Local Baptist pastors react to 20/20 story calling them cults

Greely Gazette, Colorado/April 13, 2011

Local Baptist pastors took strong issue with a recent 20/20 broadcast claiming sexual abuse is widespread among the independent Baptist church movement and that their churches are cults.

Last Friday 20/20 aired a show hosted by Elizabeth Vargas described as, "exploring whether IFB churches foster an atmosphere leading to sexual abuse of children and women." The premise of the broadcast indicated that Independent Fundamental Baptist churches as a whole promote the covering up of sexual abuse including statutory rape.

The show centered around a woman, Tina Anderson, who says when she was 16 she was forced to confess the "sin" of being pregnant out of wedlock but was not allowed to say the father, who had raped her, was an adult member of the church.

Anderson claimed the church covered up the incident, discouraged her from going to police, and relocated her to Denver to cover up the crime. She went on to say she was ostracized while the man who was twice her age was allowed to serve in the church as a respected member.

Her pastor at the time, Chuck Phelps, released a statement to 20/20 producer, Alan Goldberg, in July, 2010 stating said that when he became aware of the incident he reported it to the Concord Police Department and New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families.

Phelps also stated Anderson appeared before the church simply to inform members of the pregnancy and that the church responded "kindly, seeking to provide for their ongoing needs." He said at no time did the church ostracize or discipline her.

Independent Baptist churches do not have a denominational hierarchy. The churches are self- governing with the pastor as head. While the pastor is in charge of the spiritual direction of the church, the congregations have the ultimate power to hire and fire their pastors at will by a simple vote. Vargas stated during the broadcast that she considered Independent Fundamental Baptist churches to be a cult.

The Gazette contacted local independent Baptist pastors regarding the allegations that their churches promote a culture of sexual abuse and are a cult. They strongly denied 20/20's implication that all IFB churches including their own, foster a culture of abuse.

Pastor Greg Baker said years ago his church had an incident involving a teenage boy and another child. Once he became aware of it he contacted the parents and told them their son and all of them were going to talk to the police. Matt Walters, pastor of Faith Bible Baptist Church, said they have a similar policy. "We have made it very plain if there is ever an incident we will call the police immediately, even if it is in the middle of a service."

20/20 featured video clips from Dr. Jack Schaap, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. The college operated by the school has strong standards regarding sexual immorality. Students are not permitted to date without being chaperoned and members of the opposite sex are not permitted alone in cars, to hold hands, or be involved in any other touching. The segment did not explain how policies such as these contribute to a culture of sexual abuse.

Other allegations are that IFB churches teach absolute loyalty to the pastor under all circumstances. This led to Vargas calling the entire movement a cult.

Baptist historian, Dr. William Grady, stated this is an absolute falsehood and mischaracterization of independent fundamental Baptists. "Certainly people are taught to respect the office of pastor. The scriptures state we are to "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves." However, that does not mean blind obedience."

Grady went on to say that a historic Baptist position is what is known as soul liberty. He explains that that means "every one of us shall give account of himself to God." Grady quoted historian John Locke who stated that, "The Baptists were the first and only propounders of absolute liberty."

"In an IFB church, the bible is the final authority and all members are encouraged to read it." Grady then went on to say that, " Anytime a pastor teaches anything contrary to that Book the people have an obligation to disobey."

The Greeley pastors both concurred with that statement. Baker said, "I always tell my congregation to question everything I say with the bible and to check it out for themselves." Walters echoed similar sentiments, "People here know they are free at anytime to come to me and ask me what is the scriptural basis for anything I say. We encourage that."

Both also deny that women are considered to be second class citizens who are not allowed to speak. Walters said the church conducted a business meeting last Sunday evening where they voted on the budget for the year and church officers. "Every member is encouraged to ask questions, including the women, and everyone has a vote." Baker stated his church has a similar policy.

Baker said while he does not deny crimes such as those mentioned in the 20/20 broadcast exist he challenges its prevalence. "It is foolish to blame the movement rather than the individual responsible for the crime." He went on to say, "I have several members in my church who were abused by leaders in several other denominations. However, I would never think of blaming the entire denomination for the actions of a few."

Walters disputed the suggestion their churches are a cult, "we have never insisted our people blindly follow us but rather encourage them to read the scriptures and think for themselves."

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