A little over a week ago, Jack Schaap, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond Indiana, was fired over a sexual relationship he had with a sixteen/seventeen year old girl in the church. I wrote about this here and here.
Twenty-three plus years ago, Jack Schaap’s father-in-law, Jack Hyles, was accused of having an affair with a woman in the church. I wrote about this here. The evidence for his affair was overwhelming but the church rejected the evidence and Hyles remained the church’s pastor until his death.
First Baptist Church in Hammond is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Church. (if you don’t know what an IFB church is read here) The church was an American Baptist church until Jack Hyles pulled it out the convention.
Sexual and financial scandals are quite common among IFB churches. Pastors have sexual affairs, molest children, surf porn sites, cavort with prostitutes, lie, cheat, and steal. They are, in every way, just like the rest of the human race.
Deacons, Sunday School teachers, church bus workers, Christian School workers, and every-day church members are also just like the rest of the human race. No matter how much they might protest, they know if the curtain was pulled back, it would expose for all to see that IFB church pastors, leaders, and members are no different than atheists, Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons,Methodists, or Southern Baptists.
They are human beings, capable of doing good or bad things. They are capable of being good, decent, kind, loving people and they are also capable of being evil, unkind, indecent, and unloving people.
Like all of us, they have the power to choose what kind of person they want to be. No matter what their theology tells them about the depraved, sinful condition of the natural, unregenerate, unsaved human being, they KNOW they have the power to be whatever kind of person they want to be.
They KNOW that there are countless atheists, deists, non-IFB Christians, Catholics, etc who are good, decent, kind, loving people, without believing the King James Version of the Bible is the Word of God or believing in the IFB God at all.
The IFB religion (and it IS a sectarian religion no matter how much they protest that it is not) believes the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. IFB churches and pastors are Bible literalists. Most of them are young earth creationists and believe in the pretribulational, premillennial second coming of Jesus Christ. (which they believe could happen at any moment)
They believe the miracles in the Bible actually happened and that everything in the Bible is meant to be taken literally unless it is very clear that it is not meant to be taken literally. (they have very specific, albeit contradictory, hermeneutics for determining this)
As Bible literalists, they believe that Christians are to live sanctified (set apart for God’s service), godly, holy lives. To ensure this they have long lists of things they consider sins, sins that no Jesus loving, sin-hating, devil chasing, IFB Christian would ever commit.
Every IFB church and pastor has their own l-o-n-g list of things they consider a sin. Besides the “big” sins like adultery, fornication, and homosexuality, IFB churches have rules (standards) about things that many non-IFB Christians might not consider a sin. Things like:
- Watching TV
- Listening to secular music or Contemporary Christian music
- Going to the movies
- Gambling, playing cards
- Men and women swimming together
- Drinking alcohol
- Cursing or using bywords
- Women wearing pants or shorts
- Women wearing anything that reveals their “shape”
- Long hair on men, short hair on women
Over the years, I heard IFB pastors, including myself, say the following things were a sin:
- Wearing wire rim glasses
- Having a beard
- Having a mustache
- Wearing any clothing with “worldly” advertising
- Going to stock races
- Sending your children to a public school
- Using any Bible but a King James Bible
- Not having a Sunday Evening or Midweek service
- Not having an altar call
- Using prerecorded (canned) music
- Marrying a non-IFB Christian
- Going to a non-IFB college
- Having non-IFB friends
- Working on Sunday
- Letting your children play sports on prayer meeting night or Sunday
- Not giving at least 10% of your money to the church (plus special offerings)
- Eating in restaurants that serve alcohol
- Allowing women to pray or teach anyone other than women or children
I am sure, by now, you are trying to figure where the heaven I am going with this post. Let me tie it all together.
The IFB church movement prides itself on being “better” than other Christian sects and the “world” in general. Their literalist belief system, along with their lists of sinful behaviors are the standard every IFB church member is expected to live by.
For all their talk about salvation by faith and grace, their religion is all about works. (as is every religion, to some degree or the other) They will tell you that a person does not have to do any works in order to be saved but…ask them if a person who refuses to live by the above standards is a Christian and they are likely to say, I doubt it.
In the IFB world, “true” Christianity is determined by how well a person adheres to the church’s/pastor’s interpretation of the Bible and whatever list of “standards” they have.
Some allowance is given for difference of opinion, but not much. Church members who don’t conform are labeled as: worldly, carnal, weak, fleshly, or backslidden.
The moral and and ethical standard is high, way too high. Remember what I said earlier about IFB pastors, leaders, and church members being just like the rest of us? Well, this poses a real problem for them. They take the high moral ground, believing they are superior to everyone else, including other Christians. They consider themselves pillars of moral virtue.
But…they are not, and when pastors, leaders, and church members get in trouble, like in the case of Jack Schaap and Jack Hyles, they have a real dilemma on their hands.
Their moral and ethical failures expose the bankruptcy of their claim of superiority. They show that the fundamentalist emperor has no clothes.
The right thing to do would be to admit their failures, confess their “sins,” and come on down from Mount “I am Holier than Thou.” Of course doing this would mean that they are just like the rest of us…
And that ain’t gonna happen.
The latest IFB scandal, courtesy of Jack Schaap and First Baptist Church in Hammond, provides for us an excellent example of HOW IFB churches handle having their “humanness” exposed.
First, they deny. When the Schaap scandal first became public, IFB commenters on blogs and news sites were quick to deny that Schaap had done anything wrong. The accusations were lies and they were certain that Schaap was completely innocent. (IFB pastors are often worshiped like a god)
Second, they marginalize. When they could no longer deny the reality of the Schaap scandal, they turned to letting everyone know that Schaap was a “sinner” just like everyone else and, while his “fall” was regrettable, people should not judge the IFB church movement or First Baptist Church negatively. One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bushel. (actually it can)
Third, attack the critics. Instead of owning the scandal, many IFB defenders decided to attack those who reported the scandal or wrote negative things about Schaap, Jack Hyles, First Baptist Church in Hammond, and the IFB. You can read about one such attack here.
Across the blogosphere, in discussion forums, in blog comments, and emails, the defenders of the IFB have attempted to ameliorate the scandal by attacking people like me. They can’t dismiss my impeccable IFB credentials so they attack me personally or they dismiss me out of hand because I am an atheist. Why should anyone listen to what I have say, they write. I am a God-hater. I am bitter, angry, have an axe to grind.
They try and discredit the messenger so they won’t have to deal with his/her message. The goal is direct attention away from the facts.
Fourth, if all else fails, attack the victim. Let’s not forget that there is a victim in the Jack Schaap scandal. Schaap’s “sin” was not a victimless one. He had sexual relations with a minor in the church. Some media sites are reporting that the girl was being counseled by Schaap. (in Ohio, such a relationship is illegal)
Jack Schaap is a 54 year old man. He is my age. The victim is almost young enough to be his granddaughter. As a grown, mature man, he should be in control of his sexual desire. Surely he KNEW it was morally and ethically wrong (regardless of whether or not it was illegal) to have sex with this girl.
Schaap had the power to control the relationship he had with this girl. He was the grownup, he was the “man of God,” he was a married man with children, he was the one with everything to lose…
If he had overt sexual desire, a need to get laid, he could have sought out the help of a professional, a prostitute. I am sure there are plenty of adult establishments in the Chicago area that Schaap could have went to in order to get his sexual need met. (and more than a few IFB pastors have availed themselves to the services of a prostitute)
But, Schaap did none of these things and now everyone knows…
In the sleaziest of attempts to justify Jack Schaap’s behavior, they attack the girl. One commenter on this blog suggested the girl was a slut, that she seduced Schaap. She wrote:
So…what about the teenage girl? How hot was she? How hard did she pursue him? We all know young girls flaunt everything these days to get what they want. a rise from any man they can. especially one in the limelight (our a uniform!) They don’t care if he’s married our not, or if he’s her best friends dad. it’s really sad.young girls are a whoring in our churches.
It doesn’t matter how hot she was or whether or not she flaunted herself before him.
He is a grown, mature man, a few years younger than me. By now, he should have learned how to deal with temptation and keep his penis in his pants.
It is reported that he was counseling this girl. If this is true, then he abused his power and authority and, here in Ohio, could be held criminally liable.
Whatever the girl’s faults, she is not the problem in this story.
You men and women be careful. She is closer than we think. the world is full of young sluts stealing our husbands and sons! Praying for Cindy!
And, I responded:
You mean stealing pathetic, poor Christian men who have been taught they are helpless creatures unable to withstand sexual temptation? How about teaching them to be accountable for their own sexual behavior? They have a choice, do they not? Or are they so weak that the slightest temptation turns them into sexed crazed maniacs who are unable to control their lust?
The only right answer to the Jack Schaap scandal, the Jack Hyles scandal, or any other church scandal, is IMMEDIATE, COMPLETE disclosure. Instead of trying to cover the matter up or trying to make it disappear, churches should show they take these kinds of things seriously and expose the offending parties.
What First Baptist Church in Hammond needs is a Penn State moment. They need to come to terms with fifty years of cover-ups and denials. The deacons and church membership need to own their own culpability in this matter. (they first tried to deal with this by saying Schaap was on medical leave) They are they ones who did nothing about Jack Hyles and his serial-adulterer son David. They are the ones who allowed an abusive, controlling, cultic environment to develop in the church. (and those who stood against this were run off or left)
This will not be the last scandal in the IFB church movement. Their theology and ecclesiology makes it certain that scandals will continue to happen.
IFB church pastors, leaders, and members are human beings. That they will, despite their theology and practice, do things that are considered bad is a given. The only issue left to decide is HOW to respond to these bad acts. What First Baptist Church in Hammond and many churches and pastors in the IFB have done over the past fifty years in response to scandal is not the answer.
The Joe Paterno statues have been pulled down as a public act of contrition and it remains to be seen if the Jack Hyles statute will face the same fate. (there is a direct connection between the current scandal and the Jack Hyles scandal twenty three years ago) One can only hope that public scrutiny will force the IFB church movement to own their “sins” and that dramatic change will be made to lessen the frequency of predatory acts against children and teenagers. (if this was an affair between Schaap and an adult woman this story would be a non-issue, IMO)