Sunday, August 12, 2012

"Adultery" Versus "Abuse" in the Schaap Scandal

Jack Schaap, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana (an Independent Fundamental Baptist congregation), is at the center of a sexual misconduct scandal. According to NBC 5 Chicago, Schaap admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with a teenager when the girl was 16 years old. Upon discovery of the misconduct, Schaap was dismissed by the Board of Deacons on July 30th. The FBI is investigating Schapp because he allegedly took the minor across state lines into Illinois, where the age of consent is 17, according to NBC News. A former member of First Baptist Church claimed that the controversy began when a deacon saw a provocative image of Schaap and the girl on Schapp's cell phone, reports CBS 2 Chicago.

Given Schaap's history of vicious misogyny, I"m not surprised that he would feel entitled to have sexual relations with a teenage girl. Makings the rounds around the blogosphere is a video excerpt from one of Schaap's sermons, dripping with macho narcissism and hatred of women. (See above)
"ABC News called me this week and said, 'We heard that you believe that men should be in charge of their wives.' I said, 'No sir, no sir, I didn't say that.' I said, 'God said that.' He said husbands are the head of the wife.' I said, "You got a problem with [what] I said? I'm quoting the Bible. Maybe you ought to take it up with God.' He said, 'Do you think that's appropriate?' I said, 'Son,' I says, 'Anything God says is appropriate, and you better get that straight right now.' I never apologize for standing where God stands ... The other day asked me, this reporter, he said, 'I heard that ... it'd be a cold day in hell before you get your theology from a woman.' He said, 'Don't you kind of think that's kind of demeaning to the genders?' I said, 'Ask Adam what he thought about getting his theology from a woman.' I said, 'It damned the whole world.' I said, 'The reason your sorry soul is going to hell is because a woman told Adam what God thinks about things."
Females, in Schaap's eyes, are pathetic, inferior beings of little consequence. Why am I not surprised that such a vile man felt entitled to use a teenage girl? Why am I not surprised at his indifference to the girl's boundaries and well-being?
"I wouldn't get my theology from a woman. I don't mind if mamma teaches the kids. I don't mind if a strong lady and a wise woman and a gracious godly woman follows [and] takes the lesson from the pastor ... I still believe it'd be a cold day in hell before I get my theology from a woman. I'm a preacher. It wasn't mamma called. Papa sent. No woman ever got me involved in ministry. I didn't follow a woman in the ministry. A woman didn't write this book. Not one woman wrote the scriptures right here. A man wrote the Bible, got it from God. A man hung on the cross. His name was Jesus Christ, and God called a man to lead the church here. HEEEY! I'm proud I'm a man!"
To boot, Schaap's 1994 book, Dating with a Purpose, is full of antediluvian gender stereotypes and outright sexism (see here for examples).

The Schaap scandal is an important opportunity to discuss clergy sexual abuse. The scandal invites discussion about the dangers of narcissistic religious leaders and misogynist institutions, as well as the importance of institutional accountability, bystander intervention, and prevention.

Unfortunately, the language surrounding the Schaap scandal may be an impediment to meaningful discussion. I'm intrigued by the language being used in the media to describe Schapp's sexual misconduct. Rather than calling Schaap's actions "sexual abuse," several news sources and blogs have referred to his misconduct as "sin," "adultery," or an "affair."
  • A press release on the First Baptist Church website states that Schaap was dismissed due to "a sin that has caused him to forfeit his right to be our pastor."
  • An August 3rd article at the Christian Post said that Schaap was dismissed from his post for an "alleged adulterous affair," while the headline for an August 1st article at the WGN TV website describes Schaap's misconduct as an "affair."
  • The Chicago Sun-Times cites Eddie Wilson, First Baptist Church director of public relations, in an August 1st article on Schaap's dismissal. According to Wilson, "adultery" is grounds for dismissal in church bylaws.
  • Blogs such as Joe.My.God have described the Schaap scandal as an "adulterous affair."
In order to have a constructive discussion about Schaap's misconduct, we need to call it by its correct name. This was not "adultery" or an "affair," which suggests sexual activity between consenting adults of equal or near-equal status. This was sexual abuse. A grown man abused his pastoral authority and had sexual contact with a minor. Regardless of the age of consent in his state, regardless of what specific acts occurred, the power inbalance inherent in his misconduct falls under sexual abuse, in my opinion.

Other observers have lamented the language surrounding this controversy as well. In an hard-hitting commentary at the Christian Post, Ed Stetzer condemns the use of the word "adultery" to describe the Schapp scandal. Schapp's sexual misconduct with a teenage girl was sexual abuse, he insists, involving abuse of power between an adult man and a teenage girl. He slams hairsplitting over the age of consent laws in Schapp's particular state, arguing that Schapp still victimized a minor.
"She is a child.

This is sexual abuse.

Stop calling it adultery and call it abuse. Act like men and speak up, Independent Fundamental Baptists.

This morning, I talked to one young leader in the movement who said, "Why is no one speaking up?" I agree. Those who justify enable more such scandals and endanger more children.

IFB friends, your movement has had way too many scandals, and many of you have expressed concern about such-- so speak up now. (There are plenty of lists of such scandals already.) Secrecy and circling the wagons breeds this kind of behavior and is destroying children and your movement. Your young pastors are leaving and your children are in danger."
Let's recognize the Schaap scandal for what is it: a case of an adult man abusing his power as a pastor and sexually abusing a teenage girl. Instead of serving as a trustworthy guide for his church, Schaap breached his congregation's trust and the trust of a minor. Let's reflect that reality in our language.

For commentary on the Independent Fundamentalist Baptists movement, check out Bruce Gerencser's insights at The Way Forward.

For additional commentary on the Schaap scandal itself, visit the following links.

Friendly Atheist: Christian Pastor Who Wrote a Hilarious Book About Dating Just Lost His Job. Guess Why?

Conservative Babylon: Jack Schaap: She Was 17; Church Bets On No Charges, Yet Criminal Investigation Ongoing

No Longer Quivering: Jack Schaap: Villain or Victim?


  1. Adultery,sin, etc are Christian constructs. Under Illinois law (and Indiana) he may or ay not have broken the law. I have had several long time members of Te church email me and tell me that Schaap didnt break any laws, as if that somehow makes things ok.

    However, IF Schaap was counseling this girl, and it looks like he was,then he abused his place of power and authority, and he should be criminally liable. (though it seems prosecutors are reluctant to prosecute these kinds of cases) you are right. What Schaap did is abuse.

    1. Bruce -- I've read in different places that Schaap was counseling the girl in question. For a grown man to have sexual contact with a minor is bad enough, but if he did so in the context of counseling, it's even more unethical.

  2. This kind of made my day... NOT happy about the abuse, but relieved to know that yet another one bites the dust... very publicly. And yes... the IFB need to admit that this was abuse, not adultery.

    1. Christine -- I'm glad his conduct caught up with him, but I do wonder if this happened before. As for the IFB, they need to admit a LOT of things, but admitting that abuse occurred would be a start.

  3. -- No I didn't say that, God did... These guys need new material.

    1. Donna -- Seriously! They hide behind God to justify their nonsense.

  4. I love how they're all about "protect the children" until it comes to something they've done. Then they're all about obfuscating and denying to save their own hides, and damn the children.

    1. Buffy -- Amen. More and more people are starting to see through their "protect the children" because of scandals like this.


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