An evangelical megachurch pastor has lost his job and is being investigated by the Lake County, Ind., Sheriff’s Department after admitting that he had an “improper relationship” with a young woman, a spokesman for First Baptist Church of Hammond said.
A board of deacons decided to fire Jack Schaap on Monday night and then reported allegations to the Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday because it was unclear whether the woman was a minor, spokesman Eddie Wilson said.
The sheriff’s office confirmed in a statement released Wednesday that the inquiry involves “alleged misconduct with a juvenile” and said the FBI is also investigating.
The church, which claims 15,000 regular attendees, posted a news release on its website stating that Schaap was dismissed “due to a sin that has caused him to forfeit his right to be our pastor. … Our church grieves over the need to take this action and the impact it will have on our people.”
Wilson said that Schaap admitted to the deacons that he had an adulterous affair with the young woman, initially believed to be 16.
“We know the age was very close to an age of question,” Wilson said, adding that church records show her to be older. He declined to release details about the allegations or the young woman.
“There was a rumor, and the deacons questioned him, and that is when he admitted it,” Wilson said.
He said the sheriff’s office has told church officials that the young woman is older than 16 but that the investigation remained open.
At an afternoon news conference, the chairman of the church’s board of deacons called the pastor’s apparent transgression the “most difficult” issue the church has dealt with.
Chairman Terry Duff said church leaders “had no choice” but to fire Schaap.
“I’ve been in this church my whole life. We trusted that man,” said Duff, who declined to address the specifics of the claims against the pastor.
Duff said the church responded “the minute we found out about this.” He did not elaborate on the timeline other than to say that Schaap was told of his dismissal following “two or three” meetings with the board, which Duff said was “100 percent behind” the decision.
Schaap, 54, is married with two adult children, Wilson said. The former pastor has not responded publicly about the allegations, he said.
“He has spoken with the deacon board on numerous occasions, but he has not issued a statement,” he said. “He is working on reconciliation with his wife.”
Schaap did not return phone calls to his Dyer, Ind., home.
Source: Chicago Tribune | Lisa Black and Dennis Sullivan