ELGIN — The portrait of a local pastor and his independent Baptist church that has emerged since he was charged last week with misdemeanor battery is a familiar one, replete with many of the hallmarks of other such congregations, according to several religious scholars.
Authorities say the Rev. Daryl P. Bujak, 30, repeatedly spanked a then-12-year-old girl last year with a piece of wood molding, leaving her with bruises, because he did not believe her allegations that she had been sexually abused. Since news of the case broke, Bujak has largely declined to speak to reporters, as have parishioners at First Missionary Baptist Church, 385 Silver St. The mother of the girl has called the congregation skeptical of outsiders and intensely loyal to the pastor, and described Bujak as a powerful, controlling man who believes “a woman’s place is in the home.”
The mother went along with the alleged beatings at the time. But she has since decided her daughter was telling the truth about the sexual abuse, and authorities have charged Matthew Resh, 33, of Ingleside with sexually assaulting the girl.
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Bill J. Leonard is dean of the divinity school and professor of church history at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., as well as the author of the book Baptists in America. He had just seen a headline about Bujak when contacted by a reporter Wednesday.
Leonard said Baptists first began withdrawing from such well-known denominations as the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1920s and ’30s, in reaction to what they saw as creeping liberalism. To this day, he said, the vast majority of independent Baptist churches are highly conservative and are often presided over by pastors who are “very authoritarian.”
“The hard-core independent Baptist churches, in the beginning, and to this day, were very strong fundamentalist, separatist churches,” he said.
When such churches declare the Bible to be “inerrant,” as First Missionary does on its Web site, they are saying they believe it is the indisputable authority on everything it mentions, from history to biology to creation, according to Leonard.
“It did not surprise me when I saw the headline,” he said. In many independent Baptist churches, “they would say … when parents stopped spanking their kids, the whole country went to hell. Corporal punishment would be seen as a God-given mandate for the Christian family.”
Articles on First Missionary’s Web site support the use of the King James version of the Bible and criticize other translations as inaccurate or watered-down — a common position among independent Baptist churches, according to Robert Caldwell, an assistant professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
At First Missionary, parishioners make sure to attend in conservative dress, and drinking, television and the movies are frowned upon, according to the mother of the alleged victim.
That came as no surprise to Caldwell.
At an independent Baptist church near his seminary, “All the young ladies have skirts that go down to their ankles,” he noted. “And this is Texas. It’s pretty hot.”
Timothy P. Weber echoed Leonard’s comments about the power of the pastor in independent Baptist churches.
“It’s not unusual to have a very strong pastoral leader who is given a lot of clout to kind of keep the church moving in the right direction,” said Weber, a visiting professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the author of Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming: American Premillennialism, 1875-1982. “In practice, they kind of let things fall into the hands of these powerful pastors who kind of have the last word on things.”
In many cases, he added, “You’d have that long list of don’ts.”
Edith Blumhofer is director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Wheaton. Larry Eskridge is associate director. The two spoke to a reporter on speakerphone Wednesday about independent Baptists. Both had read about the accusations against Bujak, who posted bond last week, as did Resh.
The two scholars agreed that given the large number of independent Baptist churches in the country, and because they are by definition beholden to no other institution, generalization can be difficult.
Nevertheless, Eskridge said, “A church like this is probably what you would term fundamentalist by anyone’s definition. In most cases, they are really trying to get doctrinal purity and view organized Baptist denominations as not pure enough.”
Blumhofer said independents tend to hew closely to the literal meaning of Biblical passages.
“In this case, it would be something like, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child,’ ” she said.
That exact phrase does not come from the Bible. It appears in a 17th century comic poem by Samuel Butler, and seems to refer to a Biblical proverb that states, in the King James version, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”
While there are some very large independent Baptist churches, many are small, like First Missionary.
Often, “the smaller the church, the more intense they are, because they have drawn the lines for membership very narrowly,” he said.
That intensity can extend to the pastor, Leonard said. He recalled what people used to say about the pastor’s sermons at the independent Baptist church his grandmother attended in Texas, where “a neon anchor flashes ‘Jesus Saves’ 24/7.”
“He don’t sweat, I don’t listen,” Leonard said.
Messages left at a number of area independent Baptist churches were not returned Wednesday.
M.L. Moser is the former pastor of Central Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., and has published a newsletter, The Baptist Challenge, which dubs itself “a voice of independent Baptists,” since 1960.
He said most independent Baptist churches stand in opposition to what he called the liberalism of such denominations as the American Baptist Churches USA. Leonard said he attends an American Baptist church.
“Basically, you would find that we accept the Bible to be verbally inspired and inerrant,” Moser said.