In 2012, Jack Schaap, pastor of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) megachurch First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, was fired over a sexual relationship he had with a sixteen-year-old girl. The teen was in the church’s Christian school and Schaap was “counseling” her. Schaap was later arrested and convicted, and is now serving a 12-year sentence in a federal penitentiary. (You can read the texts, letters, and cards Schaap sent to this girl here.)
Several decades ago, Jack Schaap’s father-in-law, Jack Hyles, was accused of having an affair with his secretary. The evidence for his affair was overwhelming, but the church rejected the evidence and Hyles remained the church’s pastor until his death.
Sexual and financial scandals are quite common in the IFB church movement. Pastors have sexual affairs, molest children, surf porn sites, cavort with prostitutes, lie, cheat, and steal. They are, in every way, just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines they condemn in their sermons. Deacons, Sunday school teachers, church bus workers, Christian school workers, and every-day church members are just like unsaved worldlings too. If the curtain was ever pulled back, it would expose for all to see that IFB pastors, leaders, and members are no different from atheists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Mormons, Methodists, or Southern Baptists. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.)
IFB Christian 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. Much 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 heart, 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, and Catholics who are good, decent, kind, loving people, all without believing the King James Version of the Bible is the Word of God or believing in the IFB God at all.
Every IFB church and pastor has its own list of things they consider sins. Besides the “big” sins such as adultery, fornication, and homosexuality, IFB churches have rules (standards) about things that many non-IFB Christians might not consider a sin. Things such as:
- Watching TV
- Listening to secular music or Contemporary Christian music
- Going to the movies
- Gambling, playing cards
- Men and women swimming (mixed bathing) 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 sins:
- Wearing wire-rim glasses
- Having a beard
- Having a mustache
- Wearing any clothing with “worldly” advertising
- Going to stock car races
- Sending your children to a public school
- Using any Bible except the 1611 King James Bible
- Not having a Sunday evening or midweek service
- Not having an altar call
- Using recorded (canned) music for church specials
- 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, along with extra offerings for revivals and missions
- Eating in restaurants that serve alcohol
- Allowing women to pray while men are present or teach anyone other than women or children
The IFB church movement prides itself on being “better” than other Christian sects and the “world.” Their literalist belief system and their list 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 will likely 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 differences of opinion, but not much. Church members who don’t conform are labeled as worldly, carnal, weak, fleshly, or backslidden.
The stated moral and ethical standard is high — impossibly 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, as in the cases 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. Their behavior shows that the IFB emperor has no clothes.
The right thing to do would be to admit their failures, confess their “sins,” and come 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 IFB scandal starring 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, news sites, discussion forums, and social media were quick to deny that Schaap had done anything wrong. The accusations were lies, they said, and they were certain that Schaap was completely innocent.
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 and does.
Third, they 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, and the IFB.
Across the blogosphere, in discussion forums, in blog comments, and emails, the defenders of the IFB attempted to ameliorate the scandal by attacking people such as me. They couldn’t dismiss my impeccable IFB credentials, so they attacked me personally or they dismissed me out of hand because I am an atheist. Why should anyone listen to what Bruce Gerencser has to say, they write. He’s a God-hater. He’s bitter, angry, and has an ax to grind. Besides, he never was a “real” Christian. They try to 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, they 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 his church.
Jack Schaap was 56 years old when he traveled across state lines to sexually liaison with a sixteen-year-old church girl. The victim was young enough to be his granddaughter. As a grown, mature man, he should have been in control of his sexuality. Surely he KNEW it was morally, ethically, and legally wrong to have sex with this girl. Schaap had the power to control the relationship he had with this girl. He was the grownup in this story; 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 sex worker. I am sure there are plenty of adult establishments in the Chicago area that Schaap could have gone to in order to get his sexual need met. More than a few IFB pastors have availed themselves to the services of prostitutes. But Schaap chose, instead, to sexually violate a trusting church girl.
In the sleaziest of attempts to justify Jack Schaap’s behavior, his defenders attacked 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 I. 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. What First Baptist Church in Hammond needed was a Penn State moment. They needed to come to terms with fifty years of cover-ups and denials. The deacons and church membership needed to own their own culpability in the Schaap scandal. They are the 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. They are the ones who, like lemmings, sat and listened to Schaap’s preaching, shouting Amen. They are the ones who practiced the Jack Hyles Rule, if you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.
Instead of having a Penn State moment, First Baptist Church called in attorney David Gibbs, the Ray Donovan-like fixer of IFB scandals. Gibbs has fixed and sanitized countless IFB sex scandals. Instead of encouraging churches to come clean, Gibbs helps them minimize fallout and loss. The goal is not restitution or helping the victims. Instead, it is all about protecting the church’s testimony.
David Gibbs’s law firm, the Christian Law Association, advertises itself this way:
The Christian Law Association exists to preserve Christian liberty for your children and grandchildren.
CLA received in excess of 100,000 phone calls annually, not counting the thousands of pieces of correspondence from those who are in some way facing legal difficulties for doing what the Bible commands. These cases involve Christians arrested for witnessing to others in public, public school students being told they do not have the right to read their Bibles at school, churches being excluded from communities, Christians being fired for sharing their faith at work, and thousands of other shocking assaults on our precious religious freedoms. CLA provides free legal services based in part on the generosity of God’s people.
Missing from this description is helping pastors and churches manage scandal and marginalize victims. Missing is their motto: Protect the Church’s Reputation at All Costs! Minimize Financial Payouts so the Church can Continue to Win Souls for Jesus.
The Joe Paterno statues at Penn State have been pulled down as a public act of contrition, but the Jack Hyles statute remains, a reminder of who it was that built First Baptist Church. One can only hope that public scrutiny will force the IFB church movement to own their “sins” and that dramatic change will be made, resulting in a reduction of predatory acts against children and teenagers. One can hope, but as of today, it is business as usual in the alternate universe called the IFB church movement.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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