- (Photo: www.fbchammond.com)
First Baptist Church in Hammond, Ind., has responded to former pastor Jack Schaap's claims that it was depression and church-related stress that led him to an affair with a 16-year-old girl. Church representatives say such conditions do not excuse "sinful actions."
"Yes he was under a tremendous amount of stress such as anyone who runs an international ministry, however this does not excuse his behavior," Eddie Wilson, spokesperson for FBC Hammond, shared with The Christian Post on Tuesday.
"He was a gifted leader who led the church to start many new ministries, and the church experienced growth under his leadership, but this does not give anyone the right to justify sinful actions," Wilson added.
Schaap, 55, pleaded guilty in September in U.S. District Court to transporting a minor across state lines for sexual relations. The former pastor said in a court filing last week that financial troubles at First Baptist Hammond put him in a depression and eventually led to a month-long affair with a teenage girl who turned 17 a week after their relationship began. Schaap, who led FBC Hammond for 11 years, also claimed that he was working over 100 hours a week at the 15,000-member church, where the financial difficulties led to a number of employees being laid off.
A Lifeway research poll in 2010 showed that America's Protestant pastors usually work long and hard hours, which can be detrimental to their relationship with others. A survey of more than 1,000 senior pastors found that about 65 percent work 50 hours or more a week, while 8 percent work 70 or more.
Additionally, although pastors rated their time with family as important, 10 percent admitted that they spend nine hours a week or less with their families, while 30 percent said that their family time ranged only between 20-29 hours a week.
The Sun Times reported that counseling sessions where part of the extra duties Schaap had to take on, which is how the minister began his affair with the then-16-year-old girl, whose identity has not been publicly revealed.
"While serving as the pastor of First Baptist Church, Dr. Schaap committed his entire life to the service of his local community as well as to the world at large," the filing read, although Schaap admits that he violated his position of trust.
"Unfortunately, for a four-week period during the summer of 2012, he acted in a manner contrary to the entire balance of his life by engaging in sexual activity with a young woman with whom he had only recently come to counsel," added the pastor's attorney, Paul Stracci.
The married father of two requested in the filing that he be given the minimum 10-year sentence for his sexual relationship with the teen.
His affair was apparently discovered in August by a deacon at FBC Hammond who found a photo on Schaap's cell phone of he and the girl kissing. The pastor had also been taking her across state lines to Illinois and Michigan for their affair, something that he initially claimed he was not aware was against the law.
Schaap's sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 15, although assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Rochelle Koster has asked the judge for a 45-day continuance in Schaap's sentencing due to the lengthy filing.
In the meantime, First Baptist Church of Hammond is trying to move on from the scandal and, as the church spokesperson explained, leaving it to the authorities to decide how best to deal with their former pastor.
"Right now we are expecting the courts and justice system to determine what is fair while we continue as a church do our best to minister grace to his family as well as the victim and her family. Our church will not comment on what is fair or just. From the very beginning we have turned everything over to the authorities and will be content with whatever they decide," Wilson told CP.