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I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas cult



Life in Ole Anthony's Trinity Foundation

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I Can't Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult is the true story of the author's experience in a Bible-based cult in Dallas, Texas.

The cultic group, the Trinity Foundation, portrays itself as the watchdog of the televangelists and investigator of ministry fraud. Trinity Foundation and its charismatic leader, Ole Anthony, rose to fame in the early 1990's when it assisted Dianne Sawyer’s PrimeTime Live program in exposing Robert Tilton and two other Dallas televangelists as religious charlatans. Ole Anthony has been involved in investigations of numerous religious figures, working with programs such as NBC Dateline and 60 Minutes. Anthony’s group has been lauded in US News & World Report, The LA Times Magazine, and The New Yorker. He has been a near-ubiquitous commentator on all things religious for both local and national media outlets, but little has known about the inside workings of his own group.

Wendy’s book, I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult, is the first publication, which raises questions about Anthony and his operation. This book describes the abusive practices and strange beliefs that define the Trinity Foundation and examines the spiritual damage done by an authoritarian religious leader exercising too much influence in a follower's life.

I Can’t Hear God Anymore is an instructive example of how normal people can be vulnerable to the psychological manipulations and spiritual abuse of a skilled cult leader. It is also an inspiring story of hope, as the author details her struggle to regain her psychological and spiritual health after leaving the group, and explains how others caught in similar circumstances can do the same.The book describes the author's vulnerabilities to the spiritual and emotional manipulations that kept her bound to the group, and offers hope to those with similar stories by showing how they can find their way back to spiritual and psychological health.

This book is vital reading for all those who are trying to recover from such an experience, and for the family members and friends who want to understand what it is like for their loved ones who are struggling to heal from involvement in a cult.
- Source: Book description at the author's website

This excellent book is very helpful to anyone who has been part of an abusive, Bible-based group or church, and wondered how he or she not just got involved in it -- but stayed way longer than outside observers (or they themselves, using hindsight) would have expected.

It is has also proven to be an uncomfortable book for many researchers and cult experts, be they Christian or not, who have long admired the work done by Ole Anthony and his team.

I posted the following message to the AR-talk list (on Jan. 5, 2007), after some discussions regarding Duncan's book:

Please allow me to weigh in with a few observations regarding the Trinity Foundation ‘controversy.’

First, regardless of what procedure could have or should have been observed, reality is that there now is a book that details a number of problems the authors have encountered within Trinity Foundation. The book, which recounts the experiences of Doug and Wendy Duncan is a fist person account, but includes information provided by other ex-members of the group.

“I can’t hear God anymore,” comes with back cover recommendations by:

- Ron Enroth, author of Churches That Abuse and Recovering From Churches That Abuse,

- Carol Giambalvo, President of refocus (a support and referral network for former members of abusive groups), as well as the author of “Exit Counseling, Family Interventions for Cult-Affected Loved Ones,” and board member of the International Cultic Studies Association (formerly AFF).

- Lois Svobodo, member of the editorial board of Cultic Studies Review

- Raymond C. Ball, Episcopal priest, teacher, and counselor

Having been subjected to spiritual abuse in four different Christian organizations/churches myself, I can tell you I recognize much of what Wendy wrote in her book. Same goes for Janet, who has experienced spiritual abuse in two different churches (the last one we went through together).

In our ministry, much of our time and effort is spent on helping people deal free themselves from spiritual abuse and to deal with the aftermath.

We can tell you from experience – our and that of others - that spiritual abuse usually is quite subtle. Casual observers tend to not notice it. In fact, even fellow members often are not aware of what is going on. In most cases, spiritual abuse is not committed on purpose and the one guilty of spiritual abuse often is flabbergasted if and when confronted with his or her behavior.

At the same time, some leaders do know – to one extent or another – that they are lording it over people.

In spiritually abusive situations confrontations of any kind – including efforts to apply Matthew 18 – more often than not are rejected. Should you not toe the line, you are labeled ‘rebellious,’ ‘unspiritual,’ ‘undiscerning,’ ‘not committed,’ ‘unregenerated,’ or worse. In some cases, punishment is meted out. In most cases, other members of the group or organization are used – knowingly or not – to try to get you to see and do things the way he leader expects of you. The pressure from the group often becomes just as intense as the pressure from the abusive leader. Most cults and cultic groups and churches work this way.

Unfortunately, if and when a person finally is able to withdraw himself from the abusive situation, he discovers what it means when people say that Christians shoot their wounded. One has to confront anything from a lack of understanding – or even total disbelieve - by fellow Christians, most of whom tend to have too little information to make an informed decision.

The first abusive church I was involved in was called The Invisible Church. Its leader, who simply went by the name of ‘Nelson,’ had managed to get endorsements for his church from various high-profile Christians. Little did these folks know that church members were expected to put the church first and foremost in their lives. The abuse was akin to that which we are familiar to from the International Churches of Christ. When I even so much as mentioned that I wanted to talk about some issues, I was chided for being ‘rebellious. ‘When I had already left this church, one of the leaders confronted me backstage at an Andrae Crouch concert. He pointed a gun at me while telling me not to criticize the group. Just a year or so later The Invisible Church disappeared altogether, largely due to scandals surrounding Nelson. Several Christians who had visited the church in Amsterdam and London shunned me for speaking out against the abusive practices of its leaders.

The next group in which I experience spiritual abuse was Youth With A Mission. Floyd McClung, then one of its world leaders, acted as if he was God – and tried to justify his behavior with private Bible interpretations that were just plain dumb. Fortunately, many of the Christian leaders I consulted at the time said the were well aware of the abusive and/or otherwise controversial nature of YWAM. Many other Christians could not understand why I would not ‘submit’ to that wonderful guy who wrote, “The Father Heart of God.” I usually explained that they saw the man he wanted to be, while I and others had experienced a man who craved control. Yet as you know, YWAM comes with glowing recommendations from lots of Christian leaders who are not aware of the movement’s ongoing problems. Matthew 18 was not even remotely a possibility. Years later Floyd apologized, but refused to acknowledge his behavior. Turned out he simply did not want myself and the other person involved to talk about it.

Much later, just after I arrived back in Holland, I attended a church called Solid Rock. Its leaders – and the church – are long gone, but I continue to hear from people who say the spiritual abuse I experienced was typical of what had taken place with the same people in other countries as well. This church did not have a lot of support from other pastors, but those who did support it long refused to get even consider that anything could have been wrong. Applying Matthew 18 was impossible.

Finally, the church in which Janet and I met was a nice fellowship. Things changed when Janet and I announced our engagement. The pastors were miffed that we did not ask them for permission, and promptly dealt with us the same way they had dealt with others before us (as we later learned). Just a week earlier the pastor had suggested I think about taking over the church from him in about a year, as he planned to move on. But as Janet and I discovered, the blessings of the pastor and his wife were only available if and when you followed their agenda for your life. When we tried to apply Matthew 18, we were met with – I’m serious – a demonic outburst. Fellow church members did not believe us, but the pastor of a church that was split years earlier as a direct result of the behavior of our pastors did believe us.

All this to say, don’t be so quick to discount the stories of people who claim to have been spiritually abused. Too, if you think another process should have or could have been followed, that may well be true, but the situation on the ground frequently is quite different from the one observed from afar (or, for that matter, even from close-up). Just like visiting a vacation resort is different from living there, merely visiting a group or movement does not provide a realistic picture.

That said, it is not too late to try and apply portions of Matthew 18 from this point on.

"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. {16} But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' {17} If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV)

Surely there are people in Christian discernment and/or countercult ministries who are able and willing to pick up at verse 16 (if the Duncan’s are still up to dealing with Ole directly), or from verse 17 if things have gone too far.

Reality is that the book has been published. Those of us who deal with spiritual abuse know it is a very good book at that.
- Source: Anton Hein, Email message posted at AR-talk, Jan. 5, 2007

The back cover of I Can't Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas cult, includes -- among others -- the following endorsements:

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.
- Ron Enroth, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, Westmont College, Author of 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 courageous journey through understanding thought reform techniques and the recovery process serves an an encouragement to ex-membes who are struggling to get their identity and life back.
- Carol Giambalvo, President of ReFOCUS (a support group and referral network for former members of abusive groups, www.refocus.org). Author, Exit Counseling: Family Interventions for Cult-Affected Loved Onesoffsite

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This post was last updated: Feb. 15, 2010