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Woman Sexually Abused by First Baptist Church Deacon A.V. Ballenger Speaks Out

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For many years, especially during the decades the church was pastored by Jack Hyles and Jack Schaap, First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana was the spiritual home for countless sexual predators and con artists. Most evaded detection thanks to cover-ups orchestrated by the fearsome, loyalty-demanding Hyles.

The scandals and stories are many, yet to this day more than a few Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB) unquestionably believe that most of sordid tales are lies manufactured by those who hate Jack Hyles and have it out for the church. No amount of evidence will convince them otherwise.

Personally, I have given up trying to talk sense to Hyles’ loyalists. When Hyles himself was accused of sexual and ministerial misconduct, his sycophants wore buttons that said 100% HYLES. Today, the thinking that led to the buttons remains alive and well. The nastiest commenters I have ever dealt with on this blog are the followers of Jack Hyles. No matter how many sick stories emanate from the darkest corners of First Baptist in Hammond, Jack Hyles, who paved the way for his preacher son to prey on church women, his pastor son in-law to take sexual advantage of a church teen, and for deacons, Sunday school teachers, bus workers, and Hyles-Anderson preacher boys to sexually assault children and vulnerable adults, remains, in the eyes of many, above reproach. For whatever reason, the devoted followers of Jack Hyles are unable to make the connection between Hyles — their demigod — and the doctrines, beliefs and practices that facilitated criminal behavior

Almost twenty-five years ago, well-known First Baptist deacon A.V. Ballenger was convicted of sexually molesting a seven-year-old church girl. Three other women testified at Ballenger’s sentencing that they too had been molested by him. Tamiko Grace was one of the women who testified.

Yesterday, the Northwest Times published a story written by Steve Garrison detailing Grace’s story:

Tamiko “Tammy” Grace told The Times last week it was the grace of God that allowed her to forgive the former church employee she said molested her when she attended First Baptist Church in the mid-1970s.

Grace, a 44-year-old mother of three children, said she was molested when she was 5 years old by A.V. Ballenger, a former church deacon convicted in March 1993 of molesting a 7-year-old girl in 1991 during a Sunday School class at the Hammond church.
Grace was one of three women who testified they were abused as children by Ballenger at the former deacon’s sentencing hearing in June 1993, according to The Times archives.

Grace told The Times last week that Ballenger groped her repeatedly when he was a school bus driver for the church.
“I didn’t know it was wrong,” she said. “I was so young, I just thought it was love.”

Ballenger maintained his innocence at the sentencing hearing and claimed the women, one of whom was his own niece, testified for sympathy and attention, according to the archives.

Grace said she instead testified due to the guilt she felt for not coming forward sooner. She was 22 years old and had a young child when she finally reported the incident to authorities. She feared she could have saved other girls from abuse if she had reported it sooner.

“This was my chance to make the wrong right,” she said.

Ballenger was sentenced to five years in prison, court records state. The 81-year-old now lives in Alabama, according to the state’s sex offender registry. He could not be reached for comment.

Grace said she struggled for years to deal with the shame she felt as a result of the molestation, but she attended therapy and continued to find strength in God.

You can read the entire article here.

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If you are not familiar with Jack Hyles and First Baptist Church, please read the articles below.

The Legacy of Jack Hyles

The Scandalous Life of Jack Hyles and Why it Still Matters

UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored

Serial Adulterer David Hyles Receives a Warm Longview Baptist Temple Welcome

David Hyles Says ‘My Bad, Jesus’

The Mesmerizing Appeal of Jack Hyles

Jack Hyles Teaches Parents How to Indoctrinate Their Babies

Jack Hyles Tells Unsubmissive Woman to Kill Herself

Jack Hyles Gives Advice on How to Raise a Girl

1991 Current Affairs Report: Jack Hyles Stole My Wife

In 2013, Chicago Magazine published a lengthy article on the plethora of sexual predators and abuse problems associated with First Baptist Church. You can read the article here.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    Wow. Just wow. That Chicago Magazine article especially got my blood boiling. First Baptist and the Hyles family make the Roman Catholic church and its many pedophile priests seem relatively harmless; Probably the only reason there isn’t a massive, Catholic-style scandal in the IFB church is the lack of a denominational structure holding all the secrets. First Baptist should be raided and shut down like the criminal enterprise it is.

    Stories like this really make me wish sometimes that the US didn’t have a First Amendment, or at least that the “freedom of religion” part could be restricted or even completely stripped out. Our ridiculous fear of stepping on the toes of Christians (and Jews, and Muslims, and probably every other religion for that matter) because they might sue over “discrimination” and “persecution” clearly allows way too much criminal activity and abuse to go unpunished. How many more lives must be ruined before we admit that churches and other religious institutions clearly cannot be trusted to police themselves? Ending the tax-exempt status of churches would be a great place to start, with funds going directly to services for those raped and abused by these so-called “men of god.” It needs to happen. Soon.

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    Tim Lee

    I graduated from Purdue University in 1997 with a master’s degree. I attended Hyles Anderson College 1 year and worked on the “Bus Ministry ” 1993. I transferred to Purdue only because of the engineering program.
    I can honestly say that I never saw anything inappropriate, but I’m sure some of the stories are true. It was a large church, maybe 20k or larger. So in proportion, it’s probably like finding all the sex offenders who attended Purdue, a 40k campus. I’m sure one can dig up 25 out of 40,000 over 25 years.

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      Tim, saying “I can honestly say that I never saw anything inappropriate” is what’s called in the research world “anecdotal evidence.” By definition anecdotal evidence is not a reliable guide. Just because you didn’t see it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Sexual assault hardly ever happens in public. I can honestly say that I’m so relieved that the truth about evangelicalism, ridden as it is with scandals both sexual and financial, is finally coming out. See the Houston Chronicle’s article a few years back called “Abuse of Faith” and you can find out for yourself. Learn to do internet research using strong, reliable sources and develop your critical thinking skills. You, and all of us, will be better off for it.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      Mr. Tim Lee wants to put into proportion the abuse that was Hyles’ ministry. He supports his supposition by stating his personal memory of an experience in the college and he honestly states his honest view of honestly not seeing anything. Nevertheless he will admit that the environment was one that had abusers just as every environment has!
      So. what has Tim Lee offered with all his degreed expression: It maybe happened occasionally here and there at this college, that college, this church or that church.
      This is the pernicious nature of belief-thinking at work and let’s just have look at it… It takes an opportunity to live in truth, to honor human experience and instead degrades it by burying it under platitude, the idea that Hyles’ Christianity did good overall and just because there are a few bad apples etc.
      So American Christianity continues to harm people by covering over truth with bullshit, sometimes educated bullshit but bullshit nevertheless. Read the links you are offered freely, Tim Lee. Get some kahones and face the fact that you saw nothing because your were told to see nothing and you prefer that to the truth. What if it was you, sir? What if it was your daughter who was molested? Gloss that over for a bit and get back to us.

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Bruce Gerencser