Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chicago Magazine's Exposé of IFB: The Berean Pastors Respond

Chicago Magazine recently published a hard-hitting exposé of the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church. "Let Us Prey: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church" discusses the inappropriate behavior of Jack Schaap, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammon, Indiana, which culminated in a scandal surrounding his sexual abuse of a teenage girl. According to CBS Chicago, Schaap pleaded guilty earlier this year to transporting a minor across state lines to engage in sex acts. (Hat tip to the Ramblings of Sheldon)

The abuse scandal should come as little surprise to those familiar with Schaap's unsettling behaviors and attitudes. His utter contempt for females was demonstrated in one sermon dripping with misogyny. Furthermore, the Chicago Magazine article references to Schaap's increasingly brazen behavior, such as his 2010 "Polishing the Shaft" sermon in which he made suggestive gestures with an arrow. (NSFW!)

A man like that has no business in a pulpit. Sadly, Schaap was not alone. Chicago Magazine documents the controlling behaviors, misogyny, and sexual misconduct allegations of other preachers in the IFB church, including that of late IFB leader Jack Hyles (Schaap's father-in-law).

Curious about what one controversial preacher has to say about another? Look no further.

As discussed in a prior post, Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC landed in hot water this spring when he told congregants to punch "effeminate" sons. His disturbing comments earned him condemnation from many quarters, including LGBTQ advocates and clergy. Also, Harris has made sexist comments in several Berean podcasts (see here and here). Since the "punching sermon" controversy, I have listened to Berean Baptist Church's podcasts from time to time, and when the Berean pastors voiced their thoughts on Jack Schaap, I had to share them.

On December 20th, Berean Baptist Church pastors Sean Harris, William J. Sturm, and David McManus shared their thoughts on the Chicago Magazine exposé in a podcast entited "Let Us Pray: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church". The three pastors discussed the history and controversies of the IFB church, acknowledging IFB leader Jack Hyles as both an "early megachurch builder" and a deeply flawed man. Regarding Schaap, the three men disapproved of Schaap's behavior and the unhealthy church culture that granted Schaap impunity. David McManus compared the Schaap sexual abuse case to the Catholic church's sexual abuse scandals, noting that both institutions gave excessive spiritual authority to their leaders. At the 26:06 mark of the podcast, the three pastors had this to say.
HARRIS: What is going on in Independent Fundamental Baptist churches across the nation where this type of a culture, Bill, is allowed to occur? How does a guy preach a sermon and for all practical purposes, it looks as though he's masturbating, and nobody says 'that's enough'? Are there no lines in the sand?

STURM: ... This is a cultural issue of, we have one pastor, he's right below Jesus and above the congregation. He need not be questioned, especially if he grips hard a King James version of the Bible, and never mind the fact that his mind might be full of filth because he wears a shirt, a tie, and has a King James Bible and a tapered hair cut, and as long as he has all those things and is dogmatic on all those things, and oh by the way, if he has a bus ministry* ... He must be right with the Lord.

MCMANUS: And have we not just totally subjugated the priesthood of the believer in this idea that we have to elevate a man to a position where I can't be spiritually fed, I can't get in touch with my savior unless he is the one that's preaching? Where else have we seen these sexual sins going on? The Catholic Church, and there's a parallel here. I need that priest in order to intercede for me, in order to pray and to confess and to do these different things, and we've got that molestation sin that's prevalent in the Catholic Church, and I think there's a parallel here. We have elevated a man to the position of, like you said, just below if not close to being equal with Christ.
The Berean pastors' condemnation of Schaap's behavior was spot-on and insightful. However, I found Harris' comments highly ironic. This was, after all, a man who told his congregation to punch "effeminate" sons and crack their limp wrists, all while his audience laughed and said "amen". Did anyone in his audience that Sunday say 'that's enough'?

On the other hand, I wondered if these comments were a sign that Berean Baptist Church is now taking pastoral accountability seriously. The "punching sermon" firestorm might have reminded Berean's leaders that a pastor must be held accountable for his words and actions, and that pastors acting without accountability run the risk of doing harm. Only time will tell if Sean Harris and his colleagues have used the firestorm as an opportunity to evolve.

To listen to Berean Baptist Church's podcasts, visit www[dot]bbcfnc[dot]org/media-audio[dot]php

* Sturm is referencing the strict standards of personal appearance in IFB "Hyles churches", as well as Jack Hyles' bus ministry.

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