I think my resignation was the only way to avoid bloodshed. Eduard Shevardnadze
A special thanks goes out to Jules, Amy, Kenny and Brooks:
I am honored to know all of you. You have brought joy, faith, expertise and humor to a difficult process. Thank you for putting up with my multitude of “Do you think we should…?” questions. Jules, you are my hero. I have learned so much from listening and watching you. Kenny and Brooks- remember when I told you a couple of years ago you would help other abuse victims? That is another prophecy I got right. Amy, thank you for all you know as well as your spot on instinct. We sure had fun in NYC!
Jules’ Woodson response to the resignation of Andy Savage:
This is Jules’ statement which is being given to news outlets. I am breaking it up into smaller segments to make it easier to read in a post.
While yesterday’s announcement is a step in the right direction, the conversation must not end here. Instead, this needs to be a wakeup call for everyone.
There is a systemic problem within the institution of the church that props people up in places of power and gives them immunity based on cheap grace and a call for forgiveness. This has bred a culture ripe for abuse and cover-up. Repentance, accountability and justice should not be contrived.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique. My hope in speaking out is that this opens up the conversation and empowers others. We, as Christians, should be leading the way in recognizing, preventing and handling abuse.
Genuine repentance is not demonstrated by one decision but by many decisions that, over a period of time and born out of humility, transform the culture of the church. As Jesus demonstrated, the church should be the safest and most affirming community for the vulnerable and the wounded. This announcement is one step forward and I am hopeful there are many more steps to follow.
Jules is right. This is one step in the right direction but there is more to be done. The following are some of my observations and opinions from the last 3 months. I can assure you that, never in my wildest dreams, did I imagine the course of events that have transpired since Jules’ initial phone call in December.
Pastors who sexually engage with those under their care and those who cover it up should be banned from the pulpit. The church should, at the minimum, have the same moral standards of secular institutions as opposed to far lower moral standards.`
Jules is correct. She is not the only one who has endured assault from inside the church. My husband often says that the church has lower standards than the secular institutions while simultaneously claiming moral superiority. Teachers who have sex with students are sent to jail, no matter their age. Recently, a 22 year old school teacher was arrested for having *consensual* sex with an 18 year old student. The student and his family protested her arrest. However, it is against the law and the Superintendent said it well. Church leaders, memorize this! Secular schools say they have a sacred trust to students. Do you believe the same? I wonder…
“As educators, we are entrusted to protect and educate all of our students and know there are certain boundaries that can never be crossed,” wrote Duarte in the letter. “Also, we will not tolerate any behavior that compromises the safety or well-being of our students. I hope you will not let the misconduct of this one individual cast a shadow over all of our staff members who demonstrate their commitment to our students every day.”
Superintendent Moore added, “Whether someone is 21, 41, or 61, the moment they are a part of a school as a student teacher, mentor, or coach, they enter into a sacred trust with our students and community.”
Church: Are we to have lower standards than our public school system? Do we use repentance as the get out of jail free card?
Andy Savage should have resigned. This was not an act of heroism. He simply had no choice after Larry Cotton’s resignation and the New York Times video. It should have occurred on the first day he got the email from Jules. Instead, we had to hear of his sickening account of his supposedly *consensual,* organic experience with Jules. I will never use organic in the same way. Yesterday, I laughed and shook my head when I picked up some organic eggs.
Jules Woodson did not consent to have sex with Andy Savage and nonconsensual sex is a crime.
Now, assuming that Highpoint Church is fine with their bottom feeder standards for sex between clergy and their students, let’s go one step deeper. Many people at Highpoint brought up the age of consent, claiming it was 17 in Texas. They don’t get it. Jules has expressed her frustration regarding this entire argument because she did NOT give Savage consent to expose himself and make her do things. Nonconsensual sex is a molestation and subject to the law.
Let’s go over this again. She was driven down a dark dirt road and her youth pastor told her to perform oral sex. She was scared, confused, trying to figure out if this meant he loved her so this act was normal, etc. Had Savage said to her, prior to driving down that dark road, “Jules, I want you to perform oral sex on me* she would have said “No.” People, if you doubt this then you are saying that Savage is so *hunky* that no woman would turn him down. You know, deep down inside, that is simply not true.
To make things clearer, the next day, Jules went to Larry Cotton and had to tell him everything that occurred. It was hard and Larry Cotton has admitted this. So, she really wanted it and couldn’t wait for more? Baloney! She was in pain and would continue to be in pain for the next 20 years.
Why is it wrong for the secular news media to critique the church?
First things first. The small team of folks, the ones Jules initially contacted and who stuck with her during this ordeal, are Christians. If anyone doubts that, give me a call and I will state my beliefs in historical Christianity. We started TWW as an *insiders.* We are as much a part of the church as Billy Graham.
However, for those of you who think it is just plain awful that the secular news media is involved, here are two important considerations.
- Jesus said that the church was to be a light on the hill so that people would see our good works and come to know Him. We do NOT get to demand what people are allowed to see when they look at us. So, it is incumbent on all of us to act like Christians so that people can see our love. There was far too little of that love shown from Highpoint members and pastors and it makes me wonder what is being taught about the servant-like nature of the love of Jesus. You know, turn the other cheek and give him your coat thing?
- Have you read the entire Bible, especially the hard stuff like in the Old Testament? When Israel screwed up, God sent in the pagan hordes who stuck rings in the noses of the Israelites and led them off to captivity due to their disobedience. He used nonbelievers since the Israelites were not getting the job done.
I learned something from the New York Times team. I watched how kind they were to Jules. I saw how they elicited her story in a non coercive and thoughtful manner. I remember thinking that Jules got more love there than she did from the Highpoint troops. How could any Christian support such despicable tweets, even if they loved Andy Savage? One guy even claimed he was going to tell the world what a bad girl Jules was as a teen! the Jezebel card! This is Christian behavior?
Chris Conlee failed as a leader and now seems to performing doctrinal gymnastics.
Conlee should have prevented the standing ovation. Instead, my guess is that he approved of the ovation and may have even encouraged it. He embarrassed himself and the church in the eyes of the world. One does not give a standing ovation when a pastor confesses to having sex with a student. Why do I even have to say this? That service was bizarre, including the female singer who was crying and screaming the Andy was worthy. What was that? A real leaders would have come forward and stopped it in its tracks.
Conlee should have been the first to tell his people to stop with the mean tweets. He should have been the first to correct that obviously deficient theology that was getting thrown around. I could write several posts on the that alone. Instead, it appears he surrounded the pastors with a bunch of bodyguards so they could go on the doomed to failure offensive.
Conlee participated in the nonsense of blaming the bloggers, calling them hateful for merely speaking the truth. He spent time gushing over a prophecy he got from IHOP and somehow managed to get his church out of the SBC. He should have been spending time helping his members handle things in a biblical way.
There is something I don’t understand and I would imagine there are some thoughtful Highpoint members who don’t either. When this whole thing started in January, Highpoint was a member of The Gospel Coalition, a hard core Calvinist organization. It was also a member of the Southern Baptist Convention which has both Calvinist and nonCalvinist views.
Suddenly, Highpoint is not a member of either group and Conlee has been doing the prophecy deal with IHOP. Let me be blunt. It is rare to shift doctrinal stances so rapidly. Is Conlee having a midlife crisis? I heard his sermon in Sunday, 3/18/18. There was no carefully thought-out, reasoned explanation given for this about face. I stand by my post on 3/16/18 until something more intelligent is communicated. My guess is that Highpoint is going charismatic. If not, then why did Conlee tell his congregation about a prophecy given to him by IHOP which admits that between 80-90% of their prophecies are wrong?
The Highpoint statement: Is Andy Savage a chronic liar?
This is significant. Let’s look at the Highpoint statement.
Before employing Andy Savage, the church leadership was informed of his past with Jules Woodson and we understood that it had been thoroughly addressed at the time. We have since learned that this was not the case, and we have accepted Andy’s resignation.
Throughout this process, I have questioned whether or not Savage ever told the truth to his subsequent churches. We heard that his next church after he left Woodlands, Germantown, did not know what had happened. It is now evident that Highpoint didn’t or else they are simply rats deserting a sinking ship. What gives?
On the investigation conclusion: No more standing ovations for sex abuse
The lawyers state that they were unable to find any further examples of Savage’s abuse. From my point of view, that does not mean there were none, just none to be found in 2 months of looking. Given Savage’s history of not telling the full story, who knows? That is the best I can do at this time. I hope it is true.
Here is where I get mad. Darn straight Highpoint acted defensive. Defensive and stupid. Who in their right mind gives a standing ovation to a guy who said he had sex with a high school student when he was a youth pastor? Not only that, I am totally convinced that this standing ovation was orchestrated by the leadership since I predicted they would do this in a tweet the day before it happened. Unlike most IHOP prophecies, it came true! This was a despicable move which I believe was planned by the leadership. It wasn’t just defensive. It was despicable and appeared abusive to the victim and most of the onlooking world. Too bad the lawyers toned it down. (Lawyers: Did you have to use Christianese? “Humbly?” It sounds so fake.)
Highpoint leadership has come to recognize that it was defensive rather than empathetic in its initial reaction to Ms. Jules Woodson’s communication concerning the abuse she experienced, and humbly commits to develop a deeper understanding of an appropriate, more compassionate response to victims of abuse.
Andy Savage’s statement: the good and the bad
He stepped down. Stop for a minute and take that in.
We have been doing this gig for 9 years. Look at CJ Mahaney. That man is still running around being a pastor, speaking at conferences and playing kissy face with Al Mohler. We documented problem after problem after coverup. Lawsuits were filed and never heard due to a state of limitations.
No matter what happens in the future with Andy Savage, Chris Conlee, Larry Cotton and Steve Bradley, Savage’s resignation happened and Larry Cotton’s resignation happened. They both loved their jobs and giving them up was a blow. Also, Savage will always be known as the guy who had oral sex with a high school student when he was an ordained youth pastor.
The bad from the statement by Andy Savage
- When Jules cried out for justice, I carelessly turned the topic to my own story of moral change:
He is emphasizing that he is now a morally changed person.Yet, this morally changed person did not respond to Jules’ email in December.
- as if getting my own life in order:
Once again, he is letting us know that he is a good person. Sorry Andy, your life was not, and is not, in order or this would not have happened
- the first was my inappropriate relationship with Jules, which was not only immoral, but meets the definition of abuse of power since I was her youth pastor; therefore, when our relationship became physical, there could be no claim of mutual consent. Another wrong was the failure to follow due process afterward; Jules deserved, and did not get, a full investigation and proper response 20 years ago:
This is an interesting statement. At first, he downplays the assault, calling it an inappropriate relationship. There was no relationship, just sex. This was about unwanted, nonconsensual sex. However, he goes on to accurately list several things and I had some hope the statement would be redeemed. However, he pulls the rug out at the end saying that Jules didn’t get a proper response and investigation. He should have said that the police should have been notified. Instead, it is left up in the air. For example, he could just be saying ” Larry should have done better.” He avoided the potential criminality of the action altogether. The fact that he doesn’t mention the police makes me wonder if he would call the police if this sort of thing had happened in his Highpoint youth program.
- Admittedly, at 22 and in my first job,: Once again, he is playing the *I was a kid* card. This needs to stop. 22 year old teachers go to jail for this stuff and he is insulting the integrity and professionalism of 22 year old folks who would never do something like this ands who know it is wrong.
- I truly believed that I was being guided through proper steps for restitution, which included resigning my position and moving from Houston to Memphis. Those steps seemed significant at the time, and I trusted in the process assigned to me.: I am getting tired of his “blame the wise counsel” shtick. Here is where he loses me. Let’s say he was really stupid, unlike most 22 year old professionals. Eventually, he should have grown up and realized that things were not handled properly. So, did he seek justice when he got smart, like at 30? No, he didn’t. Let’s assume he is really, really stupid. Did he realize that something was wrong when Jules sent him an email in December? Nope! Did he tell leaders of Germantown Church what he had done? No. Why not since he believed it was handled well. I beleive that he knew things weren’t handled appropriately and he acted as if he were dodging a bullet.
Also, I would love to see any document that spelled out the process of his restitution because I don’t believe that there was any such process. Maybe someone can prove me wrong?
- I know that stepping down once, or even a second time: Now this is interesting. Savage really didn’t step down in any significant fashion the first time as we documented in our posts. By most accounts that I have read, he was back working for a church around 4 months later.
I wonder how long he will remain out of ministry this time?
My concern for Highpoint Church and their understanding of sex abuse is longstanding and give me pause as I consider the safety of members of that church.
I am glad they are reviewing their policies with MinistrySafe. I don’t know how that group handles underlying assumptions but there is no question in my mind that there is a theological, as well as a practical, problem in Highpoint’s view of confession of sin, repentance, restitution and restoration when it comes to sex abuse.
Sex abuse is not just another sin like cussing at the driver who cuts you off. It runs very deep and there is a reason that the *abuse* word is used and TV shows like Law and Order SVU stay on the air for 18 years. The abuser is troubled and the victim bears the scars for years.
This should not be treated as “all is forgiven, let’s get on with it.” All sins are forgiven with true repentance but some sins are crimes and many sins are so concerning that they are disqualifying. For example, school teachers, who are sex offenders, can never be teachers again. There is a reason for that. Why don’t churches have such rules?
I had a discussion with Highpoint’s Pastor Jim Pritchard in 2016. I have never forgotten it because red flags went up. This is from a post in11/2016 Highpoint Church Memphis Has a Convicted Statutory Rapist Leading Worship.
Pastor Pritchard told me that any instance of child sex abuse is a crime and it should be reported to the authorities. He then stated that the church wanted to bring healing to the victims and felt this could be accomplished by being reconciled with Scott Payne. This was not the intent of the victims and they expressed this in their responses.
However, there was a part of that conversation that kept niggling at the back of my mind. He also said, seemingly out of nowhere, that God could forgive anybody, even a pedophile and that God loves them and can heal them. I remember thinking, “Where did that come from?” and chalked it up to anxiety about the subject matter.
Yesterday, this conversation came back to me when I learned from Amy Smith and the three victims that Highpoint Church Memphis has a man who helps lead worship who was convicted of aggravated statutory rape in 2009 and is on the registered sex offender’s list.
Here is the issue. All sins are forgivable with true repentance but some sins are so bad that the person who commits them must not be given a front and center role. What does doing so say to those who are watching and have been abused, still suffering mightily from that abuse? At the time, I thought Pritchard was just talking about that offender. Could he have been thinking of Savage? Even worse, could he have been thinking about more people? Let’s see if MinistrySafe can figure this one out.
Why is Steve Bradley getting a pass?
Are there no people who can hold him accountable? Stonebridge is the church (renamed) who allowed for Jules Woodson to be so badly treated. Unless this is dealt with, Stonebridge appears to be a church which does not care about victims of abuse.
Many, many thanks to the many people who cared enough for Jules to be proactive in their support.
So many people helped this process. I remember staring in amazement at tweets a few days after our initial post. People were stating they were calling publishers, starting petitions, arranging for protests, etc. We didn’t ask for people to do this. To be perfectly truthful, I hadn’t even thought of it! We were just trying to figure out how to manage the unexpected hoopla with the media, etc.
I wonder if you all understand it was your compassionate response to Jules that got the attention of the nation. Many people saw your kindness and support which stood out in stark contrast to the hostility that came out of Highpoint Church. It gives me such hope that there are so many of us out here who want to see things change in the church. We need one another and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
In closing, a special thanks goes out to Julia Dahl who has been front and center in seeking justice in this situation.
Julia has been present on Twitter. She attended the protest. And she has a unique talent besides being a physician. She does infographics that are so helpful in understanding what people say.
I am a former Highpoint Church member (2004-2006). I have interacted directly with both Chris Conlee and Andy Savage. After a neighbor asked me to sign a petition to KEEP Andy Savage on staff, I read Jules statement and andy’s. I watched his statement to the church live and was astounded. During my quest to understand if Andy had actually undergone restoration, I listened to some of his sermons, read his blog and also came across the video about the origins of the church. The origins video is full of untruths. I spoke to the pastors that were at HP and pushed out for not thinking Andy Savage ready for eldership (and for disagreeing that HP should move out of the loop) about what they knew. One had confronted Andy and asked “what happened in Texas?” Andy didn’t even tell him about the kiss. He said nothing to the other one – and neither did Chris Conlee
I am going to close with a sampling of her infographics on Andy Savage’s resignation statement. Many people on Twitter remarked at how good and helpful these have been. Julia says:
“Written statements are generally used to provide a specific message. The content of written statements is planned and often these statements undergo legal review. Dissection of a written statement may be considered by some to be nitpicking. A review of selected language contained in a written statement for the image repair theory tactic used is a valuable tool to discern both content and intent.”
Updated Mar 22, 2018 by GBTC for minor typographic corrections.