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Reporting the Truth.
Restoring the Church.

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

By Rebecca Hopkins
caleb baker
Caleb Baker preaches at Central Christian Church in Glendale, Arizona (Photo via Facebook)

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.”

carl jernigan baker
On February 12, 2023, Lead Pastor Cal Jernigan speaks at Central Christian Church in Glendale, Arizona (Video screengrab)

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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central christian baker
Below: Central Christian Church’s campus in Glendale, Arizona. (Source: Facebook)

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.”

On Tuesday, Feb, 28, Jernigan posted a statement on CCC’s website, saying that Mike Baker, a “longtime friend,” told him of an accusation made against Caleb. But Jernigan said Baker told him leaders had “investigated” and concluded it was an “unfounded claim.” Jernigan said the elder Baker asked him to give Caleb a “fresh start,” and Jernigan consented.

Jernigan said he regretted not digging more into the claims, saying he now takes “full responsibility” for his decision. Jernigan also is asking anyone else at CCC who’s been harmed by Caleb to come forward.

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.”

eastview christian baker
Worship service at Eastview Christian Church in Bloomington/Normal, Illinois. (Source: Facebook)

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.

mike baker caleb baker
Attached: Mike Baker Mike Baker addresses allegations he covered up his son’s sexual misconduct in a YouTube video on Monday, Feb. 27. (Source: YouTube)

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.

Updated on 3/1/23: This story has been updated to include a statement from Cal Jernigan that he posted on CCC’s website on February 28.

Rebecca Hopkins is a journalist based in Colorado.

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22 Responses

  1. “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.”

    I find this statement alone to be disturbing. Seems like a very calculated, damage control type of statement. It begs the question, what if there was a confession? Would he still have his position? This feels like leadership trying to distance themselves from any accountability. Based on the rest of the article, they are totally culpable in allowing an offender to continue his behavior.

  2. Was a credible profession of faith legally an essential requirement for the function performed by the church employee? If not, I would question whether having a six month long extramarital relationship with the Lead Student Pastor and Associate Preaching Pastor was legally a sackable offence – Indeed, it could be argued that the church employee was fired for being a particularly vulnerable victim of clergy sexual abuse, whether or not a credible profession of faith was a requirement for employment.
    Whatever, I guess a megachurch of that nature could well afford even a six figure sum in compensation, however much the megachurch and megaclergy of that nature might begrudge even a cent of it.

  3. ** “Very soon thereafter, regrettably, Mike submitted his resignation as the Senior Pastor of Eastview Christian Church,” the church stated. **

    “Regrettably”? I think “and long overdue!” would be more appropriate. People composing official statements need to be more careful about their use of adverbs. I assume they mean the whole situation – Mike’s son promiscuously screwing through the congregation, Mike’s helping to cover it up, Mike’s finally getting caught in the cover-up – is “regrettable,” and that’s a weak but not inaccurate word. However, as written, it indicates that the only thing anyone “regrets” is Mike’s resignation.

  4. As in the old analogy of “putting lipstick on a pig” , the shade of lipstick matters not. The fact remains Caleb and the other employee got caught red handed, in the act. Then , all the deeds previously done in the dark come to the light. No matter what statement is given by the Dad or pastor Jernigan, the only one that matters is if Calebs’ statement is one of repentance followed by the action of publicly asking forgiveness from those he has harmed……anything less is just more lipstick.

  5. What I’m getting from this article is that Mike and Sara Baker have two sons. One son, Caleb, has a credibly alleged history of clergy sexual abuse at at least two churches, including one where dad was lead pastor. Instead of dealing with the son’s behavior, the solution was send him off to work at another church. One son, Mikey, has a credibly alleged history of domestic abuse where the abused wife was ignored when seeking help from the mother-in-law and was further removed from church ministry when she called her husband out for his behavior.

    What a nice family. I wish I lived in one of these communities so I could get spiritual guidance from them…*eye roll*

  6. The reality is these churches are operated on ego and the enrichment of their religious operation. So, there is a level of grace to those who can hide and keep secrets well. The moment it is realized that sh*t could hit the fan and the operation could be in jeopardy, ego kicks in, and damage control goes into action. Church leadership is not much different than their secular corporate counterparts. But so many followers fantasize there is greater good in churches. That is the myth. Secrets and abuse are furthering harm for generations.

  7. Maybe the fault in all of these indiscretions we often hear about doesn’t rest on the leaders. As I noticed the photo of a “worship” service [Worship service at Eastview Christian Church in Bloomington/Normal, Illinois. (Source: Facebook)], it occurred to me that these leaders perhaps believe that they’re much like rock stars and act as if they were. Something is definitely wrong, so where do we begin?

    1. Well, I would say it would have to start with the audience at these places… (in past times, parishners) If they/we want this kind of thing to end, they/we all need to leave these kinds of churches (anything that looks like a corporate headquarters or mall, with a stage and lights etc) and go find the nearest small, local church, connected to a bona fide / long term denomination, and that Lacks a stage / lights / band etc..and intends to keep it that way. If it’s filling up or mostly full, go find the next one closest (otherwise the leadership at a church that’s bursting might be tempted to become the next “mega” and then nothing has been solved. This might happen some places, but it would be another way to unmask the narcissist leader, even if he happens to be at the little church.
      Also, the sheep in the new place now, need to put themselves under the leadership and culture of the place they’ve come to; no trying to ‘recreate the show’ at the new place. If this would happen the ‘market’ for big church as business would dry up.. the glory seeking leaders of these business outfits/sham churches would have to go start some other kind of business gig minus the religious cloak.
      But it really is up to the ‘consumers’… if they want this to stop, then they’ll have to want something radically different… something small, steady, accountable to something outside, less exciting, less amenities and fun.. something more reverent, holy… something with a Form that intentionally reflects all the Kingdom rather than american big! loud! new! fun!

      1. The things you mention are thought provoking and things I have thought a lot about. What I have a hard time wrapping my mind around is how to prevent the large/mega from influencing the small. The small congregation I am a part of doesn’t have many of the trappings of the mega, however I still do profoundly see its influence. The small congregations still use the studies and read the books the written by the big mega celebrity “pastors.” They still listen to the mega church sermons on the radio. They go to the large websites and attend the conferences. They sing the same songs on Sunday morning. How do you do Christianity in 21st century America while avoiding the pull of the religious consumerism plaguing the modern church?

  8. Probably won’t go as far as the results of 2 Samuel 12:14, but it’s nothing to mess around with.

    1. I agree! I actually just read Samuel last week and it reminded me of this situation. I believe the elders also knew, honestly, how could they not? Now they are playing the “we didn’t know card”? I don’t buy it at all. I would be very concerned after reading Samuel and the outcome! So sad.

  9. “Baker engaged in “inappropriate sexual relationships” with “multiple women” at ECC in 2016.” I am in no way condoning what this man did but I was just wondering who were these “multiple women” in the Lord’s house who did not exercise self control in dealing with a member of the opposite sex.

    1. Excuse me? Exercise self control – the women? Excuse me? Unbelievable. It says in the article that they came forward and then recanted. Most likely they were pressured. As stated by Julie Roys below, the Pastor’s behavior is considered sexual abuse. He holds a position of power and this is considered abuse of that power.

  10. This headline is grossly misleading. He had a consensual affair at Central. How is that “re-offending”? Morally, yes. But not a crime. As the headline suggests. Cal was assured he did nothing wrong when Caleb was hired. The issues lay with the Baker family here. That’s why he suddenly resigned.

      1. I’m not an “expert”, but I consider any sexual contact between a pastor and any person to whom he is not married abusive, if not to the sexual partner, then at least to the pastor’s spouse.

  11. Huh. I got distracted in the first sentence that states “allowed a pastor guilty of sexual abuse.” Have not been able to find that trial in my search, other than this author and commenters’ jury and trial.

  12. I am a member of Central Christian. I believe 100% that Rev. Cal Jernigan was not told the truth by Caleb’sFather. When Rev. Jernigan found out about Caleb, he immediately took every Biblical step up to firing Caleb and the woman Caleb was involved with and then Rev. Jernigan immediately sent a multi-page letter to every parishioner. I believe and trust Rev. Jernigan completely. He is certainly a man of God and upholds the Christian Biblical standsrds.

  13. Looks like there was a cover up at ECC. Looks like CCC knew of problems when it gave Caleb a second chance. I’m glad CCC gave him a second chance. The problem I have is with Cal publicly condemning Caleb for being a sinner. Caleb needed to be let go for inappropriate work place behavior, not for being a sinner. We’re all sinners last I checked. Cal’s “casting the first stone” left a bad taste in my mouth. I hope Caleb gets the help he needs.

  14. This is the Eastview Christian Church playbook. Pastor breaks rules/laws, cover it up and send them to Phoenix for fresh start. Look up ex pastor Danny Dodson’s DUI in McLean county online records. Religion is a reminder people are gullible.

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