Pastors Who Put Churches at Risk: Jack Schaap and The First Baptist Church

Recently, in Lake County, Indiana, we have witnessed the firing and disgrace of the pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. Jack Schaap, the son-in-law of the previous pastor, Jack Hyles, who took over the reins of the church in 2001. It is a large church with thousands of members. Virtually all of them were loyal to the man they called “pastor.” He could do no wrong. Serious wrong, that is. It was unthinkable.

And then, the unthinkable happened. He was fired and the police were contacted. Unfortunately, this man lived a double life. While some have argued that it should have been evident from many of the abberant sermons he preached, it would have been difficult to have discerned the activity in which he was involved, to wit, the seduction and ongoing sexual relationship with a 17 year old girl with whom he had been counseling.

Now, the church is faced with an outpouring of criticisms, with members demanding answers, with critics second guessing their actions, and potentially, with litigation, should other victims surface who were not over the legal age of consent. The legal age of consent in Indiana is sixteen. To my knowledge, there is no evidence at this point that he had any carnal knowledge of the girl prior to her seventeenth birthday.

However, there were some visits to Illinois. The girl was taken by a secretary to the forest at Schaap’s demand, obstenbily for “counseling” purposes. I’m sure that would have been the cover story he gave to his secretary, since to my knowlege she is a woman in her sixties who, from all reports, is not the kind of person who would knowingly engage in delivering a young girl to a predator. If he had sex with her in Illinois, then there is a statute that will definitely come into play. It reads as follows:

§ 720 ILCS 5/11-1.20. [Renumbered from 720 ILCS 5/12-13] Criminal Sexual Assault
(a) A person commits criminal sexual assault if that person commits an act of sexual penetration and:
(1) uses force or threat of force;
(2) knows that the victim is unable to understand the nature of the act or is unable to give knowing consent;
(3) is a family member of the victim, and the victim is under 18 years of age; or
(4) is 17 years of age or over and holds a position of trust, authority, or supervision in relation to the victim,and the victim is at least 13 years of age but under 18years of age.¶ 61

In a case that defines a trusted person, I found this:

We cannot hold that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing the lesser included offense instruction where there was no evidence, even slight evidence, to support a jury rationally finding defendant guilty only of the lesser offense. Contrary to defendant’s unsupported contention that he was entitled to the instruction because there was no evidence that he was paid for any services or held a titled position in relation to the victims, there is no such requirement under the criminal sexual assault statute. In People v. Reynolds, 294 Ill.App.3d 58, 65 (1997), the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction of criminal sexual assault where the State failed to establish that he held a position of trust, authority, or supervision, because he did not hold a parental relationship with the victim and was not a teacher, scout leader, or babysitter. The appellate court rejected the defendant’s argument, explaining that the terms “trust, ” “authority, ” and “supervision” must be given their plain and ordinary meanings. Id. While the appellate court agreed that the defendant’s position as a publicly elected official did not alone create a position of trust, authority, or supervision, the evidence at trial supported that such a position existed in relation to the victim. Id. at 66. The appellate court noted that the victim had worked as a volunteer on the defendant’s campaign for three weeks, that the defendant sometimes described his relationship to the victim as that of a “mentor, ” that he arranged for the victim to attend a private school, that the school would sometimes call the defendant when the victim had problems, that the defendant counseled the victim not to drop out of school, and that the defendant gave money to the victim at times. Id. People v. Rebecca, 2012 IL App (2d) 091259, 2-09-1259, 2-10-0303, 2-11-0204

The church has been placed in a legal quagmire by their former pastor, Jack Schaap. If it comes out that he had sex with the girl in Illinois, then the law would seem to indicate that he could be charged with a crime. If that is true, then the question arises as to the liability of the church to the victim. Now, that may never become an issue. But, the problem is that this man was enabled so as to put the church in that position.

The church has been victimized. But, I suggest that they bear much of the fault. It comes down to what kinds of rules they had in place. Were there any policies that said a male staff member should not be alone with a female in his office? Apparently, they’ve forgotten the lessons of their rather recent history which involved closed doors and “alone times” with another woman by the previous pastor. You’d have thought they would have created a policy forbidding such contact. But, in a church that has the view that the pastor is unrebukable, and who cannot be questioned as to his decisions, and is beyond reproach, such abuses can give birth to the nightmare that has enveloped the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana.

It remains to be seen how this is going to play out. It could be that no criminal charges will come down. But, whether they do or not, this ought to be a prime lesson for every church: Set some solid policies in place and insist they be followed. If I were advising a church, one of the first things I’d advise is that the pastor get out of the counseling business. Hire someone trained to do that. Or, if you must do counseling of a spiritual nature with a member of the opposite sex, have your wife in the room. That is a protection for the church as well as for the pastor (and for the one being counseled).

If you are a church member, you should insist that your church have a policy that protects the church and the members, (as well as the pastor).

It is a sad commentary that today, we need policies in place to protect the church members and the church from the pastor. But, that’s just about where we are at in our society amongst many of our churches.

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