HAMMOND | The First Baptist Church of Hammond has dismissed Jack Schaap as its pastor in the wake of a Lake County police investigation.
A press release the church issued Tuesday afternoon states Schaap committed "a sin that has caused him to forfeit his right to be our pastor." A source close to the investigation said Schaap began an affair in April with a 16-year-old girl who was affiliated with the church's Hyles-Anderson College in Crown Point, though she was not a student.
Eddie Wilson, a spokesman for the church, said its deacon board, a group of more than 100 men who represent the congregation, made the dismissal decision and are cooperating with police in the matter for a behavior that he termed "physically improper."
Wilson declined to elaborate further because of the police investigation.
Sheriff John Buncich said Tuesday afternoon, his department began a criminal investigation Tuesday morning after talking with high-ranking church representatives.
The sheriff said the investigation involves the church and Hyles-Anderson College, which is operated by the church.
Buncich declined to identify the target's name or the investigation's subject matter. Schaap didn't return a call to his home for comment.
"It shakes your faith a little bit," Wilson said of the impact of Schaap's departure. "Everybody will be searching for new leadership."
This takes place 11 years after Schaap took the helm of one the largest fundamental independent Baptist congregations in the country. Its congregation, now numbering 15,000 members, elected Schaap their pastor in February 2001, a month after the late Rev. Jack Hyles died of a heart attack.
Schaap, 54, of St. John Township, is the son-in-law of Hyles, whose charismatic leadership of the church, beginning in 1959, helped grow it into a megachurch.
Schaap, born in Holland, Mich., came to Northwest Indiana in 1977 to attend, and ultimately graduate from, Hyles-Anderson College, which Hyles founded four decades ago.
The church also operates two kindergarten through 12th grade schools here.
He met and married Hyles' youngest daughter, Cindy, and served the church early in his career as an assistant youth director, bus captain and mentor to young students. He preached and taught in the college, and was vice president of it for four years before becoming pastor.
The announcement comes 19 years after the church was rocked by the conviction of a deacon, A.V. Ballenger, for fondling a 7-year-old girl in the summer of 1991 in her Sunday school class.
It is one a string of misconduct by church and church-related leaders.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Gary removed Monsignor Don Grass as pastor of St. Mary Church in Crown Point in 2003 after discovering he molested a pre-teen girl in the 1960s while associate pastor at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary.
More recently, the diocese was the target of lawsuits over allegations of inappropriate behavior by Richard A. Emerson who was employed as a priest here from 1978 to 2006. The suits were settled out of court and dismissed.
William A. "Andy" Beith, a former principal at Liberty Baptist Academy in Lake Station, pleaded guilty in 2002 to running away with a then 11-year-old female student with whom he was having sex.