An Open Letter to Andy Savage
(and any other silent pastors guilty of sexual misconduct)
I’ve watched the story unfold in the media. The victim, Jules, has come forward to speak after twenty years of silence, telling the story of her trusted youth pastor, good looking and single, who noticed her and sought her out, who took her for a drive and parked somewhere and unzipped his pants and asked her to suck his penis.
In all the postings I’ve read, you have not denied doing the things she has named. However, the statement posted by you on the Highpoint website, and read aloud in church today, is a prime example of why #SilenceisNotSpiritual is needed now for our churches.
Silence in the church has long been encouraged with phrases such as “incident”, “respond biblically,” and “trust the redemptive process.” When responding to sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, or any other type of abuse, these vague generalities minimize the harm done to the victim and continue to promote a culture of silence. Speaking the truth is to accurately name the reality of what happened.
Andy, based on the definition used by the Department of Justice, what you did to Jules constitutes rape: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” (Department of Justice ARCHIVES January 6, 2012)
Additionally, as a church staff member, you were a man in a position of trust and authority over Jules. You had power and influence. As a girl in your youth group, she was not in a position to “give consent.” You stated her age but concealed yours by referencing yourself as “a college student on staff.” This diminishes the reality of the situation and the part you played. The truth is simply that you were her youth pastor, she was a minor, and you raped her.
Your church leadership states that they stand with you, that they’ve had full knowledge of this event, as did your wife. I believe churches should stand by offenders in the full gravity of the truth and in taking responsibility for the violence that has been perpetrated, whatever the consequences include. I pray that Highpoint Church is committed to doing this with you and your family, yet a standing ovation in church does not honor Jules or you. Your actions then and your statement today are not worthy of an ovation. We don’t clap and stand. We weep, we wail, we grieve.
Today there are over 5,000 men and women committed to standing with you and Highpoint Church in saying NO to any further silence surrounding this event. #SilenceIsNotSpiritual is not designed to take down pastors—it is designed to implore the church to fully face the truth of abuse and care well for both victims and perpetrators. Silence, avoidance, and denial do not offer care for anyone.
Jules was and is your victim. She suffered at your hands, because of your sin. The ramifications are far reaching for her. She was marked and changed forever by your actions. She deserves for you to speak the truth and own the full impact of your choices. She deserves to receive professional help of her choosing and at your expense.
You may say, “What about grace?” or “What about forgiveness?” Great questions. There is grace available, and it will be experienced as you name the truth. The deeper you are willing to go in naming the specifics of your sin, the deeper your experience of God’s lavish grace will be. It would seem you have experienced forgiveness in some sense already, and more will come as you repent with greater specificity.
Any redemptive process that creates distance from naming truth is flawed and needs to be revisited. Your and Chris Conlee’s statement are anchored on the “redemptive process” you went through under church leadership in Texas twenty years ago. Though you have certainly done great good for God’s kingdom, this distancing ultimately further undermines and damages your credibility.
As a woman who cares deeply about healing what is tragically broken in our churches, as a woman committed to standing with victims and their perpetrators for the sake of the gospel, I ask that you revisit your redemptive process. It begins with using accurate words to name and take ownership of your past actions and then prayerfully considering how you and your current church leadership will compassionately respond to the woman who was your victim, then and now. Vaguely praying for her in front of your congregation is not helpful.