The firing last week of the Rev. Jack Schaap as pastor of Hammond’s First Baptist Church came as a certain surprise and shock to Northwest Indiana residents.
The pastor of the 15,000-member megachurch and patron of Hyles Anderson College in Schererville was recognized nationwide as a leader of the fundamentalist brand of religion.
The church, under his leadership, carried on programs ranging from a Hispanic Ministry to annual pastor and youth conferences. It operates a fleet of buses to bring the faithful to worship – often children from Chicago neighborhoods.
He and his wife, daughter of First Baptist legendary preacher Rev. Jack Hyles, authored a book on marriage.
All of those good deeds came crashing to an end a week ago when Schaap admitted to the church’s deacons he had an extramarital affair with a teenage girl.
The deacons apparently first got a hint of the affair when a cell phone was found containing a compromising photo.
As painful as it must have been, they didn't waver in their commitment to do what had to be done. They fired Schaap for "sinful behavior" that involved adultery. They found it left him unfit to pastor the church.
And they did so openly, issuing a press release, making certain their action was not clouded by rumor. Terry Duff, chairman of the board of deacons, said, "No wrongdoing will be covered up."
Schaap hasn't responded to calls for comment. The teen girl has not been identified.
Schaap reportedly is trying to reconcile his marriage. The teenager and her family are being counseled.
But it may not be over. Even though church leaders said they doubt any criminal charges will be brought against the former pastor, the FBI is looking into whether Schaap violated any laws. Did he transport the girl across state lines? While the age of consent in Indiana is 16, what might it be in a state where Schaap and the teenager may have met?
Answering these and other questions will likely keep the scandal alive.
In the meantime, the church, holding true to its tenants, will continue to minister to the community. What has been a sad incident has been handled properly and in no way should reflect poorly on the reputation of the great religious institution.
The lesson to be learned is as old as the Bible itself - man is human and subject to failure. But it must also be remembered that forgiveness is a key tenant of the Christian religion. Hopefully in time that can be applied to the man who fell from grace in Hammond.