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A leading independent Baptist pastor and his church have been sued for negligence in connection with alleged sexual assaults on a mentally disabled church member over a six-year period.

Jack Hyles, pastor for 38 years of the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, and the church were named defendants in a civil suit filed October 2. The suit alleges that a 42-year-old Chicago woman, who attended the First Baptist Sunday school from 1991 to 1996, was raped and battered multiple times during that period.

One of the lawyers who filed the suit, Vernon Petri, says Hyles is a defendant because he failed to protect the woman. "Controls have to be set to be sure things are conducted appropriately," Petri says. At present, there are no criminal charges pending.

Hyles, whose church has a weekly attendance of 7,500, is a leading figure of the independent Baptist movement. He is founder of Hyles-Anderson College in Crown Point, Indiana.

Hyles "categorically denied the allegations" in an October 12 advertisement in the Hammond Times. He cited the church's long-standing outreach to the handicapped and underprivileged of the Hammond area, ministries that "are a financial liability. This is especially true in the case of the educable slow. We get nothing from them but the satisfaction of helping them."

In the ad, Hyles said the church does "not believe that the events described in the allegations occurred." Hyles said the church preaches against and detests "any form of sexual misbehavior." In a news report, Hyles indicated that the church had no record of the woman's attendance at Sunday school since 1991.

The action asks for unspecified damages. "Money is not the issue," Petri says.

December 8, 1997 Vol. 41, No. 14, Page 63

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