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  • Writer's pictureNate Plautz

How NLBC Earned Its Reputation

The Story of How North Love Baptist Church Earned its Reputation

North Love Baptist Church in Rockford, IL was once home to Reformers Unanimous (RU) – the program that claimed to reform Josh Duggar’s sexual proclivities. This story, however, is not about the allegations of abuse within RU (of which there are many). This is the story of the home church and the pastor who wanted to build a fundamentalist empire in the style of his hero Jack Hyles. But when several women came forward claiming that Paul Kingsbury protected their sexual abusers, Kingsbury’s empire crumbled.

Though Kingsbury’s empire has fallen, his loyalists still draw from the same playbook of abuse coverups.

Paul Kingsbury strode into the church office, pulled out his phone, and showed his secretary a picture. He had just returned from Lancaster, California where he spoke at West Coast Baptist College. While visiting the California campus, and his longtime friend Paul Chappell, Kingsbury grew intent on capturing some of that aura Chappell seemed to have. So, when Kingsbury returned to Rockford, he told his secretary to use the “new building fund” to remodel the upstairs church bathrooms to look exactly like those of Lancaster Baptist Church – right down to the décor. No one questioned his wisdom.

If Kingsbury wanted something (and if there was enough money in the bank) – Kingsbury got it. That’s just how things worked at North Love Baptist Church.

I spoke with roughly a dozen members (past and present) who bemoaned that Paul Kingsbury changed the church constitution at his leisure on many occasions. There was one year the deacon board went an entire calendar year without meetings. Deacons were hand-picked by Kingsbury and presented before the church as a mere formality. North Love Baptist Church was an institution almost entirely lacking in oversight, and it was almost entirely given to a charismatic, autocratic ruler who was scarcely challenged. On the rare occasion when someone dared challenge this “man of God,” Kingsbury would lean on his well-practiced charisma to dispense with the unwelcome threat to his power.

There was scarcely a distinction between the man and the intuition that was created in his own image. It’s not entirely reductive to say that Paul Kingsbury was North Love Baptist Church, and North Love Baptist Church was Paul Kingsbury. To this day, Kingsbury’s very identity is intrinsically a part of the church – right down to his chosen successor.

I cannot overstate the role charisma played in bolstering Kingsbury’s power. When you watch the video, you’re almost convinced that he just has to be telling you the truth. Who can fault the men in the church who heartily voiced their agreement as the “man of God” dismissed their fears? Kingsbury was a masterful communicator… but he was also a master manipulator who knew how to keep the flock in line.

North Love Baptist Church still defends Paul Kingsbury’s legacy

To this day, if you attend a service at North Love Baptist Church, you’ll find faithful members who still express loyalty for their fallen leader. One refrain I’ve heard on several occasions is, “Oh Pastor Kingsbury was maybe just too merciful.” We are presented with the image of Kingsbury having too much grace. A pastor with a heart two sizes too big.

So, I ask the same questions every time I hear this convenient narrative: “Why is it that Kingsbury’s mercy extends only to abusers? Where was Kingsbury’s mercy and compassion for the survivors of sexual abuse?”

The foolish man built his house upon the sand, And the rains came tumbling down

In the summer of 2021, Kingsbury’s empire came crashing around him and Paul Kingsbury resigned in disgrace. Into the void stepped longtime assistant pastor, and Kingsbury’s chosen successor, Pastor Ron Haese. Ron Haese came to North Love Baptist Church after being removed (or perhaps resigning?) from his previous church. The details surrounding his removal or resignation are not entirely clear to me, but to the best of my knowledge it was not related to a sexual abuse coverup. Haese arrived at North Love an emotionally broken man, but Paul Kingsbury took Haese under his wing. Eventually, Kingsbury created a new pastoral position for Haese to serve as the church’s “visitation pastor.” Haese understandably showed his gratitude by demonstrating unquestioning and unflinching loyalty. Ron Haese’s son even married one of Kingsbury’s daughters.

So, in the summer of 2021 when Ron Haese stood before the church, his first act as interim pastor was to emphatically proclaim that Paul Kingsbury did nothing to disqualify himself from the ministry or from pastoring “North Love Baptist Church or any other church.” According to several church members, Ron Haese regularly met with Paul Kingsbury after his resignation to discuss the direction of the church, Haese’s sermon topics, and how to push back on “attacks.” Like a loyal golden retriever, Ron Haese admirably defended his mentor’s honor on every occasion.

Ron Haese and Paul Kingsbury are both graduates of Hyles-Anderson College and spent years under the tutelage of Jack Hyles – the man who almost literally wrote the book on disregarding abuse. This book, by the way, is one Paul Kingsbury gifted to Ron Haese and several church deacons months after his resignation.

When you watch Haese’s sermons you’ll never see contrition… Because Jack Hyles would never show contrition. You’ll never see an apology to the victims of abuse… Because Jack Hyles would never apologize to victims. But you will often hear about people who are doing the devil’s work… Because Jack Hyles would often preach against the outside forces who are working to destroy the church’s reputation.

Six months have now passed, and Ron Haese has not publicly corrected his public proclamation that Kingsbury was not “disqualified” from the ministry. Jack Hyles never preached that a pastor who protected sexual abusers was disqualified from the ministry, so we shouldn’t be surprised that Haese does not see this as a disqualification either.

To my knowledge, Kingsbury is still preaching and trying to salvage his beloved reputation. He is constantly in search of a captive audience and a platform from which he can rehabilitate his legacy. Many IFB churches are delighted to indulge him, and his former church has done nothing to stop him. In one video of a post-resignation Kingsbury sermon, Paul Kingsbury contorts Biblical passages to insinuate that a pastor has no responsibility in reporting abuse. It is the abused child who bears the responsibility to “cry out,” according to Kingsbury.

If you look through Kingsbury’s sermon archives, you will notice many of his sermons are devoted to the topic of “bitterness.” From many of my interviews with dozens who knew him well, I’ve learned that Paul Kingsbury is a man who is extremely conflict averse. Though confidently charismatic from behind the pulpit, Paul Kingsbury melts into his chair when confronted with conflict. I so often heard stories of someone going to Kingsbury with a serious matter only to hear him say, “I’ll take care of it.” Generally, his method of “taking care of” a matter was to simply sequester the information. In cases of abuse, I’ve been told by several people, he’s fond of using the phrase “deal[ing] with this in a Biblical manner” to leverage the full weight of God against a victim who dare come to Kingsbury about their abuse.

Victims should “forgive and forget,” Kingsbury is alleged to say, because their trauma could “hurt the ministry.” But it’s little wonder that a man who melts in the face of conflict so often finds hurting people all around him. In truth, it was his refusal to address matters that left victims feeling unresolved… but Kingsbury simply saw the fruit of his failure to properly address serious matters as “bitterness.”

Paul Kingsbury’s church was a poacher’s paradise

Because Kingsbury failed to address abuse, members were lulled into a false sense of security. While at the same time leading members to believe they were safe within his nature preserve, he gave poachers virtually unfettered access to the youngest and most vulnerable. This was a place where a convicted child sex offender was entrusted to teach a Friday night children’s program. An oasis where those who got caught poaching were silently shuffled away. Abusers were given license to use North Love as what was essentially an unrestricted and fully stocked hunting ground.

When a former North Love Christian School principal vowed to the husband of a survivor that he would put his job on the line to demand Kingsbury remove a predator from the church, Kingsbury convinced the once concerned former principal to simply “keep an eye on” the abuser. The stories go on and on… but some of the most harrowing first-person accounts of abuse will likely never be told out of respect for the survivors who requested their experiences remain unpublished.

The Richard DeVall problem

One abuser Paul Kingsbury and Ron Haese aided was North Love missionary and admitted rapist Richard DeVall. Upon release of the scathing Bob Jones University (BJU) Grace Report which implicated Richard DeVall and BJU’s sexual abuse coverup, Paul Kingsbury went into coverup mode. When police requested that Richard DeVall come in for questioning, Paul Kingsbury arranged for DeVall and his family – who were on furlough from Bolivia at the time – to flee to the mission field. Per three eye-witness sources who were on staff at that time, Paul Kingsbury hid the information from the church (and even the deacons). When the one known victim of Richard DeVall’s sexual abuse contacted the church on two separate occasions, Paul Kingsbury dismissed the woman as troubled and unhinged. He told a female staff member that the woman was simply “trying to stir up trouble.”

Over the course of the last several months, our group has been working behind the scenes to bring Richard DeVall’s rape, and subsequent harboring from prosecution to light. Our actions were vilified by those within the fundamentalist community who simply wanted an uncomfortable situation to vaporize. After all, why should this little instance of abuse be dredged up when so many others were successfully buried.

Last November our group planned to protest in front of North Love Baptist Church until leadership cooperated with criminal authorities. Sensing the urgency of the situation, deacons met the Saturday night before our first planned protest. The deacons voted to recall Richard DeVall pending his cooperation with criminal authorities. Following the vote, Ron Haese called my cell and said, “Richard Devall is coming home… now will you call off the protest?” We agreed to call off the protest.

Ron Haese goes to bat for Richard DeVall

The very next week Ron Haese cryptically mused about a “decision”he made and “some other truth coming to light. To our group’s horror, it appeared that Ron Haese was attempting to renege on his promise. Our fears were confirmed by several members who informed us that Ron Haese was privately working to salvage the Richard DeVall situation. He told concerned members that the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office promised him that they would close the investigation into Richard DeVall.

We know Haese presented false information. What I cannot understand, however, is how Haese believed this would change the situation. If the police were to suddenly drop the investigation due to the efforts of fundamentalists who colluded to protect DeVall for decades, how did this somehow clear DeVall of rape after he had already confessed to his crime? What an awfully low standard for a man who claims to hold the moral high ground.

Fighting smoke and mirrors with sunlight and transparency

When I was alerted of Ron Haese’s efforts to protect Richard DeVall, I went directly to the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO). In my phone conversations with the department, I was told that no one from their office had ever indicated an intent to drop the investigation. This was an ongoing case. Any information claiming otherwise was simply false.

Furthermore, I was informed by police that North Love refused to provide Richard DeVall’s contact information to authorities, and the detective requested that I assist in providing the information. I obliged – and in a fit of rage – I shared the story on Facebook. Word must have gotten back to Haese because later that day I was informed North Love was now “cooperating” with police.

To the best of my knowledge, Ron Haese intentionally misinformed members regarding the actions Greenville County Sheriff’s Office. Haese calculated that no one, including the mission board, would doubt his story. That’s why after reaching out to the police I also connected with Baptist Pioneer Missions (BPM), Richard DeVall’s mission board. BPM was being fed the same misinformation that Ron Haese was selling to members. I told BPM not to take Haese’s word – or my word – for granted. I asked that they connect directly with the GCSO. It soon became clear to the mission board that Ron Haese could not be trusted.

A (true) Christian response to abuse

Baptist Pioneer Missions determined that since North Love – Richard DeVall’s sending church – could not be trusted, the agency would have to address the DeVall situation independently. The BPM board met and placed Richard DeVall on probation pending his cooperation with law enforcement. Then, Richard DeVall demurred. He provided excuses including his daughter’s health, his family situation in Bolivia, and eventually the guidance of his lawyer to forego cooperation with police.

Not satisfied with DeVall’s response, the board returned with an ultimatum that he must cooperate or face separation from BPM. DeVall then spent several days of “prayer” and “fasting,” after which Richard DeVall returned to the mission board and informed them that God had told him to remain in Bolivia and not to cooperate with police. Baptist Pioneer Missions then severed ties with Richard DeVall.

Baptist Pioneer Missions has taken commendable steps

As advocates, we must not become blinded by historical injustices – we MUST fully embrace positive action. BPM has my gratitude for the steps they have taken to date, and I hope they will continue on this positive trajectory.

Unfortunately, BPM has understandably lost all faith in the integrity of North Love Baptist Church after the deceitful behavior of Paul Kingsbury and Ron Haese. If not for these two men, Richard DeVall would not be in Bolivia today. Now, as BPM is doing its best to encourage Richard DeVall to cooperate with criminal authorities, DeVall still has Paul Kingsbury and Ron Haese as his “spiritual” backstop.

Kingsbury is gone, but the manipulation persists

What has been Ron Haese’s response to all of this to date? Ron Haese delivered a fiery message to the North Love congregation that seemingly equated the “attacks” on the church’s “reputation” to those who attacked the reputation of Jesus when He was on earth. When Haese finally finished rambling and blaming advocates for the church’s downfall, Haese instructed the organist to play an “altar call.”

Judging by the peppering of “Amen!” throughout the sermon, Haese still has many members eating out of the palm of his hand. Perhaps those members don’t know the real story. I hope this writing helps illuminate some of what has been going on behind all the smoke and mirrors at North Love. I hope members finally start to stand up and demand the accountability their church has lacked for half a century.

Something I’ve noticed about church members who seek to obfuscate and make excuses is that they prefer to question the motives of the advocates instead of confronting the truth. They like to say those who speak out about abuse are bitter. But now… with all attempts at denial and gaslighting now exhausted, members seemingly shrug their shoulders… Sure some “bad things” happened, they now concede, but we just “hate how this group made memes.” Their attitude reveals their priorities. It’s not the sexual abuse that troubles them – it’s the fact that some punks had the gall to make them uncomfortable about the culture of sexual abuse. They just want to go back to the way things were before our group so rudely aired their dirty laundry. They want to go back to pointing at how wicked everyone else in the world is.

When Ron Haese bemoans his reputation and blames the devil for his own comeuppance, I can’t help but shake my head… it was Paul Kingsbury’s obsession with his and his empire’s reputation that led him to cover abuse. Now it is Ron Haese and North Love’s refusal to confront the same systemic abuse that has led to the church earning its current reputation.

If Ron Haese were serious about reclaiming the church’s image, he would let the world know that North Love Baptist Church no longer tolerates abuse and abusers. He would let it be known that Paul Kingsbury led the church down a dark path, but that the church is committed to rebuilding on solid rock – not sand. But he won’t… Because… “Lawyers.”

Ron Haese and Paul Kingsbury must publicly encourage admitted rapist and current fugitive Richard DeVall to cooperate with criminal authorities

Ron Haese may believe he washed his hands of Richard DeVall when he finally relented and ended his campaign of deceit. But because of Haese’s and Kingsbury’s efforts, Richard DeVall still believes that he is a “man of God” and therefore needs not answer to the American justice system.

To reiterate, Richard DeVall still believes that Paul Kingsbury and Ron Haese granted him spiritual dispensation for his sexual assault. After a failed, months-long campaign to shield Richard DeVall, Ron Haese cannot be allowed to simply pretend that Richard DeVall does not exist. Haese and Kingsbury created this mess, and therefore bare responsibility for his continued evasion of justice. At this point the least they can do is tell Richard DeVall to come home and meet with criminal authorities.

Dear North Love Baptist Church members,

I don’t hate you. I’m not bitter… at least not anymore.

At this point you and I want the same thing – restoration. The only difference is that I know restoration can only come with recognition and repentance. I know… It’s easy for me to ask for this from someone else.

Honestly, I don’t pretend to be a Biblical scholar. Ron Haese could certainly run circles around me with IFB-favorite passages. And while I can’t debate theologically, I can certainly speak to the fruit of the tree that is Paul Kingsbury’s North Love Baptist Church. Remember the verse “By their fruit ye shall know them”? That’s me! I’m the fruit! Like so many of your children, I am a product of North Love Christian School.

So why is it that North Love Christian School (NLCS) generates more graduates that are atheists than are fundamentalists?

Why is it that most NLCS graduates don’t attend church regularly? Admittedly, that last sentence applies to me. Though I’m a Christian, and I know Christ as my Savior, I’m a nearly-30-year-old man who fears church because of the destruction my childhood church has created in so many lives. So many of you know dozens of others like me who still bear the scars of their fundamentalist upbringing.

Because when you claimed to have the answer, so many of us saw the lie. The one thing atheists and fundamentalists agreed on is that “North Love’s brand of fundamentalism is Christianity.”

Before the world understood the extent of the abuse, most graduates of the school understood the emptiness of the lie. We didn’t reject your brand of fundamentalism because of the abuse that recently became known. We rejected your brand of fundamentalism because we saw how you placed a “man of God” between Christ and Christians… The abuse is just the fruit of the tree you planted.

A final note to Richard DeVall’s lawyer Kevin C. Romosca,

I am disappointed that you did not respond to my request to speak with you about your alleged client Richard DeVall. Because you did not respond to my initial entreaties, I will now ask you the list of questions I had planned to privately ask you here:

1) Is it true that admitted rapist Richard DeVall is your client?

2) Is it true that you advised admitted rapist Richard DeVall to remain in Bolivia and not cooperate with criminal authorities?

3) Is it true that you claim to be a Christian and that you attend Grace Church in Greenville, South Carolina?

4) What is Grace Church’s view on morality, and does the church believe admitted rapists should not cooperate with criminal authorities?

5) If DeVall is your client, do you represent other admitted rapist clergy members?

Mr. Romosca, I hope that if you are a believer your conscience will be sorely grieved. I hope that you set aside your professional priorities and consider your spiritual priorities. I have no doubt you are a good lawyer, but I pray you are a better Christian.

Richard DeVall’s sexual abuse and flight from justice do a great dishonor to the cause of Christ – a cause that I hope you care to uphold. Author’s Note: This story is written as a narrative – not to add intrigue, but rather an attempt to add color to the black and white world that is the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement. Everything in this article is either sourced by a link, sourced by an interview with one or more firsthand witnesses, or the retelling of my own firsthand experience. My intention is to represent the story as accurately as possible, to the best of my ability, and in such a way that honors the survivors.

Most importantly, I hope sharing this story empowers and informs others to stand against systemic abuse.

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