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Report: Power dynamics and a conflict of interest impeded Eastview church’s response to misconduct allegations

Eastview is an independent, non-denominational church. Its largest location is on Airport Road in northeast Normal, with a second campus in Bloomington.
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Eastview is an independent, non-denominational church. Its largest location is on Airport Road in northeast Normal, with a second campus in Bloomington.

The son of Eastview Christian Church’s former top leader used his own position and influence as a pastor to persuade women to engage in sexual activity, according to a report released Sunday that also detailed how and why other church leaders failed to stop the misconduct earlier.

The much-anticipated 11-page report, done by an outside legal firm hired by Eastview, provides mostly a high-level view of the circumstances which led to the resignations of Senior Pastor Mike Baker and his son Caleb. The report does not explicitly point to any criminal conduct, only infidelity, nor does it tally any number of victims. It says only that a “significant” number of church staff members were “harmed by a degrading church culture.”

The report also recommends 10 changes to how Eastview is governed and how personnel issues are managed, including addressing how women are treated. Eastview is one of the largest churches in Bloomington-Normal.

“As Christians, the Church leaders and congregants may be deeply interested in uncovering and addressing what actually happened, but this alone is not enough. Without steps toward repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration everyone involved ultimately will feel unsatisfied and continue longing for resolution,” said the report, which the church posted online Sunday night.

The report is based on a three-month investigation consisting of dozens of interviews and a review of documentation. It largely points the finger at Mike and Caleb Baker, although it also criticizes the church’s governing board – the Elder Leadership Team – for failing to address the “serious conflict of interest issues” facing Mike Baker as both Caleb’s father and, in a way, supervisor.

Power dynamics

Mike Baker amassed and consolidated power during his 16 years as senior pastor, leaving his bosses’ – the Elders – with little visibility into the allegations against Caleb, the report said. Baker’s “exertion of excessively strong authority” led to unhealthy power dynamics among the staff, including a fear of reprimand and retribution, the report said.

The report said it is “more likely than not that Mike Baker misused his leadership position and impeded the church leadership’s ability to follow (its) policies and procedures for addressing various complaints and reports of misconduct that were made between approximately 2013 and 2023.”

Many current and former staff members interviewed "shared that they did not raise complaints or make reports that they otherwise might have for fear of be accused of causing disunity or hurting the church." Some cited the need to "protect the church," including Mike Baker in his interview with investigators.

"While this phrase is not problematic on its face, its meaning and the way it was used became a code phrase to discourage raising any problems or conflicts," the report said.

“Most of those interviewed (for the report) expressed that they were afraid for their jobs on a regular basis and afraid they would be retaliated against if they complained, reported any harm or wrongdoing, or did anything that could be perceived as crossing Mike Baker,” the report said.

Eastview’s elders have said they first became aware of specific allegations of misconduct in 2016, after Caleb Baker left his job with the church. Mike Baker has said he asked his son to resign at that time, acknowledging his infidelity. A new letter arrived in 2022 that again alleged an abusive culture at Eastview in 2016, and accusations circulated widely on social media earlier this year.

It spilled into public view in February. Mike Baker resigned after reaching an “impasse” with the elders about how to deal with the situation, the elders said. Mike Baker claimed they “would not allow me to defend my family.”

The investigative report said Mike Baker’s conflict of interest was a major problem.

“Subsequent to the (elders’) initial receipt of information concerning specific women with whom Caleb Baker allegedly had sexual relationships, Mike Baker should have recused himself due to his conflicting loyalties and allowed others in leadership to exercise proper biblical discipline regarding Caleb. Instead, Mike Baker remained significantly involved,” the report said.

That includes allowing Mike Baker initially to lead an HR audit, which the investigators said the elders should not have allowed to happen. The elders “did not know that Mike Baker had withheld information from the HR auditors so that the negative power dynamics and other cultural dynamics on staff would not be discovered,” the report said. The elders “should have conducted a more comprehensive investigation of the allegations in the letters they received in February 2016 without involvement by Mike Baker,” the report said.

Single source of information

The church’s form of governance was also a problem. The elders set policy, with the senior pastor (Mike Baker) charged with carrying it out as the “singular employee contact.”

Mike Baker preaching
Courtesy of Eastview Christian Church
Former Eastview Christian Church Senior Pastor Mike Baker resigned in February amid a review of allegations of an "abusive power dynamic and coverup by church leadership in 2016."

“Because Mike Baker was the single source of information to the (elders), the (elders’) ability to act in the Church’s interests particularly when Mike Baker’s ability to objectively convey information to the (elders) became impaired because of his conflict of interest,” the report said.

Eastview also provided no training on the proper handling of conflicts of interest, the report said. The report’s 10 recommendations for the future include improving the church’s HR department; increasing accountability measures, including for leaders; and providing training on conflict-of-interest issues.

The result: “While he worked for Eastview, leadership seemed largely unaware that Caleb used his position, role, or influence as a pastor to persuade women to engage in sexual activity. However, the individuals we were able to interview that had had sexual experiences with Caleb shared credibly that he did so,” the report said.

Mike Baker was one of the dozens of people interviewed by the Wagenmaker & Oberly investigative team, led by Kellye Fabian Story, who previously worked for a large church. Mike Baker recently penned a lengthy letter explaining his resignation and criticized Eastview’s elders for “publicly maligning” his son based on “lies, innuendos, accusations and half-truths.” Mike Baker has since started a new ministry called Song & Sword. WGLT reached out to Mike Baker on Sunday for an opportunity to comment.

Caleb Baker was not interviewed by Wagenmaker & Oberly, but he did provide investigators with this statement: “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. 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.”

The next step is a reconciliation and restorative justice process within Eastview, leaders say.

“We join our staff and congregation in praying that anything hidden comes to light and for the truth to be revealed, so that we can embrace the truth gracefully and be changed by it,” Eastview’s elders wrote Sunday. “We remain committed to receiving the information and findings with humility and open hearts to grieve for those whom we know have been harmed.”

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.