So Andy Savage, a former megachurch pastor from Memphis, is now starting a new church, despite being disqualified from ministry.
I have had a tremendously busy week. Our grandson was born exactly a week ago, and we just got back from being with Rebecca and Connor (and Alexander!) in Ottawa for a month. So I’m behind on a whole lot of things.
I was supposed to run my last post in our series on the stages of sex today, talking about the slowing down years. But this Sunday the news broke that Andy Savage has a new church. I’ve covered him extensively on the blog, from when the original scandal broke to saying that he had to resign, and I thought it was important to comment on this, because everyone’s talking about it, and I thought I had something to add to the situation. I thought I’d cover the emotional/sexual aspects of the abuse.
So yesterday, instead of writing the post for today on the stages of sex, I recorded a video. I’m going to run the video today, and then wrap up our stages of sex post on Friday.
I’m sorry I’m so out of order, but it’s just crazy getting back to work now!
So on to the topic at hand: If you’ve used your power to sexually abuse someone, you can never be a pastor again.
Can you be forgiven? Absolutely. Can you be restored? Absolutely. You can attend church, attend small group, even lead a small group. You can volunteer in prisons, in soup kitchens, in celebrate recovery groups. You can still be an active member of a church. But you cannot serve in the pulpit again, and I explain why in this video:
I’ll just summarize a few of the points here.
It’s not just about the pastor. It’s what we’re saying to the victims in the pews.
I spend a lot of time in the video explaining the trauma of sexual abuse, and how it’s so hard to heal from. And then I point out that if a pastor goes back to preaching, saying, “all of this was so long ago! And God forgives!”, what is the sexual abuse victim hearing? She’s hearing that God can restore an abuser, and make everything hunky dorey for him, while she’s still struggling to have a normal marriage, a normal relationship, freedom from flashbacks (which can last decades). That’s why this is bigger than just the one pastor’s story. This is how we treat victims in general.
The “relationship” was not “consensual”.
I hear from Andy Savage and also from other pastors in this situation that they essentially consider the relationship consensual. And so I explain here why it was not consensual–why the only reason that Jules was hanging out with him was because he was a youth pastor; why him bestowing special favour on her gave her status among her peers, which is important; why there’s a power element. Had he been a 22-year-old in a college & career group, it would be totally different. She would not have felt drawn to him in the same way.
One pastor is not indispensable
Sure, Andy Savage is a good preacher. But he isn’t indispensable. God doesn’t need him preaching.
People need to stop supporting him.
The reason he’s able to have a new church is because people are willing and eager to go. Others are supporting him. That has to stop. And so I draw your attention to the story of David and Saul, which I’ve talked about before in relation to Andy Savage. Saul disobeyed God several times–first by making an offering when he was not a priest. Later he didn’t follow God’s commands about the Amalekites. And God rejected him as king. But Samuel said to Saul, after the incident with the offering, that God was already preparing someone else. He had David in the wings. But a civil war eventually broke out because the people liked Saul. He had won military victories. He seemed like a good king. Why should they reject him in favour of David?
And that’s what’s happening here. People are propping up Andy Savage when they should be waiting to see who God has already prepared. Do we not believe that God can have a David in the wings?
I encourage you to watch the video. It is important. Next week I’ll be writing a post on the other side of this equation: why Andy Savage was in a bad situation as well, because 22-year-olds should not be put in charge of youth groups. But regardless of any of that, he abused his power, and he can’t be back in the pulpit now. Period. And churches need to get this right.
Jules Woodson has issued a public statement, too, and I’d like to run it here:
Andy Savage sexually assaulted me when I was 17 and he was my ordained youth pastor. He admits to sexually assaulting me. He admits that it was abuse of power. Less than two years after this abuse was exposed, and he resigned from Highpoint Church, he has filed non-profit paperwork to plant a new church “Grace Valley Church.” When Andy sexually abused me, two other pastors, Larry Cotton and Steve Bradley failed to oversee Andy’s repentance, and failed to teach Andy that he had forever disqualified himself as a pastor, according to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2 in the Bible. I have listened to Andy Savage’s speech to the potential members of “Grace Valley Church,” which was published online. Andy Savage is using manipulative approaches and what are considered “grooming” tactics to gain interest and support for his church. In his speech, Andy appeals to vulnerable, broken people and broken lives who are in need of the gospel; he asks for people to share their secrets with him and the church; Andy chuckles while saying “I got my hands on the wrong thing” referring to his past sexual abuse of me. While it is true that we are all sinners, that God’s grace is amazing and available to all of us – including Andy Savage – there is a difference between repentance and restoration to the body of Christ and restoration to being a pastor. A pastor who sexually assaults a minor in their care is who Jesus talks about in Luke 17. Morally, ethically, biblically, Andy Savage is not qualified to be a pastor. Because he has abused people when he was given a position of power, part of his repentance and restoration is to NOT be put into that position of power ever again. When a trusted pastor appeals to people to be vulnerable and to share secrets, that can be a gift to help repentance and grow a person’s faith. These are the things that Andy asked of me when I was a child to groom me for sexual abuse. He is using the same method to start Grace Valley Church. Twenty years ago, Larry Cotton and Steve Bradley supported Andy Savage. Andy Savage is not starting Grace Valley Church without the help and support of others. Andy Savage and his supporters are setting a precedent within the church that men who have preyed upon the flock can still belong on the pulpit. This is dangerous, this is wrong and I believe that Andy’s message of “cheap Grace” leads people astray from the truth of God’s Word.