2 Megachurches Rocked by Allegations They Allowed Pastor Guilty of Clergy Sexual Abuse to Re-Offend

The Roys Report [Chicago IL]

February 27, 2023

By Rebecca Hopkins

Two megachurches—one in Arizona and one in Illinois—are being rocked by allegations they allowed a pastor guilty of clergy sexual abuse to re-enter the ministry—and offend again.

The Arizona megachurch—Central Christian Church (CCC), which has five locations in the Phoenix area— announced the termination of Lead Student Pastor and Associate Preaching Pastor Caleb Baker at a church service posted on Feb. 13. According to CCC Lead Pastor Cal Jernigan, Baker had been involved in a six-month-long “extramarital relationship” with a church employee, and the church had fired both Baker and the employee.

“It did not come out by confession; they were discovered,” Jernigan told his congregation.  “I, and the other leaders of this church, cannot turn a blind eye to this and act as if this didn’t happen or that somehow we didn’t know, we didn’t find out.”

However, both CCC and Baker’s former megachurch in Illinois—Eastview Christian Church (ECC) in Bloomington/Normal—did turn a blind eye to Baker’s abuse seven years ago, according to Former ECC Junior High Pastor Brooke Yarbrough.

Yarbrough alleged on her Facebook account last week that Baker engaged in “inappropriate sexual relationships” with “multiple women” at ECC in 2016. But Caleb Baker’s father, Mike Baker, was serving as ECC head pastor at the time. And rather than tell the truth, ECC leaders told the church that Caleb Baker had left voluntarily, Yarbrough alleged. She added that when she questioned Caleb’s sudden departure, she was told to “be quiet.”

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CCC also knew of Caleb Baker’s misconduct in 2016, Yarbrough said, but hired him anyway.

“As I ingested the information last week and grieved for his family and church, I couldn’t help but think—this was completely preventable,” Yarbrough wrote. “Despite asking lots of questions and continuing to raise concerns about what was happening (in 2016), I was told to be quiet and to stop asking questions & then had the privilege of throwing a go away celebration party and standing in front of our students to announce his send off, knowing something wasn’t adding up.”

The Roys Report reached out to CCC Pastor Cal Jernigan for comment about Yarbrough’s claims, but he did not reply.

Meanwhile, the elders at ECC have commissioned a third-party audit, the elders wrote in a statement posted Saturday. (The church also addressed the issue in a  church meeting led by Elder Chair Barton Shaw yesterday.)

“The combination of these most recent allegations by ECC former staff and the news of Caleb Baker’s admitted affair with a staff member of Central Church in Phoenix, Arizona, have reinforced to the Elders that it is best to continue forward with the independent third-party audit,” the statement said.  “The goal will be to evaluate the current health and safety of our church staff and workplace culture and determine past facts and errors by church leadership. If additional facts come to light, the Elders will forward those to the audit team.”

ECC also announced on its website that pastor Mike Baker had resigned from the church on Saturday.

The elders said that before finalizing decisions about the best way forward, ECC leadership removed the Feb. 25th edition of “Mike Talks,” videotaped talks Mike Baker posted each week. “Very soon thereafter, regrettably, Mike submitted his resignation as the Senior Pastor of Eastview Christian Church,” the church stated.

“. . . Later, on February 25th, the Elders met with Mike. Then and now the Elders believe that for the health of our church, a third-party involvement is necessary to adequately address allegations. Mike remains steadfast in his sincere conviction that there is nothing to investigate. However, because the Elders were not aware of everything that transpired involving Caleb Baker’s departure and want to be transparent in the process, we reached an impasse.”

In a YouTube video posted today, Baker addressed the situation involving his son. He claimed that in 2016, “trustworthy staff members” looked into sexual allegations against Caleb but “resolved” it wasn’t possible to know if the allegations were true. Then, when more allegations came out shortly afterwards, Mike Baker asked Caleb to resign. A couple days later, “in a crazy turn of events,” Caleb was offered a job in Arizona, Mike Baker said.

TRR tried to call Mike Baker and email Caleb Baker for comment but was unable to reach either of them.

In their statement, the ECC elders said that they had originally learned of some allegations against Caleb Baker in 2016 through letters allegedly written by victims of abuse. However, the authors who signed the letters then denied writing them and denied being victims of abuse, the elders added. 

Then in July 2022, a former employee notified the elders of an “abusive culture in 2016.” At that point, the elders brought in a third party for an audit of the church as a workplace. The elders decided the initial results, completed in January 2023, were not thorough enough, and requested a “second, more detailed audit,” looking at workplace culture and HR policies.

Through that process, email communication possibly “deemed abusive” has been brought to the elders’ attention, the elders stated.

Christine Lee, former ECC junior high pastor, came forward today on social media saying that she was the employee who reported abuse to the elders in July 2022. She said she reported Caleb to the elders in July 2022 and asked for a third-party investigation at that time both into Baker and into an abusive culture at ECC. But while ECC elders said in their statement they initiated a third-party audit then, they didn’t inform Lee that they were investigating, nor of the results, Lee said on Instagram.

“From what I understand, they were not prepared to engage with the type of investigation I asked for until people started coming forward on social media,” Lee said. 

Other allegations concerning Mike Baker have also recently come to light.

Abby Smith, the ex-wife of another one of Mike’s sons—Mikey Baker—wrote on Facebook that Mikey abused her “mentally, emotionally and physically” for four years. Smith said that in 2014, she “sat with Sara and broke down about the constant abuse I endured at the hands of her son.” Smith told TRR that she asked the Bakers for their support in getting their son counseling, but said she needed to live apart from him to be safe.

When she filed for divorce, Smith said she felt “ostracized” from the church and lost her role in the children’s ministry.

In his video today, Mike Baker accused those who are posting allegations on social media of shooting his family “like it’s the Valentine’s Day massacre.”

But Smith said she’s refusing to be silenced. “We were neglected. We were made to feel that we were overreacting that we weren’t good Christians because of the things we were questioning.”

TRR reached tried to call and email Mikey Baker for comment but was unsuccessful.

Rebecca Hopkins is a journalist based in Colorado.