The Roys Report [Chicago IL]
June 5, 2023
By Rebecca Hopkins
An Illinois megachurch pastor likely misused his position in 2016 to cover up credible sexual misconduct allegations concerning his son, a former pastor at the church, an independent investigation has found.
Mike Baker, former senior pastor at Eastview Christian Church (ECC), “more likely than not” withheld information from staff and church elders about sexual misconduct allegations made about his son, Caleb Baker, in 2016, the report by Wagenmaker and Oberly found. The report also found that Caleb Baker likely used his pastoral role at ECC to “persuade women to engage in sexual activity,” confirming prior reporting by The Roys Report (TRR).
The report also determined that Mike Baker likely didn’t share the extent of the allegations against his son with the pastor who hired Caleb subsequent to his firing at ECC—Pastor Cal Jernigan of Central Christian Church in Arizona. Jernigan said last February that Mike Baker had told him in 2016 that someone had made an accusation against his son, but it was unfounded.
Caleb Baker did not respond to TRR’s recent and earlier requests for comment. However, he provided a short statement for investigators.
“I realize I wasn’t as healthy of a person as I could’ve or should’ve been during the 3 and a half years that I worked at Eastview,” Caleb Baker stated in the report. “And I take full responsibility for that. That being said, I genuinely hope for the best for the future of Eastview and I am committed to pursuing health in all aspects of my life moving forward.”
ECC’s Elder Leadership Team (ELT) also issued a statement on Friday, committing to “renewed obedience” to God in anticipation of the release of the report over the weekend.
“While this has been a challenging, sad, and disconcerting time in the life of our church, we continue to trust that the Lord will continue to refine us and open doors for renewed obedience and a deeper dependence on him,” the ELT wrote.
Caleb Baker resigned from ECC in 2016 and then shortly afterwards took a position at Central Christian Church (CCC), a megachurch in Arizona. In February, CCC fired Baker from his role as lead student pastor and associate preaching pastor following a separate allegation of an “extramarital relationship” with a CCC employee.
The same month, Mike Baker resigned from ECC, following allegations he covered up the 2016 misconduct. Mike Baker reportedly participated in the investigation, but the report didn’t include any direct quotes or statements from Baker.
ECC published the report on its website Sunday. In an email to TRR, the church stated that it is “prioritizing meeting with those harmed, our staff, and congregation” and “still processing the report’s finding and recommendations.”
The church has scheduled meetings with staff, volunteers, and the congregation throughout Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the report further.
“In the coming weeks, we will be sharing more about the restoration process that Wagenmaker & Oberly will walk us through as a church body,” the ECC wrote on its website. “This will include the training and continued learning that is needed to make Eastview a healthier place to work and worship.”
Meanwhile, Mike Baker said he didn’t plan to read the report, telling listeners of his recently launched online teaching ministry, Song and Sword, that he’s “OK,” and that his “story hasn’t changed.” He also thanked supporters who had come to his defense.
“I know a big report came out yesterday,” he said Monday on his YouTube channel. “I’ve got nothing more to say. Here’s what I will say is that I worked for 16 years as pastor, senior pastor, 27 years, gave my life, heart, and soul, did the best I could . . . Thank you just for your well wishes, for your prayers, for even your defensiveness on my behalf.”
He gave a similar response by email to TRR.
“I stand by what I’ve said, have nothing more to say, and believe I gave my very best to Eastview for 27 years,” he said. “Condoleesa (sic) Rice once said, ‘Today’s headlines are rarely tomorrow’s history.’ I’ll trust that to be true. I’m ready to move on to what God has next.”
When a whistleblower raised concerns about Caleb Baker to ECC in July 2022, Mike Baker not only withheld information from the Elder Leadership Team (ELT), he also inappropriately oversaw the church’s investigation, the report states.
The ELT allowed Mike Baker to facilitate an HR audit into the matter, disregarding his conflict of interest, the report states. It adds that under Baker’s leadership, the church had a culture of retaliation and silencing those trying to speak up. The phrase “protect the church” was used to discourage staff from raising concerns.
Plus, Mike Baker reportedly was “above the rules.” Though ECC had some policies in place that should’ve provided protection, prevention, and reporting mechanisms, Baker’s consolidation of power prevented whistleblowers from being able to use them without fear of retaliation.
Over time, the senior pastor role became the sole gatekeeper of information to the elders, removing opportunities for department heads to routinely give reports to the board, the report states. And staff believed they couldn’t report to the elders without retribution for doing so, the report added.
“It is more likely than not that during Mike Baker’s tenure as Senior Pastor, the culture at Eastview degraded to the point that just before Mike Baker’s resignation, decisions at varying levels within Eastview were largely driven by one or more of the following factors: fear of retribution and failure; a superseding desire to protect the image of Eastview; disregard for persons harmed by members of church leadership; lack of knowledge and training related to harm and trauma; and how to handle complaints and reports of misconduct, including sexual misconduct and sexual harm,” the report states. “All such factors adversely affected the ELT’s ability to govern the Church, and they are contrary to the Church’s Biblical standards . . .”
The report recommends that ECC improve its reporting measures, its human resources department, and its governance and leadership structures. The church should implement consistent training on how to respond appropriately to reports of abuse. And it needs to address better treatment of women so that they feel valued.
“Our hope in this next phase is to introduce teaching about reconciliation and restorative justice, begin setting up training sessions for these topics, and ultimately gather individuals in groups in a voluntary basis to work through the pain and harm that so many have experienced as a way to bring about healing,” the report states.
The ELT offered its own commitment to this process in their online statements.
“In the coming weeks and months, may the Lord enable us to become: fearless in our Christ-following; ridiculous in our love for one another and those who are hurt and marginalized; and dangerous in our witness to a world that is looking to the Church to be a light amidst the darkness,” the ELT stated.
Rebecca Hopkins is a journalist based in Colorado.