Twist of faith
Anne Beiler feels compelled to tell the rest of her tragic
and triumphant story
By John W. Kennedy
The amazing rags-to-riches story of Anne Beiler and her
husband, Jonas, is a heartwarming account that prompts admiration of the
blessings of God. It’s the chronicle of a Christian couple who entered middle
age with no life savings, no life insurance and a recently foreclosed house.
Seventeen years later they emerged to sell their self-made company that by then
generated $247 million in annual sales. Auntie Anne’s Soft Pretzels grew from
one outlet in a farmer’s market to more than 850 locations by 2005.
During her tenure as the face of Auntie Anne, Beiler
appeared to be a strong businesswoman, a female entrepreneur who had made it in
a man’s world and a savvy titan who built a Gap, Pa., multimillion-dollar
enterprise from scratch. Employees, customers and industry analysts marveled at
how a woman without a high school education, business knowledge or financial
capital could form the largest soft pretzel chain in the country.
Despite appearances, Anne Beiler didn’t have it all
She felt insecure because of earlier sexual abuse
perpetrated by a spiritual leader who advised her after the death of her
19-month-old daughter, Angela.
During her tenure as Auntie Anne’s executive, Beiler says
she committed adultery because of failure to deal with the causes of the
previous sexual abuse.
Her workaholic tendencies — which helped make her a
success in the business world — contributed to a sense of failure as a
mother to her remaining two daughters, LaWonna and LaVale, both of whom also
suffered sexual abuse.
“In order to conquer adverse circumstances, we must overcome
ourselves,” Beiler says. “I hated myself. I wanted to self-destruct.”
As she gained fame in commerce circles, Beiler told half her
tragic story, the part about how her middle daughter’s death in 1975 caused her
to sink into a deep depression, pushing her to the brink of divorce.
Today, Beiler says she is healed and whole — both
spiritually and emotionally — because she is revealing the full details
of what happened to her: the part about how the spiritual leader took advantage
of her vulnerability, and manipulated her into sinful behavior that she kept
secret from her husband, daughters, siblings and others in the church.
Only after counseling sessions with EMERGE Ministries
founder Dr. Richard Dobbins, did Beiler grasp the value of preserving her
faith, her family, and indeed her life.
“The power of confession one to another transformed my
life,” Beiler says. “I feel like a new person, without shame and guilt. I’m overawed
by God’s absolute love.”
The narrative of her troubled life is revealed in the
recently released autobiography Twist of Faith: The Story of Anne Beiler,
Founder of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. After taking years to come to terms with her
past, Beiler says she is telling her travails to glorify God and to encourage
others, especially women who have been wounded by besetting sin and feel as
though they have no hope.
“We don’t go through terrible things simply to keep quiet,”
Beiler told Today’s Pentecostal Evangel. “People who are broken will understand
my story rather than being offended by it.”
Her brokenness began in 1975 with the death of Angie, run
over by a farm tractor driven by Anne’s sister, Fi. Beiler put on a façade that
she felt others required of her. While acting as though she had dealt
victoriously with her daughter’s death, bitterness, guilt and depression
consumed her. She didn’t allow herself to grieve. She confided in no one.
Then a minister offered to provide a listening ear. The
vulnerable Beiler rejoiced that God finally had sent someone to whom she could
confide her tormented feelings. But the minister had other motives besides
Anne’s mental health. He seduced her, first with hugs, then kisses, then more.
Beiler experienced an unhealthy transference of emotions that turned into six
years of sexual abuse.
As the liaison continued, Beiler felt trapped, isolated and
even more depressed. She wanted to tell others, but whom would people believe:
the likable trusted minister or an unstable grieving mother? Beiler figured God
didn’t have any use for her anymore.
Unaware of her involvement with the minister, Jonas figured
his wife’s unspoken anguish stemmed from Angie’s death. Yet as the Beilers
lived in a disjointed marriage, they continued to tithe consistently. She cites
Malachi 3:11 (“I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in
your fields will not cast their fruits.”) as a verse that kept the family going
through the turmoil.
“Tithing is an act of obedience to God,” Beiler says. “When
we tithe, it puts the power of God into motion, protecting us from utter
Likewise Beiler never stopped attending church, even though
many times she didn’t want to go.
“We have been taught in church that some sins, like gossip,
are more ‘acceptable’ than others,” Beiler says. “When it comes to sexual sins,
we can’t confess it openly because to some people it’s unpardonable.”
Consequently, many who have fallen to sexual sin withdraw
from church because they already are berating themselves, she says.
“What we really want is arms extended to us that say, ‘I
know what you’ve done, but I love you and forgive you anyway,’ ” Beiler says.
“While the sin doesn’t need to be accepted, the church needs to follow the
model of Jesus to love people who are broken. That’s what Jesus did best.”
Beiler credits her husband offering love and forgiveness to
her following her confession of unfaithfulness for keeping their marriage
“When my husband found out, instead of judging, condemning
and criticizing me, he granted mercy,” she says.
Dobbins counseled Beiler in 1996-97. In her book, she says
the Christian psychologist saved her life “from complete destruction,
emotionally and spiritually.” Beiler says Dobbins “provided a safe place for me
to spill my guts and gave me a better theological understanding of life.” She
says he convinced her to reveal secrets to others, once she was comfortable in
doing so, in order to break Satan’s stronghold. Citing James 5:16, Beiler says
confession to God is a necessary first step, but absolute overcoming requires
“The enemy keeps us hammered down by using the weapon of
silence,” says Beiler, 59. “As we confess our sins one to another, then we’ll
begin our journey to healing.”
The Beilers, who will mark 40 years of marriage in
September, sold Auntie Anne’s in 2005. These days much of their time involves
overseeing a free and low-cost counseling facility near their Pennsylvania
home. Jonas, who received training from the Akron, Ohio-based EMERGE Ministries,
founded the Family Center of Gap, a facility with 13 staff members who help
Part of Anne’s journey in seeking healing involved forgiving
the perpetrator of the abuse.
“I’m going to heaven because of the grace of Jesus,” Beiler
says. “If my abuser is in heaven, he got there the same way I did. I’m OK with
JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel and blogs at Midlife Musings (jkennedy.agblogger.org).
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