And, for the record, Andy Savage (a) has not denied Jules Woodson’s account, and (b) has affirmed what he calls a “sexual incident” involving Woodson.
I’m going to put it bluntly: In legalspeak, Savage is trying to cover his ass.
He was supposed to be taking Woodson home. She did not have transportation of her own. Savage intentionally passed the proper turn, and told Woodson that where he was taking her was a “surprise”.
He took her to a secluded area, pulled down his pants, whipped out his member a la Clinton, and solicited a “Lewinsky.”
Immediately after receiving said Lewinsky, after the damage was done, he realized the gravity of his offense and asked for forgiveness and assurance that she would tell no one.
When she (rightly) told the pastoral staff, they promised they would take care of the matter. They never went to authorities–although they had an obligation to do so–and they allowed Savage to resign and go elsewhere, providing a sanitized explanation in the process.
Savage went home, “repented”, and went on to become a mega-pastor who, until yesterday, was on the verge of a book deal about, ahem, marriage. The title: How to Have a Ridiculously Good Marriage. Woodson, sadly, still tries unpack the baggage from that atrocity.
(Mr. Savage: Maybe you can begin by not wrecking other people’s chances of having such a marriage.)
I know some of you might read this and think, “Well, this was a long time ago, and he has suffered for what he did, and I have no doubt that he is sorry, so why dredge all of this up now?”
Fact is, whatever Savage has ‘suffered’ as a result of the knowledge of what he did, it pales in comparison with the metric ton of demons that Woodson has had to face down from that night. She has spent almost 20 years fighting a battle for which she did not ask, while (a) Savage has not had to face the music, and (b) the church that should have done right by her effectively blamed her for his sins and crimes.
And while I have no doubt that Savage truly is sorry for what he did, it is very sad that he has tried to minimize the severity of his actions. It is also sad that High Point, of all churches, has all but blamed the victim.
But yes, this kind of thing is what pisses me off, and on multiple levels.
(1) High Point failed to do the right thing. High Point, a NeoCal outfit affiliated with the Gospel Coalition, has not even so much as put Savage on leave, even though the allegations against him carry potential civil, if not criminal, consequences. If the statute of limitations has not run out, Savage could be on the hook for one or more felonies.
(2) High Point not only failed to do the right thing, they probably did the worst possible thing in response to the allegations. This past Sunday, God was not the center of the worship at High Point; Andy Savage was. The music leaders went completely off the rails and called for a standing ovation in support of Savage.
To their credit, Austin Stone Community Church of Austin, TX, has placed pastor Larry Cotton, who was allegedly complicit in the coverup of Savage’s abuse of Jules, on leave and has enlisted an independent third party to investigate Cotton’s role in the coverup. And Bethany House, which had been set to publish Savage’s book this Summer, has cancelled the publication of that book.
(3) Aside from the well-deserved pounding that Savage is taking from Amy Smith, the Deebs, Todd Wilhelm (Thou Art The Man), and other watchbloggers, I am going to add this…
First, the disclaimer: Nothing I am about to say, in any way, lets Savage off the hook for what he did. If the law allows for it, he should face prosecution; he should also face civil penalties for any quantifiable damage that Woodson has suffered. And while I am not happy that his wife and family will suffer in this process, I would also add that this is a sad consequence of the actions of their husband and father. As I’ve said many times here: Sexual sin is The Gift That Keeps On Giving. If this were a mere act between consenting adults, it would have been bad enough. But given that it carries potential civil and criminal liabilities, the score has gone up.
Having said all of that…
Looking at the circumstances of Savage’s acts, I cannot help but question the wisdom of putting Savage in the position he had in the first place.
(1) He was in his early 20s. He was either a college student or a recent college graduate.
(2) In spite of his lack of spiritual mileage, he was a YOUTH PASTOR.
I don’t care how smart you are in your early 20s. At age 23, I had an engineering degree, with memberships in two different honor societies, and, even in my inexperience, knew my Bible better than the average bear. Even then, I can tell you without hesitation: I WOULD HAVE HAD NO BUSINESS BEING A YOUTH PASTOR.
There is a difference between understanding the narrative flow of the Bible, and really knowing, on a personal level, the dynamics that play out in the life of the believer as well as those outside the Christian fold. The knowledge I am talking about is not something you learn in a classroom: it is spiritual mileage that comes from (a) confessing and repenting, often, of your own sin, (b) getting the log out of your own eye, (c) working for a living and dealing with various personalities, (d) managing complex relationships, (e) navigating through hard times.
Reading the Bible and studying it are very important; fleshing out the truths that you learn is every bit as important. The latter does not happen in a day!
Moreover, at that young of an age, and I say this as a guy, let’s just say that you are still learning to reign in the lusts driven by hormones that race at Mach 9. Putting it bluntly, Andy Savage was a horny young adult who still needed to learn the self-regulation that leads conduct becoming a minister of the Gospel. Even worse, he had not gained the understanding that–whatever one’s hormones–there are some places you must never, ever go.
We know that young people, in the throes of puberty–that time where the blood rushes from the brain to the lower extremities and remains there for about the next 70 years–will experiment. I’m not endorsing the practice, just acknowledging the fact.
99% of the time, that experimentation will be on one’s self. I’m not saying it’s right–it’s not–but it is what it is.
Sadly, in the course of that experimentation, folks will use media–which, today, is available in high-def and for free–that is akin to adding rocket fuel to a barbecue grill. That causes the lusts–already nasty–to burn beyond all recognition.
Are those things responsible for what Andy did? No; I’m sure those elements didn’t help him. And it sure as heck didn’t help that he was in a position of leadership–for which he was not qualified–and in a position of responsibility over women who, because he had not learned to master his lusts, became targets in spite of his ministerial obligation to them.
Had Savage truly been interested in Jules, he could have dated her: he could have had her move to another class, and pursue her in a way that was God-honoring.
But he wasn’t interested in making a future with her; he saw her as a path to getting his rocks off. And given the circumstances, he may have crossed into criminal territory.
At the very least, High Point owes Jules the mother of all apologies.
And they need to fire Savage.
And they need to hold him accountable.
And this needs to be a teachable moment for a number of things. Because this is a culmination of all that is wrong with American evangelicalism.