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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HOW THE “GOSPEL” SPREAD: Here are just eight of the men affiliated with First Baptist Church or educated at Hyles-Anderson—most of them pastors—who scattered around the nation committing crimes.

Tedd Butler1. Tedd Butler, 47
Former pastor of Gospel Light Baptist Church, Walker, Michigan
Convicted in 2006 of molesting a five-year-old boy

 

Christopher Settlemoir2. Christopher Settlemoir, 29
Former pastor of Antioch Baptist Academy, Warren, Michigan
Convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting a minor

3. Charles V. Shifflett, 61
Former pastor of First Baptist Church, Culpeper, Virginia
Convicted in 2006 of cruelty to children and assault and battery

Joseph D. Combs4. Joseph D. Combs, 63
Former pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Bristol, Tennessee
Convicted in 2000 of kidnapping and abusing a minor

Chester Mulligan5. Chester Mulligan, 47
Former pastor of Central Baptist Church, East Chicago, Indiana; current pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Miami, Florida
Convicted in 2009 of felony stalking of a 14-year-old

William A. “Andy” Beith6. William A. “Andy” Beith, 40
Former principal at Liberty Baptist Academy, Lake Station, Indiana
Convicted in 2002 of crossing state lines with the intent to have sex with an 11-year-old girl

Craig Sisson7. Craig Sisson, 52
Former pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, Imperial, Missouri
Convicted in 2005 of child molestation

 

8. Kerry Martin, 56
Former pastor of Temecula Valley Baptist Church, Temecula, California
Convicted in 1999 of molesting a 14-year-old girl

Proverbs

On a cool Sunday evening in mid-October, I drove to Hammond to sit in on a First Baptist service. I pulled onto Sibley Avenue and headed toward the church, a mammoth red-brick structure hard by the railroad tracks that takes up an entire city block and looks from some angles more like a big-box store than a house of worship. The surrounding blocks bustled with activity. Traffic guards directed cars into a gravel parking lot. Yellow buses lined back streets and alleys.

I’m sure that I was marked as an outsider, even though I had taken the advice of former members and worn a suit and tie. (I had also been instructed to carry a Bible—the King James Version—but I couldn’t find my mother’s and so arrived empty-handed.)

I entered a bit after the 6 p.m. start time, ducked past the crimson-coated ushers, and found a seat in what I eventually realized was the section reserved for the deaf. The church’s $27 million, 7,500-capacity auditorium, which once strained to fit the congregation, was dotted with empty patches. While most of the lower level was filled, sections of the sweeping balcony were deserted.

I sat in the pew, gazing at the colonnaded pulpit, bright white under a spotlight—the spot where Schaap had given his infamous “Polished Shaft” sermon. Tonight’s guest preacher, Freddy
DeAnda, a trim 30-something who is spoken of as a candidate for the top job, made no references to sex. But neither did he dwell on compassion. Instead, he spoke of doing more for the church, of stepping up, of trying harder.

It was a fine sermon, and the people around me—men in suits and ties with neatly combed hair, women in tastefully modest dresses, children sitting quietly beside them—smiled and nodded. The ushers, standing in back throughout the 90-minute service, occasionally whooped, like cowboys at a rodeo, at something they found particularly inspiring. If the members of the congregation were heartbroken about what was happening to their church, they didn’t show it on this night.

And at the end, awash in an old-time hymn, hundreds of them, expressions blank, unhesitatingly made their way to the front of the church. They prostrated themselves on the football-field-wide bank of stairs there. And they prayed.

* * *

This story has been revised to reflect the following:

Correction on 12.11.12: The print version of this story, appearing in the January 2013 issue of Chicago, incorrectly stated that former First Baptist Church member Julie Silvestrone Busby received marriage counseling from Schaap in 2004 and 2009. The sessions lasted from 2004 through 2009.

Also, the girl whom Schaap counseled across state lines was 16 when the abuse began.

 

Photograph: (Mulligan) courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana

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