First Baptist Church of Hammond

Has this historic term -- 'fundamentalist' -- outlived its usefulness as journalistic lingo?

Has this historic term -- 'fundamentalist' -- outlived its usefulness as journalistic lingo?

Believers who perpetuate the prophet Joseph Smith’s polygamy teaching are commonly called “Mormon fundamentalists” in the media, which is, presumably, one reason President Russell Nelson wants to shed the familiar “Mormon” name for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which forbids polygamy.

Meanwhile, debate persists over the frequent term “Muslim fundamentalists” for politicized or violent groups more precisely called “Islamists” or hyper-traditionalist “Salafis.”

The Religion Guy is now wondering whether the F-word has become so problematic that the news media should drop it altogether.

I say that because of a July 21 New York Times book review of Amber Scorah’s book “Leaving the Witness,” about her experiences within, and eventual defection from, Jehovah’s Witnesses.

(The Guy has not seen Scorah’s opus, but it’s hard to imagine it outclasses the superb pioneering Witnesses memoir “Visions of Glory” by the late Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, which goes unmentioned in the Times. While Scorah has left God behind, dropout Harrison turned Catholic.)

Reviewer C. E. Morgan, who teaches creative writing in Harvard Divinity School’s ministry program, repeatedly calls the Witnesses “fundamentalists,” which — historically speaking — is a religious category mistake of the first order.

Thus the question arises: If teachers at Ivy League theology schools, and copy editors at the nation’s most influential newspaper, don’t know what “fundamentalism” is (even as defined in the Associated Press Stylebook), maybe it’s time for the media to banish the word.

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A culture of abuse: Must-read investigation on sex crimes in independent fundamental Baptist churches

A culture of abuse: Must-read investigation on sex crimes in independent fundamental Baptist churches

On Sunday’s front page, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published the first part of a major investigative report on sex crimes in independent fundamental Baptist churches nationally.

Today’s Page 1 of the Texas newspaper brought Part 2.

Part 3 and Part 4 as well as a helpful explainer on how the Star-Telegram undertook the eight-month probe can be read online.

Bottom line: Investigative reporter Sarah Smith and her colleagues have produced a mammoth piece of journalism filled with infuriating case studies of pastors abusing underage girls and suffering few, if any, consequences.

The chilling, powerful opening of Part 1:

Joy Evans Ryder was 15 years old when she says her church youth director pinned her to his office floor and raped her.

“It’s OK. It’s OK,” he told her. “You don’t have to be afraid of anything.”

He straddled her with his knees, and she looked off into the corner, crying and thinking, “This isn’t how my mom said it was supposed to be.”

The youth director, Dave Hyles, was the son of the charismatic pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, considered at the time the flagship for thousands of loosely affiliated independent fundamental Baptist churches and universities.

At least three other teen girls would accuse Hyles of sexual misconduct, but he never faced charges or even sat for a police interview related to the accusations. When he got in trouble, Hyles was able to simply move on, from one church assignment to the next.

Hyles’ flight to safety has become a well-worn path for ministers in the independent fundamental Baptist movement.

For decades, women and children have faced rampant sexual abuse while worshiping at independent fundamental Baptist churches around the country. The network of churches and schools has often covered up the crimes and helped relocate the offenders, an eight-month Star-Telegram investigation has found.

More than 200 people — current or former church members, across generations — shared their stories of rape, assault, humiliation and fear in churches where male leadership cannot be questioned.

The Star-Telegram took eight months to report this series, titled “Spirit of Fear.” It’s a lot to digest, and I’m still doing so. But I’ll offer a few initial thoughts based on my quick first reading.

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