The First Baptist Church of Hammond, a Chicago-area megachurch, fired its pastor on Tuesday saying he had committed "a sin that has caused him to forfeit his right to be our pastor," the board said in a press release. An Indiana newspaper is reporting that the pastor had a romantic relationship with a minor.
Church board members plan to address the congregation of more than 15,000 on Wednesday to explain that Pastor Jack Schaap, 54, who has led the congregation for 11 years , has been fired, according to WGN. The Hammond, Ind. church says they are cooperating with a related police investigation.
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich told the Chicago Tribune that his department began a criminal investigation into the church and its Hyles-Anderson College Tuesday after talking with senior church representatives.
The church says they also reported the pastor's alleged activity to the FBI, but say they have no reason at this point to believe he did anything illegal, ABC Chicago reports.
A source close to the investigation told the Northwest Indiana Times that Schaap had an affair with a 16-year-old girl affiliated with the church's Hyles-Anderson College in Crown Point, Ind. The girl was not a student at the time.
Schaap's affair was outed accidentally, a former church member told CBS Chicago.
“Jack Schaap had left his cell phone on the pulpit and a deacon had seen it on the pulpit and had picked it up to bring it back to him,” Trisha Kee, who maintains a Facebook group for ex-congregants, told the station. “From what we understand, the deacon then saw a text come through from a teenage girl in the church, and it was a picture of Jack Schaap and this girl making out.”
Eddie Wilson, director of public relations for the church, told the Chicago Sun-Times that adultery is grounds for dismissal in the church's bylaws. He told the newspaper that Schaap and his wife are "trying to reconcile their marriage," and said that the church will now "begin the process of calling a new pastor."
Schaap and his wife Cindy, the daughter of a beloved former pastor, have been married for more than 30 years and have two children. Schaap has made a career writing advice books about dating.
The First Baptist Church of Hammond faced a similar scandal in 1991 when a deacon was convicted of molesting a 7-year-old girl in her Sunday school class, according to the Times.