HAMMOND | Many good works of the First Baptist Church of Hammond are being overlooked in the wake of a federal sex scandal involving its former head pastor, a church attorney said in a written release.
In a letter to the editor of Chicago Magazine — made public in a press release Tuesday — church attorney Rick Hammond took particular aim at a January article in the magazine he claimed was one-sided in its coverage of a scandal surrounding former head Pastor Jack Schaap.
Schaap awaits sentencing in Hammond federal court after pleading guilty last year to having sex on multiple occasions with a then-16-year-old female parishioner whom he reportedly was counseling.
The Chicago Magazine article, titled "Let Us Prey: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church," analyzed several alleged scandals involving past church leaders and associates, including Schaap. One passage used the accounts of former church associates and parishioners detailing a sermon Schaap delivered to a youth conference in which he allegedly mimicked masturbation on a staff he was using for a prop.
But attorney Hammond wrote in his recent letter that while Schaap's "fall from grace is obviously newsworthy and his conduct deserves rebuke and criticism," the article overlooked the church's many good works in favor of creating a "titillating article."
"You have to separate the message from the messenger," Hammond told The Times on Tuesday, arguing that Schaap's "disgraceful" actions do not define the church.
Chicago Magazine Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Fenner told The Times on Tuesday the article was fair and that the magazine "stands behind our story."
The magazine article also noted a church spokesman and attorney had been contacted for comment prior to the article's publication but declined to do so.
Hammond's letter lists several programs — including a teen mentoring program, ministries to sailors of the Great Lakes Naval Base, and addiction-treatment programs — as proof of positive church functions.
Hammond also accused the magazine article of portraying church members "as if under some sort of trance, and by mischaracterizing the church's mission and highly regarded history of success."