The Andy Savage Scandal: Two Things Churches Should Learn From

Andy Savage acknowledged the 1998 encounter and said he remains “very remorseful” for “the pain he caused.”

Andy Savage has been accused of sexual misconduct.
Andy Savage has been accused of sexual misconduct.

Both Andy Savage and Jules Woodson must not have thought that what privately transpired between them 20 years in the past would cause a huge interest and coverage among the general public today. Sadly, the consequences of wrongdoing committed then still affect these two individuals today and have generated a ripple effect, touching the whole Christian community. Churches and leaders are put into question. Church administration and policies are being doubted. What should have been done? What shouldn’t have? Some published articles ask, “How does the evangelical church handle sexual abuse cases? Do victims get justice?”

Many question the accuracy of the account Jules Woodson gave. When she publicly shared her experience she identified herself with the #MeToo movement, a movement that exposes sexual abuse and supports the victims. A number have provided analysis of her account, one of which offers a thorough evaluation confirming mutual consent between them. While her very own statements seem to verify that she was not forced and that she agreed to everything that happened that night, Andy Savage can’t dismiss the fact that he was in a position of leadership and influence over Jules at that time. That factor causes many people to view that Andy has indeed broken the law.

Chapter 5 of the Texas Penal Code says that sexual assault occurs if “the actor is a clergyman who causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual adviser…”

While his innocence and the truthfulness of her account remain in question, there are two things that churches should take note of and learn from.

1. Sin should never be applauded.

After Andy Savage went before the congregation of Highpoint Church to confess and seek forgiveness for this past sexual offense, the congregation applauded and gave him a standing ovation. It seems the church has forgotten the purpose of public confessions. In 1 Timothy 5:20, Paul says,“those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.” In the King James Version, it says “…so that others may fear.”

While in the spirit of love, we must be supportive of the confessor, it should not be what’s most apparent.  The presiding minister must take most of the opportunity to discuss the gravity of sin and warn the congregation about sin in their lives. Nowadays, presiding ministers only focus on affirming love and supporting the sinning person. This is wrong. A believer must come out of this type of closed-door meetings with a commitment to live pure before God, not just the thought that,“whatever I do wrong, the church will be there with open arms.”

2. The consequence of sin should never be celebrated.

In her account, Jules Woodson said that the church even held a going away party for Andy Savage when he had to leave the ministry because of the offense that was committed. Andy Savage confirms this in an interview with Ben Ferguson on iHeart Radio.

Is the church now oblivious to what is appropriate?  While disgraced executives of business companies are afforded graceful exits, it should not be so in the church. If out there, companies hold going away parties or forced retirement parties for superiors who mess up, churches should in no way do that for erring ministers. Their service to the church can and should privately be appreciated. But, the church must be careful never to minimize the gravity of the offense.

The church should not conform itself to the practices of secular organizations and business companies in this world.  Wrongdoing should never be covered up nor made little of. Moreover, the church should not conform itself to the values of this world. Love never makes light of wrongdoing. Love makes sure that wrong is dealt with so that purity and holiness can be restored. For only then can we live a life that blesses us personally and glorifies our God in heaven.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this. The standing ovation was really troubling, but it highlights a major issue with abuse: so often, mistreatment can come from someone we admire, and reacting to their actions is never easy. We often look back and wish we had said or did things differently, but in the moment, when you have so many things going on in your head, it’s easy to let the most practiced feelings come out first.
    I’ve looked up to you for a long time.
    I still want your approval.
    I want you to keep respecting you the way I had in the past, but without respecting your wrongdoing.
    I want to respect that you did wrong and define you as a human with weaknesses, but then this is way too big to just forgive and forget…

    This, I think, is why so many abuse victims take so long to come forward. The conflicting feelings are a blend of wanting to keep the respected/beloved authority figure in a place of reverence while feeling violated and ashamed.

    By the way, as a side note, is it really necessary to highlight how, yet again, the veracity of the victim’s testimony has been brought into question? Yes, we want to be balanced. Yes, we want to be wise. But really, do we need to go out of our way to point out that maybe she was in on it? Those wildly conflicting feelings that drove a whole congregation to express love by applauding? Same thing with the girl. I wonder how many people who stood and clapped regretted it afterward. I wouldn’t hate them for that, I would say, watch and learn! This is what happens to us when someone we held in high esteem lets us down so, so badly. We act in the frame of reference we know. We express respect, fondness, and then we look back and rethink things. If Jules Woodson still doesn’t know what to think, she’s not alone.

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Written by Ana Menez

I serve with a training & equipping organization. I am also a freelance writer and I take great interest in writing and sharing growth resources. Reading is one of my great loves. I love it for all its fresh insights and points of view that help as I consider issues relevant to my faith life.

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