To the dear past and present members of First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana
March 18, 2013
You were my father’s first love.
I was never really sure if it was you that he loved, or merely the adoration and prestige he received from you. Definitely the latter, perhaps both. In either case, I always knew that the ministry, "his" ministry, mattered more than I did. I didn’t blame you. I envied you. As a little girl, I longed to matter as much to him as his ministry did, but I couldn’t compete. Everything he did, everything we did was “for the sake of the ministry.” The lies we had to keep were “for the sake of the ministry.” The pretense we were forced to live was “for the sake of the ministry.” The mandated secrecy was “for the sake of the ministry.” Those six words still ring in my ears, I heard them so much as a child. Jack Hyles’ ministry was ALL that mattered to him. And when time came for him to choose between the ministry and me, he chose you. He always chose you.
But I couldn’t resent you for that. He created that worship within you. He taught you to adore him above all else. He insisted that you trust him, no matter what rumors you heard. He frightened you to the point that you dare not be disloyal to him. He required obedience without question. You were sincerely trying to follow God, but in your effort to do so, a man diverted your attention and convinced you to follow him. I do not blame you. You weren’t trying to steal my dad away from me. You thought you were listening to instruction from God’s Word, from God’s man. And God’s man was instructing you to obey him as a representative of...a substituion for Deity, leading you on a journey away from God into idolatry.
I believe you loved my dad, as did I. I always will. A lot of who I am today is because of him, and for the many positive things learned from him, I am thankful.
But he also hurt us deeply and led us astray. I do not hate him for that. I do not resent you for allowing that. Placing blame isn’t productive. Clearly seeing what happened is. Speaking openly about what happened is. Learning from what happened is. Blame helps no one. We are where we are in this day, and we can only learn from the past as we move forward toward a healthier future.
As we move on, there are a few things I would like to express to you. You may not need to read these words, but I need to say them. Please allow me to be about as vulnerable as I’ve ever been in completely sharing my heart with you.
First, to those of you who were at FBC when I was little girl, I thank you. Yes, as you may know, I have some very painful memories from my childhood. But I also have some wonderful memories thanks to many of you.
I don’t remember all of my Sunday School teachers and teachers in the Christian schools, but I warmly remember many of them - Mrs. Gifford, Nancy Ball, Val Sunde, Rhonda Stahlman and others who genuinely cared about me. In fact, several teachers from my youth have recently emailed me some very gracious words. They have all said similar things – that they remembered me with fondness, recalling that I always seemed sad, and expressing how much they had loved me.
I worked diligently as a child to keep hidden the pain in my heart, the inner conflict I felt as I managed to live two very separate lives – the private and painful one in our home, and the public display of “having it all together” at church. I look back on those years and wonder how I did keep it all together. It was so hard. But your love and gentleness toward me made all the difference. I knew I was always on display at church and I knew I was judged by thousands, so I had to perform. But I also knew there were many people who genuinely loved me, not merely for being Jack Hyles’ daughter, but for being me – and I felt I could be me around many of you. Thank you.
There were also a couple of families in the church who especially carried me through the most difficult years. They knew about the fighting between my parents and how much I hated being at home. I often retreated to their homes and they called themselves my “adopted families” – the Lapinas (Debi Lapina Rice’s family) and the Johnsons (Pam Johnson Griner’s family). Thank you to these families for loving me, no matter what, no matter when – your homes were open to me and you were my “safe place” in my youth. You will never know how much your embrace and love gave me a sense of belonging, a sense of family.
Other girlfriends also allowed me to confide in them about the situation in our home and listened to me for endless hours as I occasionally unloaded on them some of the Hyles house horrors. Pam Mock, Sharon Blythe and the Lewis sisters (Connie, Bonnie and Loretta), you were always there for me. Thank you for adding fun and levity to my life, as well as for listening and loving me through those years. You had a sense of the dichotomy I was living, and your friendships were a source of strength, joy and peace.
Some of these friends have chosen to remain in the church, which I never understood. How could you stay when you knew all that I told you? How were you able to continue the charade and required loyalty? I do not wish to judge you. It’s just been difficult to understand…because although so few others knew, you did. Hopefully you are now speaking and walking in the truth? Whatever the case, I do sincerely thank all of the friends from my youth for supporting me and loving me through my pain. I trust that your lives are rich and full, wherever you are.
A few other families come to mind: Glen and Iva Mae Smith, Bruce and Donna Johnson, the Douglas families, the Ruskowskis, the Urbankskis, the Godfreys, the Wolbers, the Boardways, the Stooksburies, the Colstens – and so many more dear people who were very good to me. If you touched my life in any way when I was at FBC, I sincerely thank you.
I remember Vic Nischik always giving me a knowing, warm smile as he passed me in the hallway. He never said much, but oh how I knew he loved me and wanted to help me. He didn’t dare reach out to me, but his heart reached out to me and I felt it. I knew he knew. I remember his children, Jack and Judy, being “off limits.” We never spoke, yet I felt this weird, underlying kindred spirit and longed to know them. Tears seemed just below the surface for all of us.
Ironically, Judy and I now live very close to one another and reconnected for the first time two years ago. When we got together, it was as if we were long lost sisters and our souls had been united since youth. It was the first time we had ever really talked to each other...and that night we talked for hours. Neither of us had any idea that our homes had been so similar as children – fathers living downstairs, mothers living upstairs, the secret phone conversations we both overheard, and the dynamics in our homes being so similarly hostile and cold. It was as if we both had missing pieces to the puzzle and it all completely fit together when we compared stories. How surprised and grateful I am that Judy is now one of my dearest friends in the world…my soul sister! I appreciate Vic, Jack and Judy more than words can say. They lived a hell no one should ever live. I applaud them for the strength it took to stay strong, survive and now thrive.
There were thousands of wonderful people at FBC when I was there from 1959-1983. You made me feel like a princess and gave me the sense of "specialness" that I needed. Thank you for loving me, for loving our family. Few people ever knew what went on inside the walls at 8232 Greenwood Avenue, Munster, Indiana. So you had no way of knowing how much your love and kindness was sustaining me, my siblings and my mom. But it did. Although I felt the stress of being on display at church, I also felt very loved within the church walls of 523 Sibley Street, Hammond, Indiana.
Many of you arrived at FBC after I left in the early 80’s and never met me. In fact, quite a few people have written to me recently and mentioned that they never even knew I existed. They didn’t even know there was a fourth Hyles child! That’s sad, but understandable. My dad felt disgraced by the fact that I left fundamentalism, his kingdom. I never left God and never will, but that wasn’t good enough. I left him – and that was unforgiveable. So it was as if I had died, thus no more mention of Linda and now many of you being surprised that there even IS a me!
Things changed through the years at FBC. My dad changed through the years. You saw it. You knew it. Even if you stayed, even if you are still there, you can’t deny that things got weird. You may not say it out loud, but you thought it. We all did. And it’s why I had to leave.
I have stated publicly that, based on the definition of a cult, First Baptist Church evolved into a cult. When the leader of a church or branch of a religion defines the group; has a complete lack of accountability; and demands 100% loyalty and blind obedience - that is the very definition of a cult. The church completely revolved around Jack Hyles. God and the Bible were merely tools that he used to glorify himself, dominate our minds and control our lives.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I remember sitting in that huge auditorium one Sunday morning and carefully observing you – the people in the congregation - and the looks in your eyes scared me. I mentioned in the recent Chicago Magazine article that you looked like zombies. Sounds extreme, but in that moment as I looked around me, what I witnessed was extreme. The ritual had gone beyond just intently listening to your pastor. The dynamics went beyond merely ingesting a sermon. It had crossed over into complete worship of your pastor. You looked and acted spellbound. You sat there in awe, mesmerized. Not by Scripture. Not by God and His Word. Not by Biblical teaching. But by one man. Jack Hyles, my own father.
The adoration in your eyes wasn’t in my eyes. I could give no adoration to this man, to any man. The blind loyalty, a loyalty Jack Hyles convinced you was a necessary part of serving God, was not something I was willing to offer. The twisting of Scripture to fit into his own agenda had become more blatant and disturbing than ever. The control over “his people” frightened me.
I had to leave that world. I did and I never looked back.
My leaving could not negate the fact that I loved many of you and knew you loved me. I disconnected from you, but never forgot you. One reason for this letter is to express my gratitude. To every person who extended their love toward me, whether in my youth or in recent days through emails or Facebook posts, I humbly and sincerely thank you.
The second thing I must express to you that has been burning in my heart for many months is: I’m sorry. You may not feel that I owe anyone an apology. But I must say it.
When I left Hammond in 1983, I started a new life in Dallas, Texas. I will never forget the first night we were there - I walked through the grocery store and NOT ONE PERSON knew that I was Jack Hyles’ daughter. I remember standing in the produce section of Albertson’s with the goofiest smile on my face, absolutely elated that I was free! No one knew nor cared who I was – honestly, I think that was a first for me. I had grown up with this weird celebrity status in the Hammond area. I couldn’t even go to 7-11 without someone stopping and gawking at me with, “Oh, my! Aren’t you Jack Hyles’ daughter? Will you please sign my Bible?” It was a bizarre childhood, and to suddenly be free from that bondage of having to perform everywhere I went, pretending it was an honor to be his daughter, even at the cleaners or beauty salon – I felt like I’d escaped from jail!
I moved forward in my life and career as Linda Murphrey, no longer immersed in circles where anyone cared that I was Jack Hyles’ daughter or even knew who the heck Jack Hyles was! I LOVED the anonymity! However, even though I went through many wonderful years of counseling and healing, I never completely made things right with my past. I left something undone. The simmering urgency to tell you the truth never left me and the guilt for not doing so plagued me.
The happenings of last year were surreal. Jack Schaap’s crime of having sex with a minor was discovered a few days prior to my TEDx talk being released online, after I had finally spoken the truth. I grieved deeply in the following weeks, and one reason for the grief was due to feeling that I should have spoken up YEARS ago. I voiced these deep feelings of remorse with friend and author Voyle Glover, whose response was, “Linda, don’t beat yourself up. You were fragile when you left Hammond. You couldn’t have done it back then.” Voyle was right – I was too broken at that time in my life to speak up. But I wish I could have and sorry that I did not.
I’m not foolish enough to think that I alone could have prevented the downfall of Jack Schaap. But I can’t help but wonder… if I had spoken up about my dad years ago, could the dynamics of FBC have been altered? I certainly don’t have enough power to completely change things in that organization, but you do…if you’d been given the facts. And I wondered, if you had known the truth...
I don’t know the answer to those questions and never will. But I have speculated and wondered if any of this nightmare perhaps could have been prevented if the truth had been revealed long ago.
My heart hurts for the precious victim of Jack’s crime. How I wish I could erase her pain, disillusionment and confusion. I hurt for ALL the victims - and there are so many (of Jack Schaap, my dad, my brother). Numerous victims have reached out to me in the past seven months to tell me their stories and I had no idea how extensive the abuse was until recently. As I learned of the magnitude of their pain, the magnitude of my sorrow intensified. To every victim, I especially apologize - whether your abuse was sexual, emotional, mental, spiritual - or a combination thereof. My family hurt you, and if no one else in my family ever apologizes, at least you can hear it from one person in the Hyles family. I am so very sorry for what happened to you and for your pain.
Did my silence give permission for the abuse to continue? Not intentionally, but I realize that the perpetuation of what my dad began only caused more destruction. Could my voice have made a difference years ago? I'll never know, but I'll always wonder. Every person in my family should have told the truth and been real. But we didn’t and we weren’t. I cannot speak for the others in my family and I assume that they will all probably continue to say nothing in an effort to honor my dad, no matter what, the rest of their lives. I do not choose to dishonor him. I just choose to speak truth and take him off his throne. He never belonged on a throne. No man does.
To the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, who have been negatively impacted by the tragedies at First Baptist Church of Hammond, please forgive me for my silence. Yes, I revealed the truth last year, but what took me so long? Fear? Shame? Avoidance of negative repercussions? Yes, yes, and yes. I allowed those things to stifle my truth.
Jack Schaap will be sentenced to prison this week and, as I type this, I am weeping for him and for my sister. When I think of him sitting in a jail cell right now, my heart can hardly handle the ache. Many people have an attitude of, “Who cares WHAT happens to him? He deserves LIFE in prison! He can burn in hell for all I care.” I've read numerous Facebook posts of people gloating about the horrible things that they hope will happen to him in prison. I DO understand the anger – you have every right to be angry. We all feel the anger together. Of course, Jack Schaap must be punished – he committed a horrible crime and justice must be served.
But am I happy for his demise? Do I feel any measure of joy that my little sister is living this hell? Absolutely not! I cannot find it in me to wish prison or destruction upon anyone. I cannot delight in the ruin of someone’s life, even though he brought these circumstances on himself. When I stop to think about it, I realize that Jack was once a victim himself – that does not at all excuse his crime, not in the least. But I see Jack as a victim-turned-predator like my brother. Both were victims of my dad. Both eventually mimicked the ways of my father and ultimately learned from the master how to prey upon innocent people.
Jack, if you happen to read this, surely you now realize that one of us should have spoken up years ago. I regret for all of our sakes that I did not. And shame on you and Cindy for staying silent, for perpetuating and preserving the false image of Jack Hyles. You knew what my dad was like. You had a front row seat to the hypocrisy. And you stayed silent, too, as we all did. You wrote me an email four years ago begging me to have a relationship with Cindy because she was in a deep depression. I declined, because I was unwilling to even step a toe back into the toxicity and dysfunction of your ministry and lives. You stated in that email that you knew things were horrible in our home as children and how difficult it was for you to lead the church based on those lies. Yet there you were – pronounced as the new King of fundamentalism. How do you resign that job? And how do you carry out the duties and step into the shoes of the King before you?
Evidently you publicly boasted from the pulpit that my dad handed you the baton in his final moments on this earth. We all knew he never did that, but it made for a touching story and perhaps you convinced yourself it was true. In your mind you not only received that baton, you also received his spirit of pride, deception, greed, arrogance, and infallibility. If I or any one of us on the inside had spoken up about my dad long ago, perhaps you would not be sitting in a jail cell right now. That baton should have been burned.
But it wasn’t. And you stepped into his persona with every fiber of your being. I recently watched some of your sermons online. I had never heard you preach before and was astonished. Who did you become? This wasn’t the Jack Schaap I knew when you first married Cindy. This wasn’t the Jack Schaap that used to hang out and watch football at our house in our early adult lives. This was a man impersonating Jack Hyles, attempting to embody Jack Hyles, so enamored with your success in doing so that it was beyond belief - truly one of the strangest things I had ever seen. Did you know how much you were changing? I used to wonder, did my dad know how much he had changed, how bizarre his behavior had become? Or is the change such a gradual evolution that when you look in the mirror, you don’t see who you’ve become? You don't see the monster looking back at you.
In the late 80’s, Gene Getz (my pastor at the time) asked me to fly to Hammond with him to confront my dad. He and I both knew that the lies and idolatry needed to stop. He said, “Linda, First Baptist Church has turned into a cult. You certainly know more than enough to confront your dad. I know you can do this, and I’ll be right there with you to support you.” But I was too fragile and afraid. I told him no. He was right about everything he had said. But at that point, I was terrified and still so broken. I had not yet learned how to be strong. I had not yet learned how to stand in my truth. Oh how I wish I could have confronted it all back then.
To every dear member of the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana (past and present), I apologize to you for my years of silence. I will not choose the burden of carrying blame or guilt, but I will carry a measure of sorrow for your pain and a desire for your healing for a lifetime. If there is any way that my speaking out years ago would have made a difference, it would have been worth doing, in spite of my fear and fragility.
I am sorry. Please forgive me.
Hopefully this is a new beginning for the thousands of walking wounded. Hopefully the end of an era has arrived. And hopefully the baton has finally been destroyed.
As you move forward, may you find complete healing from all that has hurt you. May you find peace from the turmoil caused by the abuse of religion. May you abandon man-worship and forsake the venomous spirit of fundamentalism.
And may you completely undo the God of Jack Hyles, embark on a personal journey to discover who God really is and experience a joyful life living in complete freedom and truth.
God bless you.