Andy Savage, High Point, and #churchtoo

Anyone with at least a double-digit IQ who has been following these things, knows that the Church–and that includes all shades of conservatism–has a mother lode of sexual abuse scandals, family jewels tucked under her pristine clothing.

I’m not talking about ministers who have had extramarital affairs. That is bad enough–don’t get me wrong–but that’s a different issue.

Oh noes. I’m talking sexual abuse scandals.

I’m talking about molestations and even rapes by volunteers, by teachers, and other church leaders (deacons, elders) to include pastors.

I’m also talking about church leaders who dismissed accusations, not reporting them to authorities, and enabled abusers to continue their abuses.

I’m also talking about church leaders who, instead of reporting allegations to authorities, “launched their own investigation”, or hired their own third parties to investigate–thus ensuring that the investigative bodies would be beholden to them–and, in the process, enabled abusers to continue their abuses.

I’m also talking about church leaders who, instead of reporting allegations to authorities, forced accused ministers to resign, providing them pathways to get “new starts” elsewhere, and, in effect “passed the trash” to other churches.

I’m also talking about church leaders who, because the accused person is a trusted friend, choose to do nothing because they swear that the allegations have to be some mistake.

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For decades, these cases have piled up like a clogged toilet. Over the past 15 years, however, a perfect storm has been brewing.

Amy Smith, who blew the lid on such coverups at SBC powerhouse Prestonwood Baptist Church–incurring the wrath of her own family–was a major catalyst for the emerging cadre of watchbloggers. Her cause, known as Watch Keep, is a tick in many an SBC leader’s britches.

Other bloggers would come to prominence. Jeri Massi, a Bob Jones alum who worked for their publishing arm, has done a wonderful job chronicling the abuses among the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) ranks. Her devastating assessment of the Hyles Dynasty (FBC Hammond, IN) is, on its face, worth the read.

Todd Wilhelm of Thou Art The Man has blown the lid on various abuses, including Voice of the Martyrs.

Arguably the biggest contributor to the watchblog world has been Deb and Dee at The Wartburg Watch.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve followed most of these blogs. Do I agree with them on everything? Of course not. I’m an old-school Patriarch, albeit a laid-back one, and thus am in fundamental disagreement with them over the “complimentarianism causes abuse” mantra. (My view: abusive situations generally occur when accountability is nonexistent. And while that often happens in elder-run churches, there are no small number of congregational churches whose leadership is stacked with yes-men, who are prone to cover for abusive leaders. Any church government model can be–and is often–abused.)

I’ve gone back and forth with Dee–on these pages even–over a few matters. But, when it comes to exposing abusers and those who cover for them, they are doing the world a great service.

From Mars Hill to Sovereign Grace Ministries and the Good-Old-Boys networks that coddle the abusers in the NeoCalvinist, Southern Baptist, and other evangelical ranks, the Deebs have been exposing them to that great disinfectant: sunlight.

Over the years, they have been effective on the margins. Sure, Mahaney is still in business. But he is a shadow of his former self. And while Matt Chandler has not been slowed in his ministry, even though he was forced to eat some humble pie for his treatment of a wife who sought an annulment from a husband who was caught viewing child porn.

But on Friday, 05 January 2018, the Deebs and Amy Smith teamed up to help Jules Woodson, a gal who, 20 years ago, was forced to perform a Lewinsky on youth pastor Andy Savage of Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church (He is now at High Point Community Church in Memphis, TN). Savage would go on to celebrity status while Woodson has had to deal with the trauma and guilt for 20 years.

On its face, they might have thought that this would be another case of abuse in the evangelical world, perhaps leading to resignations, hand-wringing, etc.

This time around, it was different.

Andy Savage tried to minimize what he did. The entire blogosphere–myself included–rained HELL on him. I know, because I followed the Twittersphere. Dee and Amy were killing it.

The story went national, even global. From Christianity Today to the Washington Post to The New York Times, the more Savage and/or High Point opened their mouths, the harder they got clobbered.

#churchtoo became the Church answer to #metoo.

And while Andy Savage is in the clear legally–as the statute of limitations has run out on what he did to Jules–he has taken quite the shellacking:

(1) His upcoming book–How To Have a Ridiculously Good Marriage–is dead. Bethany House killed it.

(2) Larry Cotton, the pastor who allowed him to resign 20 years ago, and who did not report his abuses to authorities, has been placed on a leave of absence by his current church.

(3) Cotton has also had a book deal killed.

(4) Ed Stetzer has condemned Savage’s explanation.

(5) Savage is now on a leave of absence. Hopefully it will be a permanent one.

(6) Jonathan Leeman of 9 Marks–a Neocal outfit–provided an insightful op-ed to The Washington Post. Of course, he is articulating a view that I have put forward here.

The Deebs, and Amy Smith, have triggered a very large–and necessary–earthquake in the evangelical world.

Will this be the catalyst that leads churches to confront abuses and revisit the way they have treated such matters in the past? Will this lead to Church leadership addressing this issue from the top? Will this lead to shakeups within Church bodies?

I don’t know. Personally, I think it may take a few more large shockwaves for major change to happen.

But between the Deebs and Amy Smith, they have provided a foreshadowing of something much bigger to come, unless the Church confronts these issues sooner rather than later.

5 thoughts on “Andy Savage, High Point, and #churchtoo

  1. Its important that instead of simply claiming #churchtoo file a police report. A crime is a crime and ought to be treated to the full due process thereby ensuring the truth comes out and justice is dispensed.

    • In this case, that isn’t possible, as the statute of limitations had run out.

      At the time, the church leaders had assured her that they would report the matter to authorities. It turned out that this never happened.

      Do I expect a 17-year-old to report the abuses to authorities when her pastor told her he would? No.

      But yes…I would instruct my kids to report the abuses to authorities. I hate to say it, but I don’t trust pastors to do the right thing.

      • Oh I agree in the case you mentioned. But while #churchtoo would be very useful I would consider that given its similarity to #metoo there is too much opportunity for false accusations and therefore libel.

        The light of proper due process that lays out truth and subjects it to scrutiny is the best opportunity for justice.

      • ”But yes…I would instruct my kids to report the abuses to authorities. I hate to say it, but I don’t trust pastors to do the right thing.”

        For many of those pastors they would fail the qualifications for bishop/deacon in any case. A degree in theology is no substitute for character.

        • Exactly. And, sadly, churches rarely select their ministers on the basis of Biblical qualifications, Nor do they enforce those on pastors who have already been ordained.

          One of the poignant observations that Jeri Massi has often made: such pastors rarely, if ever, have their ministerial credentials stripped. In other words, even if they end up in prison, once they get out, they are eligible to continue in the ministry, and there will always be a church gullible enough to take them on.

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