The independent fundamentalist Baptist movement emerged sometime in the 1940s as an attempt to continue the legacy of the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s. It upheld what it believed to be the true spirit of fundamentalism amid changes in the conservative Protestant landscape.
Much of this movement was a response to the so-called “neo-evangelical” movement. When in the 1940s and 1950s former fundamentalists such as Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, John Harold Ockenga and others sought to separate themselves from the label “fundamentalist” and seek out a more irenic, culturally-engaged version of conservative Protestantism, some descendants of the original fundamentalist movement of the 1920s were not very happy about it. They believed that the neo-evangelical emphasis on cultural engagement with the world, and especially liberal or mainline Protestants, was a mark of unhealthy compromise that would eventually undermine true biblical faith in America.
Pastors of large churches and leaders of fundamentalist institutions such as Bob Jones, John R. Rice, and Jack Hyles still identified with the label “fundamentalist.” (Carl McIntire was also part of this movement, although he was a Presbyterian). This movement was characterized by a staunch commitment to biblical orthodoxy filtered through the King James Bible, an adherence to “second-degree separation” or that idea that Christians must separate themselves from both unbelievers (“the world”) and fellow conservative Protestants who did not separate sufficiently enough from unbelievers (Billy Graham and the rest of the neo-evangelicals fell into this second category), and a propensity for strong white preachers who ran independent congregations that were not accountable to denominations.
I wrote a bit about this group back in the 1990s.
The conservative fundamentalist movement probably reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s. (Although more research is needed). While neo-evangelicals read periodicals like Christianity Today, fundamentalist Baptists read John R. Rice’s The Sword of the Lord. While neo-evangelicals sent their kids to Wheaton College or Fuller Theological Seminary, fundamentalist Baptist kids went to Bob Jones University or Pensacola Christian College. Jerry Falwell, the founder of Liberty University, came out of this tradition, but he was quickly disowned by his fellow separatist Baptists when he decided to get involved in politics. During the 1970s and 1980s, Falwell seemed to operate in a space somewhere between the independent Baptist world of his upbringing and the neo-evangelicalism of Billy Graham and Christianity Today.
One of the flagship churches of the separatist, independent, Billy Graham-hating Baptist fundamentalist movement was First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. Jack Hyles served as pastor of the church from 1959-2001. He claimed that First Baptist had the highest Sunday school attendance in the world. Hyles gained fame for his fleet of over 200 buses that his congregation used to pick up kids for Sunday school at the church. At one point the church had a weekly attendance of 20,000 and ran several schools, including Hyles-Anderson College. In 2001, Christianity Today reported that Hyles-Anderson College was growing.
Hyles was a fundamentalist Baptist power-broker. He was also accused, multiple times, of sexually abusing the girls who attended his massive Sunday School program. His son David Hyles was a chip off the old block. While serving as youth pastor of the church he abused multiple young girls.
In this era of Me-Too, the media has caught-up with Jack Hyles (he died in 2001), David Hyles, and dozens of other independent Baptist clergy like them.
Investigative reporters at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram have uncovered at least 412 allegations of sexual misconduct at 187 independent fundamentalist Baptist church in the United States and Canada. I have a hunch that this story, which dropped today and features David Hyles, is going to get some attention.
Here is a taste:
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.
From Connecticut to California, the stories are tragically similar.
Read the rest here.