Please note: since the publication of this article, the Memphis church has placed Andy Savage on leave to work on all of the issues involved for himself, to allow the church to conduct a full audit of its procedures and policies, and to make certain that all they do in response to this sadness is marked by wisdom and love for all. In particular, the standing ovation has been noted as a regrettable action. I support this church’s efforts to enter into a season of audit and change, as well as its efforts to act with redemptive mercy and justice for all parties.
I wish I didn’t have to write this post, but I do.
There’s a story gaining steam in the media about Memphis area Pastor Andy Savage who confessed to a sexual assault of a female in his care when he was a college ministry leader in Texas some twenty years ago. Pastor Savage made his confession after the victim went public with her story, having never responded to her private email asking him to acknowledge what occurred. Well, the Memphis church certainly responded to his communication last Sunday morning. His confession to what he did to his victim earned him a standing ovation – with an associate pastor following up with comments that made Pastor Savage sound like a victim as well. Wait… the pastor is a ‘victim’? A standing ovation? Really?
The church in which he confessed this violation was not the church in which it occurred, a church located in Houston, Texas. That Houston area church had another leader who knew about what happened because the victim told him, despite being begged by Andy not to tell – and that Pastor told her to keep quiet. “HE told HER to keep quiet”: just hold that phrase in your thoughts for a while. He told her it would be dealt with. It wasn’t – one more horrifying example of the cover-up of abusers and violators of the women and the young within the halls of the Church. She didn’t tell the police, and the full story has yet to be known, a story that runs from Houston to Memphis and back to Austin. In that city, in one of its really great churches, the Pastor in whom she confided twenty years ago and who counseled her to cover it up was on staff; thankfully, Austin Stone has placed that man on leave.
Though the incident was not formally acknowledged, Andy Savage resigned from his position and moved back home to Memphis. The congregation in Memphis wasn’t directly victimized by his failure from many years ago, but if they want to honor the Gospel and love their Pastor well. they have to make sure he deals with this issue fully and faithfully. They cannot and must not be enablers of a culture that tells women to stay quiet and tells victims of assault to ‘hush’. Pastor Savage needs to head back to Texas to deal with the church there, as well as his victim, and make certain he’s done all that is required of him to put all to right, so far as it depends on him. One thing is for sure: standing ovations for confessed sexual assault are not the proper response to the brokenness this nightmare has caused for victims. This only reinforces a culture that doesn’t handle this pain with both loving justice and mercy. It is the Church once again telling victims to be quiet. It is the Church refusing to be a community where healing happens and devolving into a place where idols of power are adored and reinforced.
What Jesus Said
There seems to be a lack of clarity with some about Jesus’ view of what awaits those who ‘scandalize’ children. Hmmm. No need to mince words. It’s ‘long walk off a short pier with a millstone tied around the neck’ territory. It’s not a lack of charity to maintain an abundance of clarity on the security and well-being of children, whether in churches, schools, or elsewhere. “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” – Matthew 18:5-6
Are we clear now? Crystal??? Good. No standing ovations allowed. Jesus was not an uncharitable chap. Neither was he unclear.
“HE told HER…”
Let me go a bit further. This was a sexual assault by a man in a position of power against a minor female. And it was covered up. The woman was silenced. In some circles that allows you to run for the Senate but it can never be tolerated in the Church. Jerry Falwell Jr just said that such behaviors by those who want to be President are now irrelevant. REALLY? Man, if the late Hugh Hefner had said that, I wouldn’t be shocked, but that’s the opinion of a man who supposedly is a representative of the Evangelical world. That’s worse than pathetic; its dangerous.
The abuse of women in the Church of Christ – the Christ who loves and cherishes and died for his Bride – HAS TO STOP. The ecclesiastical culture that promotes and protects collusion and the coverup of child abuse, sexual assault, the denigration of women, inappropriate remarks, and the silencing of women must be toppled and reformed. The culture that protects power and promotes abusers has to be upended.
Women on a church staff being paid less than men serving in the same position in the same church is a system begging to be reformed. Granted, there are vast differences between congregations, so its impossible to create a uniform approach; a uniform principle, however, can be agreed. Moreover, its high time the PCA made provision in its own structures to officially recognize the ministerial staff of churches that are female. They are doing MINISTRY… and they’re really, really excellent at it too.
By the way, the Alabama woman who blew the whistle on Judge Roy Moore had her house burned down in a suspected arson attack last week. There are people who don’t want to hear from women, especially if those women are telling the truth about the abuse of power by men against women. I wonder how many relational arsonists there are in the pews today, people who would burn down the reputation of a woman for telling the truth. I tell you this: Jesus will have none of it.
When Jesus met a woman held in bondage against her will for many years, he told her, “Daughter, you are free!”
“When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed…'” – Luke 13
Now THAT’S the new ‘he told her’ that should be the news today.
There is a massive need for GRACE for all parties, including the repentant abusers. That repentance begins, however, not in public places where confessions appear heroic, but in private, and with due consideration to restitution, civil law, and discipline that is appropriate. Not all churches have what the Book of Church Order gives a PCA congregation – a direct way of dealing with these matters, and that’s especially true in personality dominated mega or micro churches where power structures are more important than people. That said, even where something like the BCO exists, churches must be willing to submit to and follow through with what is required by Scripture, by their own Constitution, and by the laws of the land. Where we acknowledge sin is where we discover that ‘where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more’. Jesus is big enough to handle this… his healing is available to all who come to the light.
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