Megachurch Connected To More Abusive Pastors Than Just Jack Schaap, Claims Report
Update (Mar. 21): Schaap has been sentenced to 12 years in prison after a judge ruled that a 10-year plea bargain did not meet minimum federal requirements. He will also be registered as a sex offender.
"I thought I wanted to be this family's savior," said Schaap during his sentencing, according to the Chicago Tribune's detailed report. "Sometimes people try to be heroes … in trying to be a hero, I became a fool."
Update (Mar. 15): The ex-megachurch pastor who pleaded guilty to having an affair with a girl in his congregation wrote to the 17-year-old to say God sanctioned their relationship.
Prosecutors quoted from letters between Jack Schaap and his victim in a sentencing memo released Wednesday, according to reports from area media, including the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune.
"You have affectionately spoken of being 'my wife,' he wrote. "That is exactly what Christ desires for us. He wants to marry us + become eternal lovers!"
The memo said that Schaap, the former head of the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, "groomed" the teen into a sexual relationship with him through these communications and counseling sessions meant to address the teen's "self-destructive behavior," the Tribune wrote.
The document included photographs of them together at Schaap's homes and referred to 637 text messages and 25 phone calls they exchanged in June and July.
Schaap is seeking a minimum 10-year sentence. His sentencing is scheduled for Thursday.
First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, voted Sunday to select John Wilkerson as its new head pastor. But among the many challenges Wilkerson will face as he prepares to lead what used to be one of the nation's largest megachurches will be the legacy of its previous pastor: Jack Schaap, who awaits sentencing in a nearby federal courthouse.
Last fall, the 54-year-old Schaap, heir to Jack Hyles's famous pulpit, pleaded guilty to charges of "transportation of a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity." Later, Schaap signed a plea deal admitting to sexual encounters with a 16-year-old member of his congregation. Many supporters and detractors have come forward since.
But a new report from Chicago magazine alleges Schaap was "part of what some call a deeply embedded culture of misogyny and sexual and physical abuse."
"Multiple websites tracking the First Baptist Church of Hammond have identified more than a dozen men with ties to the church–many of whom graduated from its college, Hyles-Anderson, or its annual Pastors' Schools–who fanned out around the country, preaching at their own churches and racking up a string of arrests and civil lawsuits, including physical abuse of minors, sexual molestation, and rape," states the magazine in its January 2013 issue.
CT sought comment from church spokesman Eddie Wilson, who could not be reached by time of publication. However, church attorney Rick Hammond toldThe Times of Northwest Indiana that the media must "separate the message from the messenger" and not overlook the good works of the church.
Of the court cases referenced, Schaap's case is the most well known. He made headlines in the fall when he told a federal judge that what he did "'was a sin. It was wrong.'" But Schaap also claimed he did not realize it was illegal at the time. (Schaap and the girl met three times last summer in out-of-state locations in Illinois and Michigan. The meetings began when she was 16 in June, but continued after she turned 17 in July. In Indiana, where the girl is a resident, the age of consent is 16; however, federal law forbids transporting any minor under age 18 across state lines with intent to engage in a sexual encounter.)
The scandal prompted some to note Schaap as a high-profile example of "moral failure." But according to LifeWay Research president Ed Stetzer, Schaap's actions were more than just failure in a case of sexual immorality.
"How dare someone compare abuse of a minor with an immoral act between consenting adults?" Stetzer wrote. "Both are sin, but one is a crime."
CT reported when First Baptist Church of Hammond was sued for negligence in 1997 in connection with sexual assaults on a mentally disabled church member. CT also reflected on the 2001 death of Hyles, an innovative pastor who used Sunday school and a bus program to grow the church into one of the nation's largest.