Since the government shutdown began, and the image of Ted Cruz began flashing across my television screen, I’ve been thinking about things that happened in my life 30 years ago. That’s when I learned a valuable lesson—one I kept trying to run away from. Those experiences taught me firsthand just how dangerous and delusional demagogues are.
It was thirty years ago that my young wife and I loaded up a U-Haul and journeyed 1,500 miles across the country to Northwest Indiana. She was pregnant with our son. I would enroll at Hyles-Anderson College, a fundamentalist, Baptist Bible college located in Crown Point. For two years, I attempted to correlate the inconsistencies I saw upon arrival, but kept tamping down, like a good little preacher boy.
Two years after arriving and trying to align with “God’s chosen vessel,” Jack Hyles, I walked away from what I believe was pretty darn close to being a cult. That experience left me scarred. The problem for me, and for many that go through experiences like these, is that we often doubt our version, thinking we’re being overly critical. We ask ourselves, “Could I have done something different?” That’s how thought-control is designed to operate.
That ill-fated sojourn to the Midwest and what I now refer to as, “the fundamentalist years,” was the toughest, but also, the most formative period of time in my life. Many of my foundational beliefs were developed either during, or as a result of this four-year period of time spent in the post-industrial Midwest.
My recent reading of George Packer’s book, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (which I reviewed here at the JBE), reminded me of that time in 1983, when Mary and I made our sojourn (what actually became more of an exile) to a place that had already begun unwinding, and had been for a decade. Packer’s descriptions of Youngstown, Ohio, told from the personal perspective of Tammy Thomas, resonated with me. I had lived next door to Gary, Indiana, which is an urban ruin, much like Youngstown. In fact, I made a return visit to the region in 2007. That visit helped me to tie together many loose threads from my Hyles-Anderson experience, and the subsequent years we lived in the region, until managing to finally piece together the funds to return to Maine, in 1987.
Like most demagogues—especially the religious variety—Jack Hyles was working from a special dispensation—he had a secret pathway to the Almighty that had been revealed only to him. Of course, to access it required jumping through all kinds of various hoops, including paying for an education at a school that wasn’t accredited.
Spending two years of my life in my early 20s, taking classes and being browbeaten by men that were freaks and social misfits got old quickly. For whatever reason, I had enough sense at some point to say, “enough is enough,” and I left Hyles-Anderson. The only problem for our young family at the time; we spent all our money getting there and the severe economic recession hitting that part of the country in 1982 and 1983 made finding a job that paid a living wage very difficult—unemployment was nearly 15 percent.
Those years in Indiana were an interlude that is still somewhat inexplicable; looking back on it all, I’m filled with wonder that Mary, Mark, and I made it back from it. What could have possessed me and made me take this flyer on an ill-fated belief that it was part of some higher, divine plan for my life? I think it indicates just how deluded I was and also, how manipulative religion—especially any of the fundamentalist brands—can be. Again; it brought me face-to-face with the power of certain kinds of men (they’re mostly all men, aren’t they?) that have the ability to control and twist you into all kinds of pretzel logic, turning brains into Swiss cheese, at least during the delusional period.
When I see Ted Cruz, and his ilk on television, it makes my skin crawl. He reminds me of so many of the snake oil types that used to come and preach at Hyles-Anderson during chapel services. I’ve seen and known many other Ted Cruz-types during the period after walking away from fundamentalism.
What I’ve never understood, after numerous readings of the gospels, and from the record of the life of Jesus, is why religion, especially a certain type of Christianity, ends up being filled and characterized by a certain kind of hatred and anger? I don’t see anything justifying the arrogance, and the obvious hatred and vilification of fellow human beings that people like Ted Cruz, Dominionists like Gary DeMar, Gary North, and an assortment of so-called followers of Jesus spread; also, what justifies their support of the Republican Party, the war machine, and corporate malfeasance?
Chris Hedges’ recent column nailed this sentiment for me, especially this paragraph.
We have abandoned our poor and working class. We have created a government monster that sucks the marrow out of our bones to enrich and empower the oligarchic and corporate elite. The protection of criminals, whether in war or on Wall Street, is part of our mirage of law and order. We have betrayed the vast and growing underclass. Most believers within the Christian right are struggling to survive in a hostile world. We have failed them. Their very real despair is being manipulated and used by Christian fascists such as the Texas senator. Give to the working poor a living wage, benefits and job security and the reach of this movement will diminish. Refuse to ameliorate the suffering of the poor and working class and you ensure the ascendancy of a Christian fascism.
Christian fascism finally cured me of my tendency to tilt towards ideological demagoguery, once and for all.
Btw, here is the son-in-law of the late, “great” Jack Hyles; he was involved in a sexual relationship with an underage, teenage girl. Jack Schaap was the successor of Hyles, after he passed away. He was pastoring First Baptist Church of Hammond. The story is sickening. It’s almost the same narrative that Hyles’ son, Dave Hyles crafted, just prior to my arrival in Indiana in 1983. This story was supposedly well-known by leadership at both the church and school, but it was all covered up. Eventually, Hyles sent his son somewhere else, where he probably wrought a similar story. In fact, all of these are part of a much bigger story at First Baptist Church and Hyles-Anderson.
When I went back to Indiana in 2007, I interviewed several man that had been affiliated with the ministry of Jack Hyles, and had later walked away, just like me. One of them was a man named Jerry Kaifetz. He told me all kinds of things that I thought might be happening when I was there, in 1983 and 1984. I pushed my thoughts away at the time. He validated many of the things I had pieced together over the intervening period.
One of the things that Kaifetz mentioned was that the ministry of Jack Hyles, both at Hyles-Anderson College and at First Baptist Church in Hammond, “left a wake of failed lives, marriages, ministries, many of them involving acts of sexual immorality.”
Here’s another freak from my Hyles-Anderson days, the Bible teacher that everyone thought was the rage back in 1982, 1983.
You can’t make this shit up, and in the case of Hyles-Anderson and First Baptist Church, you don’t have to.
A Bible verse comes to mind, thinking about all of this. It’s from the Gospel of Matthew, 7:15-20 (New Living Translation).
15“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.