Joy Evans Ryder was 15 years old when she says her church youth director pinned her to his office floor and raped her.
“It’s OK. It’s OK,” he told her. “You don’t have to be afraid of anything.”
He straddled her with his knees, and she looked off into the corner, crying and thinking, “This isn’t how my mom said it was supposed to be.”
The youth director, Dave Hyles, was the son of the charismatic pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, considered at the time the flagship for thousands of loosely affiliated independent fundamental Baptist churches and universities.
At least three other teen girls would accuse Hyles of sexual misconduct, but he never faced charges or even sat for a police interview related to the accusations. When he got in trouble, Hyles was able to simply move on, from one church assignment to the next.
Hyles’ flight to safety has become a well-worn path for ministers in the independent fundamental Baptist movement.
For decades, women and children have faced rampant sexual abuse while worshiping at independent fundamental Baptist churches around the country. The network of churches and schools has often covered up the crimes and helped relocate the offenders, an eight-month Star-Telegram investigation has found.
More than 200 people — current or former church members, across generations — shared their stories of rape, assault, humiliation and fear in churches where male leadership cannot be questioned.
“It’s a philosophy — it’s flawed,” said Stacey Shiflett, an independent fundamental Baptist pastor in Dundalk, Maryland. “The philosophy is you don’t air your dirty laundry in front of everyone. Pastors think if they keep it on the down-low, it won’t impact anyone. And then the other philosophy is it’s wrong to say anything bad about another preacher.”
The Star-Telegram discovered at least 412 allegations of sexual misconduct in 187 independent fundamental Baptist churches and their affiliated institutions, spanning 40 states and Canada.
Twenty-one abuse allegations were uncovered exclusively by the Star-Telegram, and others were documented in criminal cases, lawsuits and news reports. But victims said the number of abused is far greater because few victims ever come forward.
One hundred and sixty-eight church leaders were accused or convicted of committing sexual crimes against children, the investigation found. At least 45 of the alleged abusers continued in ministry after accusations came to the attention of church authorities or law enforcement.
Compounding the problem is the legal statute of limitations. For many alleged offenders, the statutes on the crimes have expired.
Many of the allegations involve men whose misconduct has long been suspected in the independent fundamental Baptist community. But most of their victims have not publicly come forward, on the record, until now. Even pastors have for the first time — in interviews with the Star-Telegram — acknowledged they moved alleged abusers out of their churches rather than call law enforcement.
From Connecticut to California, the stories are tragically similar:
A music minister molested a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina and moved to another church in Florida. Another girl’s parents stood in front of their Connecticut congregation to acknowledge their daughter’s “sin” after she was abused by her youth pastor, beginning at 16. This year, four women accused a pastor in California of covering up sexual misconduct and shielding the abusers over almost 25 years.
To understand how this systemic, widespread abuse could happen again and again, some former members say it is necessary to understand the cult-like power of many independent fundamental Baptist churches and the constant pressure not to question pastors — or ever leave the church.
“We didn’t have a compound like those other places, but it may as well have been,” said one former member who says she was abused. She requested anonymity because, like many others, she is still intimidated by the church.
“Our mind was the compound.”
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: Fort Worth Star Telegram, by SARAH SMITH
- Part 2: These ‘men of God’ sexually abused children. Then they found refuge at other churches
- Part 3: ‘It’s ruined me.’ Former independent fundamental Baptists describe life in the church
- Part 4: ‘My earliest memory of being molested was when I was 4 years old. It was Sunday school’
- Addendum: How the Star-Telegram investigated sex abuse in fundamental Baptist churches