Jack Schaap was the pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, the largest Independent Fundamental Baptist church in America. If you do not know his name, you may know the name of the church's founder and his father-in-law, legendary fundamentalist, Jack Hyles.
Schaap has been caught up in what many are calling an "adultery scandal" and was fired this week. Yet, what many are missing is particularly important and requires immediate change.
It is time to stop calling this "adultery" and time to call it what it is, "abuse."
If you're not familiar with the situation, here's a short recap from The Chicago Tribune:
An evangelical megachurch pastor has lost his job and is being investigated by the Lake County, Ind., Sheriff's Department after admitting that he had an "improper relationship" with a young woman, a spokesman for First Baptist Church of Hammond said.
A board of deacons decided to fire Jack Schaap on Monday night and then reported allegations to the Sheriff's Department on Tuesday because it was unclear whether the woman was a minor, spokesman Eddie Wilson said.
The sheriff's office confirmed in a statement released Wednesday that the inquiry involves "alleged misconduct with a juvenile" and said the FBI is also investigating.
The church, which claims 15,000 regular attendees, posted a news release on its website stating that Schaap was dismissed "due to a sin that has caused him to forfeit his right to be our pastor. ... Our church grieves over the need to take this action and the impact it will have on our people."
Wilson said that Schaap admitted to the deacons that he had an adulterous affair with the young woman, initially believed to be 16.
Reuters explains a key legal point:
Adultery is grounds for dismissal under the church's bylaws, and Schaap was fired on Monday following an internal investigation, Wilson said. Schaap and his wife are trying to reconcile their marriage, he said.
The age of consent in Indiana is 16. However, authorities are investigating whether Schaap may have taken the girl across state lines to Illinois -- where the consent age is 17 -- when she was 16, according to Wilson. The girl is said to now be 17.
Schaap is 54 and news reports quote church officials as saying the girl was 16. If the church is correct, that is a 37-38 year difference depending on Schaap's age at the time. He is old enough to be her grandfather.
Several people are referring to this as "adultery" because they haven't determined exactly which state the sexual contact took place. While it obviously is sex outside of marriage, this is not just adultery. This is abuse. I don't care what state it was in. Some have tried to compare this to other moral failures-- it is not the same thing and you should not trivialize such abuse with invalid comparisons.
A 54-year old pastor taking advantage, both sexually and emotionally, of a 16-year old girl goes far beyond the bounds of desecrating the marital bed and making immoral choices. This is a prime example of abusing the power and trust of an office. It was part of the problem at Penn State, and it is the problem in this situation.
If you are a pastor, you should not just be sad, you should be outraged-- and you should speak up. You don't need to wait until the FBI figures out in which state a 54-year old pastor had sex with a 16-year old girl-- you can (and should) call it sexual abuse-- right now.
It is not adultery, it is abuse. It does not matter if it was in Indiana, Michigan, or Illinois, it matters that it is abuse and we call it that. Pastors/shepherds are supposed to protect their members, not prey on them.
Adultery is bad but you have to protect children by calling abuse what it is-- if we call this adultery it arms predators and endangers the next generation. Stand up and speak up for what it is-- sexual abuse of a child. Defending this based on which state this occurred in is bizarre, yet that is exactly what is going on from some pastors.
Speak up, Independent Fundamental Baptists, speak up! Jack Schaap spiritually and physically abused a teen in his pastoral care. That is what matters most now.
Do I care for Jack Schaap? Yes, I do. I prayed for him and his wife-- I pray he gets counseling for the issues that would cause him to abuse a 16-year old girl in his care. But, I am much more concerned about the girl he victimized. I hear little about her-- and too many people talking about "adultery." Stop.
Don't say, "But it is legal for a 54-year old to have sex with a 16-year old in Illinois." Listen to those words before you say them. Consider your daughter.
In many states, this is considered sexual abuse or molestation. Whether that is the case legally, it appears, is still to be determined, but it is the case morally. Sixteen-year-olds do not commit adultery with 54-year-old pastors. They are abused by them.
She is a child.
This is sexual abuse.
Stop calling it adultery and call it abuse. Act like men and speak up, Independent Fundamental Baptists.
This morning, I talked to one young leader in the movement who said, "Why is no one speaking up?" I agree. Those who justify enable more such scandals and endanger more children.
IFB friends, your movement has had way too many scandals, and many of you have expressed concern about such-- so speak up now. (There are plenty of lists of such scandals already.) Secrecy and circling the wagons breeds this kind of behavior and is destroying children and your movement. Your young pastors are leaving and your children are in danger.
It is abuse.
It must stop.
And it must stop now.
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay's Missiologist in Residence. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Ed is Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Ed blogs daily at EdStetzer.com.