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A Norris fanboy and good friend of Roloff was already well on his way to IFB stardom when Roloff passed. Jack Hyles was born the same year J. Frank stood trial for murder in 1926. Hyle’s early life seemed to mirror that of Norris. Jack was born in poverty, the son of an alcoholic who beat him severely and eventually left the Hyles family all together. Like Norris before him, Hyles found comfort in the world of the fiery Baptist preaching. After serving in the Army during World War II, Hyles returned and attended East Baptist Bible College in Marshall Texas. He then pastored a few churches in Texas and his success drew the attention of a large congregation in Hammond, Indiana. Seeing the potential, and the money, of the wealthy and well-respected church, Hyles took the position at First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana in 1959. By age 33, he had become somewhat popular in the South, yet the move to Hammond was the real catalyst for Jack Hyles’s career. It was here that he created an empire and a worldwide name – as far as the IFB goes. It was also here that he created what most experts have classified as a cult. 

Few have ever understood the world of fundamentalism better than Jack Hyles. His ability to exploit the fears and anxieties of a people who already have a deep distrust of government and systems was uncanny. It is no doubt that this played a part in Hyles breaking away from the American Baptist Convention shortly after arriving and FBC Hammond. Just like Norris had despised the organized Southern Baptists for mocking his exaggerated showmanship, Hyles despised the American Baptists for the same reasons. Both men hated the scrutiny and constraint that an oversight committee placed upon them, which is the process in most Christian denominations. They wanted to have complete control. In fact,  it seems most IFB leaders are men who refuse to answer to others but expect their followers to answer solely to them. And while the reasons were certainly complex, at the center Jack Hyles’s drive for authoritarianism drove him to the Independent Fundamental Baptists. 

And the break served Hyles well. He too built his Sunday School to earn the coveted honor of Largest Sunday School in the World by Christian Life Magazine. And Time Magazine ran an article on Hyles in December of 1975 titled Superchurch. The notoriety was only beginning as Jack Hyles became the darling of the fundamentalist world. He established two Baptist schools, a radio program, a Mission, a publishing company, the Christian Womanhood Newspaper/organization, along with countless other smaller endeavors. His most lasting impact though was his college, which he named after himself and his donor, Russel Anderson. Hyles-Anderson College boasted an attendance of 2700 at the height of its popularity and its first president was Robert Billings (who was quite a fundamentalist in his own right). Billings once estimated that he had helped to start more than 400 Christian schools across the U.S. which serves as further proof of the long-reaching arms and interconnectedness of the IFB. After leaving his post as Hyles-Anderson, Billings went on to join Jerry Falwell in creating the Moral Majority and helping Reagan to win the presidency. This earned him a spot in the Education Department of Reagan’s administration, as well as the President’s direct tie to the fundamentalist movement.

Hyles loved that he had, what he believed, was a direct line to the President. Even though Reagan likely knew little about Jack Hyles, having a friend such as Billings so close to the President gave Jack all the ego boost he needed. In his mind, HE was the close friend of the president and HE was directly responsible for keeping America in line. And to be fair, both Reagan and Hyles had a lot of beliefs and goals in common. Like the leaders before him, Hyles preached against Catholics, communists, feminists, and evolutionists (a term he often used). He wholeheartedly supported segregation and was an open racist, though he believed that because he tried to convert Black people to his teachings he couldn’t possibly have any prejudice. In truth, he created separate Sunday Schools just for Black and Latino kids and kept the classes segregated until his death in 2001. He was also a lifelong, open opponent of interracial dating or marriage, and blamed Black folks for the discrimination they faced.  

But with a new era there was a new threat to the American Dream and while Norris had disguised his homophobia in anti-communism, Hyles would have no need to do the same. In 1969 as Hyles received his first bit of national fame over his large Sunday school, the Gay Rights Movement burst forward after the Stonewall Riots. The subsequent March’s and open demands for LGBTQ+ equality sent a shiver down the backs of those in the fundamentalist movement. This was a new target, added to sit next to the great threats of Evolution and Communism. Whereas many communities grow and evolve in their missions and focus, fundamentalists pride themselves in never changing the things they hate, only adding to the list. The fear mongering discourse around the so-called gay agenda became part of Hyles daily repertoire during in his communications to his followers. 

While leaders like Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell lead the mainstream Evangelical march against the LGBTQ+, Jack Hyles and his cohorts lead the world of Fundamentalism. In the media, Graham and Falwell spoke out against queer rights but still admonished love and sympathy for the sick homosexual. Though privately they were just as hateful as the fundamentalists. It is exactly this form of two faced hypocrisy often shown in the world of Evangelicalism that drove many people to the brazenly open IFB. Say what you will about the fundamentalist, they will always tell you exactly what they are thinking (even if it is a stream of incoherent, hate ridden, nonsensical thought). Yet though Jack Hyles reasoning was a rabbit trail of disconnected ideas he could certainly articulate his thoughts. In his infamous sermon Is Homosexuality Sick or Sinful? Hyles stated:

“It is very plain then that God is displeased with homosexuality. He not only tells us that it is a sin, but that under the Jewish law it was punishable by death. It is not surprising then to find that the same generation that demands an acceptance of homosexuality has also rejected God’s teaching concerning homosexuality….according to the Bible it is sin not sickness.”[8 -pg11]

[Pamphlet from Hyles Sermons on Homosexuality]

The rest of the sermon, later summarized into a pamphlet and distributed, gave parents ‘tips’ on how to cure or prevent homosexuality. Hyles blamed loneliness stating “Many homosexuals like to spend hours alone with a stereo, or enjoying some other recreation that does not require the presence of anyone else”[8-pg 13]. He followed that paragraph with his tremendous ability to weave in control and early brainwashing. Telling parents they should immediately put their newborns in the nursery upon their first church service. “The mother is off on the wrong foot when she brings her little boy to church, keeps him in her arms, and refuses to put him in the nursery with the other babies” Hyles raged, adding, “He should become accustomed to being away from Mother and Father”.

The reality is Hyles knew that indoctrination from an early age was important and that was why he placed such a large emphasis on Sunday School. Not only could the children have their minds molded by Hyles trained teachers, who read off plans he created himself and taught to the Sunday School teachers before Sunday morning. But this also served to keep the adults’ attention on Jack during his sermons and not distract away from him by their children. Hyles was also a firm believer that a new mother should return to church within weeks if not days after birth. And it was not uncommon for FBC Hammond to have babies as young as 2 weeks old in the nursery which eventually called for a dedicated Newborn and Infants nursery. And just as Hyles indoctrinated and molded his people, he urged his followers to mold their children straight.

Hyles placed the burden of queer kids directly on the parents reaching for any and every reason a child could become gay. After one mother mentioned she had bought a pool table for her son, Hyles told the audience:

“Now I am not speaking against pool tables. (I do not play pool; for that matter, neither does my son). I did advise her to get him games that could not be played alone. For example, Ping Pong is better than pool as it is impossible to be played alone… It is sad nowadays that our boys are growing up nowadays without ever playing ball in a vacant lot or enjoying other privileges that other generations have had that help to avoid feminie tendencies”. [8-pg 14]

Though transgender and non-binary issues were not prominent in most of the media of the day, Hyles transphobia and binary thinking shone through reguarly. Like countless before and after him, Jack conflated sexual orientation with gender identity. He told his congregation this story in an attempt to terrify them:

I am thinking of a man in our church, who is one of the most masculine men I know, but when his boy was very small his son began to develop feminine tendencies. I saw these tendencies developing. The father, who was masculine, was busy. Though he was every bit a man, he didn’t spend enough time with his boy. The boy began to walk like a girl and talk like a girl, and frankly, I am frightened when I think of his future. [8-pg 12-13]

Hyles had been railing against the bending of gender norms since early 1969 when he preached and then printed his sermon Jesus Had Short Hair! In the message he stated: 

It is very interesting that as the trend towards long hair [on men] increases, the acceptance of homosexuality increases. This is not to say that homosexuality and long hair always go together, but it is to note the fact that both are on the rise in our generation.”[8 pg-5]

Four years later in his sermon simply titled Unisex, Hyles dramatically declared “One of the greatest signs of the end time is the fact that the Unisex movement is sweeping this country!”. It’s hard to know if Hyles blamed this movement more on feminist, communists, or the LGBTQ+ as he interchanged between the three sets frequently during his rant.

Throughout the message he laid out what he called ‘The Devil’s Strategy’ in utilizing the Unisex movment. Point one, The Devil is using clothes to break down the barrier between the sexes. And he wasn’t simply talking about clothes designed for men and women, Hyles believed that pants on women was a sin. He told his deacons: 

It’s time for some of you deacon’s wives to look like ladies instead of men.  It’s time for some of you deacons to yank them up and say, “Put a skirt on and take those ‘britches’ off!”. [10]

He continued his raging a few paragraphs later, ironically supporting the exact points against the gender construct:

“Did you know you can buy panty hose for men in shopping centers in the city of Hammond?  I’m sorry; for males- I’m sorry, for “its”?  Hold it!  Tell me a Scripture that says it’s wrong for a man to wear panty hose.  How many of you think it’s wrong?  I do.  Tell me why.  It’s wrong then because panty hose are ladies’ clothing; is that right?  Then the same philosophy will change your pants to skirts!  If it’s all right for a woman to wear britches, then it’s all right for a man to wear panty hose because it’s women’s clothing and a man’s not supposed to wear women’s clothing.  I say again if you teenage girls and ladies can wear your slacks, then it’s okay for men to wear panty hose.  It’s the same philosophy.  It’s the same logic.  You cannot be logical and refute that statement. He added later, I’ll just say it again. It’s time some of you Christians dress like fundamentalists.”[10]

Throughout his entire life Hyles would preach this same message, never wavering. He pushed his congregation to actively hate LGBTQ+ people and vote against their human rights. More disturbingly, Hyles sent queer teens in his cult away to the Roloff Homes and later to other ‘troubled teen homes’ such as Agape, Hepzibah House, Bethel, New Beginnings, and homes run by Straight Inc. Hyles’ close friendship with Roloff certainly influenced his belief that violence would remedy the ‘homosexul problem’. Upon Lester’s death, Hyles bought the wrecked plane and created a shrine to Roloff at Hyles-Anderson. More than 17 years after Jack Hyles death, his son David Hyles was still encouraging some kind of cure for homosexuality (though not as aggressive).

[One of the troubled teen homes that LGBTQ+ youth would be sent to]

The younger Hyles wrote in 2018 about the evils of sexual attraction and unnatural lifestyles. In a bizarre blog post he stated:

If I may be so frank, I am attracted to horses. However I have never had a sexual attraction to a horse. Yet there are some who have. Why? Because their minds have become deviant. They have allowed their minds to be filled with lustful wicked thoughts. Sexual attraction is programmed by what we put into our minds or allow to be put into our minds… We must first give the body as a living sacrifice… Then we refuse to be conformed to the sexual activities of this world. Finally the transformation or metamorphosis takes place in our minds. What once was a deviant sexual attraction becomes merely an attraction. No longer is the sexual a part of it.

Therefore a man who has same-sex attractions can be attracted to men without sexuality being involved. That is how someone comes out of an unnatural lifestyle and is able to live a life that is pure. They must understand the importance of committing their bodies to the Lord. [11]

But what is particularly disturbing about the Hyles attacks on the deviance of the LGBTQ+ community was their actual deeds of sexual misconduct, assaults, rape, and abuse of their church members and funds. In 1989, a fundamentalist newspaper known as The Biblical Evangelist broke a story known as The Saddest Story We Ever Published! Eventually, what was meant as a one time article, turned into a 150 page expose on the cult of Jack Hyles and First Baptist Church of Hammond. In it, journalist Robert Sumner detailed a nearly 20 year long affair between Jack Hyles and his secretary. Along with Hyles forcing the husband of the secretary to live in the basement before Jack eventually used church funds to build his lover a home one street behind Hyles own. In addition to this bombshell were several others, including multiple allegations of embezzlement and misappropriation of funds. Threats and violence against former church members who tried to expose the truth about Hyles. Large payoffs made in the form of new vehicles and down payments on homes for those who helped Hyles cover his tracks. And the letters of Hyles young goons who threatened to attack Sumner for exposing Jack’s cult. Today, one of those goons, Eddie Lapina, is the right hand man at FBC Hammond.

[Segment from WJBK airing their investigation of The Biblical Evangelist story]

But Jack Hyles wasn’t the only one with sins to cover. Multiple lawsuits were presented against the church over the years as one account of sexual abuse after another was brought forward. One of the most notorious cases was that of deacon A.V. Ballenger who was accused of molesting a 7 year old girl. During the trial, 3 women testified that the deacon had assaulted them as well when they were younger. Hyles staunchly defended Ballenger and even threw a fundraiser and later a party for the deacon. In the end, Ballenger was sentenced to 5 years in prison. A study conducted around this time linked sexual assault cases in 5 different fundamentalist churches back to Hyles. A NWI Times article reported, “allegations of child molesting, abuse and sex scandals in several churches across the nation appear to be part of a pattern of such scandals among churches affiliated with the First Baptist Church of Hammond.”[13]

Even long after Hyles had left, his habit of covering up abuse and scandal continued to play a part in the way the IFB operated. In December of 2018, journalist Sarah Smith, then a part of the Star-Telegram in Texas, broke the story of over 800 cases of sexual assault covered up by leaders in the Independebt Fundamental Baptist Movement. The majority of the victims came from churches with ties to Jack Hyles and the First Baptist Church of Hammond. And one survivor who shared her story had been among the many victims of Hyles own son, David Hyles. The IFB leader moved his son down to Texas after David assaulted several teenage girls and raped the daughter of the president of Hyles-Anderson College. Jack was very aware of his son’s abuse and destroyed letters and other evidence that would have allowed David Hyles to be arrested. It would be 40 years before a survivor of David’s abuse would be able to press charges

After his removal from Hammond, David Hyles would then go on to have multiple affairs with several women in his new chuch, along with more allegations of sexual abuse levied against him regarding relationships with teenage girls. His first wife, Paula, left him and gave an interview that corroborated the story told in The Biblical Evangelist. For several years Dave Hyles faded from the IFB spotlight as it became apparent that Jack could do little to reform the image of his son. This was made doubly hard when stories revealed that two of David’s children had died under mysterious circumstances at separate times. One died in infancy, the other was backed over by a car. Rumors swirled that signs of abuse had been evident in both children but authorities never gained the evidence needed to formally charge David Hyles. Despite this sordid past the apple surely doesn’t fall far from the tree. In recent years the son of Jack Hyles has made a striking come back in the world of Fundamentalism. A few years ago he launched what he calls a “Restoration Ministry”. Which allows abusers to pay David to put them through a program, label them restored, and connect them with fundamentalist leaders who ‘restore’ the predators to a position of power within the IFB.

[Hyles son-in-law Jack Schaap preaching his sermon Polished Shaft – Schaap went to prison in 2012]

As for Jack Hyles, while he certainly lost some of his power among the Independent Fundamental Baptists, he still reigned strong within his own empire until his death in 2001. He was succeeded by his son-in-law Jack Schaap who went to prison 11 years later for sexually abusing a 16 year old girl. The stories of Hyles abuse were covered by the WJBK News Station in Detroit, Michigan in 1993. In a 6 part series titled Preying from the Pulpit the news anchors detailed the cult that FBC Hammond had become. Over the years, several journalists have also written about the Hyles’s and later Schaap. In 2012, Jack Hyles own daughter Linda Hyles Murphey gave a TEDx talk about her father’s cult. Blogger James Peron, the founder of the LGBT publication Esteem, was friends with the Hyles children when he was younger. He later wrote about the hypocrisy of the Hyles clans hatred and expectations of queer people while justifying their own sexual desires. In an article for Medium, Peron wrote about fundamentalisms double standard:

Gay men are supposed to be able to resist temptation; and, if they don’t, it’s their fault. They are the ones condemned…Only straight men get to blame the objects of their desire when they refuse to control themselves.”[12]

Your recommended resource is the 6 part series Preying from the Pulpit available on YouTube or Sarah Smiths Star-Telegram piece about the hundreds of sex abuse cases in the IFB.

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