[Star Telegram] 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.
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[Editor’s Note: Given the depth of this particular story from Star Telegram, as written by Neil Nakahodo, it will take some time to unpack the details and look at the facts. Two questions cross my mind. First, do these states mean sexual abuse is worse in IFB churches than other kids? I know it’s far less than in Catholic churches, but how does it compare to big-box non-denominational megachurches? Secondly, why does it take a British newspaper to do this level of research in American churches?]