Addendum to “Obey Your Leaders”
Much has transpired in the months since I first used the bankruptcy of Tom Anderson as an example of the reason for examining the outcome of a leader’s way of life. There have been phone calls, hostile emails, threatening letters from lawyers, and a television news report. Much has been said and written, prompting a considerable amount false information and speculation, and leaving questions and charges that need to be answered. The aftermath of writing openly about Tom’s bankruptcy demonstrates not only the need to examine and question leaders, but the ease with which those who do not question are blinded to plain facts. My greatest concern is for those who need to ask some questions before they are harmed any further, but they are convinced that questions about church leaders are strictly forbidden.
To recap briefly, in “Obey Your Leaders,” Part 11 of the series, “Questioning Church Authority” (Read original post here), I examined the passage in Hebrews 13:17 that is so often used to produce obedience in congregations: “Obey your leaders.” In particular, I highlighted verse 7, which tells us to examine the outcome of a leader’s way of life. As an example, I pointed to Tom Anderson.
I worked on the staff of Tom’s church for many years, so it is an example I can use from firsthand knowledge. I’ve written about other abusive preachers (see Part 13 of the same series, Creflo Dollar and the Cult Culture, for example), but in the case of Living Word, I can speak as a direct eyewitness. My familiarity with the people and with the details makes it a better illustration than anything else I’m aware of.
Tom has preached for years that if you tithe, God will protect you from loss, yet many in his congregation were bankrupted during the collapse of the housing market in 2007-2008. They were told they weren’t tithing right or they didn’t have enough faith. In 2011, however, Tom himself filed for bankruptcy, and went to a great deal of trouble to keep it as quiet and hidden as possible. Rather than admit that he might not have been tithing right or he didn’t have enough faith, he simply covered the story up. When it finally did start to leak out, he gave an explanation designed to make it look like he was bankrupt because of his generosity and his devotion to God.
Public awareness of the bankruptcy began early in 2012 when Henry, a friend of mine, emailed some of the pastors and elders of Living Word and asked if they were aware of the situation. He received email responses from several almost immediately. The least hostile merely requested that they be removed from his email list. More than one criticized him for daring to expose the “man of God” and declaring that it was none of his business. Not one of them had any interest in the facts. They had been trained to never question the pastor.
Tom called Henry within 24 hours and scheduled a meeting, at which he made the statement, “Thank God it hasn’t gone public.” He also gave as his reason for filing that he did it “for the boys,” meaning his two sons, though just how it benefited them was not clarified. From numerous comments made while I was on the staff, I can only surmise that he has always considered the church to be a part of the family inheritance and keeping it alive was the same as protecting his children’s future. Scot and Jason both function as the primary administrators of the church. Scot manages the day-to-day operations and Jason is the chief financial officer. It’s also possible that Tom gave his money away to Scot in a failed attempt to prevent a foreclosure on Scot’s house, though Tom later claimed he gave it away to the church.
I wrote about the incident a couple of months later. About three weeks after the post, the Anderson family became aware of its content. Jeff Zubeck, another pastor at Living Word, who was on my regular email list at the time, brought it to Jason’s attention. Jason sent me an email to express his displeasure. Dated June 22, 2012, the note was reasonably diplomatic, insisting his dad was “an amazing man of the Lord” who “fears God” and “has always exuded incredible character and integrity,” as well as “strength and contentment in abundance and abasement.” Jason then offered possible reasons why his dad was in this financial difficulty:
“The 3rd Hebrew letter “gimmel” is a picture of the rich man running to give all of his possessions away. Maybe in some cases the wealthy blessed man of God did not lose his wealth, maybe he gave it all away. Maybe godliness with contentment was active. Maybe being blessed to be a blessing was exercised. Maybe a rich man can be like the widow, who gave more because she gave all that she had. Maybe real wealth is found in the relationships we have, and the things that last. Maybe eternal rewards have the real value we had been looking for.”
That’s a lot of unsubstantiated maybes. He then concluded with the admonishment, “This was a very horrible thing for you to do, and very untrue.”
The morning following Jason’s first email, Tom called me directly. I missed the call but connected with him two days later. We discussed other egregious and unethical behaviors, the content of which I will address at a future time, but regarding the bankruptcy, he had much to say. His explanation contained two comments that should be noted. First, his reason had changed from doing it “for the boys” to something more in line with what Jason insinuated in his email:
From the 6/25/2012 phone conversation:
“Realize that, that the scripture teaches that seek the prosperity for the sake of the house of the Lord. Have you ever thought about the sake? In other words, there’s times even the church goes through struggles and people are to prosper so that they can take care of the Garden of Eden, or if you will, the church, and, and, have to come up with the money. And that’s just exactly what I did. I poured, poured a million dollars into it until I ran out of money, to keep it in operation during what I would call worse than the 1929 economy crash.”
I’m not sure what criteria he uses to judge the current economy worse than the 1929 crash. Unemployment that year was 3.2% and then jumped to 8.9% by 1930, nearly doubled the next year and got as high as 25% in 1933. It was four years after that before it finally dipped back under 15%. Today, even if you count the people who the government pretends are not part of the unemployment figures because they have quit looking for work, it still is under 15%. But the economy has been pretty bad, and I’m willing to consider Tom’s assertion as a hyperbolic expression of that fact. Regardless, the key statement was that he gave a million dollars of his own money to keep the church functioning. Remember that number. It will be significant in a moment. Later in the same conversation, he also tried to explain that he did not keep it a secret:
“For anyone that has said—I went to the congregation last August, when I filed for Chapter 7, and I told them, without using the actual words, that I had given it all up, gave everything into the church, the last of my money, and gave up my home, and everything that I had, all the way down to $300, so those people that understand bankruptcy, they know that you have to go to $300 in order to actually, that’s all the net worth that you can have when you file, and so I took myself to that point and filed, and I told the congregation that, and I announced it, so, you know, it wasn’t like it was a secret, but it became, for those that knew what it was, they understood, and those that didn’t know about it, well, they didn’t need to know about it.”
It should be noted that apparently Tom didn’t understand bankruptcy law all that well himself. The actual rule is that $150 per person is exempt from bankruptcy settlements. That means that Tom and Maureen Anderson together could only keep a total of $300 in their bank accounts. Those who understood bankruptcy probably just shook their heads and wondered how he confused that with net worth.
The same day as our conversation, I received an email from Jeff Zubeck, who felt obligated to express his disapproval of my writing. As with those who responded to Henry’s email earlier in the year, two things characterized this message, horror at mentioning a leader’s name in public and an unwillingness to look at the facts. Jeff began with a declaration that everyone is “entitled to their viewpoints and opinions as well as the right to express them.”
He then proceeded to tell me how wrong it was for me to express what he had just said was my right. He wrote:
“However, I take offense at some of the recent pieces that directly name the Andersons. I fully realize that anyone who has known you for any length of time also knows you have been referring to them in the past, but I think coming out and putting the names in print steps over the line.”
Later in the message, Jeff tried to avoid any possibility of having to actually discuss the subject or learn the facts.
“I don’t know the details of your specific personal grievances with the Andersons, and quite frankly they are none of my business and I don’t care to know (and ask that you not share them with me).”
Of course, to answer his charges requires delving into exactly those things that he doesn’t want to know. Clearly he wanted to throw darts at me without having to risk any accountability for his own comments. To jump into a discussion with pointed criticism and then refuse to listen to a reply is the epitome of arrogance and presumption.
Jeff very much wanted to keep his opinions out of public view. He finished his message with:
“And if you so desire to rant about this Anderson ‘cool-aid drinker’ who pounced on you, I ask you to please leave MY name out (real or implied).”
Obviously I have ignored that last statement. One universal trait of abusive systems, whether they are churches or families, is that they don’t like their actions or their attempts at intimidation or manipulation to be public. Silence is the highest priority. One important decision I’ve made in the past couple of years is that silence is no longer an option. So, Jeff, sorry, but if you choose to be part of the system, you have no longer any claim to silence or obscurity. I will not have this discussion in private. If your position is tenable, then public scrutiny shouldn’t be a problem. The price I paid for speaking up is public scrutiny. You are not exempt any more than I am.
Over the subsequent few weeks, I exchanged further emails with Jason. He returned to some of the same themes, insisting that his dad had given away his money for the sake of the church, and denying that he had taught that no one would ever go through difficulties just because he tithed. He even denied that they ever have taught that tithing is a requirement from God.
The end result of these exchanges was a complete break with the Andersons and with Living Word Bible Church. There were other factors involved besides disagreement over the Prosperity Message, matters that I consider far more important than the bankruptcy, but I’ll save those for another occasion. One battle at a time.
A few weeks passed with nothing further relating to the subject. But one day I received a call from Tammy Leitner, investigative reporter with KPHO TV, Channel 5 in Phoenix. She wanted to interview me for a story about the Anderson bankruptcy. Not long after, she and a cameraman flew to Los Angeles and set up in my living room. She also interviewed Tom sometime after she spoke with me.
The story aired on Friday, November 2, 2012. The video of the story was posted on the KPHO website for several months following the story. At the time I am writing this, a written summary of the story was still posted there, though the video has since been removed. (KPHO website).
Even more telling than the story itself was the “After the Interview” footage, a six-minute clip that was posted on the station’s website for about a week following the broadcast. The content was a conversation that took place when Tom apparently thought the cameras were turned off. The video is no longer posted, but it was downloaded to numerous private collections and I have both the video and a transcript of what was said in my possession, from which I will quote in the following text.
In addition, the website garnered 161 comments, nearly all of which are now deleted, but which are all appended to my copy of the transcript.
Several things of note came from that story. It became clear that during the intervening weeks since Henry first emailed pastors and elders, the public relations spin had been refined. Tom’s explanation for why he filed for bankruptcy became all about the depletion of offerings and support for the church. In his words:
“Because tithes and offerings dropped from ten million to four million over the past few years. Well, the overhead didn’t. So a tremendous amount of my money had to go into the church, to make sure staff was paid, mortgage was paid.”
Consistent with his earlier statements to me, in his mind, none of it was kept secret. In a letter to Tom dated July 6, 2012, I made the observation, “I find it impossible to interpret presenting it to the congregation but not using the ‘actual words,’ as anything other than willful deception.” In spite of that challenge, Tom persisted in the same line of reasoning with Leitner. She asked, “Do the members of your congregation know that you filed for bankruptcy?”
“Yes. Immediately upon doing it, I made the announcement.”
Leitner responded, “But you never came right out and said, ‘I filed for bankruptcy.’”
Tom’s response hardly sounded like transparency. “That would be foolish,” he remonstrated.
“Why?” Leitner asked.
“For the people that need to know knew. People that don’t need to know didn’t know.”
The subject came up again in the After the Interview footage. Leitner asked again if he didn’t think people had a right to know, to which Tom quickly responded, “They all know.”
“You just told me that only the people that need to know know,” Leitner responded.
“Just, I announced it with the three hundred dollars cause they could know, and then it slowly filters through the church,” Tom said. “To announce it from the pulpit would be so foolish. That would be like saying, ‘I have cancer and I’m probably going to die.’ Why would I say that to the congregation if I believe in healing? That wouldn’t make any sense, would it?”
Leitner just shook her head, apparently having difficulty believing she had actually heard what she just heard. The expression on her face must be seen to be appreciated.
Finally, Tom repeated the thought that things happen and that he has never taught that tithing doesn’t mean that you will never suffer loss. During the interview, he made the statement, in answer to Leitner’s question about whether or not people had been financially hurt by following his philosophy, “Absolutely. Because stuff happens in this world. How many people that maybe tithed lost their houses? Good possibility?”
He tried, in the After the Interview video, to deflect the question, launching into a dissertation on health as part of prosperity. When pressed to stick to the subject at hand, he turned to lack of personal integrity as the real culprit for other people, apparently forgetting for the moment that he has lost money, too.
“And lots of those have lost it all, so because, some of them because wealth can take you down wrong roads… You have to have the right heart to be able to retain it. Not everybody will listen to the right heart. They just listen to the money.”
Which leaves in question where his heart is on the matter. He seems to believe that giving all of his money to the church puts him in a different category. But that assumes that he actually gave all his money to the church. We’ll examine that in a moment.
Is Tom just listening to the money, as he accused others of doing? A clue to the answer to that question may have surfaced near the end of the After the Interview footage. As part of a last ditch attempt to keep the story from being broadcast, it appears he spoke his heart: “I’d like to see you advertise how nice the building is, and what God’s done here.”
The building is the greatest evidence in his mind of what God has done, without any apparent concern for the dozens of bankrupt people who followed his advice (or the other dozens who were afflicted by abusive behaviors on his part and who left not only Living Word, but church in general). The conversation demonstrated the underlying motive that the building is more important than the people. I saw that twisted priority when I was on the church staff, but never really believed he would articulate it so brazenly.
Leitner asked him, “I haven’t asked you about anything that’s not true. Is that correct?”
The answer left most viewers shocked:
“So the truth is an interesting word. Sometimes truth not said is better than truth said.”
Remember what I said earlier about abusive systems giving a high priority to silence.
Again, Leitner was left speechless, unable to believe he had actually said something so self-incriminating. All she could do was half laugh and say, “Oh.”
And finally came a veiled threat.
“Obviously if it affects the, the income of the church, then you’ve got other problems to face, so you decide what you do with that.”
Taken by surprise, Leitner responded, “I’m sorry. Are you threatening me?”
In fairness to Tom, it was probably not a direct threat of personal action on his part, merely an expression of his conviction that anyone who attacks him is also attacking the church, and therefore placing herself (or himself, in other cases) in opposition to God. He has believed, and often said, that those who attacked him have always had problems afterward. The fact that this assertion is demonstrably false in nearly every case doesn’t prevent him from saying it frequently.
Tom threw his hands in the air and said, “No,” and turned away, effectively ending the conversation. Nevertheless, it was enlightening for any who thought they knew Tom Anderson and who were willing to listen with open ears rather than shut the information out because of the notion they should not listen to accusations against their pastor.
Having outlined the events of the past months, some additional information must be presented to put the various declarations into perspective. I believe six aspects of this story are cause for concern.
1. First is the claim by Tom that he did not try to keep the bankruptcy secret. Not much needs to be said beyond his own words. To present something to a congregation, but not use the “actual words” says that he told everyone in code, and only those who had the secret decoder ring would understand it. That hardly speaks of openness or honesty. His words to Henry in their private meeting are closer to the truth. “Thank God it hasn’t gone public.”
2. Second is the matter of why Tom went bankrupt. He said repeatedly that he gave all of his possessions to the church, a claim repeated by his devoted followers in admiration of his generosity and self-sacrifice. Jason intimated as much in his email to me. Tom made the statement to Tammy Leitner, and told me directly that he had given a million dollars to the church to keep it afloat.
However, when looking at the available documentation, the numbers don’t add up. Part of the bankruptcy records is a form called the “Statement of Financial Affairs.” It includes numerous sections, such as income and debts. Section 7 is titled “Gifts.” Those filing for bankruptcy are required to report any gifts given to anyone for one full year preceding the beginning of the bankruptcy process. The only exemptions from reporting are “ordinary and usual gifts to family members aggregating less than $200 in value per individual family member and charitable contributions aggregating less than $100 per recipient.”
Tom has exactly three items in that section. One is a Mercedes valued at $17,000. Another is a Lexus valued at $27,000. The goal appears to have been to shield the cars from bankruptcy settlement in a way that allowed Tom and Maureen to continue driving them. If I understand the documents accurately, both were sold in a public auction on September 5, 2012, so presumably the court didn’t accept the donations as appropriate.
The third item in the Statement of Financial Affairs is listed simply as “Tithing,” and is declared as $2,000 monthly. That amount is a basic 10% of Tom’s declared income. It is also nowhere near the million dollars he claims to have given. Where is the record of the massive amount of giving that kept the church alive? Perhaps there is some documentation I’m not aware of, but if it surfaces, then the question becomes, why wasn’t it reported to the Bankruptcy Court? Either way you look at it, the truth was actively hidden somewhere.
The whole matter looks remarkably like Ananias and Sapphira, a man trying to give himself the appearance of great generosity by misrepresenting his actions and his motives.
3. A related matter is the statement in the KPHO interview that offerings at his church have dropped from $10 million to $4 million. That sounds like a drastic reduction that would certainly produce a crisis. The problem is that I used to sit in board meetings at Living Word. During the several years that I kept minutes for those meetings, the weekly operating expenses for the church fluctuated between $60,000 and $65,000, with an average, as I recall it, in the neighborhood of $62,000.
Multiply that by 52 weeks in a year, and you have a basic annual budget of about $3.25 million. It appears to me that the numbers $10 million and $4 million are completely fabricated. If the church still receives $4 million per year, it should not have any problem operating at full capacity. That is far more than we needed then, and the church has lost substantially in attendance since then. They also don’t do as much television. With that much money still coming in, why were all full time employees reduced to 32 hours per week? I have to believe that Tom intentionally misrepresented the numbers. This, too, is reminiscent of Ananias and Sapphira.
4. Another concern is the sequence of events. Tom claims that he gave away his wealth to the church, though I’ve found no record of that anywhere that there should be a record. There is, however, a record of the events leading up to the bankruptcy, and that record involves creditors seeking money, not a church receiving donations.
The first notice is a complaint filed by the National Bank on June 21, 2011, to collect a debt (Case CV2011-010551 in the Maricopa County Court Records). Four weeks later, on July 18, BMO Harris Bank filed a similar complaint to collect a different debt (Case CV2011-011836). The donation of both cars to the church came just one week after that, July 25. Very conveniently the Maricopa County Court Records show a Notice of Filing Bankruptcy for both cases on December 6, 2012, followed by a Judgment of Dismissal on June 6, 2012 for National Bank and on June 27, 2012 for BMO Harris Bank. The Chapter 7 order is dated January 31, 2012. The bankruptcy stopped attempts at collection.
Given the lack of documentation for the large contributions Tom has claimed, plus the fact that everything around the bankruptcy indicates an attempt to avoid the two lawsuits for collection of a debt and the clear attempt to remove two cars from the bankruptcy settlement, I find it very hard to believe Tom’s story. I suggest that he did not make the contributions he claims, and even if he did, not only does the evidence suggest that the church’s difficulties had no bearing on the timing of the bankruptcy, but he failed to report any of it to the court. Integrity is missing regardless of which way it happened.
5. My fifth concern is with the nature of what Tom taught his congregation regarding finances. I am acquainted with several close friends who remained invested in properties that common sense should have told them were unsound. In every case, the reason was because, “Pastor Tom teaches that if we tithe, God is obligated to protect our stuff.” That belief, repeated so often from the pulpit at Living Word Bible Church, led to financial ruin for many.
Today Tom claims he never taught that. According to him, those people should have been more financially literate or had more faith or listened more closely to God. Of course, none of that applies to Tom himself, or at least he doesn’t seem to think so. He claims that he had circumstances forced on him by the drop in church income. As we have just seen, however, there is no evidence I can find that he really did go broke because of his support of the church. Rather, all the evidence indicates that the church income dropped drastically, and as a result, his own salary dried up. After many years of boasting from the pulpit that he is one of the top two or three givers in the church and that he doesn’t need his church income to pay his bills because God has blessed his investments, that seems to encompass a lot of contradiction.
I asked Jason about this in our email exchange. I wrote, “But that still leaves the conclusion that the emphasis on tithing so God will protect your stuff is invalid. If he gave everything, why is he bankrupt? That’s still the basic question.” Jason gave a lengthy and contradictory response.
“Dr. Tom believes strongly in the principal of tithing, he believes it is scriptural, and he believes that God wants his people to prosper. He is willing to shout his beliefs from the highest mountain, and the shouting has brought mountains of criticisms from everywhere. He teaches what he believes. He lives what he believes. He weathers the critics because he believes in the message.”
He then points out that God doesn’t always heal people, even when they have a healing ministry, and gives several examples. In my conversation with Tom in June, 2012, he approached the subject the same way, pointing out that Abraham was rich but suffered through famine. People sometimes lose their homes and their jobs. “That’s just part of being in the world,” he said.
I responded to him that I never heard that side of it preached during the fifteen years I was at Living Word. He insisted “Oh, I preach it. I actually preach it on a regular basis. In fact, you listen to this past Sunday, I, I touched on a lot of that very same subject because of that, exactly what has happened, and I just shared it.”
In the KPHO interview, Tammy Leitner broached the subject of people who have been financially hurt by Tom’s teaching.
“Absolutely,” he responded. “Because stuff happens in this world. How many people that maybe tithed lost their houses? Good possibility?”
“But doesn’t that directly contradict your teachings?” Leitner asked.
“No. Doesn’t contradict anything.”
During the After the Interview footage, the subject came up again. Tom tried to deflect to the subject of health. “Yeah, but I preach health. Well, so that means I can’t be sick?”
“Do you think that people would continue following your financial advice if they knew about your bankruptcy,” Leitner asked, “and your financial problems?”
“The principles never change. I don’t see why it would make any difference.”
Leitner was clearly perplexed by the contradiction in his statement. “But you’re telling them that if they tithe, their financial wealth will be protected. This goes in direct opposition of what you’re preaching.”
“They’re still alive and healthy.”
Anyone really listening can easily recognize that the question was never answered.
Fortunately, we have a written record of Tom’s teaching, his first book, Becoming a Millionaire God’s Way. The contents of that book came directly from a series of sermons given the first time he preached at length on the subject of biblical wealth. I was there for the sermons and listened to the recordings numerous times, transcribing them in order to use the material for the book. The text from that book gives a pretty clear picture of what people heard him say before they lost their investments.
In a lengthy passage on pages 37-38 (of the original edition), Tom defines terms like “tithe” and “offering.” He describes the tithe thus:
“The same principle holds true for our giving. Our tithe is that which belongs to God in the first place. It is not seed. When we give it, we protect all of the rest of our possessions. On the basis of the tithe, God rebukes the enemy for us so that he cannot touch anything that belongs to us (Malachi 3:10). The tithe is an insurance policy.”
In numerous places, he admonishes readers to become financially literate and to learn the markets. For the people who later commented that he never gave specific financial advice, apparently they never read the book. In numerous places, he discusses what types of neighborhoods one should look for when buying a house, how long to live in the house to maximize profits, what kinds of stocks to invest in and a variety of other advice.
There is a problem, however, with this sound advice to learn how money works. It is negated in other parts of the book with discussions of how God will protect your stuff and supernaturally bring blessing to you no matter how dumb you are in your investment strategies or what is happening in the economy or the markets—that is, of course, as long as you tithe and give offerings. On pages 74-75, he discusses the place of the miraculous:
“God is a miracle-working God. He sometimes has to bail us out of circumstances that we have gotten ourselves into. It is better to learn the principles from the Word of God and live by them than to need a financial miracle, but He is there for those days that we are too thick-headed or slow in grasping the truth. We occasionally have to operate in grace. That is good to know because it means that God will miraculously prevent your failures from dooming you to poverty for the rest of your life.”
That statement seems on the surface to imply what Tom now claims he has taught all along, that even if you make a mistake and lose money, God will restore it. However, in the next paragraph, he gives a personal example of what he means by God not letting your failures doom you to poverty.
“Many years ago Maureen and I sat down to write checks. We wrote one to Harry Greenwood, put it in an envelope and put a stamp on it. The money was not in the bank yet so we intended to wait and mail it when we knew that it was good. I do not believe you should try to send money you don’t have and then hope that it will somehow appear in your account before the check clears. That is presumption, not faith. We made a faith commitment but we hadn’t mailed the check yet. Our hearts were right.
“Then an incident occurred. Somehow the check was accidentally mailed anyway. Well, God had to do something miraculous. I had gold credit. I didn’t want a check to bounce and damage my reputation. I’m a tither. I had been a tither. I had consistently been giving tithes and offerings. God had to do something.
“The same day that the check was mailed, we received a check from the state of Wisconsin. It was a tax refund from seven years earlier. We didn’t even know we had a refund coming. God stepped in and used His miraculous provision to cover our mistake. God does do miracles, and that is part of living in faith, but we still need to learn the principles so that we don’t need the miracles.”
He follows that story with two more examples of how God miraculously overrides circumstances in financial matters:
“Maureen and I have done this for years. She might see a dress she loves. We claim that dress. It is hers. We have tithed and sown seed, so God is obligated to prosper whatever we touch. We claim the dress so no one else can buy it. Then we leave. A week later we come back and the dress has been marked down. We thank God for the dress and come back a week after that. It is down a little more. We keep coming back until it’s down about seventy percent. Then we buy that $400 dress for $129.
“This happened to me at a store in a local mall. I saw a buckskin jacket that I wanted. It was glove leather doeskin, the color of actual leather, not dyed, but the natural light color. I tried it on, zipped it up. I loved that coat. I didn’t need the coat but I really loved it. The problem was that it was $429. I wasn’t going to pay that much for a coat I don’t need. But I really liked the coat. So I claimed it. I knew exactly which coat it was because the zipper jammed a little so I could always identify it.
“For eleven months I kept coming back and visiting my coat. I sowed seed in the Kingdom of God so it was my coat. The price gradually dropped. It went to $350. Then it was down to $250. Then it dropped below $200. I was tempted but I waited a while longer. Every other coat around it sold but that one stayed there. It was my coat. Eleven months after I claimed it, the price dropped to $129 and I bought it.”
Later in the book, on pages 217-218, Tom recaps the importance of faith.
“When faith connects to my investments, however, I begin to realize that God gave me dominion. It doesn’t matter what anybody else’s stocks are doing. God said that because I am a tither and because I bring offerings, God is obligated to prosper what my hands touch. That means that I can trust Him to lead me to the right stocks in the first place and I can require of Him that the stocks I buy will prosper. By faith I can take dominion and authority over the economy and it must be reconciled to God.
“By faith I can buy property and it has to sell at a higher price than what I bought it for. I have planted seed in the Kingdom of God and the multiplication must come to my investments.
“It doesn’t matter what the Federal Reserve Chairman does. It doesn’t matter what the economy is doing. It doesn’t matter what the DOW is doing. When my faith connects to my investments then I can expect them to multiply. I can say to those mountains, ‘Be cast into the sea,’ and they will have to go. If you believe it and you have received it, then faith will bring it about.”
It’s hard to imagine how the statement that God will protect your stuff could be any more succinct or clear. “I can take dominion and authority over the economy and it must be reconciled to God” doesn’t sound like a statement that demands one to be “financially literate” or to make consistently wise choices. “It doesn’t matter what the Federal Reserve Chairman does” is a great deal different in tone and import than, “Stuff happens in this world.”
And since the faith part of the message, when Tom preaches it, is repeated far more often than the other, and with much greater enthusiasm and passion, which part would we expect people to remember when deciding how to invest? With a constant stream of that kind of preaching, is it any wonder that people believed God was obligated to protect their investments, no matter what the economy was doing? Many believed it and many lost everything.
6. Finally, the greatest concern is with those who continue to defend Tom. They clearly have no interest in the actual facts. The KPHO website had 161 comments prompted by the news story. A quick look at a few of them demonstrates what I mean.
Several people vouched for Tom’s integrity. Alfred, for example, said, “Dr. Tom is an honest man who stands for integrity, something I know about.” Others said much the same thing. I’m not sure how they define integrity, but it seems that someone who would purposely misrepresent information in the manner described above does not fit the definition very well. Integrity incorporates the quality of being honest.
Several people tried to blame Tammy Leitner for a lack of integrity because of the conversation that occurred after Tom thought the cameras were off. For example, “Blessedazwedding” wrote, “And to air the camera off section, out right dirty.” “Johnny” chimed in with, “Nice trick running cameras when that poor man thought it was off.” Jason Anderson expressed his disgust over the conversation: “We invited the ‘reporter’ and cameras into the church thinking that the station was going to show a story on the prosperity of the congregation and features of the building. We should have looked into the background of the interviewer prior to this.”
I recall dozens of times during his sermons when Tom defined integrity. He loved to express it as, “Integrity is what you do when no one is watching.” I find that statement difficult to reconcile with the reactions to the interview. If he has integrity, then it shouldn’t matter whether the camera is running or not. The most disturbing thing is the number of people who refuse to take note of what he said when the cameras were off. Such willful and intentional ignorance is inexcusable.
But that is the primary point of this addendum and this series. “Cnichols 820” commented, “I don’t believe it is our business to worry about Pastor Tom’s personal finances.” Except that Tom Anderson’s personal finances are a direct reflection of the failure of what he preaches, and it has affected many. He often made the statement when teaching the series Becoming a Millionaire God’s Way that he cannot take people where he has not been himself. He made it clear over and over again that his life was to be a transparent example for the congregation to follow. As Alfredo commented on the KPHO site, “This church has touched countless thousands.”
That’s the problem, Alfredo. It has touched countless thousands, and not in a good way. As I said at the beginning of this post, I personally know dozens of people who no longer want anything to do with church or with God because of the way they were mistreated by Tom Anderson. For the past six years, since this journey of separation from Tom began, I hear a new story of outrage on an almost weekly basis. That’s a lot of people, and I shudder to think how many I’m not acquainted with.
The real problem is the head-in-the-sand mentality of so many church people. Hebrews 13:7 tells us to examine the outcome of our leaders’ way of life. Now that we have a chance to look over the Anderson ministry, the outcome isn’t that good. This financial bankruptcy is a glimpse into a moral bankruptcy that goes far beyond mere money and which has littered the landscape with countless victims of the desire of one family to build a personal legacy at the expense of others.
For those who continue to ignore the facts, ignorant sheep are dumb sheep by choice. And dumb sheep are a lot easier to control.
Occasionally I listen to a podcast from Living Word. I still have friends there, as well as people I care about who no longer consider me a friend, and I hope each time I listen in that I will hear or see some hint of change or repentance. So far that hope has been consistently disappointed. The only changes in Tom’s preaching have been for the purpose of self-justification.
On April 7, 2013, for example, he said, near the end of the sermon, “Silence is a virtue.” Seconds later he added, “The Bible says, and actually it says this: to shame a person in public is akin to murder.” As in all abusive systems, exposing abuse is portrayed as much worse than the abuse itself. The victim is always accused of being to blame. Tom continues his refusal to take real responsibility.
Another theme that has crept into his preaching in recent months is to portray his actions as stemming from the most godly motives only. On May 21, 2013, he preached, in one of those crescendos of passionate shouting that punctuate his sermons and stir up the emotions of this audience:
“I believe that the wealth of the wicked is laid up for the just, and the greatest transfer of wealth from the world is coming to the kingdom of God, and its going to take God’s people to be ready to receive it, because if you are so far in debt, what on earth would he give you money for? So you can give it back to the world?”
This kind of statement is drastically contradictory to his original financial advice, which was to leverage your possessions in order to make more investments. He routinely borrowed money to invest and encouraged others openly to do so. But suddenly debt is no longer acceptable. Now the financial blessings of God are directly linked to getting out of debt:
“He’ll get you money when you’re out of debt, and you can build the kingdom and have the best life possible on this earth. Break out of the system. Enough’s enough. Let’s get his house out of debt. Let’s get you out of debt. Let’s—it’s time. It’s now. Right now. And get rid of those credit cards. You pay off everything you possibly can.
If Tom had preached that ten years ago, most of his congregation, including himself, would still have their money. And I would be inclined to hope that this change in his preaching actually illustrated a change in him. Except for the next statement. In one of his most brazenly disingenuous moments yet, he held himself up as a shining example of the way to live a godly life:
I’m absolutely debt free. I rent cheap and I drive old, and I invest everything that I possibly can.
This seems to ignore the reality that the only reason Tom is debt free is because filing for bankruptcy wiped out $1.5 million of his debt and sent his creditors away empty-handed.
The only reason he rents cheap is because the court forced him out of his $2 million house and sold it.
The only reason he drives old is because the court sold his Lexus and his Mercedes.
Yet he continues to cling to the image of a Spirit-led man whose problems are entirely due to his generosity.
Can you say Ananias and Sapphira, boys and girls?