How to get ahead in Evangelism; find yourself a killer story…
…in this case, a kung-fu-killer-assassin story.
For those who have not heard of this book (like me) it tells the ‘true’ story of the life of Evangelist Tony Anthony, who claims to have been taken to China by his grandfather, a Kung-Fu grand master, at the age of fourm where he was trained in the martial arts and became Kung Fu world champion three times. He then moved to Cyprus, becoming an elite bodyguard to businessmen, gangsters and diplomats before being jailed in Nicosia Central Prison for a series of thefts from hotels. It was in prison that Tony Anthony says he became a Christian.
His book has sold 1.5 million copies worldwide, and from the profits Tony set up Essex-based global evangelism charity Avanti Ministries. He traveled the world preaching, visiting prisons and telling his story.
Except it now looks like his story was not true. Check this out.
Finally the Evangelical Alliance and Avanti Ministries were forced to publish a statement;
In October 2012, the Evangelical Alliance received a detailed complaint about the validity of the testimony of an Avanti Ministries’ evangelist, Tony Anthony, and his book Taming the Tiger.
Following discussions between Evangelical Alliance and Avanti Ministries, Avanti agreed to set up an independent panel nominated by the Alliance to investigate in a confidential manner the allegations against Tony Anthony.
The independent inquiry panel was made up of three respected members of the UK council of the Evangelical Alliance: John Langlois (chair of panel), Keith Civval and Robert Amess.
The panel produced its report on 26 June 2013 and concluded, based on the evidence submitted to it, that large sections of the book Taming the Tiger, and associated materials, which claim to tell the true story of Tony Anthony’s life, do not do so.
Both the Evangelical Alliance and Avanti Ministries take serious note of the findings of the report and as a result Avanti has concluded that it is not appropriate to continue to support Taming the Tiger.
The board of Avanti Ministries are now considering the ramifications for Avanti Ministries’ future.
The Alliance and Avanti Ministries would like to thank the independent inquiry panel for their diligence in producing its report.
The Alliance and Avanti Ministries are deeply saddened by the findings of the panel. However, they recognise the good work that Avanti and Tony Anthony have done over the years around the world and the impact this will have on the charity, and specifically Tony and his family.
What is it that makes Evangelicalism vulnerable to con men and fantasists like Tony Anthony?
Or to put it slightly differently, what is it about Evangelicalism that makes all sorts of dodgy means justifiable because of the eternal end- that of saving souls?
I have been giving this some thought, as someone who has been in and around Evangelical churches for much of my adult life;
Firstly, Evangelicalism owes much of its methodology to salesmanship. There is this wonderful product (eternal life) and our job is to ensure market penetration, by any and all means possible.
Because the emphasis is on the sale, not the life long (earthly) warranty of the product, then the most important thing that our energies can be put to is the process of selling. All other things are secondary.
Some people are very good at selling- these people are given the respectful and elevated title ‘Evangelist’. But really they are just good salesmen. They have a slick method and a killer sales pitch. However, selling stuff is by its very nature a dark art. It involves manipulation, psychological game playing. It is divorced from real life, real community, real relationships. Most people who are good at this kind of stuff are not necessarily people who we really want to see in powerful leadership positions (even if that is exactly where they tend to be.)
Some salesmen might rightly be called by another title- sociopaths.
Finally, salesmen who are able to sell their evangelical product on the global media market- these people can not only feed the mansions of heaven, but they can also feed the Christian media machine.
Beware the salesman (or woman, although they tend to be men.) What they claim to be offering is often not what you end up buying.