Andy Savage is planning to start a new church in Memphis, TN. He was accused of sexually assaulting a teen in 1998, which was brought to light in January of 2018. Sexual assault is a technical term, encompassing non-coerced sexual activity with a minor. Andy Savage’s scripted apology to his congregation, Highpoint Church Memphis (various campuses) was broadcast in a bid to show him repentant. In a carefully crafted speech, he admitted to involvement in a ‘sexual incident.’ This speech back-fired. First, at the end of reading his so-called apology, the church applauded him as if he’d just won an academy award. But within two months, Savage faced a public backlash that led to his resignation from his role as teaching pastor. To see the broadcast apology and the accuser, Jules Woodson’s response, click here. This was first reported in an opinion piece by the New York Times.
Now, Savage is attempting to start a new congregation, Grace Valley Memphis. This has caused the victim, Jules Woodson, who was just seventeen when the alleged assault took place, to again voice her frustration and anger. One must empathize with Woodson, as not only was the initial incident dealt with so poorly, but there is a growing number of sex-scandals within the professing evangelical church at large. Even Savage acknowledged as much, saying: “I agree with Jules that, of all places, we as the Church should be getting this right.”
A recent tweet reveals Woodson’s current concern.
Surely, Savage can be forgiven, with appropriate repentance. Jesus is the Savior, after all. However, and this is most significant, forgiveness for a sin committed as a pastor does not qualify one to retake a position at the helm. It is one thing to remain a Christian after such a failing, and we are all guilty. But, remaining a pastor is another matter altogether. Falling from grace in such a lewd way while having people under your spiritual care requires that you stay out of that pastoral ministry. As Scripture clearly states, a minister, among other qualities, must be above reproach. And, after an inappropriate sexual [incident] sin, a man will not be able to reclaim such a status:
So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; Whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. Men do not despise a thief, if he steal To satisfy his soul when he is hungry; But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; He shall give all the substance of his house. But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: He that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; And his reproach shall not be wiped away.Proverbs 6:29-33 (emphasis added)
So, with a heavy heart for victims tragically abused by those in spiritual oversight of their souls, one must take a stand. Let us seriously revise the way we deal with such matters in the church. Sometimes, fallen pastors are forgiven. But when a sexual scandal has been covered up, ignored, or denied, and when it comes to light and the truth is exposed, it warrants one simple message to the perpetrators: Go Home!
[Author’s Note: Jule’s Woodson’s explicit testimony can be found here. WARNING: There are some graphic descriptions. No criminal charges were filed in this case, as there is a statute of limitations in Texas for sexual assault]
Here are some snippets of reports on this evolving story: