A prominent Independent Fundamental Baptist church is in the spotlight for sexual scandal, and it isn’t the first time.

By Bob Allen

An Indiana sheriff’s office is investigating a prominent independent Baptist pastor fired from his 15,000-member mega church for alleged sexual misconduct with an underage girl.

First Baptist Church in Hammond, Ind., posted a news release on the church website announcing dismissal of Pastor Jack Schaap “due to a sin that has caused him to forfeit his right to be our pastor.”

The Lake County Sheriff’s Department in Crown Point, Ind., released a statement confirming an inquiry that involves “alleged misconduct with a juvenile.”

The Hammond Post-Tribune quoted a church leader saying they are cooperating with police, but don’t expect any charges to be filed because the girl is 17. Sixteen is the age of consent in Indiana.

Schaap, 54, became pastor in February 2001 after the death of his father-in-law, Jack Hyles, pastor of the church for 42 years and a leading figure in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement. Excerpts from Schaap’s sermons were featured in an April 2011 report on ABC’s 20/20 news program investigating allegations of abuse and cover-up in IFB churches. A Facebook group exists for people who call themselves IFB “cult survivors.”

According to media reports, the girl and her family are church members, but she isn’t a student at Hyles-Anderson College, an unaccredited Bible school sponsored by First Baptist where Schaap was the chancellor until he was relieved of his duties.

This isn’t the first time that First Baptist, Hammond, an innovator in bus ministry that attracted thousands of Chicago-area worshippers during the 1970s, has faced scandal. In 1997 a woman sued the church for negligence related to alleged sexual assaults on a mentally disabled church member over a period of six years.

A 1989 article in The Biblical Evangelist, an Independent Baptist newspaper started in 1966, accused Hyles of financial mismanagement and having an affair with the wife of a church deacon. Hyles, who died of a heart attack in February 2001, disputed the allegations, saying everything in the charges against him “is a lie.”

Like Southern Baptists, IFB churches are autonomous and choose their own pastors without any denominational oversight. Critics quoted in the 20/20 investigation, however, said aberrant religious teachings common to schools like Hyles-Anderson and Bob Jones University, as well as Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles, contribute to physical and sexual abuse of women and children, and a good-old-boy network of preachers that silences victims and enables male abusers.

An IFB preacher quoted in the piece acknowledged that some ministers hold abhorrent views, but insisted it’s unfair to paint the entire denomination with a broad brush as being abusive.