As I’ve been working on this next book – a true crime murder story – I have found myself doing some research on a church in Indiana. Perhaps you are familiar with First Baptist of Hammond, Indiana?
Oddly enough, I spent time in Hammond in the summer of 1978. I was serving as a summer missionary with the Southern Baptist Church. I have to tell you, that summer I spent in Indiana and Michigan was a discerning one. I got to see up close and personal a lot of troubling things about the business of saving souls. I met some wonderful people but I became keenly aware of how all the money funneled upwards. The closer one got to the headquarters in Indianapolis, the bigger the expense account became.
Church is big business in America.
Really big business.
First Baptist of Hammond reportedly had 100,000 membership during the height of the ministry of Pastor Jack Hyles. Hyles started a bus ministry that rivaled that of the school system of Chicago. He declared his Sunday School the largest in the country. Maybe the world. Those buses would run into Chicago and gather up kids from the poorest neighborhoods and haul them back to Hammond for a church service.
That might seem like an admirable thing to do. Aren’t we, after all, instructed to care for the poor, the widows and her children?
But it’s not enough just to care for people. It’s the manner in which we care for them. I will be the first to tell you that church gave me a safe haven when I was a child growing up in the midst of chaos. One of the biggest issues I have with people who say we don’t need church is wondering where all those children who need a safe haven will go if everybody is at the coffee shop or the beach. What if there had been no Rose Hill Baptist for me? Where would I have found safety? Not at school, not during the years of integration. That wasn’t a safe place.
But I was a fortunate girl. I happened to find safe haven at a church with one of the best pastors to ever walk earth. Pastor Smitty and I remained friends until his dying day. One of my girlfriends called me from his hospital bedside so that I could have one last conversation with him. I didn’t wait until I got to heaven to tell Pastor Smitty how much he impacted my life. I told him that every time I got to visit with him. He really was the definition of a Gentle Shepherd. I wish every person had a Pastor Smitty in their lives.
Jack Hyles was no Pastor Smitty.
Now I know there are still Jack Hyles devotees who numbers in the thousands. People who will testify that he walked on water. What they won’t tell you is how Hyles began a legacy of sex abuse scandals that have continued to present day. Hyles’s daughter Linda Murphrey has gone on the speaking circuit telling the family secrets. Her mother was a victim of domestic abuse. Linda says her father hated her mother. She puts a great deal of emphasis on that word hate. Linda, one of four children, has been vilified for telling the family secrets, as is often the case of anyone who tells family secrets.
Children who grow up having to keep secrets grow up in fear.
Children who grow up having to keep secrets become expert liars.
Unlike her others siblings, Linda decided at some point she could no longer live the lie and she began talking.
Speaking out requires superhuman courage, especially when you are speaking against a pastor..a priest … or a president that millions idolize.
It’s harder yet when it’s your father.
Jack Hyles told his congregants that he was more than just their pastor – he was their father.
Claiming that position of authority is a common tool among abusers. It is a particularly effective tool among evangelicals or those brought up in a faith-based community, those taught that God is our Father.
Jack Hyles was called out by members of his own church for his sexual misconduct. He did what all abusers do – he denied it.
Linda was abandoned by her own siblings when she decided to tell the family secrets. Her sister Cindy and her husband Jack Schaap became the heirs to First Baptist of Hammond and the fortunes being made there. Cindy Schaap fell into the role of her own mother, keeping secrets that would threaten those fortunes. Cindy and her husband Jack Schaap saw their kingdom come, however, when Jack Schaap was sentenced to 12-years in prison for having sex with a 16-year-old, whom he was offering “pastoral” counseling. Now the church is being sued because Schaap was also involved in a financial ponzi scheme that preyed upon the congregants. (No better breeding ground for a ponzi scheme than a mega-church).
Oh. Yeah. Cindy divorced him. No word yet, whether she’s reconciled with the sister she had distanced herself from because Linda spoke a truth that Cindy refused to acknowledge.
Word on Church Street is that their brother and former pastor Dave Hyles has been restored to the faith after having numerous affairs in numerous churches. And even with all those suspicious circumstances that led to the death of two of his children, people are still willing to trust Dave Hyles and long for him to be restored to a position of authority.
Why is that?
Why are people of faith such easy marks for abusers?
It’s a question I’ve wrestled with every since I wrote KARLY SHEEHAN’s story. The easy answer is that we believe what we want to believe despite the facts. The people investigating Karly’s death wanted to believe that her mother was innocent and her father was guilty so that’s what they set out to prove.
Cindy knew the same truths as her sister Linda but she didn’t want to accept the consequences of that truth.
Abusers set the agenda. Anyone who goes against that agenda is labeled a traitor. A turncoat.
“You have betrayed me,” the abuser cries. “Betrayed me and the entire family.”
That’s why politicians, pastors and priests alike urge victims: “This is how we know we are family – we don’t betray each other. We keep each other’s secrets.”
In nearly every situation with the Hyles-Schaap scenario, the man was seen as the victim. Poor fellow. Seduced by wanton women. When Pastor Schaap was sentenced to prison, over a hundred congregants wrote letters to the court on his behalf, testifying to what a good man he is.
But here’s an inconvenient truth: Good men don’t abuse others. Lying men do.
People keep wondering why the evangelical church has been one of the staunchest supporters of Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is the legacy of Jack Hyles’s life and ministry.
The church structure is such that it has primed the pump for a man like Trump to rise. Consider these other troubling truths:
- Modern Church Structure is fashioned after corporate Wall Street whereby the pastor is the CEO and there is no higher authority
- That CEO/Pastor will be a boastful man, which will be defined as bold. He will be arrogant, which will be defined as confident. He will demand things be done his way, which will be defined as being a strong leader. He will demean others, which will be defined as being fearless. He will subjugate others, which will be defined as stepping into God’s authority.
- Elder boards, which used to wield power over the pastor, have become nothing more than shareholders in the business, more concerned with the profit than the truth, which makes them willing to look the other way as long as the stocks keep rising. ( Oh, is Trump attacking journalists again? How much is the Dow Jones going up today?)
- Women in the church are taught from an early age that they are second-class citizens. The only real power a woman has is sexual power. Her worth is defined primarily by her obedience to the higher authority which is always men.
- All power in the church is centralized around a group of men, mostly men of means. (The perfect model for Trump’s current administration.)
- Anyone who challenges such a structure is immediately labeled “Not a true Believer” or a “Liar” or “Mentally/Emotionally Unstable” or a “Liberal” or a “Feminist” or fill-in-your-own-blank.
- No matter the wrongs committed by the pastor, priest, or politician, the masses are always willing to forgive men and make excuses for them, while demonizing women and other victims.
- People crave a leader. Even a very bad one. As long as that leader is perceived as wealthy, which church people almost always equate as “God’s blessing” … “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you”.. (one of the most misquoted scriptures of the modern era).
Jack Schaap’s defense for having raped a teenager (statutorily) was that he was under a great deal of pressure. The church was having financial problems. Worrying over those problems had led to depression, that then led to his abusing a young girl.
People think that Robert Mueller’s investigation is going to be the end of Trump.
Church history would tell us otherwise.
Trump’s downfall will come when truth-tellers come forward and when rising stocks begin to fall. When the economy takes a hit for the worse, then and only then will that evangelical base begin to question: What has Trump done to cause him to lose favor with God?
Until then we are the abuser’s prey, because, for now at least, he’s managed to convince “the family” to keep his secrets.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of the forthcoming CHRISTIAN BEND: A novel (Mercer University Press).