels, Belgium. There’s an article about Wendy and the two conferences here (http://www.dallasobserver.com/blogs/?p=2293#more-2293). It’s worth a read.
Posted by Marcia Ford at http://postmodernmisfit.blogspot.com
” This book provides a fascinating and compelling narrative of one woman’s journey through religious terrain that few (thankfully) have experienced. It is at times both insightful and frightening. The author writes with clarity and conviction. Her underlying message is one of warning: not all religion is benign.”
Ronald Enroth, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, Westmont College,
Author of Churches That Abuse, Recovery from Churches That Abuse
“I Can’t Hear God Anymore is an extremely well-written, sensitive and insightful accounting of the author’s experience in an abusive religious group. Her revealing chapter on the doctrinal underpinnings that were used to justify such spiritual and psychological abuse will be helpful to former members of other religious groups. Her courageous journey through understanding thought reform techniques and the recovery process serves as an encouragement to ex-members who are struggling to get their identity and life back. I highly recommend this book to recovering former cult members and their families.”
Carol Giambalvo, President of reFOCUS
(a support and referral network for former members of abusive groups, www.refocus.org )
Author of Exit Counseling: Family Interventions for Cult-Affected Loved Ones
Co-editor of Critical Perspectives on the International Churches of Christ
Director of ICSA’s Recovery Programs
International Cultic Studies Association, formerly American Family Foundation www.csj.org)
A Nightmare on Columbia Revealed, July 18, 2006
“I finished this book in one sitting. It carefully explains the writer’s path into, through, and out of a real evangelical cult hidden away in plain sight. OMG, this is about her earnest quest for a spiritual life and the abuse she was handed in the name of God! I cried as I listened to her amazing ordeal and cried again as she explained her painstaking path back to God. This is a “must read” for anyone who is now, or contemplating a religious life outside the organized church… ‘Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves’ (Matt. 7:15).”
Reviewer: Peter Lux Nostra
Very readable, a tragic story, and yet it is also a love story. July 16, 2006
“I read this book in two days. In many people’s quest to do what is right or find God, many may understandably look at someone who seems to have the “answer.” This book is a tragic account of when a person has too much influence over many individuals’ lives. If a person manipulates and does evil and says that it is in the name of God, is he evil? Hmmm? This book is a great read because it could happen to anyone who is interested in having a relationship with God and wants to do the right thing. It also gives an account of how the author recovers from an abusive relationship with her spiritual leader.”
Reviewer: Digital Butterfly, Dallas, Texas
‘Ms. Duncan’s first person account of her seven year experience as a member of The Trinity Foundation of Dallas, Texas, an outwardly reputable Christian organization set up to model Christian living at its best, ranks along side of Stephen Hassan’s Combatting Cult Mind Control and other first person cult narratives. For years I have searched for a book that could clarify from a Christian perspective both the scripture twisting and the theological distortions that quasi Christian cults inflict on their members. This book fits such a niche. When I Can’t Hear God Anymore arrived in the mail I picked it up curiously, intending to look it over. It proved to be a page turner, and I finished it the day it arrived. I couldn’t put it down.
Duncan has done her homework. She has done a difficult thing: made the process by which she was seduced into membership into a highly authoritarian group with bizarre personal reinterpretations of scripture seem both understandable and reasonable. She addresses her particular vulnerabilities which blinded her to warning signs that all was not well in this group. She spells out the promise that fired her imagination (after a couple of divorces, causing her to be treated as an outsider in her own Christian denomination ), she welcomed input from other and supposedly wiser people in choosing a next partner). She also balances the positives of group life (no more loneliness, a ready made social system, a sense of community) with the negatives. What is different about this book is the apparent ‘evangelical mainstreamness’ of the Trinity Foundation.
Duncan was no naive, idealistic teenager. She was adult, in her forties, with a Master’s degree from a seminary and a stable job. She knew about cults. She checked out the group she was considering in several ways before joining. But in spite of her precautions, she still fell in and stayed in seven years.
She writes in a clear, straightforward manner. She organizes her material logically, including the theological distortions of her group leader, Ole Anthony. Superficially, the language and doctrine of her leader would be recognizable to any evangelical, although idiosyncratic. But the idiosyncrasies can be rationalized by the intelligence and originality of its leader. But also as in most cults, there was a discrepancy between the doctrine and the behaviors of the group. She has organized her material into chapters about her process of gradually being drawn into the group, the leader, his theology including both orthodoxy and distortions, the ways the leader used scripture to systematically break down members’ egos, and her exiting the group and the multiple metastases within her system of the pernicious doctrinal distortions, some of which took years to erase. Her recovery, interestingly, was done with a minimum of professional help. She details how she did that. To someone unfamiliar with mainstream Christianity, the great detail that she uses to describe the theological distortions and scripture twisting that are part of the working credos of the Trinity Foundation may seem drawn out and overdone; but for me, it’s the kind of detail I have felt some of the testimonials of other pseudo Christian group former members have glossed over or left out.
I would recommend this book without reservation to anyone who is interested in understanding why the Christian church has always relied on scripture and the church through the ages for orthodoxy. Families, former high authority group members, pastors, students, could all benefit.”
Reviewed by Lois V. Svoboda, M.D., L.M.F.T., Editorial Board, Cultic Studies Review
“Wendy Duncan shares her pain and disillusionment in her story, which should awaken all of us to the reality of spiritual abuse. I highly recommend this book to pastors, counselors, family members, as well as those entrapped by the many cultic and abusive groups in our land.”
The Rev. Raymond C. Ball, TSSF, D. Min., CPC, Episcopal priest, teacher, and counselor
“The book includes insights from Margaret Thaler Singer, Ronald Enroth, Stephen Arterbaum,Len Oakes, Judith Lewis Herman, William Sargent, and other well known writers on cultic personalities, manipulation, scripture twisting, psychological and emotional abuse. Her research includes general information regarding cults or abusive groups, psychological profiles of cult leaders, recovery issues, brainwashing and mind control methods. Wendy’s research also included listening to dozens of Trinity Foundation taped Bible messages of Ole Anthony and other recorded sources and documents to introduce the basic teaching of the Trinity Foundation. Rites and practices of the group are introduced or confirmed through interviews with former members of the group. These sources have been included to illustrate the danger of theological distortions, prevalent in some quasi-Christian groups and to point out the inconsistency in following their own tenets.
In today’s atmosphere of political mistrust, questions regarding business ethics in an unstable economy, and sex scandals in the church, Wendy Duncan has written this book to alert the American public of another area of concern, that of spiritual abuse by church leaders. This is a timely and important contribution to resources available on the danger of cultic and abusive personalities and organizations.
Wendy’s research includes mind control methods that cause members to be so crushed and shamed that they lose their personal identity. She likens the aftermath of separation from the cultic leadership and community to that of the grief process. In her last chapter “Hope for the Hopeless”Wendy gives encouragement to the reader as she discusses an understanding of thought reform techniques and the recovery process.
The book is well articulated and documented. Duncan has a keen sense of observation and has demonstrated courage in confronting and exposing Trinity leadership in the face of criticism and humiliation. Duncan writes with understanding, conviction, and intellectual honesty.”