December brought another frustrating, heartbreaking story of a multiple pastors guilty of sexual sins ranging from adultery to child molestation to rape. The influence of two successive pastors at one church were the focal point of a lengthy essay in Chicago Magazine. Entitled, “Let Us Prey: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church,” writer Bryan Smith chronicles both accusations and admissions of Jack Hyles and Jack Schaap, both former pastors at the storied and fabled First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana.
The Chicago Magazine expose reveals a cult-like organization in which members are never to question the pastor, allowing for the most offensive and egregious actions to be swept under the rug. Or, equally as bad, allows them to be propagated for years. Writes Smith:
[Former pastor, Jack] Schaap is not simply one of those rogue evangelists who thunders against the evils of forbidden sex while indulging in it himself. According to dozens of current and former church members, religion experts, and historians interviewed by Chicago—plus a review of thousands of pages of court documents—he is part of what some call a deeply embedded culture of misogyny and sexual and physical abuse at one of the nation’s largest churches. Multiple websites tracking the First Baptist Church of Hammond have identified more than a dozen men with ties to the church—many of whom graduated from its college, Hyles-Anderson, or its annual Pastors’ Schools—who fanned out around the country, preaching at their own churches and racking up a string of arrests and civil lawsuits, including physical abuse of minors, sexual molestation, and rape.
The article also recounts some of the extreme teachings of the leadership, in particular the immensely influential former pastor Jack Hyles.
Virtually no one would marry without Hyles’s blessing, several former church members say. He soon took it upon himself to arrange marriages. According to Kaifetz, “When a guy like Hyles says, ‘This is God’s will for your life,’ you just say, ‘Well, I guess it is.’ ”
One area in which Hyles—a father of four—exerted particular control was child rearing. In this, his views were severe unto merciless. Using biblical passages as justification, Hyles preached that spanking was more than tolerable; it was a sacred duty. In his 1979 book How to Rear Infants, he wrote: “The parent who spanks his child keeps him from going to hell.”
Spanking “should be deliberate and last at least ten or fifteen minutes,” he continued. The blows “should be painful and should last . . . until the child is crying, not tears of anger but tears of a broken will.” They should “leave stripes” if need be. The age at which such punishment should begin? Infancy.
Several people who grew up at First Baptist recall that parents took the instruction to heart. “Beatings would last endlessly, it seemed,” says Mary Jo McGuire, 45, a corporate trainer in Colorado whose father was a deacon in the church. As a seven-year-old, she “used to count the lashes as a way to cope through the searing pain.” McGuire’s younger sister, Sherri Munger, told me she once received more than 300 lashes from a thick leather belt. When authorities were called, McGuire says, Hyles told the girls’ parents how to avoid arrest.
“What was going on [at First Baptist] was kind of like a process of hollowing out the followers and repopulating them with yourself,” says Schaap’s former editor. “[Hyles] took your voice, he took your beliefs, he took your likes and dislikes and opinions, and he gave you his own. But in the process of hollowing you out, he made you very weak.”
In her first one-on-one interview about the church, Hyles’s middle daughter, Linda Murphrey, a motivational speaker and coach in Southern California, remembers his followers as “zombies” who were “willing to believe and obey whatever he said.”
Some of my earliest memories of church harken to the influence of Jack Hyles and others in the “Independent Baptist” church movement. Sometime in my late elementary school years our church, under the leadership of a new, dynamic pastor, left our denomination and became independent. Hyles was among the most influential leaders of that movement. FBC Hammond was synonymous with the movement and Hyles with its theology. We heard a steady diet of short-hair and long skirts. Sometime after our family left they actually installed a sign forbidding any woman from entering the buildings if she was wearing pants.
On of the unmistakeable tenets of the Independent Baptist theology was that of extreme pastoral authority. This was taught as “touch not God’s anointed,” based on a verse from the Old Testament (Psalm 105:15). Pastors, we learned, if not explicitly then implicitly, were awaiting a vacancy in the Trinity.
It is with great sorrow I note how the abuse of this scripture has led to the kind of sinfulness recorded above. Unless your pastor is currently the king of Israel, that verse–indeed, that concept–does not apply. And if he is the king of Israel, he’d better be Jesus Christ.
The idea of “touch not God’s anointed” has been wielded like a light saber by many a pastor both in sinful power grabbing and in honest efforts to live according to God’s plan for His church. The Bible does teach us to learn from–even submit to–those in spiritual authority (Hebrews 13:7 & 17), but warns those leaders as well (1 Peter 5). The New Testament qualifications placed on church leadership are designed to prevent the very abuses we see all to often.
There are a few things that should send up all kinds of red flags should you see them in the pastor of your church:
1. Any claim to divine power or authority. Contrary to the “Lord’s anointed” teaching and those scary dying deacon stories the traveling evangelist told you, pastors are people, too. This is not to say we should disrespect them; we should not. Even when they do and stay dumb things. It does mean, however, that they are not God-like. The New Testament does not speak of church leaders in the same way David talked about king Saul. Pastors fill a divinely established office, but they are not divine, inerrant or infallible.
2. An insistence on unquestioning support. While some pastors act as if high school boys need more accountability than anyone else, the truth is pastors need as much accountability as anyone. Pastors need more than one person who will ask them hard questions, force them to rest, ensure they are spending enough time with their spouse, and that their own time in prayer and the Word is not suffering. Any pastor who demands or expects unflinching support has replaced God with his own ego, and is leading himself and the church down a destructive path. Such a demand often arises from his own irrational fears or sinful desires but, rather than doing the painful work of humble self-examination efforts are made to squelch any questions.
3. Excusing sin at the leadership level. In these church there is almost an obvious and ongoing double standard between the top pastor, the other leaders and the rest of the people. Those comprising the “inner circle” are often beyond criticism, having any transgression short of murder swept over the rug. This behavior has been seen in other places besides FBC Hammond.
4. Preaching the same things over and over. Preaching the whole counsel of God takes a lot of work. Avoiding the comfortable ruts of routine comes from immersing one’s heart and mind in the Word of God. Pastors who refuse accountability will soon find themselves preaching what they know. It’s all they can do. When pastors do not study, they do not learn, they are not changed. They have nothing to give. The same jokes, stories, verses and “hobby-horses” are signs of an inner breakdown.
5. A seeming obsession with a single subject matter. The Bible instructs us, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” A video of Jack Schaap simulating masturbation during a youth sermons can be found online. It is so graphic even the Chicago Magazine writer was nonplussed about it. When a “man of God” refuses correction from those around him, he has already refused correction from God’s word. At that point the mind overflows with garbage. It might be sex, materialism or power, but that which is inhabiting the pastor’s heart will make its way out.
Perhaps, rather than looking for verses like “touch not God’s anointed,” pastors should look at verses addressed to their Old Testament counterparts. Today’s pastors are not equivalent to the kings of Israel. They would more likely be related to the priests as those tasked with spiritual oversight. Why are verses like Jeremiah 2:8 not referenced by more pastors:
The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’ And those who handle the law did not know Me; The rulers also transgressed against Me; The prophets prophesied by Baal, And walked afterthings that do not profit.
Or maybe Jeremiah 5:31:
The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their ownpower; And My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?
(It’s worth noting the attitude of the people. They “love” their wayward prophets and priests.)
Jeremiah was not alone. Hear Ezekiel:
Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.
Then this from Hosea (6:9):
As bands of robbers lie in wait for a man, So the company of priests murder on the way to Shechem; Surely they commit lewdness.
Now, I’m not saying there is a direct parallel from the New Testament pastor to the Old Testament priest or prophet. But, the roles do seem to be more closely related than that of pastor and king.
Those whose eyes are opened to the truth and attempt to leave spiritually abusive situation are often shamed and shunned. There is a biblical role for both, but it has nothing to do with power-hungry, sex-crazed pastors retaining manipulative control. If you are in one of these situations, then run with all of your might. All pastors do not exhibit cult-leaders like qualities, and all churches are not peopled by the blind and confused. For your own spiritual safety and maturity, find a church that reflects the life and teachings of Jesus, especially amongst its leadership.