This blog is coming up on five years old in a few months, and I thought it’d be fun to walk down Memory Lane to revisit some of its older ideas, to catch newer folks up on things. Today I want to show you an update on the rest of the story – what happened to various people this blog’s looked in on over the years.
Faking the Tiger.
Tony Anthony became a superstar in Christian evangelism for a brief while thanks to his book Taming the Tiger, which gave him a super-dramatic past as a globe-trotting kung fu assassin who did bodyguard work for sheikhs and other such powerful men. He claimed to have converted while doing hard time in a Cypriot prison, from whence he embarked on a career of evangelism. He was even aiming to get a movie made from that biography. And Christians ate his lies up with a spoon—until he got unmasked by, of all people, Christians in his own evangelism business.
He tumbled from power very quickly after that, and had to start cobbling together a post-disgrace career–mostly ministering to non-English-speaking countries containing audiences who were unlikely to have heard all the sordid details about his murky past.
A 2015 update tells us that he re-released his book with slight edits, but apparently maintained much of his original material–and his original claims, with only a few of the more outrageous fabrications removed or toned down.
And Tony Anthony’s own 2016 update tells us that he hasn’t learned a goddamned thing since then. His biography page contains a long-winded declaration that though he presented Taming the Tiger as his honest-to-dog biography, it was really only meant metaphorically or somesuch. And he’s still totally blaming meaniepie critics for everything bad that’s happened to him since the truth was revealed about him.
He even claims that these critics are the ones totally blocking him from releasing a totally accurate telling of his real biography. Poor baby! Guess he’s never heard of self-publishing. Nothing stops him from writing it and selling it on any self-publishing platform directly to his fans. But nope, meaniepie Illuminati-style “critics” won’t have even that, I suppose.
So it seems unlikely that we’ll be seeing a lot of fresh offenses out of Tony Anthony any time soon. Whew!
Matt Pitt’s Doing Okay, Sorta.
Matt Pitt was a super-popular youth pastor in Alabama who had a serious hard-on for law enforcement, to the point that he even pretended–twice–to be a police officer. He ended up tumbling into disgrace, literally, when he fled from an interview and ended up falling down a ditch in his attempt to escape from real cops. His serious drug habit probably didn’t help improve his judgement much on that account.
While in prison before and during his trial, he pimped out his ministry’s underage girls to felons as potential wives. He ended up getting acquitted eventually in 2015, after quite a roller-coaster trial, because this is Alabama we’re talking about here after all.
I ran across a news story from last year about him getting a divorce from his pretty young Christian wife. She’d stood by him through thick and thin during his arrests and trial, but Jesus ultimately couldn’t help them overcome their “irreconcilable differences.” At least they didn’t have any kids. His Facebook page is only intermittently updated for public view, but he still is selling himself as the ultimate Douchebro for Jesus, and he still commands large crowds of overly-impressionable young people with his rock-star performances with the Basement.
Conjobs gotta con!
Jordan Root and TVC.
A couple of years ago, a shocking scandal erupted out of the Calvinist world: Jordan Root, a missionary with the megachurch The Village Church (TVC) in Dallas, had been caught in the mission field with his pants down, literally. His then-wife, Karen Hinkley, discovered that he’d very likely been doing more than just viewing kiddie porn, through his creative truth-trickling under her questioning.
Obviously they had to return home–and that’s where her real troubles began. When she began annulment proceedings against her husband, TVC–led by Matt Chandler, quite a superstar in Neo-Calvinist circles–came down hard–on her. Their rationale was that she’d violated her church covenant in a few different ways. Jordan Root escaped all censure, but Karen Hinkley–who’d reported his abuse and was now agitating to make sure that all the families of TVC knew that a predator was in their midst–was the problem here.
After an international scandal erupted, Chandler apologized to Ms. Hinkley, but she was already long gone from their midst–while Jordan Root remained with his leaders’ full blessing (he even acquired a lawyer who attended TVC as well). Ms. Hinkley accepted the apology, and that’s where the whole affair melted out of view. Some guys by that name turn up as Republican campaigners and meteorologists and the like, but their photos don’t look much at all like the one associated with the Jordan Root of the TVC scandal. So he’s keeping a super-low profile. As far as I know, TVC has never rejected Root or disavowed him, or even really addressed the threat that Root might pose to TVC children.
TVC’s been trying super-hard to rehabilitate their image since then, largely with suspiciously weirdly applicable sermon series like the one outlined at Wondering Eagle’s blog. That blogger posits that there was “an uprising amidst The Village Church,” with Matt Chandler pushing hard after the scandal for members to sign his stupid covenant to sign away their rights to him or else leave TVC entirely. It isn’t hard to guess why a really authoritarian guy would make such a demand at such a delicate time.
And hooboy they need to rehabilitate that image super-bad. The megachurch lost about a thousand regularly-attending members between 2015 and 2016. The 2015 report projects USD$21.9M in donations; the 2016 report doesn’t give any total donation figures at all. And that 2016 annual report gamely opens its first section (after its introduction, which opens by telling us that it was verrrrry harrrrd to “choos[e] what stories to tell and what news to highlight”) by informing its readers that “Statistics aren’t about numbers and performance,” which is a very sure sign that their statistics are tanking.
The difference between 2014 and 2015 is also laid out starkly in their financial report for those years. I’m not an accountant, but the whole report sure looks pretty damning. They also just ditched their multi-site model just this past September to allow their member churches to operate autonomously, and it’s hard to see that as a good sign, especially since other megachurch brands are doing the same thing. Very few churches are growing, at least without poaching Christians from other churches that are then cannibalized, so time will tell if Chandler’s decision is as supernaturally-mandated as he’s pretending it is.
Friends, we just don’t often get this level of schadenfreude.
The Open Letter Twit.
A number of updates happened in the world of Inexperienced Men Giving Absolutely Awful Marriage Advice. We’ll be covering them in detail soon–but for now, we’ll just be talking about one of them.
In 2014, as part of the Unequally Yoked Club series, I covered an open letter written by Zareh Zurabyan that he intended for his future wife (who he had not actually even met yet). It was horrifyingly misogynistic and weird and creepy, and clearly written by a man who’d never actually had a successful long-term relationship at all. But he has only drilled down on those ideas since; he even self-published a book containing similar open letters (sample 1-star review, nestled among what are very obviously paid-for 5-star reviews: “Other than his family and friends, I can’t imagine why anyone in their right mind would pay money for this”). There is something terribly narcissistic about open letters generally, but this particular set is especially bad even by that standard.
Zurabyan joined a long, long list of men I’ve covered over the years who haven’t got a single clue about relationships who are nonetheless pretending to be total experts in how to conduct one. He’s a little different in that he didn’t scream JESUS JESUS JESUS every five seconds in his screed, but it resonated and rocketed all through the Christian world, with Christian women in particular swooning over his shockingly sexist and creepy “promises.”
So our guy went on to write a post for The Good Men Project in 2015 (the next year) so he could whine about relationships he’d totally ruined because he was, at heart, a dishonest, manipulative, damned near sociopathic misogynist who was incapable of seeing women as people–which were all qualities I’d noticed the year before. He hand-waved those qualities away as him being “not perfect,” because dang, a little moral leveling1 is exactly how someone avoids having to engage with his worst qualities.
From what I could see of his Twitter feed, he still hasn’t found that perfect mystery woman he wrote about so eloquently in 2014. He kept busy for a while writing tedious pieces for places like Elite Daily to help people work out how to know if they’re compatible and how to know when it’s time to “settle down,” since obviously he is quite the expert on these topics. He’s been pretty quiet about relationship stuff though in the past year or so, though.
We appear to have been spared from further romantic wisdom from this guy.
You Can’t Keep a Good Conjob Down.
Overall, it seems like Christians who face scandals know that they need to lay low for a little while. They almost never actually change their minds about whatever their dysfunction was; they just find a new way to adapt that dysfunction to find new victims–as Jim Bakker did, transforming a basic Prosperity Gospel message that built him a megachurch and worldwide empire into a basic Apocalypse is Coming fearmongering message that fit the modern age just as perfectly and is now building him a new empire.
But the internet doesn’t forget, and that may well be one of Christianity’s biggest challenges to surmount–if it can. In the past, it was very easy for Christian leaders to just wash over scandals. Often the scandals didn’t actually break into popular culture or get known about on a nationwide or global scale; they were limited to a local area, if even that–because news coverage of scandals was limited thanks to the coercive power exerted by those leaders. Now a local scandal like we saw with TVC can go nationwide almost instantly and it can cause enough of an uproar that even a hardcore Calvinist bigwig can find himself abjectly sort-of-apologizing to someone he’s deeply wronged.
I like looking in on these past scandals; it reminds me that sometimes–not often, but sometimes–things work together for the good of them that don’t believe.
1Moral leveling is a technique of negation in which two competing ideas are reduced to the same level in order to dismiss criticisms of the idea that is doing the most harm. For example, someone might say that the American Republican and Democratic parties are doing the same amount of harm to American culture, or that the actions of Antifa negates criticism of modern white supremacists, or that feminism is just as bad as Christian Patriarchy, or that hey, who wouldn’t molest underage girls, amirite–as Christians themselves have asserted about both Roy Moore and Josh Duggar. In this case, Zurabyan is trying to imply that he is imperfect as all people–in particular all men–are, and so therefore the very tangible wrongs he’s committed against his relationship partners cannot be seen as particularly grievous. It’s true that all people are imperfect, but I’ve known lots of people who were imperfect who still managed not to do a tenth of what he’s copped to in just the pieces of his I’ve covered here. Ironically, it’s Christians who seem the most outraged by what they see as moral leveling in us evil heathens, even while committing it frequently themselves.
Come join us on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and our forum at rolltodisbelieve.com!
If you like what you see, I would love to have your support. My PayPal is firstname.lastname@example.org (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips, and I also welcome monthly patrons via Patreon with Roll to Disbelieve. Thanks! <3
Lord Snow Presides… is our weekly off-topic chat series. I’ve started us off with a topic, but feel free to chime in with whatever’s on your mind! Lord Snow is my sweet, elderly white cat–who presides over my household like a brooding ancestor-spirit.