In case you haven’t seen the headline I’ll fill you in on yet another spiritual battle taking place in the church.
I‘m referring to the applause of a crowd that was unfortunately heard around the globe, and no one was listening more intently than abuse survivors and non-Christians. It was sad, it was wrong, and as an abuse survivor I can tell you; in a way it revictimized many souls.
It involves Andy Savage, the teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, TN. According to the church website “Andy’s personal mission statement is, ‘Making God make sense, starting at home then everywhere else.’ Whether Andy is teaching, writing, or relationship coaching, Andy strives to live out his life’s passion of creatively communicating God’s truth in a way that connects with people where they are. Andy teaches every Sunday at one of three Highpoint campuses and is the lead visionary for marriage, parenting, and family life ministry. He is also a national speaker, the author of multiple books, and host of the Andy Savage Radio Show and podcast.”
I understand mistakes and the folly of youth. Seriously, I regretfully took many field trips dedicated to the foolishness of youth. This sexual assault case goes beyond a youthful mistake. Even if it were consensual, which it wasn’t according to the victim and the church in Texas. Texas law considered the age difference and the act a felony, and the Bible considers it sin.
What concerns me about the Andy Savage situation is that over the years he has so easily disassociated from his deception. These types of people are the ones who can be the most spiritually, physically, and sexually dangerous.
I can’t imagine how difficult this is for Mr. Savage’s wife. From past experience I can make an educated guess and deduct that if she had heard anything about it; it didn’t begin to resemble the truth.
Here are 14 points the church needs to understand:
1) Most churches error on this: The church body tends to value the institution (church) above the safety and health of the one who is/was being abused. Most of all, the church is valuing the institution over Jesus.
2) “She said that a pastor of the church, The Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church, urged her to stay quiet when she told him what had happened. Instead of telling her to inform the authorities, he told her that the church would address the episode internally.” This is typical. The church believes they need to protect the reputation of the church and of Jesus. They often use the scripture from 1 Corinthians 6 about not taking a believer to court. This amounts to incorrectly applying scripture. The church’s responsibility was to call law enforcement and allow them to investigate. It was also the church’s job to remove Andy Savage from ministry and follow-up on any new ministry Andy Savage attempted to gain.
3) There is a huge difference between forgiveness and restoration of relationship; personally or professionally.
4) Any church leader or staff, regardless of age, who sexually victimizes another person, should never again be in a position of leadership (I Timothy 3 & Ephesians 5:3).
5) If you are informed about a past sexual ‘incident’ or abuse by a church leader it is NOT appropriate to give the said church leader a standing ovation. For any reason…ever!
6) If you are informed about a past sexual ‘incident’ or abuse by a church leader it is ALSO NOT appropriate to justify or make minimizing statements about the victim.
7) Andy Savage went against scripture and went against church policy yet the church partially blamed her. No! He was her youth leader. He committed a crime.
8) “When a person tells factually true things to cast an impression that they know to be false, they’re lying even though everything they’ve said is true. And they KNOW they are lying.” Dr. George Simon Jr., PhD. clinical psychologist with decades of experience working w/ abusers.
9) After Andy finished addressing the congregation, church members stood and applauded him for about 20 seconds. The lead pastor at Highpoint, Chris Conlee, told the congregation that he supported Mr. Savage, who he said was one of the people “hurt by the ripple effect of the consequences of that sin.” I wonder if Pastor Conlee understands the depth of the problem? He should be supporting Andy Savage in resigning from the ministry and directing him and his wife to excellent counseling. For Mrs. Savage, I highly recommend Christ centered counselor Leslie Vernick who is accessible on the internet, and/or Patrick Doyle who can be found on YouTube.
10) Church, I understand that you may have been replying, “We love you too” when you gave the standing ovation. Andy closed with, “I love you all very much,” at which point, you, the congregation rose to applaud. I imagine you didn’t mean to applaud a sexual crime. But it still gave painful implications. When is the church going to stop with harsh judgments and quick grace at the wrong time and places? This deeply wounds victims of sexual abuse, marital unfaithfulness, and domestic violence.
11) If Andy Savage were truly repentant he would stop defending himself. His goal would be to cause no further harm to the victim.
12) I often see defendants in abuse cases use spiritual language as a powerful weapon of deception.
13) After watching the church service and comparing it to his radio interview, I don’t think he fully acknowledges his actions, plus he admitted to lying. It sounds like he is grasping to hold on to his position at this mega church and the prestige that comes with the position.
14) Church, we need to avoid cliché sayings like, ‘it was a long time ago.’ We need to support the victim and hold the defendant responsible. We must be better at handling abuse allegations and admissions.
The below video shows the conversation I’m referring to in minutes 12:00 – 22:45
12:00 – 22:45
The pastor tearfully informs his congregation that what they “witness today will give you incredible confidence in what love is all about. I pray that what you witness today will give you hope that healing is available for every single person.” The pastor then goes on to implore people to listen to everything before they evaluate what they hear because it will touch emotions, feelings, and the heart strongly.
This isn’t about processing emotions or working through phases of the issue. It was wrong. It was unlawful. Andy Savage should not be in the ministry. I highly question the leadership of anyone who handles sexual misconduct by saying we can find ways to agree and work this out. There is room to disagree? Why does anyone need to respect Andy Savage and welcome him on the church staff? I know I’ve walked this road longer than most people, but I’m exhausted from the church not recognizing the sin while making excuses for it. Church, we must do better! I don’t believe in a pastor using their power to encourage the congregation to ignore scripture and gloss over felony law breaking, sin, and abuse of leadership power. Yes, the church wants to facilitate the healing of brokenness in people’s lives. But…healing and restoration do not equal restored relationship with a person or with their place of employment/ministry. Yes, Pastor Conlee, love does cover a multitude of sins but it is wrongly applied to illegal sexual conduct by church staff against a student. Love does not equal acceptance of the abuser in a continued ministry position, or the acceptance of the abuse.
I could go on for pages about the gross misapplication of scriptures in this case. I could commentate for hours on the discrepancies found by comparing the recorded church service to the interview of Andy Savage conducted by Ben Ferguson. Why? For starters Mr. Savage originally lied to his church staff and lied to the girl’s parents. His story changed as the progression of facts were revealed. His interviews from Sunday and The Ben Ferguson Radio Show don’t add up to truth. We go back to a foundational fact: When we tell the truth we can remember what we said. When we lie…well…we can’t remember what we said and therefore get caught up in deceit, explanations, word spinning, justifying, spiritualizing, and denial.
I love the church. God can truly use the church to encourage us, grow us, and shape us—but I hate it when God’s children are abused by church people. I will never defend a man who has abused his leadership position of power to harm a girl or woman’s heart, soul, mind, or strength.
“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.”
Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Herman Photo credit to Sarah Faith Hodges
“When someone gropes your body, they grab a bit of your soul, the part of you that speaks, and it can take years, decades, for you to gather up the pieces of your voice and slice the silence with truth.”
Lastly, if you want to be better trained in how to handle situations like these I highly recommend Christ centered counselor Leslie Vernick who trains church leaders and counselors to recognize and respond to abusive behaviors. She also helps you minister to those who have been traumatized by abusers. An organization that will come in to churches and train staff and lay leaders is G.R.A.C.E. Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment.