Today Jack Schaap gets his prison sentence for his crime against a minor from his own congregation. For some, the question is, when will this nightmare go away? For innocent church members and Hyles-Anderson college graduates, I wish it could go away quickly. I’m glad First Baptist of Hammond has a new pastor with a sterling reputation and that they have tried to work their way through a near impossible situation.
On the other hand, it is not going away for the victim, nor her family, anytime soon. Let’s pray for healing as we know they face a long, hard road. (Please no one write me stating that she was a loose girl–she was 17 and the expectation for godliness is surely far stronger on the side of a 54-year-old pastor!) I didn’t want to speak of details that would be hearsay before, but this is now a documented (Chicago Tribune News Item) story and I know some good people are asking fair and honest questions.
This week court documents were released in response to Mr. Schaap petitioning the court for a lighter sentence. They shed light (or something!) on the sordid mess. Apparently, the prosecutors were appalled by his request for leniency in that it was based on health problems and stress of ministry. In disgust, according to their statements, they decided to share more of the details with the world. As much as I am against what Mr. Schaap did, my purpose in writing is not so much in taking him to task (the courts are on to him, his church fired him, and he will someday face the same God I will face for my own sins).
When you read some of the details, you start asking, how could this happen? One theme stands out as a key to the whole mess–what the victim and her family had been taught about how they must view their pastor. We can all be tempted to sin, but beyond that, I submit this particular sin could not have happened had the victim and her family had the proper view of their pastor. Of course, “there but for the grace of God go I”, but such an environment of thought was doomed from the start. I’m not blaming the victims, nor even want to focus on Mr. Schaap’s fall, but what is clearly unbiblical teaching.
Pastors are but men with all the faults and foibles that go with it. To ask people to believe something else than this is to ask them to believe outside the bounds of reason. We have an office called pastor designed by God that is worth magnifying, but that must never spill over into magnifying the frail, sinful lives of we who hold the office. We must be held to the same standard from the same Book that every Christian should be held to.
Some have gone so far to teach that a pastor cannot be questioned. No Baptist I know has ever claimed infallibility, but just how far removed is that from the papal system of the Catholic Church that we all soundly criticize? To accept what someone says without analyzing it is to say it cannot be wrong. Of course, I am not talking about a critical or disagreeable spirit, but a carte blanche power over my life is an extremely dangerous gift to give to someone other than Jesus Christ.
The victim states that she asked some time after the illicit affair began if this was wrong. She says Mr. Schaap explained that it was fine and that God had given her to him. That defies reason and is so contradictory to the Bible that only a person deep into allowing a pastor to fill the role of God in his or her life could fall for it. In the victim’s defense, she had been taught this way of thinking and was convinced it was a sin against God to question it.
Apparently, there was a small handful of people who knew Mr. Schaap was taking this young girl to a cabin alone. Again, there are so many red flags in that for any rational person that it would make the whole landscape a sea of red. But he said he was doing “spiritual” work and so those involved were afraid to say the obvious “you have got to be kidding.” Even the parents expressed remorse that they fell for this ridiculous mindset that pastors can do no wrong.
Power corrupts and great power greatly corrupts is a truism that affects us all. I wouldn’t even trust myself with absolute power and I am sure I wouldn’t trust you with it–even if you were a pastor!
I so love being a pastor. It is such an awesome life work, a real calling that is hard to put in words, but that doesn’t make me more spiritual than you by default. It is my hope that over time I will gain the respect of those I pastor, but it is not automatic and I am wrong if I demand that it is. Perhaps we should so respect the office of pastor that we would not allow some of these more awful things to happen in it.
I’ll be frank again–someone could have helped Mr. Schaap had they only said something like “That is not acceptable and I love you, the souls you shepherd, our church, and our Lord too much to let you do this.” I’m not picking on anyone. Hindsight is 20/20 and as one of my college professors told me once, “it’s so easy to pontificate and say, ‘you fools'”, but I am going to call you to foresight. I am going to call on us all to say “never again.”
Remember it is our Lord who expressly said for us to have no gods before Him. To make myself God as some pastors have done is a direct attack on the Lord and a robbery of His glory. At the same time, to let a pastor in my life be elevated to a position only the Lord should have is idolatry. Think of it–idolatry! Nothing but ruin could follow such a horrible decision in my life. Survey the damage of what we are thinking about today. It’s hard enough to be a godly man and pastor, and so we are not qualified to be the Almighty! Before we try to dismiss this sorry affair from our minds, let’s make sure we learn the devastation that happens when you make your pastor your God.
The Tsunami of Jack Schaap (Written when the story first broke last summer)
The Backflow of the Schaap Tsunami ( A followup to the first article)
9 thoughts on “What Happens When Your Pastor Becomes Your God”
Thank you for your article! You have the balance just right!
Your comment is so appreciated. Balance is something I so want to have. God bless, Christi!
Jack Hyles’s daughter Lynda Murphrey has written an open letter to FBCH apologizing for not doing something to stop the hero worship. She left the church in the 1980s and is, I believe, estranged from her family because of it. At one time, her pastor in Dallas offered to fly to Indiana with her to confront her father with his hypocrisy; but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She now wonders if she could have stopped the chain of events that led to Schaap assuming the Hyles “mantle.” It is all so sad to see people led astray by a man with too much power.
I saw that letter myself. Thanks for commenting!
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Great article, Pastor Reagan. I did want to point out that multiple people DID try to confront him about some of his questionable practices. The confrontations were not received well and did no good whatsoever. I’m not trying to contradict you – I’m assuming you didn’t know this information. I can name you three different people right off the top of my head who were on staff there, who confronted him, and it did no good. I’m sure there are more, but as far as people I know personally – there are at least 3.
Thanks for the information! Perhaps we should push until something happened, but I realize it would be a Difficult situation
One couple (who was on staff and going to him for marriage counseling) was publicly berated in front of numerous staff members after confronting him. They ended up resigning their positions and moving out of state. Another couple who confronted him (more than once) was consistently put off until they finally felt they had no choice to leave the church (which they had attended from birth). The 3rd person (staff member) confronted him, got basically nowhere, then decided he would give Bro. S. another year before saying anything else. One year later Bro. S. was arrested. Of course that staff member has regrets at not being more persistent! I agree though – it is pounded in over and over “never question the man of God” – without exception! People have been conditioned to believe this for so long, that it’s hard to snap out of that line of thinking and realize it is perfectly acceptable to do so in a respectful, constructive manner!
Again, thanks for your comments. It appears those who we’re treated terribly deserve praise. I wrote this article because of what you say in your last sentence. God bless.