After Confessing to Sexually Assaulting a Teen, Pastor Receives Standing Ovation

When people question the existence of “rape culture” in the United States, the following story might serve as a disturbingly clear example of the problem at hand.

Speaking in front of his congregation, Pastor Andy Savage recently admitted to having “had a sexual incident” with a high school student over two decades ago. Savage currently serves as a minister for Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee, an evangelical megachurch.

Savage asked for forgiveness and in response those in attendance gave him resounding applause — and even a standing ovation.

Despite Savage’s ambiguous choice of words, the “incident” he mentions involved unwanted sexual contact with a 17-year-old named Jules Woodson. Woodson was a member of Savage’s church in Houston, Texas, at the time.

Savage’s recent admission followed Woodson’s description of the assault on her Christian blog. She says the night of the incident, Savage, then a 22-year-old youth minister, got on his knees to beg her to keep the matter a secret until the day she died.

Confused and stunned by what had happened, Woodson consulted another minister at the church. She says she was told to remain quiet about what had transpired. It wasn’t until the recent spread of the #MeToo movement that Woodson felt that she could no longer stay silent about her assault.

In response to these allegations, the lead minister of Savage’s current church, Chris Conlee, says he’s disappointed that Woodson “has not been on the same road to healing” as Savage.

The reactions from within these churches regarding Woodson’s assault should speak volumes.

In the immediate aftermath, not only did her abuser plead with Woodson to keep quiet and to essentially “just get over it,” but when she sought council from another church authority, they reinforced this (non) solution.

And it’s also telling that Savage rushed to try to get ahead of the story, appealing to Christian forgiveness with apparent success. Even Pastor Conlee’s remarks speak to a mentality that conveniently places “moving on” above holding sexual abusers accountable for their misdeeds.

Then again, church networks — especially larger ones — have deservedly earned a reputation for their propensity to force survivors into maintaining a painful silence while simultaneously shielding predators from any exposure or recourse. Of course, as the #MeToo movement has made all too clear, this isn’t anything unique to religious groups — it happens in institutions of all sorts which tend to be male-dominated and rely heavily upon a hierarchy of power, codified or not.

While Conlee might think that Woodson isn’t working toward healing, he couldn’t be more wrong. For survivors of sexual assault, one of the most empowering — but difficult — things to do is to make their experiences public and to name their victimizer.

Unfortunately, Savage will face no criminal legal consequences whatsoever. However, exposing this man — and serving as a brave example for other silenced survivors to emulate — should not be underestimated for its value.

Photo Credit: Ben White/Unsplash

103 comments

Susanne R
Susanne R1 months ago

He admitted to his congregation that he sexually assaulted a woman when she was a teenager because if he hadn't, he was afraid that she would. And his confession is greeted by applause? Were there any self-respecting women present? The fact that all the ministers the woman turned to for help when she was a teenager advised her to keep her "secret" is not at all comforting. The "good ole boys club" exists even within the church. So, who can you trust?

SEND
Jim V
Jim Ven3 months ago

thank you

SEND
Jim V
Jim Ven3 months ago

thank you

SEND
Jerome S
Jerome S3 months ago

thanks for sharing

SEND
Jerome S
Jerome S3 months ago

thanks for sharing

SEND
Daniel N
Daniel N3 months ago

Dreadful.

SEND
KimJ M
KimJ M3 months ago

Wth :(

SEND
Carl R
Carl R4 months ago

Thanks!!!

SEND
Carl R
Carl R4 months ago

Thanks!!!

SEND
One Heart i
One Heart inc4 months ago

Thanks!!!

SEND