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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Jack Schaap
Jack Schaap preaching in 2010

II Kings

Jack Hyles wouldn’t live to see Mulligan’s conviction. In 2001, he died of complications from heart surgery at age 74. There was no question who would succeed him: Hyles had been grooming his son-in-law Jack Schaap ever since his own son’s prospects had plummeted.

While Schaap was from a more prosperous family, in all important ways he was a virtual Hyles clone. And, says Kaifetz, “he got a hero’s welcome. When he walked out on the stage of those chapel services, you’ve never seen anything more over-the-top expressive—thousands waving the Bible in the air, screaming, shouting, whistling.”

In the beginning, Schaap’s preaching was standard Hyles: emotional denunciations of the flock for not doing enough to please God. Though the sermons “weren’t nearly as sexual in the beginning,” says Schaap’s former editor, “he was seductive. He charmed people in order to get them to do what he wanted them to do.”

As Schaap consolidated his grip on the congregation, says former church member Linda Gensaw, “he became more brazen—graphic sexual sermons to the point that I didn’t want to take my children.”

Tom Brennan, the Independent Baptist pastor in Chicago and former First Baptist member, agrees. “He was beyond the bounds of what was appropriate,” says Brennan. “His preaching had gotten so—I hesitate to use the word ‘pornographic.’ It was so vulgar sometimes that it was just a grief to my spirit.”

Challenging Schaap, Busby says, was not an option: “He had absolute power. He could destroy you.”

In fact, he nearly destroyed Busby’s marriage. After she and her husband hit a rocky patch, they turned to Schaap for counseling. At first, Busby says, “it really seemed like he wanted to help us.” But soon Schaap was requesting numerous sessions with Busby alone. “When he would counsel me,” she says, “he would be asking me these shocking questions about sex. I mean, absolutely, purely shocking. I would literally vomit before some of our meetings it got so bad.”

When the couple eventually left the church, Schaap turned on her, Busby says. “He got up in front of a staff meeting—in front of the whole staff—and shared all kinds of confidential stuff that never should have been shared. He told people to shun me.”

Leaving First Baptist was in Busby’s opinion like leaving a cult. “I’ve never been able to say the c-word—and anyone from the church who reads this will take great offense—but that’s what it was like.”

Busby is far from the only person to compare First Baptist to a cult. So does every expert and religion blogger tracking the church—and virtually every one of the dozens of victims and former church members—with whom I spoke. Including Linda Murphrey, Hyles’s daughter. “I believe First Baptist Church gradually evolved into a cult that was in complete idolatry of my father and, after his death, complete idolatry of Jack Schaap,” she says.

What makes a church a cult? I asked Rick Ross, whose nonprofit institute maintains an online archive of data on cults and controversial movements. (He says he is not familiar with the details of First Baptist.) Ross points to a landmark 1981 Harvard study on cult formation, which suggests that all cults, destructive or not, share three elements: an
absolute authoritarian leader who defines the group; a “thought program” that includes “control of the environment, control of information, and people subordinating themselves and their feelings to the demands of the leader”; and a lack of accountability for the head of the group.

Another common characteristic of cults, Ross says, is that they use shame and some sort of exploitation—financial, spiritual, or sexual—to exercise control. Members of a Bible-based group, for example, are made to believe that “it’s a sin of pride for you to think for yourself,” he says. “It’s your ego or a demon or Satan’s influence that causes you to doubt the edicts of the leadership.”

First Baptist members have long scoffed at cult comparisons. And Brennan says they have a point. “I emphatically and strongly disagree with those who would assert that the church is a cult,” he says. “There’s a world of difference between a cult of personality and a cult. I don’t care how controlling Jack Schaap was. I don’t care how overbearing he was. I don’t care how much he demanded personal loyalty. Nobody there ever drank Kool-Aid. It’s not even a valid comparison.”


Photograph: Kyle Telechan/The Times/AP



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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