The First Baptist Church of Hammond, Ind., sits just southeast of Chicago. It buses in thousands of people from the Chicagoland area to attend its many Sunday services. During the 1970s it boasted to be the “World’s Largest Sunday School.” It is now considered a megachurch.

I used to be a member.

I was interested in July 31 news reports that the church’s pastor, Jack Schaap, was fired for having sexual relationships with a minor whom the church bused in from Illinois. Schaap is the son-in-law, of the late Pastor Jack Hyles who founded and pastored the church for 42 years.

This church has a sordid – and criminal – history, which was first revealed by attorney Voyle Glover in his book “Fundamental Seduction,” and by Victor Nischik in “Wizard of God.” Glover writes about the many church workers who were sexual predators, and thus advises churches to apply a thorough review process of workers in order to keep out pedophiles. Nischik’s book exposes the affair long time pastor Jack Hyles had with Hyles’ secretary, who was Nischik’s wife. Hyles had a secret adjoining door to his office.

This item caught my eye because during the 1970s I too was sexually abused by a number of preachers, youth directors, and others who believed that such acts were noble in light of Biblical heroes. One preacher justified his acts by saying “Well, look at King David, and King Solomon!”

Dave Hyles – the son of the founder – was the church’s youth director while I was being abused. My own father, who was a Hammond police captain, confronted Jack Hyles about Dave’s behaviors and nothing was done until years later when Dave was placed in a different church in Garland, Texas. There, Hyles continued the sexual misconduct and was again dismissed.

This firing is just the latest in a series of outrageous tragedies. The church’s ministry is a breeding ground for sexual predators. Their ministry includes a youth center, a college, and a school. Joe Combs, former Bible professor at their Hyles-Anderson College, is currently serving prison time for the repeated rape and abuse of his adopted daughter. A.V. Ballenger, a church deacon and bus route driver of the church was convicted in 1993 for molesting a seven-year-old girl.

Because of the newest church news, a few of my Hammond Baptist High School classmates have come forward about sexual abuse perpetrated by the church authorities.

Many Christians ask me why I am now an atheist, a Buddhist to be exact. I tell them that they carry around a book that explicitly silences women, abuses children and supports a capitalistic system where there will be a group of people who go to “hell.”

As of this date, Schaap has not been convicted of a crime. Evidence thus far is his cell phone of which the minor, the abused, sent him a picture of them having sex.

It is important that the media includes the voices of abuse victims. In this recent case the victim is a minor, and thus her name is not public. Many of us victims were minors when the abuse happened. But now that we are adults, more knowledgeable and able, we must speak up. We are the primary resources. Our healing continues knowing that this abuse is believed and that it will stop.

Further information can be obtained by calling the Lake County, Indiana Sheriff’s office at: (219) 755-3400 or their switchboard at (219) 755-3300.