Another Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) leader is dismissed amid a national scandal. First Baptist Church of Hammond Indiana, which boasts the world’s largest Sunday School and membership of 15,000, issued the following press release yesterday:
At this time, we deeply regret the need to announce that First Baptist Church has dismissed our pastor, Dr. Jack Schaap, due to a sin that has caused him to forfeit his right to be our pastor. First Baptist Church is in full cooperation with our local authorities in their investigation of this matter. Our church grieves over the need to take this action and the impact it will have on our people.
We ask that everyone pray for the families involved and pray that the situation will be handled in a Christ honoring manner. We look forward to the days ahead as we continue to service the needs of our surrounding community and the Chicago area.
For any media-related questions, please contact First Baptist Church spokesman, Eddie Wilson at (219) 945-6475.
What has come out in various media reports so far is that Schaap
had an affair with sexually abused a sixteen year old girl. The deacons of the church found out, and reported the matter to the authorities. While the church thinks nothing criminal has happened, the police are investigating a crime. The age of consent in Illinois is 18 and some of the dalliances allegedly happened in Illinois and Michigan. Additional details have been shared on Facebook and StuffFundiesLike.com, alleging that a picture of Schaap in a compromising situation with this girl was found on his cell phone which a deacon had found lying around somewhere. And this sonds correct since the church moved so swiftly in this case. In any case, the police have also brought in the FBI and the story is attracting a large media presence. More details will eventually emerge, I’m sure.
Some are saying “I told you so.” See the comments here on Sharper Iron. I do think we should pray for First Baptist and for Schaap’s wife, Cindy, especially. Schaap was known for his edgy statements about sex and intimacy and how this describes the union we have with Christ (see here and here). Maybe we should have expected that this day would come.
But the lessons to be learned from Schaap’s fall are wider than his own issues. Schaap was “king on the mountain” in his arena in fundamentalism. Even though he didn’t share the singular adulation that his father-in-law, Jack Hyles, did from a large segment of independent fundamental Baptists, he nevertheless controlled his church and ministry with a similar sense of bravado and hubris. And this is one of the biggest problems I have with many IFBs. Authoritarianism. Pastors living as “the Untouchables” among the peons of their church. The Holy “Man of Gawd” mentality, that we cannot “touch the Lord’s Annointed.” All of this sets up these men for big falls. At least when Schaap fell, he didn’t hand out “100% for Jack” buttons like his father-in-law did.
We have seen high profile scandals emerge lately from all across the IFB movement (and some have been keeping count). I suppose it is fair to point out that the Roman Catholics and even the Southern Baptists (as fundamentalist leader Bob Gray points out) have had their share of molestation cases. But as it is with the Catholics, in the IFB movement, there is a level of authoritarianism built into the very structure of the movement. And openness and accountability do not pervade the structures of the movement.
Over the years, I’ve covered several of the scandals here: ABC News 20/20 report on Chuck Phelps and CNN’s report on Fairhaven and Hephzibah House, are the newest and most high profile cases. But when an evangelist that I knew during my time in a IFB college (Rodney Stewart) fell, I had some specific thoughts about why pastor’s fall. Those thoughts are worth reading again. We all do need to take care lest we ourselves fall.
But to conclude this post, if the IFB movement is to have any future worth mentioning, they are going to have to move toward an elder-rule, accountability-focused leadership style. May Jack Schaap’s fall encourage more IFB churches to change. And I hope that for the first time in nearly 50 years, First Baptist of Hammond doesn’t host a national pastor’s school. Instead may they seek God’s Word for counsel and meditate on how they can protect their church from this kind of scandal and all the harm it does to everyone in the congregation.
CLARIFICATION: I mean “mutual-leadership by a plurality of elders rather than only a “elder-rule” leadership. I believe elders can operate effectively in a congregational style church (such as was the norm with historic Baptists in America), and that there can even be a “first among equals”. My main point is that too many IFB churches have an “untouchable” pastor who is “the Lord’s Anointed”, and he stands above the fray and above any kind of meaningful accountability.