SNAP sees red flags in Memphis megachurch’s support of pastor accused of sexually assaulting teenager
For immediate release Wednesday, January 10, 2018
SNAP applauds Jules Woodson for speaking out about what happened between her and Reverend Andy Savage in 1998 when she was 17 years old. At the time, Savage was the youth pastor at Woodson’s church, Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. The #MeToo movement inspired Woodson to confront Savage and to go public with her truth.
But the church’s response is full of red flags that concern those of us who monitor the sexual abuse of minors in religious communities, and that should concern everyone who wants to see minors protected and perpetrators exposed and kept from harming other young people. Though Woodson reported Savage’s assault to her church leaders in Houston, she said that they initially covered up the assault -- until she told her story to an all-woman discipleship group in the church.
At that point, the church acted and Savage was removed from the church’s youth ministry position. But as Woodson pointed out, the church never made a public statement about what had taken place, and it hosted a going-away reception for the youth pastor.
Savage is now a teaching pastor at Highpoint megachurch in Memphis, and that church’s leadership team indicated that it had long known about Savage’s past — though it’s not clear that members of the congregation had been alerted to the story before the information was posted on SNAP Leader Amy Smith’s Watch Keep blog and the Wartburg Watch blog. Furthermore, Highpoint’s leadership team stated that it is standing by Savage.
To echo Oprah Winfrey in her recent Golden Globes speech, time is now up for this kind of behavior on the part of leaders of religious groups. Time is up on the refusal of church leaders to pay serious attention to those who report sexual abuse by church workers. Time is up on covering up that sexual abuse, and transferring abusive church leaders to new positions where they can harm young people all over again.
Time is up on giving priority to the feelings and needs and lives of church leaders abusing minors, and ignoring the feelings and needs and lives of those sexually assaulted by church leaders when they were minors. If the #MeToo movement is proving anything, it is proving that, when religious leaders will not listen to those who experienced sexual assault in religious contexts as minors, the community at large will do so — and, increasingly, victims of sexual assault will not be silent about what they have endured.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 25,000 members. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Melanie Jula Sakoda (925-708-6175, firstname.lastname@example.org), Amy Smith (281-748-4050, email@example.com), Joelle Casteix (949-322-7434, firstname.lastname@example.org), or Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP Executive Director (314-503-0003, bdorris@SNAPnetwork.org)