“The test is this – “If what we have decided is published on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow, we will be proud of what we have done? Or will we be embarrassed’?” Louis at SBC Voices
Jules Woodson’s story has seen one of the most overwhelming responses we have ever had at at TWW or Watch Keep. As I write this, dealing with a 101 temp, Amy is valiantly handling a sit down interview with CNN with more interviews to follow. Since we last wrote, the story has been picked up by Fox News, CBS Evening News, Newsweek, The Blaze, the Washington Post. Here is a link to Fox News which includes the full video of the Sunday service at Highpoint Church. Please watch it. I will be referring to it in this post. I need to apologize for some formatting issues. (I am using an old computer while my new one gets set up.)
An insider’s glimpse on how CBS Evening News prepares a story-it happen quickly!
I have to admit that I have had a fit of giggles since some guy, obviously upset that we posted about Andy Savage, said that we are amateurish. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, that is what I told Jerika Duncan, the CBS correspondent, who reassured me that we were handling things very well! Here is a quick look behind the scenes. Jules and our support group had a conference call with Ms. Duncan at 2:30 PM on Tuesday. She had reached out to TWW. We did not contact them
She was very professional, asking us a many questions after which she said that she wanted to present the story to the executives for permission to run with it in 4 hours time! She explained that they had do it immediately because that is how news cycles work. She contacted us back around 4 PM and said that they planned to do the story and they needed to Skype with Jules at 5 PM EST. Then a producer contacted me, asking some questions about the story and requesting pictures. Did you notice that the picture on CBS was the one from our post on Monday?
At about 6:20 PM(!), the producer called and asked for the original email that Jules sent to Savage. The show went on the air at 6:30. By 6:45 PM the story was being teased before the hard break. Both the producer and Ms. Duncan(who reported on the story) were very complimentary of Jules. I got a quick text after the segment aired with a kind note hoping that we pleased. All of us were quite satisfied but a bit shell-shocked by the rapidity of the whole experience.
For all of us, this swift news cycle has been quite an eye opener. We may be *amateurish* but we are sure getting our feet wet. Jules is holding up very well although today she is taking a break and is working. Please pray for her stamina and courage. This is emotionally trying.
A tutorial for churches on what not to do when something like this happens to your church: Looking at the Highpoint Church service on Sunday 1/7/18.
I know this may sound a bit naive, but I had hoped for a more sophisticated response from Highpoint Church.This is not the 1950s. Sex abuse has been in the news for the last year and Savage and Conlee frequently commented on the subject
- Never, ever, ever allow a contrived standing ovation (or any standing ovation for that matter) when someone confesses a sexual sin.
There is a hurt victim that has had struggled with this incident for years. There are also unknown and known victims present in the assembly and the church must never lose sight of that fact. What does this say to victims? What does it say to a watching world? In fact, this ovation has been the subject of most of the major new stories about Savage out there. It is shocking to a watching world that a standing ovation was given to an admitted sexual abuser.I predicted that the church would do it on Twitter the day before. This is a typical tactic of churches that are caught in such ha circumstance. Perhaps they think that this helps those who are there to think that everyone who sees this is on their side. Sadly, if this is true, then they are caught in their own little bubble and cannot see themselves as the word see them. Sure, it looks good to those present to have 1000 people standing, hooting and hollering. However, those outside the service were appalled. Just about every major news source has pointed out the standing ovation. Amy Smith just got finished with the CNN interview and the interviewer was astonished at this response. Look at these titles:-
-Memphis pastor gets standing ovation after acknowledging ‘sexual incident’ with teen: Fox News.
-Pastor admits to ‘sexual incident’ with teen, receives standing ovation from congregation: NBC News
–Pastor gets standing ovation after admitting ‘sexual incident’ with teen: New York Post
-Pastor admits to “sexual incident” with teen 20 years ago, gets standing ovation: CBS News
-TENNESSEE PASTOR GETS STANDING OVATION AFTER ADMITTING ‘SEXUAL INCIDENT’ WITH TEEN: Newsweek
Do I need to keep going on(there are more) or have I made my point? Churches, treat the subject matter with the dignity and soberness that it deserves. No standing ovations, no hoots or raucous applause. In fact a sober warning at the beginning of the service is advisable. This was a serious misstep and it has hurt Highpoint Church(and churches like them) in the eyes of the world.
- Watch out for your church worship team.
They can make or break the perception of how this subject is being dealt with. Music should be soft, contemplative, and serious. Be careful with the *Jesus paid it all* type music. It could be viewed by outsiders as giving a break for serious sin. Make sure all of the extemporaneous comments are in keeping with the subject matter. It should be sensible and thoughtful.Here is an example of how being lax in this area can be viewed. Jonathan Aigner at Ponder Anew wrote a thoughtful and humorous post: Highpoint Church Worship Leader Either Receives Holy Spirit or Suffers Medical Episode.
I don’t know this person, so please don’t suggest I’m attacking her personally. But ladies and gentlemen, this is why you don’t give your worship leader a microphone.
- Always tell the simple truth so you will not look like you are ducking responsibility.
In my former church, when a pedophile was exposed and the local news was covering the situation, the head pastor said that the seminary student pedophile “Was only a volunteer. He wasn’t on staff.” This is silly. The guy led a bunch of the Bible studies for the youth and even had a designated desk in the church offices. All that this beating around the bush does is to cause outsiders to believe that the church leadership is not trustworthy.In this instance, Savage claimed that he was simply a college student on the church staff. He appears to be trying to make himself seem less responsible and more innocent than he was. On his own website, Andy Savage.com, he says that he was a Youth Pastor (with capital letters.) If you wear the title; you MUST bear the responsibility. This is especially true in Texas which has strong clergy laws when it comes to exploitation.
- Stop emphasizing that an incident happened a long time ago (20 years in this case) as if it makes any difference.
Some crimes and sins have a life long, lasting impact. That is especially true for sexual abuse. Read this story about men in the 50s describing the sexual abuse they experienced as boys in England’s boarding schools. Pastors should educated themselves about the enduring consequences of sex abuse. Sadly, sex abuse that is perpetrated by a revered pastor or priest can destroy faith and interfere with establishment of normal relationships. Never downplay sex abuse, no matter how long ago it happened. No one has the right nor the insight into a person’s soul to judge whether the pain should be gone by some arbitrary amount of time. Most people understand this and any pastor who uses this approach looks poorly educated and hard-hearted.
- Cut down on the emotional crying over the abuser.
In the video, Conlee wept when he mentioned Savage but never shed tears when he mentioned Woodson. At least that is how it appeared to me. Jesus always emphasized the pain of the abused and disenfranchised and spent a fair amount of time chastising religious leaders. If one cannot muster up tears for the victim, do not do so for the perp. Also, tears have been used by pastors for generation to emotionally manipulate the congregation. Be very careful here.
- Conlee misused the biblical admonition about judgement.
TWW has seen this as a common element in churches which are trying to get out of a dicey situation. Yes, we are to judge the actions of one another. That is why there are lists of sins in the New Testament. They are not there for decoration. One of the problems that I saw with commenters from Highpoint was their common inability to differentiate between a mistake, a sin and a crime.-A mistake is an unintentional. Think of it as unintentional. You gave the wrong change. You forgot a dinner date.
-A sin is an immoral act that goes against God’s law.
-A crime is an offense that violates laws put in place by the government.
A nice lady at church told me I had put my vest on backwards just before i went forward to help with communion. That was a mistake and I had a good laugh about it. If a man at Highpoint suddenly left his wife and kids and shacked up with his honey, I am sure the leaders would tell him he was wrong for doing so. Are the judging him? Of course they are. Christians are supposed to do that when a serious sin is present. The church is commanded in Scripture to follow the laws of the state. All citizens in the US are required to know the law and follow it. Romans 13:3-5 NIV states:
For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
The judgement that belongs to God, and God alone, is the judgement of salvation.
Let me put this another way. Savage committed both a sin and a crime. I know this because the Bible informs me that it is so. It is not unbiblical to state that Savage did something very bad and caused harm to a teen entrusted to his care as a Youth Pastor.
As Conlee talked, I felt he mixed up some of this terminology which may be why comments by Highpoint members seem so biblically naive. Conlee mentioned that repentance that had taken place and that church discipline had been applied although there were few specifics. For example, he stated Savage had to step down from the church staff and return to Tennessee. However, to outside observers, this could be viewed as a church getting rid of a problem and not fully dealing with it.
The most glaring error, and most everyone outside of the church bubble could clearly see it, was that Conlee and Savage mentioned sin frequently but never mentioned the obligation of Savage and the church leaders had to the government. They refused to discuss this part of the situation and most of us can figure out why. They apparently avoided the biblical admonition to follow the law which, in this instance, means that they should have been reported this to law enforcement.
- Conlee said that they would like to help Woodson in any way they could, and after a pause, quickly added, for spiritual healing.They are limiting the hell to spiritual help only? Churches, if you plan to help a victim, do not put caveat on the type of help that is offered.
- Do not compare the need for healing for the victim to the need for healing of an abuser.
This statement bothered both Deb and myself. Conlee appeared to say that he hoped that Jules would be able to go along the same path to healing that Savage took. No. No. No. Savage is the one who assaulted Jules. He is the perp. He is not the victim and he is on a very different path than Jules. Jules has been the victim of a sexual assault which has profoundly affected her life. She has not committed a sin or a crime. To even put the two in the same sentence could be misconstrued. Let me show you how. Is Conlee claiming that both Jules and Savage sinned equally in that *sexual incident?* That is what it sounded like to me. Never, ever compare the pain and suffering of the victim to that of the abuser. This sin-leveling at its very worst.
- A church that has screwed up should not immediately assume that it has become an instrument of healing for those who have been broken by sexual abuse.
Jules’ story became known two days before the service. Highpoint is in no position to help those who have been abused until they get their act together and get some training. Conlee confessed that he had known about Savage’s *incident* (BTW-abuse should never be downplayed as an incident) and it appears that he never reported it. Then, he asked potential victims to come forward in a service which featured a standing ovation for the man who admitted his sexual sin is rather breathtaking in its naivety. Highpoint has a long way to go before it is ready to be a haven for the abused. I have talked with many victims in my 9 years of writing and I would warn any victim not to go forward for help from a church which handled things in this manner. I am not even sure that they understand that this was no a consensual act.
I am hoping that Highpoint Church and Stonebridge will one day become a place for those who have been harmed by abuse. However, that day is not today.
If any church would ever like to give us a call and ask how to put a service together that would honor the victim, please do so. The fact that such a church is wondering how to do it right is a great first step; a step that Highpoint should have taken.
One man’s view of the church service at Highpoint.
Chase, who lives in Memphis, contacted me on Friday and said that he would like to attend the worship service and write about what he saw. He is a regular reader at TWW. I thought it might be interesting to see the thoughts of someone else who I know cares about abuse victims. I really loved seeing this through his eyes. Pay particular attention to what happened later in the service
Thank you, Chase.
“I arrived at the church not knowing what to expect as I haven’t been there before. It was very much a copycat of Cross Point in Nashville in look and feel. Very much half hipster, part corporate, part people off the street. Stage lights, fog on stage, two screens that played a very cool “This is Memphis” montage that led straight into the praise time. That’s neither here nor there, just a description of the vibe.
I noticed Andy Savage down front to the left of the stage, with several people walking up to him, giving him long hugs and whispering into his ear. I thought that this may be a signal to how this was going to be handled. I had heard online that at first Savage was removed from speaking today, then that he was going to be given the stage. I will explain what happened.
The first song was “Your Love Never Fails” by the Newboys and the worship leader stressed “this isn’t just some song lyric or good idea, this is straight from scripture” several times over.
The second song was “One Thing Remains” by Jesus Culture, which share very similar lyrics with the first song.
The band left and Chris Conlee took the stage. I won’t expound as there is a transcription of him and Andy Savage’s exchange on the stage. However, there were several times Conlee just nodded, looking like he was at times about to cry, etc.
After Savage left to a standing ovation that came quickly and with several shouted amens around me, (I did not stand to applaud), Conlee preached his sermon about “The God way to handle things”. Having a background from an abusive cult, I wondered how this was going to be handled.
To hear Chris Conlee use the victims full name “Jules Woodson” took me aback at first, and he used “Jules” and “Mrs. Woodson” several times; even at a few points staring directly into the camera from the edge of the stage. I was not expecting him to be that personal about it all.
I recorded the entire service from opening video to the dismissal and will make it available to whomever would like it.
There is a transcript of the Conlee/Savage moment online, so I won’t recap that other than the sheer amount of people that supported him was evident. I’m not shocked, Savage has been at this church since the beginning and has built relationships.
As Conlee read from a tablet/iPad of sorts, he was sure to craft a theme of “this is what God says, what God does” that seemed to cement the point he wanted his congregation to know. A point that this “sin” happened 20 years ago. He wanted people to understand Savage took the “correct route of restoration” and stepped away. He emphasized “it was the way God works, taking the unforgivable and making it extraordinary”. It was a sermon of “time has past, Andy paid the price and has been restored”. The only mention of Jules Woodson at this point was “God can do the same for her”.
So I was confused here. Was Conlee saying to Jules that “all it takes is for you to let go, God can heal you and you can get on with your life?” or was it “God can heal you like he did Andy Savage?” Neither felt correct. The audience was oohing and awing and amening the entire time. Lots of head nods. The only concern for the victim of the assault, Jules Woodson, was that “God has a route you need to take, I’m telling you that route and you can be healed of your hurt.” I thought it would have made the room a bit more stale, but it didn’t, the congregation loved what Conlee said.
I wondered to myself if that was a reaction because Jules was an unknown entity to them but Andy Savage was there in flesh? I wondered if there were any abuse victims in the audience? Was I the only person who attended to see how High Point handled a situation like this? The church was full on the main level and about 2 rows into the balcony and as I looked around I saw everyone paying attention and a mom explaining what was happening to her son, but I couldn’t tell how anyone felt.
Conlee went to the salvation call at the end, made a point if there were any people who had experienced something similar and were ready for a breakthrough, that this was the place. That sat wrong with me. He had the congregation bow and close eyes and did the invitation. Then something unusual happened.
The band returned to the stage to sing a few more songs as counselors lined the front of the stage and Conlee sat on the left of the stage, back against the wall watching. The worship band broke into “Jesus Paid it All” by Kristian Stanfill. It hit me that that song, combined with the 2 songs in the beginning of service, felt very crafted to share the theme of Conlees message. But it was the next song where it was super odd…
“Reckless Love” by Bethel Music and about two-thirds of the way through the song, the female praise leader brought the band down and proceeded to address the congregation, with Conlee nodding in the background:
“Has this morning, this weekend caused anyone to look inward?…and see how unworthy we are…but still His love is proud to be seen with us! So proud to be seen with us, unashamed. That is my son! (said loudly, pointing towards Savage) These are my children! In Malachi 3 He says ‘Test me and see if I will not throw open the flood gates of heaven and pour out so much blessing you will have no idea how – what to do with it! (shouting here) Are you kidding me?! So much love and blessing and abundance from God, you’ll have idea where to put it all! You are worthy! YOU ARE WORTHY ANDY! YOU ARE WORTHY HIGHPOINT! There is no shadow, no mountain, no wall and no lie that He cannot get rid of to get to you, do you understand that?!!”
That sent another red flag off, things I have seen in the past when scripture is taken out context in the midst of an emotional crowd build up. Psychologists use terms like crowd frenzy, when a large gathering gets together and rallies emotionally about a subject, very similar to what Benny Hinn and other false prophets do. Crowd control type of stuff. It felt very weird in the hype and I couldn’t not let it go. Then it got worse.
Chris Conlee took that stage and said “High Point Church, this is not a point to believe less, this is a moment to believe more (several amens in the crowd) This is not a moment to walk away, this is a moment to lean in. Let’s be the best in the world that proving love works. Let’s be the best in the world, at offering compassion without compromise. God takes our wounds and He never wastes a wound. He always uses our wounds to give us a ministry of healing. A good friend of mine called me this morning. He said God just gave High Point Church a ministry to healing women who’ve been abused in some type of sexual sin. Guess what? We’re going to commit to that (a whoop from someone in the crowd) and give everything we can to help every single person. Thank you for being a people who forgive well, because listen to this, the scripture says ‘when you have been forgiven much, then you love much.’ Thank you for being a people who love well. Would you please, go do everything you possibly can to never say a critical word of anybody but to only speak words of faith, hope and love. We love, thank you, see you later.”
I have no clue yet if that part made it online, but it left me angry. “Don’t speak critically of anyone??” How controlling is that?! It cemented the the thoughts I had early on of “when you control the narrative, you control the outcome” which is common in organizations and churches who want to control outcomes – and people – in their favor.
All I thought of was the High Point Church and Conlee have had to aswer to several sexual abuse cases in the past and this is what they do now?
It was wagon circling and telling the victim “this is what scripture says, DO IT” and you could see the proverbial washing of the hands. I was disgusted. When I thought I would never hear Jules Woodson’s name in the High Point sermon, not only did I, then I was saddened that she was told how to respond and Conlee stood by hiding behind vanities that looked spiritual. Remember “THIS HAPPENED 20 YEARS AGO” and to them that was enough. Memphis has a Church with a failure in leadership. I felt like Jesus was a bit disgusted.”
This quote sums up how to evaluate planning for a service like the one Highpoint had.
The test is this – “If what we have decided is published on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow, we will be proud of what we have done? Or will we be embarrassed?” Louis at SBC Voices
Several formatting and spelling edits by GBCT Jan 11, 2018