High Point, Church Sex Abuse, and Third Party Investigations

Ann Voskamp may be right in that the Andy Savage scandal at High Point Community Church of Memphis may be the Church’s Harvey Weinstein moment.

Personally, I tend to be a tad more cynical, but one thing is for sure: it was a shot across the bow. There are a mother lode of family jewels in churches across America, including (some might say especially) otherwise “conservative, evangelical, Reformed, and Fundamentalist” churches.

Unless the Church gets serious about addressing this, the reckoning is going to be orders of magnitude worse than they can ever imagine.

My take?

Deal with it now.

Bring all the scandals into the sunlight.

Expose the offending ministers.

Admit failures–from failure to exercise oversight, to failure to report when allegations surfaced, to unwittingly or even intentionally throwing victims under the bus, to protecting people who were clearly abusive and immoral.

To the extent that is possible, try to make amends with those who were wronged.

Where criminal acts may have been committed, churches need to report these to the authorities. Perhaps statutes of limitations may have run out, but this still could help nail them if there are more recent offenses elsewhere.

But make no mistake: transparency is paramount. On this front, more is better.

To Hell (literally) with corporate damage control tactics; that is how the WORLD operates. The Church is not “of the world”.

Why am I adamant about this?

1. If there is any place where children ought to be safe, it ought to be the Church. One observer noted that, in the first century, the Church was a refuge from the world: a contrast to the brutality and immorality and corruption that so defined so much of Graco-Roman society.

Jesus had very stern warnings about those who would cause children to stumble. And while I believe that child molesters can be saved, I would also point out that there is a guaranteed reckoning for those who commit such acts against children.

And if you’re a theological conservative–as I am–those warnings from Jesus should kick you in the jewels, as He is not simply talking about kiddie-diddlers.

That means parents need to take their responsibilities very seriously; that means everyone who interacts with children–especially teachers, camp counselors, chaperones, etc.–needs to have a (spiritual) “war face”.

This is not a game.

That includes teaching the Scriptures properly; that includes modeling the love of God in a way that includes appropriate discipline while not exasperating them: children should be able to taste and see that the Lord is good.

As for predators, you can bank on the fact that they are going to target churches. If you have a substantial number of children, you can almost guarantee that one or more predators are going to be lurking in your midst if they aren’t already there.

THAT’s not your fault. As I’ve said before, predators will target churches (that’s where the kids are) for the same reason the armed robber targets the bank (that’s where the money is).

What you do about that, however, is going to make or break you.

I’ve said it many times: they will have charisma; they will often be professionals; they will be very talented; they will appear trustworthy; they will be very affable.

Some offenders may not be predators, but are still sexually deviant: they have not reined in their lusts and therefore are not qualified for their positions. This is one more reason why you need to be leery of bringing on young adults into ministerial positions.

(My take: many of these youth pastors, like Andy Savage, are in this category. They don’t necessarily qualify as predators, but neither do they have the Christian maturity befitting a teacher or minister either. They have charisma, but–as I’ve said many times here–charisma is not character! Ergo, putting them in that position is a prescription for disaster. Just ask Jules Woodson.)

I’ll say it again: What you do about that is going to make or break you.

In the wake of the Andy Savage case, High Point failed about as badly as a church can fail. They not only did not do the right thing, they proceeded to do the worst possible thing.

They stood by as Savage provided self-serving spin, deflection, and even blame-shifting. They turned the worship of God into a glorification of someone who, faced with his past, could not even properly state the severity of what he did.

That Savage is on leave of absence now is all well and good; they should have done that immediately, and then fired him as soon as he started playing spin games, and–as the details of the allegations surfaced–reported the allegations to the relevant authorities.

(For the record: Savage will not face criminal charges in the Jules Woodson case, as the statute of limitations has run out on any possible offenses on his end.)

High Point has since decided to enlist a third party to investigate the Andy Savage matter.

While the Deebs and Amy Smith are (rightly) skeptical of churches hiring third parties to investigate, I’ll take a contrarian view in this case: given that criminal offenses aren’t on the table now, I think that is probably a good idea.

But I say that with the following caveats:

(1) What does High Point really want investigated?

At this point, it ought not just be about Andy Savage: his offenses–besides his spin and blame-shifting–occurred long before he came to High Point. If they just investigate what Andy Savage did, then it’s just going to be a waste of money.

(2) What does High Point hope to accomplish?

Are they just trying to cover their nether regions in the event of a lawsuit? Are they just seeking to do damage control? Or are they really serious about the type of change–seeking to get things right–that comes from repentance?

Color me skeptical, but if they were repentant, their entire ministerial staff would have been in sackloth by now. They would have apologized to Jules for engaging in blame-shifting. They would have FIRED Andy Savage. They would have censured–if not suspended–their entire worship team.

All I’m seeing from them is more akin to damage control.

Ultimately, such an investigation can only be helpful if High Point is serious about fundamentally changing their culture.

If they ARE serious, then a good investigation can show deficiencies in their leadership: what kinds of culture they need to foster going forward; how they should screen would-be ministers, teachers, and other workers; how they ought to respond to allegations; how to cultivate an environment that reflects the love of God while providing appropriate protections for those in positions of vulnerability.

But such change requires more than an investigation and white paper; it requires true contrition.

Does High Point have that?

At this time, I remain skeptical.

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