Literary fraud is an important topic at Swallowing the Camel. Whether it’s middle-aged women pretending to be teen boys afflicted with HIV/AIDS (here and here), or James Cameron’s BFF letting himself be snowjobbed by a lying WWII vet, or fake Holocaust memoirists, no one gets a free pass when it comes to literary misdeeds. So why should Christians be any different? This week’s Weirdness Roundup covers some of the most egregious frauds involving inspirational Christian nonfiction, starting with the most recent case:
- A year after diligent readers expressed their concerns, UK Christian publishing house Authentic Media has withdrawn a popular preacher’s autobiography from the market. Tony Anthony’s Taming the Tiger (2004) told the awesome story of how Jesus transformed him from an angry young criminal to the person he is today (I’ll let you decide if that was an improvement or not).
Taming the Tiger describes how 4-year-old Tony learned Kung Fu from his grandfather. As the book’s cover reminds us, he ultimately became a “3 times Kung Fu World Champion”. His professional debut was in 1984. The following year, he went to work as a bodyguard for international VIPs, including the Saudi ambassador to the UK, Italy, and Cyprus. In 1988 or ’89, his world fell apart when his girlfriend of three years, Aiya, was killed in a car accident. He turned his back on everything good in his life and become an enforcer for his boss, threatening and beating and even killing people who posed the slightest danger to the ambassador. He then became a burglar to raise money for an expensive medical procedure his father needed, and started getting into confrontations with police in Cyprus, where he was then living. He landed himself in jail in Christmas 1989, and it was there that an Irish missionary introduced him to Jesus Christ.
Upon release in 1992, Anthony returned to the UK and settled down to have a family. He considered himself a good Christian, but after he was arrested for killing a woman in a hit and run (and lying to police about it) in 2001, he realized he still needed a lot of work. His second awakening as a Christian spurred him to write the memoir, which has sold more than a million copies in 25 languages. Its success gave him the opportunity to preach all over the world, and he established an Essex-based international evangelism organization called Avanti Ministries.
The whole thing imploded when skeptical readers decided to look into Anthony’s actual background. One of the first things they discovered was that he was born in 1971…meaning he would have been just 13 years old when he became a Kung Fu grand master, and 14 when he was supposedly protecting an ambassador. He would still have been a teenager when he ended up in Nicosia prison. Also, the Saudi ambassador to the UK from 1980-1992, Nasser Almanqour, was never sent to Italy or Cyprus.
It wasn’t just readers who were skeptical. One director of Avanti Ministries, Mike Hancock, resigned because Anthony seemed reluctant to verify the stories in his book. Hancock joined forces with another former Avanti director and a few concerned Christian ministers to investigate Anthony’s claims. Last year, they submitted a summary of their findings to the board of Avanti, the UK’s Evangelical Alliance, and Authentic Media, resulting in Authentic’s decision to pull the book.
Tony Anthony has issued a statement saying he “wholeheartedly” defends everything he wrote in Taming the Tiger, with the exception of some details that he claims he wasn’t aware of at the time he wrote it. He admits that some names, places, etc., were altered to protect the privacy of certain people. He also claims he recently tried to publish an updated autobiography, but was blocked from doing so by unnamed persons “intent on discrediting” his ministry. Hilariously, he seems astonished that anyone would be interested in the historical veracity of his work (which is categorized as a nonfiction martial arts book in libraries and bookstores).
Anthony’s statement includes the announcement that Avanti Ministries will no longer be in charge of its outreach programs.
I’m reading Taming the Tiger now, and will do a more thorough post on this soon.
- The story of “Lauren Stratford” is by far the weirdest, most convoluted bogus Christian memoir tale of the past several decades. In 1988, her book Satan’s Underground was published by one of the top Christian publishers in America, Harvest House. In it, Stratford described a nightmarish existence as an abused child prostitute, handed over to child pornographers and pedophile rapists by her own mother (a schoolteacher). As a teen, she became a virtual sex slave to a Satan-worshiping porno kingpin known only as “Victor”. Victor’s cult engaged in everything from infanticide to cannibalism, and Lauren was forced to participate in their hellish rites. She was the first former Satanist to claim status as a “breeder”, a woman forced to bear children for ritual sacrifice, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that within months of the release of Satan’s Underground, breeders were popping out of the woodwork to appear on Geraldo and Sally Jesse Raphael. Stratford herself was invited to appear on Oprah and Geraldo as a victim of Satanic ritual abuse. Her book became very popular with recovered memory advocates and Christian therapists, and other ritual abuse survivors credited Stratford’s book with helping them retrieve their own “repressed memories”.
Then, in 1991, the Christian magazine Cornerstone investigated Stratford’s background. The reporters couldn’t find a shred of evidence that Laurel Wilson had ever been abused by Satanists or anyone else, but they did uncover evidence indicating that Wilson/Stratford suffered a factitious disorder.
Toward the end of her life, Stratford re-emerged as a Holocaust survivor named “Laura Grabowski”. She said she had been one of Josef Mengele’s victims, and even had a touching reunion with a fellow child survivor of Auschwitz, Binjamin Wilkomirski. The problem was, Wilkomirski had never been in Auschwitz, either.
You can read more about the peculiar Wilson/Stratford/Grabowski saga in Part IX of my series The Prodigal Witch.
- In 1986, Christian pamphleteer Jack Chick published a bizarre book titled He Came to Set the Captives Free, by one “Rebecca Brown, M.D.” It told the story of a crusading Christian doctor (Brown herself) who was engaged in a life-or-death struggle against evil forces in Indiana. Satanists were dogging her every step because she had rescued a young woman named Elaine from their clutches. Elaine had been brainwashed by the Satanists from childhood, and as an adult was forced to literally marry Satan in his human form.
Having divorced Satan and her second husband too, Elaine helped Dr. Brown foil Satanic assassins and rescue other cult victims. The duo claimed to have saved about 1000 witches from dangerous covens in the first half of the ’80s alone. Brown published a second book about her battles with darkness, Prepare for War, in 1987. That same year, she and Elaine appeared on one of Geraldo Rivera’s shows about Satanism.
In 1989, writers G. Richard Risher, Paul R. Blizard, and M. Kurt Goedelman delved into the backgrounds of Rebecca Brown and Elaine for the Personal Freedom Outreach Newsletter. What they found was deeply disturbing. Brown was really Ruth Bailey, and she had been stripped of her medical license five years earlier, after colleagues discovered she had been giving massive (potentially fatal) doses of prescription painkillers to one of her patients, Edna Moses. Edna Moses was “Elaine”. The two women had been living together in a filthy house for years, telling neighbours they were sisters. Bailey was known for her violent, unstable, paranoid behaviour. Edna/Elaine died in 2005.
Bailey/Brown left Edna in 1989 to marry an ex-con who claimed he was tortured by Swiss rabbis as a boy, and the couple now runs a small ministry called Harvest Warriors.
Though many Christians recognize Brown’s books for what they are (pure batshit insanity), they remain in print and continue to captivate the more gullible members of the Christian community. In 2010, a sixth-grade science teacher in Brooklyn was mildly reprimanded for distributing and selling copies of They Came to Set the Captives Free to some of his students.
The full story of Ruth Bailey and Edna Moses can be read in Part VIII of my Prodigal Witch series.
- In the early ’70s, a roly-poly young Californian named Mike Warnke took the evangelical world by storm. He was loved for his Christian stand-up comedy (yes, that’s a thing, I guess), but it was his truly sinister background that drew the most attention to him. As he detailed in his 1973 memoir The Satan Seller, Warnke had dropped out of college to lead one branch of a nationwide Satanic cult that practiced blasphemous rites, lured teenagers into their ranks with the promise of sex and drugs, and occasionally raped and dismembered innocents in the name of the Devil. You know, typical frat stuff.
Just like Tony Anthony, Warnke founded a successful ministry on the strength of his testimony. It wasn’t until 1992, nearly 20 years after The Satan Seller was printed, that a group of Christians published an exhaustive refutation of Warnke’s claims in a Cornerstone magazine article. As writers Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein revealed, Warnke hadn’t been a Devil-worshiping drug addict in college; he had already become a Christian by that time, and spent most of his time doing ridiculously wholesome things that other square kids did in the late ’60s: Bowling, going out for ice cream, double-dating with his devoutly Catholic girlfriend, etc.
Confronted with his make-believe past, Warnke weakly explained that his Satanic following may have been a bit smaller than he originally stated (around a dozen people, rather than 1500). He would not back down from anything else in his book. A few years ago, though, he admitted to Jim Bakker that he had felt compelled to present a dramatic conversion testimony to impress the evangelical community, and made a joke about “evangelasticity”.
You can read more about Warnke in Part II of the Prodigal Witch series.
- The same year The Satan Seller was published, Doreen Irvine’s autobiography From Witchcraft to Christ was released in the UK. A prim-looking older lady, Irvine claimed to have been a teen prostitute who was inducted into Satanism in London around 1950. Over the next 12 years, she developed the abilities to levitate several feet off the ground, read minds, render herself invisible, manifest apports, and kill birds in midflight just by looking at them. She was crowned Queen of the Black Witches of Europe. Then she walked into a church on a whim and was instantly converted to Christianity. After a grueling exorcism removed 47 demons from her body, she traveled to churches all over the world, sharing her story of redemption.
No one has ever extensively refuted the claims in From Witchcraft to Christ, probably because they are too absurd to take seriously in the first place. But the book, and Doreen’s preaching, had a profound and lasting impact that has left at least one young woman dead. You can read more about her influence in Part I of The Prodigal Witch.
There are a number of other Christian memoirs that definitely set off my BS alarm, but the claims made in these books are so unverifiable that there is really no way to refute them. These include:
- A Divine Revelation of Hell (1997) and A Divine Revelation of Heaven (1998) by Mary K. Baxter. Baxter, a Pentacostal preacher from Michigan, claims she was given walking tours of both Heaven and Hell by Jesus himself, so that she could bear witness to their physical reality. She says Hell is located near the planet’s core, is shaped like a human body, and contains many homosexuals. In Heaven, angels collect the tears of everyone on Earth and store them away in jars.
- Blood Secrets by Isaiah Oke, as told to Joe Wright (1989). Oke is a Nigerian Christian who claims he was once a ju-ju shaman, and that he witnessed a brutal human sacrifice carried out by his mentor. The person who commissioned this sacrifice is described as a powerful colonel, and it’s quite obvious that Oke wants us to think he was Idi Amin.
Oke became a Christian while studying accounting at college. As he and Wright tell it, a young American co-ed had annoyed him one day, but Oke was unable to “hex” her even after numerous attempts. Finally, he asked her why she was resistant to his magical powers, and she told him she was a Christian. He promptly converted, and continues to talk smack about Nigerian spirituality to the present day.