An Open Letter to Linda Hyles Murphrey

An Open Letter to Linda Hyles Murphrey April 5, 2013

by Jenny Weber

A guest post cross posted from Jenny’s blog I’m Having A Thought Here

TRIGGER WARNING! This might trigger those of you struggling to recover from abuse heaped on by former church members and clergy

Dear Linda:

You open your open letter to the dear past and present members of First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana, by stating simply: “You were my father’s first love.”

In the next sentence you equivocate: “I was never really sure if it was you that he loved, or merely the adoration and prestige he received from you.”

Then you decide it was “definitely (emphasis mine) the latter, perhaps both.”

Finally you revert to being certain that the church members were indeed the primary object of your father’s affection. No question about it: “I always knew that you, his ministry, mattered more than I did.”

So first it’s one way, then it’s another way, then it’s back to the first way. Which version do you truly believe, Linda? I don’t think you know.

If you do know, it’s not convenient at this juncture to say because, after thirty years off the radar — basking in anonymity which you’re now only too happy to relinquish — and not having personally advanced the ball of what is honest and true and right about fundamentalism so much as a centimeter, you pop up to cash in on this latest, most cataclysmic of scandals in your family.

I refer to the Jack Schaap scandal, the one nobody can deny because for once, the perpetrator was cornered like a wild animal and had no choice but to cry mea culpa.

To be brutally honest, these days the mention of the name “Hyles” makes my eyes glaze over and induces a yawning spell. I don’t mean to be rude but I am that bored by all of your family’s many dramas and escapades.

Having spent seventeen years under the sound of your father’s voice and very much under his influence, I am here to state unequivocally that your father did love you. And no; he did not love the members of First Baptist Church of Hammond more. They — we — did not mean more to him than you or your siblings. You’re wrong about that.

From our perspective, if one could presume to be inside your dad’s head and heart although he is now twelve-plus years in his grave, I would venture to say that the order in which he set his devotion on those who were important to him was more like this:

1. His family.

2. His ministry.

Within the ministry, those “fifty-niners” who “stuck by the stuff” were definitely topmost in his heart. Nobody could supplant them; they were extra-special. Or at least that’s what he said, approximately six hundred times that I know of.

Bringing up the rear on the ministry front would be those of us who came in droves to Northwest Indiana to attend Hyles-Anderson College or to become members of First Baptist Church. Although your dad and your brother criss-crossed the country begging us to come, when we showed up, we were made to feel as though the “real” members of FBC hated us for “taking Brother Hyles away” from them. Which is total nonsense.

We had no such power. He did as he pleased.

Third came the fundamental pastors across America who, whether intentionally or not, dubbed your father the “pastors’ pastor” and gave him a wide berth when it came to what he did, what he said, what he preached — as long as he preached for them, and conducted Pastors’ School every March, and granted them an audience with himself on much-coveted occasion.

But back to your letter. I would like to point out that your father did not “create worship” of himself, within me. I never for one split second worshiped your father. Nor was I mesmerized by him. I thought he was a special person and like many thousands of other sane, rational people, I loved and respected him. He did a number of nice things for our family. He was funny and smart, and he could be very kind.

But it was God who saved me at Camp Stallion in St. Helena Parish, Louisiana, on a June night in 1971, and it is God who keeps me to this day, and it is God I worship. I was fourteen years old and from a broken home. My salvation experience was simple: Brother Miller, the youth director of Weller Avenue (Southern) Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, gave a clear presentation of the gospel while we campers sat around a nighttime bonfire swatting mosquitoes.

I had been wondering for at least two years what I needed to do to be saved. I wanted to know but nobody had come forth with the information. Unlike you I did not have the privilege of being taken to Sunday School and church as a child, and being told what to do to ensure the salvation of my never-dying soul.

When a classmate at Prescott Middle School invited me to church, and then to the camp, and Brother Miller said all I needed to do was trust the Lord, I knew I was ready to do that and I wanted to do that.

I don’t remember if there was an invitation. I only know that after we’d been dismissed back to our cabins, I sat on my bunk — upper — and asked the Lord to save me. I told Him I knew I was a sinner and needed to be saved. I know He saved me that night and I have never had doubts except once about three years later, and when I doubted I went to my Bible and read what I already knew, and I prayed and received assurance.

For the last forty-two years I have clumsily but sincerely embraced the fundamentals of the faith as revealed in the King James Bible, and the day will not come that I regret having made the decision as a fourteen-year-old girl, to do that.

Being a fundamentalist — one who adheres to the fundamentals of the faith — has brought me many blessings and joys. For example there is my precious husband, Greg, who is the best Christian I have ever known or ever will know; our four children; our son-in-law the independent fundamental Baptist preacher, an upright man; and our three grandchildren — all fundamentalists, right down to the baby.

We are woefully far from being model Christians, any of us. Please don’t think I am asserting that we are better than anyone else because we refuse to forsake fundamentalism. But even the novice or faltering Christian reaps so many benefits from clinging, however weakly, to the simple fundamentals of our faith. It is the truth that makes us free and there is strength in freedom. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course there is a stigma attached, and that is where most people lose their nerve and with it, the ability to go all the way leaning hard-right with the unpopular — but no less true — fundamental truths. Biblical separation is where the rubber meets the road, every time.

In fact, it’s not fundamentalism everyone is really railing against; that’s just a code word for the fact that they’re unwilling — no; they refuse — to come out from among the worldlings, and be separate, and to touch not the unclean thing.

They’d rather use the sinful world’s crude language, and tipple socially, and take up for the poor misunderstood homosexuals, and dress revealingly, and indulge in immorality, and just in general be cool, than identify with Christ and His sufferings — not to mention His holiness. They do not hear the call to righteousness issued to every Christian because they’re not about to tune in to that station.

And when challenged, the answer is always the same: “God looks on the heart.” Yes He does. And what we say, and what we wear, and what we do is a direct result of what’s in that heart God is looking on.

People who go on and on about having found the courage to locate their truth and thereby get on the path to real freedom — they’re just saying that they’ve given themselves permission to do exactly as they see fit, at all times. To be the only one who gets to decide what belief system, what code of ethics, is appropriate for them. To do what is right in their own eyes, while acknowledging and accepting no pushback from anyone, least of all a preacher.

What disappointment that has come my way due to certain aspects of man’s skewing of fundamentalism — and what disillusionment, and what angst, and what discontent, and what discouragement, and what confusion, and what righteous indignation — and there has been all of the above, in abundance — has not always been solely because of the sheer wickedness of some who make their living off of fundamentalism.

A great deal of it has been the result of my own shortcomings, my own lack of understanding, my own selfishness, my own stubborn pride.

Sure, fundy nightmare churches exist. One might even say they abound. They’re a large part of your dad’s legacy. For example, in my opinion any church that identifies as or calls itself a “Hyles” church is a fundy nightmare. The thought of them makes my skin crawl. I’ll never again set foot in one. There’d be a reaction.

We attend an independent, fundamental, Baptist church. We sing actual hymns, while holding actual hymnals. The men dress and conduct themselves like gentlemen and the ladies dress and conduct themselves modestly. We don’t have a contemporary service. In fact there is nothing contemporary about our church except that we have a beautiful new building.

Our pastor preaches from the King James Bible. But nobody in our congregation worships him and he would be grieved — more like appalled — if he thought someone did. It is rare for him to talk about himself. His children and their families are a valuable part of our church but they do not exhibit an entitlement mentality. No one treats them like Baptist royalty. It’s not their kingdom; it’s their beloved place of worship just as much as it is ours.

But whatever sort of church you do — or don’t — attend, no one will escape the fundamentals. You can run but you cannot hide. In the end it doesn’t matter if you believe the eternal truths or not; those truths will determine your outcome, and mine, and everyone else’s.

You, Linda, talk a lot about finding “your” truth. But see, we do not get to decide for ourselves what truth is. Not by a long shot. Oh, maybe while life lasts. But not in the end. Not for all eternity. Secular humanism sounds nifty and it certainly is palatable to the masses, but it condemns people to hell.

Fundamentalism is neither defined nor bounded by the circus your father often made of it, and which others — aping him — made it, and many still make it. That was and is an illusion but the truth has always been there to see if you wanted to see it.

Harry S. Truman, thirty-third President of the United States, was known as “Give ‘em Hell Harry.” His answer to the nickname was: “I don’t give people hell. I give them the truth and they think it’s hell.”

It may not have been easy but certainly it was possible to see and know the truth even at First Baptist Church of Hammond because there, just like everywhere else, if you are a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit dwelling within. He keeps you on the right path if you listen to Him more than to all the earthly voices.

I think in his heart of hearts, at least early on, your dad wanted his people to do that. More’s the pity that as the spirit of idolatry set in and took root, you had to sometimes shut your ears to your pastor in order to hear the Holy Spirit.

But make no mistake: Nobody who took part in the “ministry” of Jack Schaap for eleven-plus years — and, by default, aided and abetted him in his outrageous behaviors and vile hypocrisies — was listening to the still, small voice. Like the lost world, they were tuned in to the carnal, lustful, indecent, rapacious voice. There are many culpable people at First Baptist. Way up at the top and way back in the back. Jack Schaap took the fall for them all.

Your father’s preaching may have been grandiose and egotistical, narcissistic and self-indulgent, and he may have imparted far more practical than spiritual wisdom, but only eternity will tell what fruit remains. My guess is that it was probably different for each listener.

Just like when people sat through your TEDxOjaiChange talk, some heard one thing, some heard another. The speaker can only speak; the listener filters what is said through a lot of baggage, a lot of preconceived notions, the sum total of their life experiences. Oh — and their own truth.

Although I do not defend him anymore — like I did for years — I will always be grateful for your father’s ministry. I do not agree with his preferred methods and I think he forfeited his last shred of credibility at the end. It was a crushing blow to learn that he had been saying one thing, living another. There is no shortage of tragedy in his story. But speaking only for me and my life, I am so glad for his preaching and teaching on many topics, which molded me and had a great impact on the way we reared our children.

One that comes to mind is what your dad taught us about not questioning and criticizing authority within earshot of our kids. Greg and I had many disagreements with many people — your father included — about many things during our seventeen years in the First Baptist system. But as a rule — I’m sure we slipped up a time or two — we didn’t let our children know when we suspected leadership of actions or beliefs inconsistent with what our crowd was supposed to do and believe.

When that happened, we reinforced the truth in our kids with all the more zeal, and watched even more carefully, and monitored the influences we allowed to get through to and mold our children. We weren’t zombies, Linda. Like thousands of other church members without the prestige and the privilege you enjoyed, we were just ordinary people who wanted to do right for the sake of future generations. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.

After all, that is what we were being asked to do and being told we should do. That is what we believed was expected of us, both as church members and as a staff family.

Your father did not use you to benefit the members of First Baptist Church. He used the members of First Baptist Church to benefit himself and you. And the reason he did that? He loved you. You’re attempting now to trade on his name, profiting from it even as you pseudo-trash him.

Know how I know that? Because if your name were not Linda Hyles Murphrey, nobody would care two flips what you had to say on this overworked subject.

But because you’re the boss’s daughter, the Baptist princess of yore whom I remember distinctly as one who appeared to be very comfortable in the role of belle of the ball, your spanking-new website is tricked out with little clickable cupped palms — complete with dollar designations — to make it easier than falling off a log for folks still enamored of the Hyles name and legacy to donate to your future “projects.”

This isn’t about helping people. It’s about money. And it’s gruesome.

Speaking of pelf, those you accuse of being zombies did a heap of funding of your dad’s endeavors back in the day. Just for starters, they bought a New York City landfill’s worth of books and sermon tapes. Zombies at home, zombies far afield, going to work every day, living frugally, opening their threadbare zombie wallets, dropping hard-earned zombie folding money into the plate and onto the book tables, snatching up Jack Hyles ecclesiastical ephemera like there was no tomorrow. You benefited materially and tangibly from that, Linda. Your whole family did. You still do.

You may not have been able to shop at a 7-11 store in the Calumet area without being asked for your autograph — quite horrible; who should be forced to endure such a thing — but I’m pretty sure you didn’t have to put your dresses on layaway at Zayre.

That’s because Daddy stocked your and your sister’s and mother’s purses with shiny credit cards from places like Rosalee and Evans, and had the bill sent to him. Thanks to the zombie book-and-tape collectors, there was more than enough mazuma to pay the freight.

Many women at First Baptist clothed themselves simply and economically while you and Cindy wore the bright feathers. I once heard that you girls and your mother dressed to the nines and went to Chicago for a fancy lunch at the Ritz Carlton, where at least a few of you ordered virgin daiquiris. Good times.

Was that the same mother you thought was crazy, whom you claim now to have hated, and to have abused at home when you were growing up? And it’s us you label zombies?

In my opinion it was your family who were the zombies. If what you are saying is true, you lied every day of your lives, with no conscience, at the expense of thousands of sincere Christians. I saw you, Linda. Between 1974 and 1983 I saw you lots of times and in various situations, and you didn’t look scared or sad or lost or horrified to me. Not even a little bit.

Back to the subject of clothes. I am grateful for the standards your dad promoted too. I know it isn’t fashionable and a girl can get called all sorts of names, the kindest of which would be “legalist,” by all sorts of people so much further along in their Christian life, if she dares to suggest that Christian women ought to dress more modestly than their secular counterparts.

But I not only suggest it; I insist that your father was right in that respect. Whatever his motives — and nobody can know them; we can only speculate — on that subject he was absolutely right.

The stand your dad took did not hurt you, Linda. It helped you in ways you may not even recognize. You’ve acknowledged that a lot of who you are today is because of him, and that you learned many positive things from him. But don’t forget that in addition to all of that, his courage and his convictions gave you a life many girls could only dream of. He was imperfect at best, misguided at worst, but he had the courage of his convictions. He was fearless and part of me will always admire him for that.

One day in late 1982 or early 1983 — not long before you left Indiana for Texas and blessed anonymity — I was at Cindy’s house and you were there too. I think y’all had asked me to come over and show you some Mary Kay products, which I sold for a few years. We were talking about my job as a beauty consultant and I must have asked if either of you girls had ever considered selling cosmetics to augment your income. We were supposed to ask everyone.

Both you and Cindy demurred as though the idea were unthinkable, and it was an uncomfortable moment. I realized I’d blundered and I felt embarrassed. As usual I tried to fight my way out of it. I recall that I said something like, well, why not? You lot are no different than me. And I can still see your face as you corrected me, Linda, talking slowly like I was four and only marginally intelligent. You said, and I quote: “Yes, but our position is different.”

Oh. How could I have forgotten.

I repeat: Your dad adored you. He provided that position. How I would have enjoyed the luxury of a father who thought enough of me to simply stay, much less provide for me spiritually, emotionally, and materially the way your father did for you. Each time Brother Hyles mentioned the names Becky, David, Linda, and Cindy, everyone listening knew he doted on all four of you.

Like most neurotic people blessed with longevity who are determined to leave their mark on the world, to build an empire as it were, your father made his share of mistakes, both private and public, both large and small. No one is denying that.

Clarence Darrow once said: “Our parents ruin the first half of our lives and our children ruin the second half.” He must’ve known some Hyleses. You seem keen to impress upon everyone that your dad ruined the first half of your life, and certainly you were intent on bringing at least a measure of ruin to the second half of his.

Does it help you that you succeeded, even a little bit? Was there no common ground on which the two of you could meet and work out your problems as father and daughter? Are you saying he was a monster?

Because I am sorry if this trips your triggers, but fundamentalism is not those people who inhabit or claim it who would by their actions corrupt, demean, and debase it. They are just that: sinful people. They are not fundamentalism itself. Fundamentalism is merely the truth of God’s Word.

I cannot imagine why someone with your background would say: “May you abandon man-worship and forsake the venomous spirit of fundamentalism.”

There is no such thing as a “venomous spirit of fundamentalism.” I don’t mean to just mouth off for the sake of it, but maybe instead of a Bible, what a lot of you highly-evolved disgruntleds need is a dictionary. And better powers of discernment.

But there is a great deal of man-worship in all religions, just as man-worship is rife in the world system. Nobody ever seems to have a problem with people worshiping Barack Obama. On the contrary; it’s encouraged.

You and all those like you are attempting to make the splenetic argument that, because fundamentalism is populated by — gasp — sinners, clearly it is fundamentalism that must be abolished.

And yet you don’t seem to mind that secular organizations are jam-packed with unrepentant sinners, with child-molesters, with fornicators, with adulterers, with liars, with shysters, with players, with manipulators, with all manner of heathen who have gone disastrously astray and who prey relentlessly on the vulnerable. Find me one that isn’t and I’ll retract that but I think you should know I won’t be holding my breath.

Linda, I read not long ago that, like it or not, we are in bondage to whatever we believe. I don’t know about you but I would much rather be in bondage to the truth than to a lie. In fact one of my favorite sayings is “I would rather be confronted with the truth than comforted with a lie.” Because being in bondage to the truth is the only way to experience meaningful freedom.

Want to know the label your dad attached to me? Several times he told me I was a “second-line girl.” Which meant — I guess — that I was from a “broken home.” That because my parents got a divorce when I was two years old, and because I wasn’t raised going to church, I wasn’t as good as girls like you and Cindy and Connie and Bonnie and Loretta, et al.

(More unabridged rubbish. More emotional skulduggery. More of what comes of clergy using the power and prestige of their office to manipulate and control people. While reprehensible, it is not exclusive either to your father or to fundamentalism. It’s boilerplate exploitation of the weak and unsophisticated and it is taking place this very moment at a location near you.)

During the worst days in my home, when things were darkest and blessings most meager, even as lost people we exhibited nothing of the cold heartlessness of your family. I have not always been overly close to my sister Kay, but I love her dearly and if I were asked point-blank to do something within my power to help her, I would run, not walk, to her side. Even if in order to help her, I was required to “put a toe into” a situation that made me uncomfortable.

I was intimidated by the First Baptist first-line girls once upon a time, but such upright, stellar, well-born, model females don’t intimidate me anymore. What a welcome relief.

In conclusion I wish to point out that in your letter you state: “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.”

You’re kidding. Teenaged girls listened to juicy salacious gossip? Teenaged girls dished on their parents? Teenaged girls were fascinated by a display of their pastor’s dirty laundry? That is all but unheard of. Just think what you could’ve accomplished if there’d been Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

In the next paragraph you gently upbraid those same girls by asking: “How could you stay when you knew all that I told you?” Linda, is it possible they didn’t really, truly believe you? I mean, come on. You could unload for endless hours on only some of the Hyles house horrors? Was there a dungeon? Were you denied food and water?

How is it we never saw a mark on you, and that everyone was always healthy and smiling? Did your mother dispense happy pills with the orange juice every morning?

I grew up under the iron hand of an abusive alcoholic who was also a criminal. Strictly second-line girl stuff — or is it? Would you like to compare notes? You bring the blanket and flashlight; I’ll bring snacks.

Five paragraphs later you state: “No one ever knew what went on inside the walls at 8232 Greenwood Avenue, Munster, Indiana.”

So which is it? Did you unload for endless hours to various girlfriends on only some of the Hyles house horrors, or did no one ever know what went on inside the walls of the Hyles house? It cannot be both.

If you think the girls in whom you confided your horror stories never breathed a word to anyone, I’m sorry but you need a wake-up call. They shared. The sordid details hung over Hammond like a noxious cloud.

I don’t care how you spin it, Linda. No matter what took place at 8232 Greenwood, you Hyles kids weren’t victims. You were not a victim. Your brother was not a victim. Your brother-in-law, Jack lite, was most certainly not a victim.

There were — are — plenty of victims but you’re not among their number. In fact I think that by your actions now, you are contributing to further victimization of those who have been permanently derailed by your family’s antics.

Because their only hope is in the truth of God’s Word. The fundamentals, as it were.

And believe it or not, I wish you the best. The best of everything available to those children of God who let Him be the sovereign authority throughout their lives that He’s going to be anyway, in the end.

Jenny

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