In wake of Andy Savage's confession, publishers withdraw forthcoming book

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Larry Nelson's picture

 

.....that this response is today unthinkable:

"She said she notified a different pastor, who told her to keep quiet." 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I'm not surprised. Pastors are people, and they can be company men just like anyone else. Of course, their role as spiritual leaders makes this kind of cover-up all the more contemptible. Pastors who seek to cover up allegations are idiots, and a disgrace to their office and to Christ. But, it won't stop. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

.....that this response is today unthinkable:

"She said she notified a different pastor, who told her to keep quiet." 

I wish I could do that, Larry, but in a world where guys have nondisclosure agreements in all kinds of situations, I dare say that "keep quiet" is a message that is still being sent loud and clear in many venues, not just churches.  And if events in the coming years prove me wrong, I will of course be extraordinarily glad about that!  Until then, I'll simply do my part to make sure that in cases of which I'm aware, the proper people are indeed notified.

In this case, I would have been tempted to say that this pastor had--at least after his original transgressions--done things right by letting future employers know about at least part of what had happened before.  And then comes the testimony of the victim....and all I can do is pray that each party involved does their best to get to the bottom of this. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

Megachurch pastor Andy Savage made a confession this past Sunday at Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee.

"As a college student on staff at a church in Texas more than 20 years ago, I regretfully had a sexual incident with a female high school senior in the church," he said.

His request for forgiveness got a standing ovation from the congregation.

Wait, what? Am I reading that right?

Chris Conlee, the lead pastor of the Memphis church where Savage now ministers, prayed for Savage and Woodson.

"It saddens us that Ms. Woodson has not been on the same road to healing," Conlee said.

"An apology does not change the fact that what happened to me was against the law and that it was wrong," Woodson said.

She claims to have been assaulted, and the best thing they can say is that they are sad she is not on the road to healing?

Ugh.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jim's picture

Church confirms lawyer hired to investigate Savage ministry

Highpoint Church has hired a Fort Worth, Texas, attorney to investigate Andy Savage, church leaders confirmed Thursday.

Scott Fredricks, a partner in the Cantey Hanger law firm, will help the church "examine all aspects of Andy Savage's ministry at Highpoint and the actions we in leadership have taken," said Jim Pritchard, Highpoint's administrator.

Fredricks' work will be in addition to an assessment to be performed by MinistrySafe, also from Fort Worth, which will review Highpoint's child protection practices, according to spokeswoman Kimberlee Norris.

The developments are the result of a promised independent investigation the church said it would undertake after a woman came forward this month to say Savage had sexually assaulted her while she was a teen and he her youth pastor in Texas.

Pritchard characterized Fredricks as "a respected Christian attorney with experience guiding churches and other organizations through similar circumstances."

The Cantey Hanger website profile of Fredricks lists among his experience advising Christian ministries on governance issues and assisting with them with internal investigations, including child abuse investigations.

Messages left with Fredricks were not returned.

"Recent events have confirmed the need for wise, experienced and independent counsel ..." Pritchard said. "To that end, Highpoint Church has hired two independent organizations to help us wisely evaluate and respond to recent events."

Jay's picture

The young lady who is alleging the sexual assault was 17 at the time.  She recounts the story at this website (I will not cite it due to graphic content), and says that Andy Savage, who was 21 and serving as a pastoral intern, took her home, bypassed the exit he should have taken to get to her house, took her to a dark and secluded place, and then told her to gratify him, which she did out of shock and embarrassment.  He then realized what he had done, swore her to secrecy, and took her home.  She said that she later reported it to others in her church, including both pastors and her women's group, and they covered it up.  She said that Andy was allowed to leave after announcing that he "had made a poor decision" and "it was time to move on".

According to Texas state law, Savage should have been reported as a sexual offender:

(b) A sexual assault under Subsection (a)(1) is without the consent of the other person if:

(1) the actor compels the other person to submit or participate by the use of physical force, violence, or coercion;

...(10) 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...

Andy Savage made a statement that is available at Highpoint Church's website, where he says that the sexual encounter was consensual and that it is in the past:

As a college student on staff at a church in Texas more than 20 years ago, I regretfully had a sexual incident with a female high school senior in the church. I apologized and sought forgiveness from her, her parents, her discipleship group, the church staff, and the church leadership, who informed the congregation. In agreement with wise counsel, I took every step to respond in a biblical way.

I resigned from ministry and moved back home to Memphis. I accepted full responsibility for my actions. I was and remain very remorseful for the incident and deeply regret the pain I caused her and her family, as well as the pain I caused the church and God’s Kingdom.

So that's the full story.  Apparently Savage has been placed on leave while these two organizations investigate his current ministry and church.  The senior pastor at Highpoint also made a statement that he was fully aware of the situation and the specifics when Andy was hired on staff there.

I'm saying this because the inital story was that Savage had a sexual experience with a young woman.  The specific detail of the young woman being in his spiritual care while he served as a pastoral intern was not explicitly mentioned and completely changes the story.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Larry Nelson's picture

 

At the IFB church I belonged to from 1980 to 2000, early on in that period of time the then 20-something youth pastor began dating an 18 year old high school girl in the youth group.  They married a year later, when she was 19.

Today he is the senior pastor of an IFB church, and they are still married.

On the church's website, it says that they met each other "while serving on a [missions] team together" (implying they met as peers).  Having been present at their very first meeting, I know the truth.  The lie above certainly sounds better than "Pastor __________ was the youth pastor of a church in Minnesota, where he started dating one of his students."  

Bert Perry's picture

Larry, I remember hearing about that one, I believe, and I would agree that there is a degree of duplicity in that official bio.  That noted, as long as the relationship wasn't started with lying to her parents, or involving a degree of fornication or someone being compelled to do something (as in the case that inspired this thread), what are we to say about this otherwise?

Side note; count me baffled about why so many rapists compel a specific act of their victims.  I would figure that from time to time, the victim would make her displeasure brutally clear to the perp!  (and forgive me, but after cringing, I'd be laughing at him)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

If someone can't tell the difference between a 20 year old dating and marrying a 19 year old girl and what happened to Jules, I literally do not know what to say here.  That's comparing apples to aircraft carriers.

That being said, I think that dating and marrying any teenage woman in your care as her spiritual advisor / minister is going to be just a terrible idea, generally speaking.

Side note; count me baffled about why so many rapists compel a specific act of their victims.  I would figure that from time to time, the victim would make her displeasure brutally clear to the perp!  (and forgive me, but after cringing, I'd be laughing at him)

It's because sexual assault isn't really about sex, it's about the power trip.  That's why.  If you read any books on crisis counseling or dealing with sex assaults, they'll generally get into that discussion.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

josh p's picture

I don’t know who Andy Savage is but these types of things always amaze me. This isn’t just a despicable act by one man. Everyone who knew about it in the first church apparently made an idol out of “the ministry.” The leadership in the second church was equally disastrous. Even going by his story, was he really beyond reproach? I could almost wish the American church would face some persecution to purge the chaff and improve her testimony. 

Larry Nelson's picture

Jay wrote:

If someone can't tell the difference between a 20 year old dating and marrying a 19 year old girl and what happened to Jules, I literally do not know what to say here.  That's comparing apples to aircraft carriers.

That being said, I think that dating and marrying any teenage woman in your care as her spiritual advisor / minister is going to be just a terrible idea, generally speaking.

The situation from the OP article is sinful, immoral, illegal.  The situation I detailed aligns with your bolded comment above.  The two situations are several orders of magnitude in difference.

My point in detailing what I witnessed at my prior church is that even now, 35 years or so later, the couple I mentioned obviously feels awkward about the circumstances of their meeting, and that the real story would raise some eyebrows at their current church.  Otherwise why are they lying about the matter?

And by the way, he wasn't just a year older ("a 20 year old dating and marrying a 19 year old girl"); he was by then some years out of Bible college.