Last Friday evening, March 8, 2011 I joined millions of Americans in watching the documentary on ABC revealing the legendary abuses of a number of Independent, Fundamental Baptist Churches. There was little in that report with which I was able to honestly disagree. That is a sad statement for me to have to make. The reason I can make that statement, however, is because I spent a dozen or so years at the heart of that movement and close to the sources of its power. One of the clips that was shown on the ABC piece was that of a raging preacher demonstrating his misogynism and bullying authoritarianism in plain view again and again in thunderous tones from his pulpit. That preacher was Jack Schaap, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond and successor to his father-in-law, Jack Hyles. The preacher in the stripped prison suit in Tennessee serving a 175 year sentence for sexually abusing and torturing his adopted daughter was Joe Combs. Combs was the premier Bible teacher at Hyles-Anderson College, a ministry of First Baptist Church of Hammond. Sad to say, it is my alma mater. I graduated from there with two degrees in pastoral theology in 1986 and 1988. Thank God my education has continued, both formally and informally since then as a conscious decision on my part to try to get my theological hat on straight and to purge my doctrine of the admixture cultish beliefs that were part and parcel of the daily fare at H.A.C. for five years, and proudly reinforced from the pulpit of First Baptist Church of Hammond three times a week, and in the many national conferences sponsored by the church every year in which I participated and taught.
As I scale the high peaks of knowledge and truth and gratefully and humbly learn more each day of God’s thoughts and what it means to be a Christian, my perspective on the Independent Baptist Movement comes into clearer and clearer focus. I have always said that I would no more paint the entire movement with the broad brush of criticism deserved by some of its leaders than I would quit eating restaurants for the rest of my life because I ate one meal that made me sick. That being said, the ABC piece pretty much hit the nail on the head.
Our adversary, Satan, understands that if he can get a Christian to take Christ off the altar, he must provide a suitable and acceptable substitute. For the dedicated and serious Christian the coarse replacements of sexual sin and riches most often will not do. What works nicely, however, may at first glance be a surprising choice. What are many pastors willing to place on the center of the altar instead of Christ? Their church! This mindset and the strategies, principles, supporting sermons and tactics were honed to perfection by Jack Hyles. In fact, he was so masterful and bold as to spell it out in detail regularly from the pulpit without fear and yearly before his nationwide “Pastor’s School .” Hyles once said on a Sunday evening in my presence, “The entire spiritual fate of this nation rests on these shoulders right here,” pointing to his own. What Hyles was really saying was, “We have to do everything necessary to secure my future and the future of this church, regardless of what we are accused of doing, or America is spiritually doomed!” What that turned out to be was sweeping scandal after scandal under the rug, treating victims as willing participants in sin, and running from their obligation as Christians and church leaders to protect the innocent while keeping a convicted child molester on their deacon board and on the Board of Trustees of their college.
This morning I was reading in the book of Micah and came across this verse:
“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:8
These words hit me right between the eyes and all I could see was the face of Jack Schaap, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond and the heir to the throne of Jack Hyles as the self-appointed leader of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement. You see, Jack Schaap and I were once best friends. He was also my business partner. The first wedding ever performed by Jack Schaap was our own wedding: Schaap married my wife and me on July 20th, 1985 in Azle, Texas.
So when I read that verse in Micah this morning, something powerful and stunningly accurate occurred to me: Jack Schaap and men like him have failed on all three of the requirements given by the prophet Micah to express what God requires of man:
“to do justly:” There was no justice in the little girl’s face across the table from me in that run-down house in Gary, Indiana, as I watched her mother cry after her little girl had been molested by deacon A.V. Ballenger at First Baptist Church of Hammond. Ballenger was subsequently convicted and imprisoned. There was no justice in the church shunning and ostracizing that family for daring to go public. There was no justice for one of my good friends who uprooted his life in Southern California to attend Hyles-Anderson College where one of Hyles’ associate pastors committed adultery with his wife and destroyed their marriage, only to have Hyles quietly ship the adulterous preacher off to another church (where he did the same thing). My friend’s life was shattered and left in ruins and his family of five children is fractured still today, twenty-five years later.
“to love mercy:” There is no mercy at First Baptist Church of Hammond when it comes to victim advocacy and the thousands of churches who populate their many conferences in an effort to be more like them learn this well. If the rights of the victim come into conflict with the public image of the church, the church will be in the lives of these abused people an unstoppable juggernaut that will plow them over and leave them not only powerless and cast aside, but for many, the church will add insult to injury by heaping mountains of guilt on their victims, regardless of their age. Many of these victims never recover.
“to walk humbly:” Men like Schaap and Hyles are riddled through and through with a Napoleonic complex, and for Hyles, I strongly suspect that it was in fact a messianic complex. These men exhibit narcissism on steroids. I once counted self references in a Hyles sermon: 305, and only 4 to God. I never once heard from Hyles anything about his own human weakness or frailty, or dependence on God. Hyles began and perpetuated and taught the worst of Independent, Fundamental Baptist preaching: VOLUME! (If you say it loud enough, it must be so!)
Where was the humility of Job? Where was the contrition of David? Where was the self-diminishing expression of John the Baptist? Where was the self-examination mandated by Christ at the Last Supper? Wherever it was, it was not to be found at 523 Sibley Street in Hammond on any Sunday morning in my seven year tenure there, or in my close relationship with Jack Hyles and Jack Schaap.
Today, Jack Hyles knows better. He met God on February 6th, 2001. He now understands that he had for a half-century monumentally underestimated the holiness of God and inexpressibly overestimated his own righteousness in ways impossible to even begin to count or describe. He now understands the magnitude of that travesty.
Today, Jack Schaap does not understand. Thank you, ABC for exposing the abuses of the Independent Fundamental Movement. It is a shame that it did not come from God’s people. My only regret is that your brush was broader than it needed to be. However, I believe in my heart that God’s people are to blame, for this judgment should have begun at the house of God, not on West End avenue in New York City. Oh that we had been the ones to to sweep our own church floors!