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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The bombshell exploded with apocalyptic force in May 1989. The Biblical Evangelist, a magazine devoted to “historic evangelical fundamentalism,” published a series of articles accusing Hyles of a years-long romantic affair with his secretary, Jennie Nischik, who happened to be the wife of a church deacon, Victor Nischik. The articles also alleged financial improprieties, accusing Hyles of using church money to lavish tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts on Jennie, including a car, clothes, and home remodeling.

Sermons on the scandal rang out from pulpits across the country. Local papers, from the Hammond Times to the Chicago Tribune, featured the story, as did the tabloid TV news show A Current Affair. It was irresistible: The great Jack Hyles, the man of God, whose schools had dating rules so strict that you could earn a demerit by accidentally touching the end of a pencil held by someone of the opposite sex, was committing adultery.

Hyles thunderously denied the charges and denounced his accuser, Victor Nischik. He organized media boycotts and wrote letters savaging the local papers for reprinting “filth.” Hundreds in his flock rose to his defense. “You all are a bunch of low-down, rotten, filthy, stinking, scummy, garbage-dump stench type of characters,” the Tribune quoted one of them, Noel Shriovanth, as saying. “I wish God would . . . burn your building,” penned another, Kristen Conner.

Voyle Glover, an attorney and longtime church member, was not among the defenders. Disillusioned, he wrote Fundamental Seduction: The Jack Hyles Case. The 1990 book details the affair and many other misdeeds, including a “Watergate-like coverup” of affairs and sexual abuse at First Baptist.

The wrath of Hyles and his supporters again rained down. “I was called the Antichrist and worse,” Glover says. “I was threatened with physical harm, death threats.” His office was broken into. Excrement was left on his doorstep.

Some of the abuse that Glover described in his book—as many others would later allege—was perpetrated by Hyles’s son.

In the early 1980s, David Hyles, then in his 20s, was the youth pastor at First Baptist. Whispers began that he was having an affair with the daughter of a high-level administrator at Hyles-Anderson College. Backed into a corner by a he-goes-or-I-go ultimatum from the administrator, sources say, Hyles arranged for his son to take over as pastor at his old church, Miller Road Baptist in Texas.

The new pastor was soon kicked out after allegations that he had more than a dozen affairs with churchwomen, many of them married. His wife, Paula, divorced him. He returned to the Chicago area, to Bolingbrook, moving in with a woman named Brenda Stevens.

In 1985, Stevens’s 15-month-old son, Brent, was found lifeless in his crib. The autopsy revealed trauma and numerous broken bones in various stages of healing. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigated, but the cause of death could not be determined. At a grand jury inquest, David Hyles exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Stevens didn’t show. The case remains unsolved; Paul Ciolino, a former DCFS investigator now in private practice, says he is still pursuing leads.

Scandal followed the younger Hyles. He was chased from a job running the Sunday school at a church in Pinellas Park, Florida, over allegations of more affairs. But not before a child he fathered with Stevens died under odd circumstances. According to news reports, in March 1999 Stevens (by this time Hyles’s wife) told police that she mistakenly ran over the five-year-old, Jack David, who had rolled out the door of her car. She was never charged with a crime, nor was Hyles.

(Hyles did not respond to an interview request. According to a blog called Fallen in Grace, written by someone identifying himself as David Hyles: “I have no intention of defending myself. . . You [sic] diatribes on your filthy forums serve Satan’s purpose well.”)

As soon as one First Baptist–related scandal died down, another seemed to surface. In June 1991, a Sunday school teacher accused A. V. Ballenger, a 57-year-old deacon who had spent two decades in the church, of fondling a seven-year-old girl. Despite two eyewitness accounts, Ballenger denied the charge, was released on bond, and returned to the church. At Hyles’s prompting, the congregation gave him a standing ovation.

Ballenger’s March 1993 trial “was just inundated with people from that church” who supported him, recalls the prosecutor, Clarence Murray, now a Superior Court judge in Lake County, Indiana. At Ballenger’s sentencing hearing—delayed three years by appeals, during which time he resumed working in the bus ministry—two women testified that Ballenger also molested them when they were young. He got five years in prison.

The cases continued (see map, “How the ‘Gospel’ Spread”). In 1997, the parents of a mentally disabled 12-year-old sued First Baptist over what they alleged was a months-long pattern of rape and torture of their daughter. Among the accusations was a systematic culture of cover-up: “[Jack Hyles] negligently and carelessly has fostered . . . a system of secrecy in the church directing that matters of criminal violations not be reported to judicial authority for whom he openly preaches scorn, but to the church itself, meaning Jack Hyles.” The case was settled for an undisclosed amount.

Another egregious case was working its way through the courts around the same time. In 1998, Joseph D. Combs, a former Bible teacher at Hyles-Anderson who had become a pastor in Tennessee, and his wife, Evangeline, were convicted on multiple charges of aggravated abuse, assault, and kidnapping of their adopted 11-year-old daughter. The girl told authorities that her father used biblical references to justify beating, torturing, and sexually abusing her. In 2000, Joseph was sentenced to 114 years in prison; Evangeline got 65.

Then there’s Chester Mulligan, a pastor who was ordained in Hammond by Hyles. Four years ago, he pleaded guilty to felony stalking of a 14-year-old girl while pastor of Central Baptist Church in East Chicago. He was sentenced to a year of probation. That experience didn’t cause Mulligan to rethink his career choice, however. His current job: pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Miami.




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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