A clashing of values, sex scandals, sin, a mega church leader and at least one teenage girl – all the classic makings of a proper scandal. Unless that scandal isn’t covered up… It’s the cover up, not the crime.
This is the story of how the First Baptist Church of Hammond got it right by refusing to cover up the scandal.
After starting their own investigation into Pastor Jack Schaap last Saturday, the Church came to several conclusions. They were going to fire the Pastor for violating the bylaws via adultery, and they would turn over their information to and cooperate with authorities. “We are going to do what is right no matter what the cost or consequences to First Baptist Church,” a church chairman told reporters Wednesday evening.
Penn State and the Catholic Church might want to listen up.
The Board of Deacons at First Baptist Church of Hammond fired Chicago-area mega-church senior pastor Jack Schaap on Tuesday for the sin of adultery after spying a picture of the pastor making out with a teenage member of the congregation on his phone. It got worse. Last night, he admitted having sex with the 16 or 17-year old girl according to various reports.
At first the church didn’t seem upset about her age, which they noted is the legal age of consent, but rather the “sin” of adultery, as adultery is grounds for dismissal in their bylaws. However, the FBI doesn’t quite agree, and they are investigating whether or not the pastor took his sex games across state lines. Also, Lake County Sheriff John Buncich says the department launched a criminal investigation into both the church and their affiliated college.
A former congregant has alleged that there is also another teenage girl that the pastor was “counseling.”
Okay, so originally her age was not an issue to the church and that’s troubling, because legal or not, there is an inherent imbalance of power that a pastor has over a young girl. It’s an abuse of that power to start off counseling the girl and end up having sex with her. Adding to the idea that the pastor gets off on the imbalance of power is the fact that the teenage girl is younger than his own daughters.
But here is where this 40,000 members worldwide church deserves commendation. They have vowed to uncover all wrong-doing, no matter how it damages the church.
Terry Duff, chairman of the church’s Board of Deacon, said the church is committed to the truth, “No wrong-doing will be covered up. The minute we found out about this, we responded.”
Duff told reporters Wednesday night, “We are going to do what is right, no matter what the cost or consequences are to the First Baptist Church.” And the church backed that commitment up with action, by reporting to authorities what they had uncovered.
No matter how the church is judged based on this pastor’s actions (and their sordid history with another pastor who was accused of molesting a young girl in the ’90’s), the Deacons have pledged that their value lay with the truth and their refusal to cover anything up.
Ironically, it is this sort of commitment to truth and to consistent values that can foster a community of integral principle. Yes, the church is taking some hits right now, and yes, from the outside this pastor appears to tell a familiar tale of predatory church leader, but when the folks in charge don’t look the other way, when they apply their values and the community’s values equally to all, when no one is above the law/rules no matter how beloved or powerful, important principles of adherence to truth and protection of the vulnerable are fostered, thus creating an institution that can be respected rather than reviled.
You might remember Schaap from his internationally broadcasted sermons or perhaps from his books, “Marriage: The Divine Intimacy” and “Dating with a Purpose: Common Sense Dating Principles for Couples, Parents, and Youth Workers.”
Schaap is obviously at the very least a hypocrite and an abuser of his power, but the First Baptist Church deserves recognition for not standing by their man. Some things are more important than our idealization of leaders — like our values.
I don’t have to agree with all of the church’s values to respect consistency when I see it. I only wish that a real conversation about abuse of power would ensue, so that legality wouldn’t take precedence over protecting our young people. This church is doing the right thing, and in doing so they are offering a path to other institutions that have lost their way. At a time when many Christians are feeling betrayed by their church leaders, it’s worth celebrating when right wins out over might, just as one imagines Jesus would have wanted.