Let Us Prey: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church

A string of assaults and sexual crimes committed by pastors across the country have one thing in common: The perpetrators have ties to the megachurch in Hammond, Indiana.

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Nine of the offenders, from top left: (row 1) A. V. Ballenger, Christopher Settlemoir, Chester Mulligan; (row 2) William Beith, Jack Schaap, Tedd Butler; (row 3) Joseph Combs, Craig Sisson, Russell Overla
Nine of the offenders, from top left: (first row) A. V. Ballenger, Christopher Settlemoir, Chester Mulligan; (second row) William Beith, Jack Schaap, Tedd Butler; (third row) Joseph Combs, Craig Sisson, Russell Overla

The sermon was called “The Polished Shaft,” and in the many times that Jack Schaap, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Hammond, had delivered it, it was the kind of showstopper that made him a rock star to his flock. (Or would have, had Schaap not habitually railed against the evils of rock music.)

As with most of his sermons at the northwest Indiana megachurch—the 14th largest in the country and the biggest Independent Baptist house of worship in the nation—the message struck as bluntly as a pounded nail: Submit to God’s plan for your life or be snapped like a twig and flung away (as Schaap would demonstrate by cracking a stick over his head, tossing it aside, and barking, “Next!”).

When you do submit, be prepared to endure excruciating pain. God will hold a metaphorical knife to your throat (as Schaap would illustrate by holding a steel blade against a twig the way an assailant might press on a jugular). Only then, he would growl, will you become a “polished shaft”: one suitable for God’s bow.

At this point, the sermon’s climax, Schaap would heave up a high-powered crossbow and fire an arrow into a red X painted on a fake rock a few feet from his pulpit.

The effect was powerful, and it inevitably produced the desired result: swarms of male teenagers trance-walking their way to Schaap (pronounced “Skop”), ready to commit their lives to becoming pastors. And, equally important, to attend the church-owned Hyles-Anderson College a couple of miles away, one of First Baptist’s biggest coffer fillers.

But in July 2010, an hour into the “Polished Shaft” sermon—in a church packed with thousands of teenagers there for a youth conference—Schaap went further. He lifted a stick in his left hand and a silver cloth in his right. He moved the bottom of the stick near his groin and angled it away from himself. Head thrown back, eyes squeezed shut, mouth gaping, he began rubbing the shaft rapidly with the cloth, up and down, up and down. “Ohh! Oh! Ohhhh! Oh! Oh, God, that hurts!” he shrieked.

Then, his voice dropping to a guttural whisper, he said, “Oh, oh, God. Thanks for what you’re making me.”

Schaap continued to rub the stick—up and down, up and down—and converse with God, sometimes angrily, sometimes ecstatically, for more than a minute. What he was doing was unmistakable: simulating masturbation, in front of thousands of children, in the middle of a church service. A row of white-coated high-ranking churchmen seated behind Schaap watched in silence. At the end, as usual, young men streamed up to the stage.

To the hundreds of people who posted comments under a YouTube video of the event, the lack of reaction is as shocking as Schaap’s sermon itself. But to the congregation of First Baptist, it was all in a day’s preaching.

The true believers of the ultrafundamentalist Independent Baptist movement were accustomed to Schaap’s style. If he wasn’t scolding his flock for not living up to God’s demands (tithing, volunteering, “soul winning”), he was delivering R-rated sermons that, for example, likened the Lord’s Supper to having sex with Jesus Christ. “He would just repeatedly talk about sex and repeatedly talk about women, how they were dressed and body parts . . . in graphic detail,” recalls Tom Brennan, who attended the church for six years and is now an Independent Baptist pastor at Maplewood Bible Baptist Church in Chicago.

Unfortunately, it went well beyond talk. Last September, Schaap, 54, a married father of two, pleaded guilty to taking a 16-year-old girl he was counseling at First Baptist across state lines to have sex. Denied bond, he awaits sentencing in the Porter County Jail; the minimum term is ten years.

But Schaap is not simply one of those rogue evangelists who thunders against the evils of forbidden sex while indulging in it himself. According to dozens of current and former church members, religion experts, and historians interviewed by Chicago—plus a review of thousands of pages of court documents—he is part of what some call a deeply embedded culture of misogyny and sexual and physical abuse at one of the nation’s largest churches. Multiple websites tracking the First Baptist Church of Hammond have identified more than a dozen men with ties to the church—many of whom graduated from its college, Hyles-Anderson, or its annual Pastors’ Schools—who fanned out around the country, preaching at their own churches and racking up a string of arrests and civil lawsuits, including physical abuse of minors, sexual molestation, and rape.

It is a culture, past and present members say, enabled by cover-ups and cultlike control. For example, after Schaap’s conviction, many church members blamed his victim as a temptress. “We were taught to not question and to take the ‘man of God’s’ [Schaap’s] word over everything,” says Julie Silvestrone Busby, a former First Baptist member who now hosts a Christian radio show in Iowa. She left the church after alleging that Schaap behaved inappropriately during marriage counseling sessions in 2004 through 2009.

First Baptist Church’s longtime lawyer, David Gibbs, declined a request for comment on this story. The spokesman for the church, Eddie Wilson, did not return numerous calls requesting an interview. Schaap did not respond to an interview request made through Porter County Jail.

It’s important to stress that even the people I spoke with who felt victimized by the church did not suggest that the majority of members are anything other than sincere seekers of Christ. “There are some very good people still there whom I love dearly and who truly have hearts for the Lord but were deceived,” Busby says. “I grieve for them.”

Nevertheless, the story of First Baptist is epic enough to rival the most sordid Old Testament tale. “It really is astonishing,” says Jeri Massi, a researcher from Raleigh, North Carolina, who has been documenting the sexual abuse of children in Christian fundamentalism since 2001. “The wickedness, the heartbreak, the ruining of lives.” Examples from First Baptist “take in everything: pedophilia, violence, defamation of the innocent to protect the guilty, heresies against Christian doctrine, defiance against lawful authority. . . .” And all this barely half an hour’s drive from downtown Chicago.


Photography: courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana



2 years ago
Posted by it never mattered

Decent article - could have had more horrifying events to put the real picture about that place; but oh well

2 years ago
Posted by Dr. Jerry K.

Here is a link to my book, "Profaned Pulpit -- The Jack Schaap Story" now on Amazon Books. This is a detailed insider account of Jack Schaap's rise & fall, and the megachurch and national Fundamental movement they led for thirty years.
Thank you to Bryan Smith for a good job on this article. (I am one of the people mentioned in the article) Dr. Jerry Kaifetz

2 years ago
Posted by Debbie T.

Bryan, Thank you so much for FINALLY putting a spot light on this monstrosity. You have provided validity to the abuse so many of us have experienced. You are giving us an opportunity to realize that we are not horrible backsliding Christians who will never please our Lord and Savior Jesus. We have been enamored with the lie that no matter what we do no matter how hard we try, we will never be good enough. We have been beaten, raped, and murdered by several leaders as well as others in authority within this cult.

The Bible says:

Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

Colossians 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

Maybe they missed this when they read the Word of God!

I cannot say Thank You enough, Bryan Smith for giving us a voice.

2 years ago
Posted by No Longer Quivering

I'd bet that everyone over at First Baptist is absolutely freaking out over some of their secrets getting out. But the truth will set you free. Good article except it didn't expose all the doings it could have. Thanks Chicago Mag for correcting the town name of Culpeper and thanks Bryan for writing this piece to show just how toxic FBC really is.

2 years ago
Posted by Lisa R

Please look at the Wendy G. case that Lundy Bancroft is writing about on his blog dated August 18, 2012. Lundy is an expert on Domestic Violence and abuse. Judge Hulsing in Ottawa County Court in Holland, Mi. gave custody of Wendy's 2 minor children to the ex (sexual molester). Wendy's ex (a Pastor in Colorado) sexual molested their minor daughter and he still has custody of her.Judge Hulsing threw Wendy (A Psychologist) in Jail because she tried to keep the children from her ex (the abuser)Judge Hulsing did NOT allow the forensic evidence (of the sexual abuse) to be entered into evidence. The church organization that her ex belongs to is protecting him of this atrocity.(Christian Reformed Church) Please look at Lundy's blog and help us get justice and for Wendy G. to get her two minor children back.


2 years ago
Posted by Sherri Munger-Tyler

Bryan Smith, this article is well-researched and articulately presented. A million thanks to you for your excellent reporting! It is, sadly, only the tip of the iceburg, but it is a start. Thank you for pulling back the curtain and exposing a bit of the wizard. Please do a follow-up article soon . . . there is MUCH more truth to be exposed in an effort to put a stop to the abuses that are perpetuated and covered-up in the IFB system! May future victims be protected as a result!

2 years ago
Posted by livininjoy

As a former member of more than 25 years I found this article to be objective, well balanced, carefully researched, and very true. In fact it is just the tip of the iceberg. After everything that has happened there through the years, the current leadership - pastoral staff and deacons, still refuse to open their hearts or make changes in their attitudes or actions. May this article be a first step in helping them to finally open their eyes.

2 years ago
Posted by it never mattered

I find it mind numbing that Julie Busby is quoted here because the "abuse" she suffered was nothing compared to us who have actually physically and sexually been abused. I am not saying mental abuse isn't real; but get over it already. There are hundreds of us who would give anything to only have had mental abuse inflicted on us.

2 years ago
Posted by Onaled

The only way scare away unwanted creatures is to shine the light right at them, I feel this article does some of that. Very well written!! "The cause of Christ" is the most abused narrative in our society, and many of these "leaders" have been using that as a way to prey on sincere people. We need more light shined in the caves, to removed the infestation and then, and ONLY then will any cause of Christ have a REAL chance.

2 years ago
Posted by Battered Sheep

This extraordinary article isn’t just a well written and researched masterpiece it is much more- it is a gift. A gift of a voice and a gift of validation to all those battered sheep who have been broken and abused for decades and told that they were the ones who asked for it. This article peels back all the bravado and the holy facade and exposes the horrors of what lies behind the curtain for decades upon decades by "men of God" who gave us a false, angry, demanding God who carried a big stick and wanted to beat us with it.
Thank you for giving hope and a voice to all those who are too afraid to speak up, too afraid to leave, truly believing they are deserving of the abuse. Thank you.
As I said before—this article isn’t just words on a page—it is a gift from God—a gentle, loving, gracious God who loves his Children and who holds them in the palm of His hand.
Thank you Bryan Smith and Chicago Magazine—what a gift you gave us this Christmas.

2 years ago
Posted by Duke1979

Spot on. Well balanced.

Great usage of dividing "chapters" and the ending was sad but perfect.

a.k.a. Former HAC graduate 1979

2 years ago
Posted by NC IFBsurvivor

I grew up under the teaching of Jack Hyles. Not at FBC Hammond, but in churches in several US states and even one overseas (military family). Jack Hyles came to preach at my parents' church in FL and my church subscribed to the Sword of the Lord newspaper in which Jack Hyles often had sermons and articles published. My dad used the Sword of the Lord to find churches to attend whenever we moved. As a result, I ended up in one abuse church after another. Systematic beating of children was the norm. I know so many that suffer life-long scars from their childhood in Jack Hyles "Independent Baptist" styled churches.

Thank you to Bryan Smith and Chicago Magazine. You have validated what I and so many of the people I knew growing up experienced. We never had a place to get help or be safe. Thank you for shining a bright light on this horrible teaching--still not uncommon across the US.

2 years ago
Posted by Sindy

Very well written, thank you. It is long overdue to have the reality of FBC Hammond exposed. More needs to be said and this is a great overview.

2 years ago
Posted by Sindy

One correction though....When the offender is a 54 year old Pastor, taking advantage of a 16 year old child, seeking counsel from her Pastor, it is NOT a relationship, it is child abuse.

2 years ago
Posted by Sindy

I assure you that there are many stories that have not been told. Just like mine. :/

2 years ago
Posted by it never mattered

This is hardly enough to scare the insiders of the IfB away, Onaled. Those of us who are already out don't need to be scared away. Someone needs to be bold enough to really scare the insiders. That's what will matter - making the ones still in the cult stop rearing their families in it ensuring the cult lives on.

2 years ago
Posted by No more cover up

Someone needs to look into the cover ups at Shawnee Baptist Church & College in Louisville, KY, Gospel Light Baptist Church in Hot Springs, AR and Tabernacle Baptist Church in Orlando, FL. I am so sick of all the abuse that has gone on and hope that those involved in the abuse as well as the ones that covered up the abuse will be charged and serve time! That is the only think that will stop these perpetrators.

2 years ago
Posted by Sudie Nymm

Brian Smith, thanks for sharing this story with the world. It needs to be told.

2 years ago
Posted by Jeremy L.

Bryan Smith did an excellent job capturing both the recent as well as the distant past of what I call "The Two Jacks," Jack Hyles and Jack Schaap. He spent a considerable amount of time researching this sordid story and presented a fair and balanced account of this church, college, and loose-knit organization of authoritarian independent fundamental Baptist churches. Bryan probed wounds that have yet to be completely healed, but his exploration, in the form of this article, is a powerful vindication of those of us who suffered under the mind-numbing indoctrination of those power-mongers who exploited us for their own gains, yet found our way out of their dead end doctrines of death. Still, many of my companions, though delivered from the bondage of this brainwashing system, live daily with the scars of the seduction of this pair of Jacks.

2 years ago
Posted by formerpver

Another church that needs checked out is Pleasant Valley Baptist in Chico, Ca. A youth pastor went to prison for his relationship with a then 14-year old. One of the pastor's sons has been charged with an illegal relationship with a minor - he was her teacher! His court case is ongoing. Of course the pastor graduated from Hyles-Anderson.

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