Recently, I addressed the high profile scandal in the Independent Fundamental Baptist world regarding Pastor Jack Schaap and First Baptist Church, Hammond, IN. Now, Jack Schaap has been charged with taking a minor over state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity and has signed a plea agreement.
Needless to say, when the news first broke, I was quite upset. I encouraged the leadership of the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement to speak up about this issue of sexual abuse, which many think is defining the movement to the outside world. Many were talking about the scandal but few were talking about the victim and the abuse. I wrote:
"Stop calling it adultery and call it abuse. Act like men and speak up, Independent Fundamental Baptists."
I wrote it because, at the time (and still even now) some were downplaying the situation--perhaps the charges and plea agreement will cause the defenders to take a new approach. Others said, "It is in every denomination, including yours." And they are right. However, at that time it was First Baptist Hammond, and, at that moment, far too many were simply calling it adultery and saying it was just a private matter between Schaap and his wife. Again, it was not just adultery; it was sexual abuse.
My article seemingly went all over the Web and was reposted on several sites and shared thousands of times.
Soon thereafter, I received an email from Pastor Paul Chappell asking me to share his response to the Jack Schaap incident. Paul is the pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church in Lancaster, CA. Lancaster Baptist is probably the second largest Independent Baptist Church in the United States and operates West Coast Baptist College. Pastor Chappell is arguably the most influential IFB pastor in America.
In his response to the Jack Schaap sex scandal, a couple of things stood out to me. First, he clearly identifies that this is abuse.
"I feel grieved for the victim that was abused. This type of abuse from a trusted person is especially grievous. (See 1 Corinthians 6:18.) (A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post dealing with some of the inappropriate responses to abuse and immorality that I have seen in various ministries over the years.)"
Thank you, Paul.
That was the response I was expecting to see from IFB pastors. However, I was most shocked to see some say that this is just other a moral failure. It is not. I had several people comment on my post that "others have failed." Yes, they have. And Schaap failed, but he also abused a child. That's different--and the fact that some are unable to recognize the difference between the two grieves me. How dare someone compare abuse of a minor with an immoral act between consenting adults? Both are sin, but one is a crime.
Too many wanted to wait for the charges to speak the truth--but a 54-year old pastor preying on a 16-year old girl is abuse-- with or without charges being filed. Pastors should not need a grand jury to tell them that!
If you engage in immorality, you can confess and work toward restoration--even if you get caught, you can still confess and be forgiven. I believe in that and seek to give people the room to do that very thing.
On the other hand, if you abuse a child but don't admit to it, or repent and get professional help with the deep issues involved, I will stand up and call you out. Others should too. Children need our voice.
Secondly, Paul Chappell gets honest--something that many of the "first defenders" were not willing to do.
In his post, he references a previous post released during the 20/20 special focusing on the IFB world. His description about the IFB movement is even more telling:
Many times, in these days, [IFB] churches are known for:
• Mishandling sinful issues
• Pastors living without accountability or not being approachable
• Recommending immoral pastors to other churches
• Preferential divisiveness fostered by fruitless men with a computer and angry men with a pulpit
• Excessive loyalty to a personality or institution
• A Christianity focused more on externals than the heart
• Emphasis on the fear of man more than on the fear of God
Paul is exactly right, again. The movement has gained, some would say earned, a certain reputation, and it is a shame--but it is encouraging that pastors like Paul will "act like men" and call it out. Too many were too busy saying it was not an issue. It is. To some, the IFB movement has earned a reputation similar to that of the Catholic Church, but many will not admit to it. Paul does.
This may not be the case in YOUR part of the IFB world, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't speak up to all of it and shout that it is abuse and you will not tolerate it.
Chappell also recommends pastors in this movement to partner together to diminish and eliminate the possibility of fallen pastors being shuffled from one church to the next (something I have sadly seen happen in my denomination as well).
"It is sad and tragic when men who have failed morally previously are placed back in the pastorate. I don't believe this is the situation at hand, but it has been the case in the past. The historic pattern of Baptist churches was to send a letter to the next church either recommending or warning the next church regarding a member. That practice should return and expand with the technology available. (This was brought up in a 2008 Times article regarding Baptist churches as well.) When a spiritual leader or a church refers a fallen pastor to another church, it is fair to blame those who knowingly referred him."
He also clearly addresses a root cause of situations like the Jack Schaap abuse scandal.
"It is dangerous for pastors to operate in an untouchable bubble of authority structure. Although there are different ideas about how it should be structured, every spiritual leader needs genuine opportunities for fellowship, transparency, and accountability."
He then calls for revival -- a movement-name cleansing or renaming.
"I believe it's time for revival in our midst. It's time for a name cleansing or a renaming. It's time for some to move from:
• Bully pulpits with straw man issues back to authentic Bible preaching and teaching
• Mishandling sin to handling sin with integrity and biblical principle
• Paranoid isolation (for pastors/church members) to loving engagement with family, neighbors, and the community
• Petty preferences to personal holiness
• Excuse-making to church building
• Critical spirits to edification and encouragement"
It would seem that Pastor Chappell and others are aware of the image the IFB world is portraying to outsiders, the realities that got it there, and the need to see it change. Some don't--saying people are making a big deal out of one man's sin. But I agree with Chappell: the issue is bigger than that. And, I will add, children are being endangered because of such willing disbelief in reality.
Again, thank you Dr. Chappell for responding and for sharing your response with me. Thank you for calling it abuse. I pray that you and others will work together to change the culture for the sake of the IFB movement and for the kingdom.
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