Why I Speak

Guest post by Sally Muxlow Calder, BJU alumna

Calder quote #1I came from a loving fundamentalist home and had a good experience at Bob Jones, graduating in the 1980s. I’m not an abuse survivor.

Sometimes people wonder why we care so passionately if we aren’t survivors ourselves. Here’s why I care:

About a year ago, I stumbled upon an article about Jack Schaap, Jack Hyles’ son-in-law and then-pastor of First Baptist of Hammond, Indiana, who was going to prison for statutory rape. Hyles’ sermons had always seemed devoid of scripture and full of himself, so I started researching him. Hyles apparently had a long-term affair with his tape secretary, in addition to misappropriating church funds. He was still the pastor of the church when he died and a statue of him and his wife still graces the church grounds. Multiple men from his church have been either accused or convicted of child sexual abuse, including a member of the Bible faculty of Hyles-Anderson College, Joseph Combs, and his wife. They are serving a 179-year prison sentence. Dave Hyles, Jack’s son, has ministered in several churches across the country leaving a string of mistresses in each of those churches, as well as First Baptist of Hammond. Questions surrounding the death of Hyles’ young step-son have never been sufficiently answered.

The list of other IFB pastors and youth pastors who have had sexual relations with women, teens and children is too extensive to list in this blog post. Jeri Massi has documented over a hundred cases of child sexual abuse by ministers or others in IFB leadership on her blog. She has stopped compiling them, but the abuse undoubtedly goes on. Note those hundred-plus cases are just for child sex abuse, not affairs. Three notable names in this pedophile category are Bob Gray (Jacksonville, FL), Bill Wininger (Michigan, Georgia) and Tom White of Voice of the Martyrs.

Documentaries and newspaper articles abound on the abuse (all categories) of children in IFB group homes. New Bethany Home for Girls in Arcadia, Louisiana has been the subject of an in-depth investigation by a reporter for nola.com. Mack Ford, the object of much of the investigation, recently died, so his accusers won’t be able to face him in court. Abuse at Hephzibah House has also been well-documented by Jeri Massi, yet this organization is still in operation and still supported by those in fundamentalism. Abuse has been alleged at other IFB homes, but when authorities attempted to investigate, the children were moved in the middle of the night to homes in other states.

Before the current Bob Jones GRACE investigation, GRACE was hired by New Tribes Mission to look into abuse allegations at their Fanda Missionary Boarding School. The final report is online and very disturbing. Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) also hired GRACE to investigate abuse of their missionary kids. They fired GRACE before the report was released, but they never rehired them. What has come to light in spite of that is that their field doctor at their Bangladesh hospital sexually abused several girls on the mission field. He was sent home in the late 80’s, but ABWE continued giving him a pension and informed no one of his pedophilia. He returned to Michigan and practiced medicine for the next 22 years. When survivors began speaking out, Michigan revoked his license and ABWE hired an attorney.

Calder quote #1bBill Gothard became an influential figure in conservative Christianity in the 70s and 80s with his Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts and Advanced Training Institute. In July 2011, a large group of professionals in various fields launched a website called Recovering Grace. All of them were raised in ATI. Many of them experienced physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse in that world. Their goal is to rescue people still trapped in this system or support those who have left. They have exposed Bill Gothard’s emotional manipulation and sexual harassment of the teen girls and young women who worked at IBLP. To date, more than 40 women have come forward with very similar stories of his abuse of them.

An abundance of information is online detailing abuse in the patriarchy movement and the Quiverfull movement. Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips, one of the most influential and powerful men in the patriarchy movement, had an extended affair with his family’s young, live-in nanny.

The most disturbing allegations of child sexual abuse that I’ve read in my research come from Sovereign Grace Ministries. The lawsuit alleges a pedophilia ring with at least some of the men involved as leaders in the church and school. This is still making its way through the court system, because of problems with the statute of limitations and jurisdiction issues. Brent Detwiler, a former SGM pastor, is documenting everything concerning this on a website bearing his name.

A little closer to the Bob Jones world, Ernest Willis, a deacon in BJU board member Chuck Phelps’ church, raped a teen in the church, impregnating her. She was forced to stand in front of the church and apologize for her “sin” – Willis was also required to stand in front of the church and confess to adultery. The church was not told the two situations were related. The young woman had also been sexually abused as a child by her stepfather, Daniel Leaf. In 2011, Ernest Willis was convicted and sent to jail for his crime. Just this January, Daniel Leaf was also convicted and sent to jail. Chuck Phelps faced another case of child sexual abuse with a perpetrator named Joshua Budgett. Phelps performed Budgett’s marriage ceremony at his halfway house where he was living as a registered sex offender. Budgett was sentenced in 2013 to 30 years in prison for sexually abusing the stepdaughter he gained at that wedding ceremony.

For most of my life, I’ve lived in a bubble – sexual abuse was a distant, icky word that I didn’t understand and that didn’t really touch my life. During this research, God has brought person after person to me to teach me that abuse has been touching my life all along, I just didn’t know. I have now seen first-hand the pain survivors live with. I know the challenges they have to live ordinary days. That an ordinary day is often a victory. As I read and researched, I still thought Bob Jones was different. But as story after story came to me – some in person and some online – I realized Bob Jones wasn’t different at all. These survivors came from my orbit, my world. Their abusers came from my world. Their cover-up was in my world.

Calder qoute #2As an alumna of Bob Jones, I have felt disillusionment that the administration is not who I thought they were. I’ve been angry at the lack of compassion and brokenness over the damage to hundreds of already fragile young people. I’m disappointed that, in the face of so much damning evidence, they will continue to counsel the same way. I’m disheartened that they’ve chosen to run their words through their attorneys rather than believe that God will sustain the school, even if they say something that might be healing, but also admissible in court. I’ve been confused at how an educational institution could be so uninformed and naïve. And if it wasn’t naïvete, what was it?

So why have I chosen to be vocal? I don’t believe things will change until we make it uncomfortable for enablers to enable and difficult for predators to prey. It’s not enough to pick up the pieces of a broken life. We must prevent the breaking in the first place. We won’t begin to solve the problem of sexual abuse until the cover-up ends. Until men of integrity care more about righteousness and people that are hurting than their own reputation and money.

To read more about Sally’s journey of understanding, you can read her blog at Beauty Recognized.  

9 Comments on “Why I Speak

  1. I am glad to read the stories that you write about. I am a survivor of domestic violence. I’ve been in the rescue shelters, hidden from my husband. It was a great relief (after the initial days of shock and silence) to find I was not alone, not the dredge of humanity after all. Finding professionally taught advocates were in constant attendance and knew how to change the abuser’s slurs into what they really were – lies to serve his purpose. (The purpose is always control centered even if it goes unrecognized or believed by the abuser.)

    I’ve read many things and learned they were true. I was not the “drain on society” as I was called – his need to “control” was his salvation and damnation. It was sadly all he had to live for… and it killed him. It made his situation much sadder than mine. It is in reaching that conclusion that forgiveness became possible. That’s a long way from Point A to Point B…

    It’s been a privilege to have become friends with Rebecca Davis. The after affects of the abuse are getting a little easier now. (This is now 8/9 years since it all ended.) I’ll never be the same – I’ll be better than before.

    I believe that God allows us the great fires for two reasons… one is to teach us something God wants us to learn and the other is to bring us closer to Him. That’s a pretty good payoff! It fills my heart with joy and gratitude. I think the greatest thing I learned was to pay attention to and step forward to those who need comfort, encouragement and the assurance that God loves them and will indeed provide for them. Without this experience I’d probably still be walking around with blinded eyes. I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Being of service to our Father is as high as I can imagine we can rise to here on Earth.

    God bless you all in all you do to help these weak, crushed spirits.

    Ruth Mummert

  2. You describe my experience of discovery exactly. I no longer support BJU except to encourage repentance on their part. I suspect there are many others like me. Whatever value my unaccredited degree ever had was ruined by the poor reputation of the school due to the foolish rants of the president Mr. Bob III. I am ashamed of the University and the fact that I have a degree from such an institution. I hope that the many fine faculty will rise up in protest and clean house. I wish it were a good school, but it will continue to die a slow death devoid of God’s blessing.

  3. Sally – Excellent! Thank you. Everything you have chronicled here is true. As we face wicked ones, these wolves in wool, who crave power and control and self-glory in the forum of the local church and Christian institutions, we must get wise as serpents really quickly. And we have to stop being fearful of speaking out. The thing is hard to verbalize, but we have all felt it. The celebrity status of the “holy ones” who occupy their holy of holies in our churches, Christian colleges and seminaries, para-church ministries and missions organizations. Like Nebuchadnezzar, these kind set up statues of themselves and in many different ways command us all to bow down and worship them. We have to stop it. Like Daniels three friends, we have to say “nope. Ex-communicate me, expel me, fire me, do what you are going to do. But I am not bowing down to you anymore. What you are doing in secret is going to be shouted from the roof tops.”

  4. “We won’t begin to solve the problem of sexual abuse until the cover-up ends. Until men of integrity care more about righteousness and people that are hurting than their own reputation and money.”

    That’s exactly the problem. These aren’t men of integrity; they are only masquerading as such. Too many people believe the masquerade is real and won’t look too closely lest they see the truth.

    Thank you for seeing past the masks and looking for truth, even though it is way outside your comfort zone and impossible to ever unknow. It helps when there are those who vocally care about victims/survivors, that haven’t personally known abuse.

  5. Sally,
    I am so proud of you for being vocal about this. As you know, I too have lived in quite a bubble all my life– it’s enjoyable and comfortable here, after all. In many respects, I’m thankful for my bubble, as I’ve been sheltered from much extreme injustices but can’t imagine the horror for many, many victims– all grossly abused by “Christian” leaders. It seems too outlandish to believe, even! People on the outside thought these leaders and even the victims also lived in this nice “bubble,” I’m sure. What a farce! For some reason, you’ve been prompted to speak up, so cheers to you! You’re doing a fine job of speaking up.

  6. When I visited BJU for the first and only time a few years ago (I attended their conference on sexual abuse), I was struck with a number of things, one of which I mention here. I am sure I am not the only one to have seen it. When I went into the huge chapel (I think that is what it is called?), I saw a very large platform up front, centered by a large pulpit, and behind which there were “thrones” – rather ornate wood if I recall correctly – where I assume the faculty sits. The students and others are at a lower level (except for the balcony) in the common seats. It is structures like this which, in my opinion, are instruments in the hands of arrogant, power and control seeking people, to exalt and glorify themselves and to regularly remind the rest of us to submit to and honor them. As a pastor, I preach from a pulpit that is raised up a bit – so people can see me. But years ago we did away with the “special” wooden, carved thrones that used to be located on the platform for the pastor and some church officer to sit. Why? Because Christ would be repulsed by it and so should we. Yes, we honor and respect Christ’s true shepherds in His church, but at the same time Christ’s true people reject any kind of lording it over others. And my point here is that the very physical setup of the BJU chapel screams out a message of power and control and the spirit of Diotrephes – “who loves to be first.”

  7. Oh, and in a sense my main point in my former comment – where these man-exalting structures and cultures exist, you can bet for sure that abuse of all kinds will certainly come in like a flood.

  8. It takes immense courage to stand up to an entity like BJU, but never more so then when you are doing so from within. I spoke to many individuals over the years, but my heart went into BJU, because that was MY school, my teachers, the people I loved and respected. But I was on the outside and my words carried little weight. The survivors cannot solve this problem, because we did not create it. We lived through it, but that in itself is what makes us outsiders. We are easy to ignore. It is a sad fact, but it is what it is. If change comes it will have to come from within,from courageous individuals such as you Sally.

    Thank you, so SO MUCH and please forgive my late response.


  9. Amy,I’m no longer within the Bob Jones or fundamentalist community at all. I left in my early 20s. Some people that I dearly love are still in fundamentalism, and I still live in Greenville. The longer you’re out, the easier it is to see how destructive it is. Fortunately, Bob Jones has little to no influence on non-fundamentalist churches in Greenville. It’s easy for me to speak, because I do speak as an outsider. I wish there were more voices speaking from the inside, but that’s a difficult thing. Many are unaware, many are afraid, many are willfully blind. I’m sorry for the pain that each of you continues to deal with. I hope you find a community of people who will walk with you outside of fundamentalism.