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regarding Jack Schaap

August 2, 2012 2 comments

I am extremely busy and will be so for the foreseeable future, and I have a backlog of topics that is almost stifling. But the firing of Jack Schaap, now former pastor of First Baptist, Hammond, IN, was something I couldn’t let pass unmentioned.

In the interest of full disclosure I will say up front I attended a church pastored by a Hyles graduate for a couple of years in high school, and attended the school attached to the church, and it was a miserable experience, and that has colored my impressions of all things Hyles. That has been one of the reasons I haven’t written much about the Jack Hyles branch of midwestern Fundamentalist Christianity.

The best article I’ve seen on the Schaap firing is an article from the NWI Times (Northwest Indiana, I’m guessing), written by Mark Kiesling [link]. Here are the facts as best I can tell:

  1. Jack Schaap has been fired
  2. He is accused of having a sexual relationship with one or more underaged girls
  3. He may have met with one of them in Michigan, where she was transported from Indiana by a Schaap operative; for this reason the FBI is involved.

Another article says this all came to light because Schaap left his cellphone in the pulpit after a service, and the person who found it saw that it contained a picture a girl had sent Schaap that was incriminating.

Before I proceed let me note the following:

  1. Schaap is Jack Hyles’s son-in-law; Hyles died in 2001 and was survived by sons who were or had been pastors.
  2. Similar but not identical charges had been made against Hyles by Voyle Glover; his is the book Kiesling refers to in the linked article.
  3. Hyles and his sons had been accused of adultery and of having third parties procure and support women for them. It was not clear to me when I last looked at the details that these charges could be substantiated; at one point there were links to them from the Wikipedia entry on Hyles, but that has since been cleaned up to reflect a more neutral editorial voice.

I’m not particularly interested in the sordid details here; I’m lukewarm on the First Baptist leadership’s response [link], since they don’t name the sin for which Schaap was fired and they refer any inquiries to a spokesman rather than signing their names to the press release. I think that’s cowardly, and it undermines any goodwill they get for firing him and saying so in a press release.

I’m more interested in the question of how this disaster might have been prevented or at least detected without say the benefit of Schaap’s absent-mindedness regarding his cellphone. And I think this comes out somewhat nicely in Kiesling’s piece: if the pastor of a church of 15,000 people is doing one-on-one counseling sessions with an underage girl, that’s a warning sign, and some responsible party should have been asking pointed questions.

The pastor of a church of a thousand people is typically a very busy man. He’s doing a very difficult job. And it’s safe to assume that the bigger the church the busier the pastor, for better or worse. And Schaap was the head of a ministry complex, including a church with services in English and Spanish, two high schools, and a college. He must have been an extremely busy man. If he was doing one-on-one sessions with anyone someone should have been asking questions.

What’s the takeaway here? Well, first of all, stay away from churches that are so big that nobody knows that the pastor is doing. Second, it’s always worth trying to find out what your pastor is doing; what he’s doing isn’t as interesting as whether or not you can find out. If you can’t, it’s worth asking why. Third, it’s worth knowing how busy your pastor is. Chances are the answer is “very.” And this can be good and bad; e.g. a pastor who is a lousy father is a lousy pastor, and a pastor who’s too busy to be a dad is a lousy dad. And finally, it’s worth trying to find out who your pastor is really accountable to. If he isn’t really accountable to anybody, he’s an accident waiting to happen.

 

Lester Roloff: Freedom’s Last Call

August 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Lester Roloff was one of the most important men within East Coast Fundamentalist Baptist circles in the Seventies and very early Eighties (along with John R. Rice, Lee Roberson, Bob Jones, and Jack Hyles) and helped set the standard for the kind of civil disobedience that was part of fundamentalist culture between about 1970 (when the Nixon-era IRS notified Bob Jones University that it was about to lose its tax-exempt status) (link) and the founding of the Moral Majority in 1979.

In 1976 Roloff spent five days in jail for contempt of court rather than let the state of Texas license the reform schools (for lack of a better term) for boys and girls he ran under various names. Some kind soul has posted in its entirety the Roloff documentary Freedom’s Last Call on YouTube in seven installments. Here’s the first:

Among the charges leveled against Roloff at the time was that the homes overworked the kids, fed them a raw-food vegan diet, and used corporal punishment. The early segment focused on food is fascinating; this is a film produced by Roloff’s organization, but he comes across as awkward and uncomfortable.

This is a fascinating little time capsule, and I wish it were available on DVD. If it is I can’t find it anywhere.

fundamentalists and evangelism

One of the paradoxes of the fundamentalism I grew up with is that it is simultaneously separatist and evangelistic. This isn’t the case with all fundamentalist Christian groups: some are explicitly racist (Christian Identity), some are so separatist as to be cult-like (Exclusive Brethren), etc. In our group, of course, our evangelism was exclusively at the service of the local church, so we tended to do things focused on getting people to attend our church. We had a day a week where people (men, mostly) went out in pairs, knocking on doors, sometimes talking to them about Jesus but mostly inviting them to visit our church.

This is one of the jumping-off points between fundamentalist churches and evangelical churches that makes the two groups kind of difficult to unwind: because our brand of fundamentalists focus so much on the local church we tend to see numerical growth of our local church as being indicative of its spiritual health. Or, put bluntly, our church is big because our preacher is right, exclusive of other preachers. So when we encountered the kind of Church Growth methodology that was (and to a degree still is) so important to Elmer Towns and Jerry Falwell we didn’t realize how much of a mixed multitude of fundamentalists and evangelicals we saw at church. Whatever Jerry is, Elmer Towns is primarily a church growth expert; he’s written a bunch of books, some of them primarily pastoral, but the greatest plurality of them are on church grown methodology. Which is why if you go looking for Elmer Towns clips you’ll find interesting items like this:

which to my layman’s ears sounds like a discussion of technical detail of church growth rather than anything doctrinal. It’s also why Towns shows up in the history of both large evangelical churches and large fundamentalist churches, including places as solidly IFB as First Baptist, Hammond.

Liberty circa the mid-Eighties 1

I attended a Christian high school in the Lynchburg area, and during my time there the sponsoring church took a swing in a more Fundamentalist direction when our pastor left and the deacons hired a replacement who was a graduate of Hyles-Anderson College. Where we had been more or less of the truly independent strain of fundamentalists (where our pastors tended to be self-taught) or had been of the Bob Jones family, we gradually became a Jack Hyles church. This meant among other things that where before we had no real bias toward one college or another, there was now a tendency for the church to encourage the top-flight students to at least consider Hyles-Anderson.

During roughly the same time Jerry Falwell added a focus to the ministry at Thomas Road Baptist Church; where Thomas Road had previously been one of the fastest-growing churches in America, or one of the fastest-growing Sunday Schools in America, Jerry added an emphasis that Liberty be the fastest-growing college in America. This shift in focus included a building boom on Chandler’s Mountain/Liberty Mountain and a substantial scholarship program. This caused some tension inside our church and school; Hyles was the school of choice, but Liberty was more attractively priced (especially if the first two years were nearly free) and doctrinally sound.

We didn’t know it at the time, but Liberty was already parting ways at multiple levels with its fundamentalist roots. While the Liberty faculty generally had credible fundamentalist credentials, with lots of graduates of Cedarville, Dallas Theological Seminary, Tennessee Temple, Pensacola, Bob Jones, etc. not to mention a fair number of unaccredited Bible college graduates and the occasional truly gray diploma mill graduate, Liberty itself was a peer to Bob Jones and Tennessee Temple; students often chose between these schools in pairs, so rumors traveled more or less freely between the two schools. We later heard from Bob Jones that Daryl Hall and John Oates had played a concert in the convocation center (not true) and that Liberty faculty returning to Bob Jones for alumni weekends with Liberty stickers on their cars were disfellowshipped by letter and told never to return (unconfirmed).

Hyles, oddly, was in a different orbit within fundamentalism; students who were true believers in the Hyles point of view rarely ended up at Liberty, even if attracted by the price. Those who did rarely stayed. Bob Jones people often left Liberty for Bob Jones after a year or two; rarely did people do a year or two at BJU and then transfer to Liberty, despite the fact that this was an effective way to launder credits from an unaccredited institution and get an accredited degree.

This was something of a touchy subject in the fundamentalist-evangelical nexus; many programs at Bob Jones were top-flight, but graduates sometimes faced difficulties landing jobs or getting admitted to graduate school, while Liberty graduates supposedly had less trouble. Lack of accreditation was a badge of honor for BJU, and at least at some administrative level they considered themselves more distinctively Christian for not having being accredited by a secular accrediting body.