Just a few days ago we wrote about Andy Savage, the pastor and co-founder of a Christian megachurch in Tennessee, who admitted in a statement that he had a “sexual incident” with a 17-year-old girl decades earlier. He made the statement only after she called him out in a private email and public blog posts. Now, Savage has issued an “apology” to his congregation, and they gave him a standing ovation for it.
The victim, Jules Woodson, wrote that Savage sexually assaulted her — coercing her into giving him oral sex — when he was supposed to be driving her home from church. Savage responded in his message that the “incident” took place “more than 20 years ago” — as if the fact that it happened long ago makes it less consequential. He then doubled down on that excuse by saying it in a speech to his congregation.
Savage spoke to his church about how he had “sinned” in the past but didn’t go into any details about what exactly happened.
On Sunday, Mr. Savage did not tell the congregation at Highpoint Church what took place in 1998, but he said that he had sinned, taken responsibility for it and never kept it a secret from church leaders. He said that before Ms. Woodson took her story public, he believed that the episode had been “dealt with in Texas.”
“Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules,” Mr. Savage, 42, said during the service, which was streamed live online. “Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing.”
Savage said the words “I am deeply sorry,” but his apology was filled with excuses, justifications, and attempts to side-step the real issue. He never stated any specifics and talked about how he thought he had no “unfinished business” with his victim. He even said he took “responsibility” for his actions, despite the fact that he never turned himself in to any real authorities. Telling your church leaders isn’t the same thing.
The worst part is that the megachurch congregation didn’t respond by condemning Savage, or supporting Woodson, or walking out of church in protest. Instead, they stood up and applauded his supposed courage:
SAVAGE: Since then I have tried to live my life in keeping with that original act of repentance. For any painful memories or fresh wounds this has created for anyone, I am sorry, and I humbly ask for your forgiveness. I love you all very much.
CONGREGATION: [Cheers and applause. Standing ovation.]
Savage may still have the support of his congregation, but will he get what he actually deserves? He claimed earlier that his church was already aware of what happened decades earlier, but he added that they didn’t feel it was necessary to bring in actual law enforcement to address the problem. Now, the victim has forwarded the information to the police. She says she’s going to press charges.
Maybe he’ll get more than a standing ovation after all.