Mr. Andy Savage,
You and your church appear to need help writing an appropriate sexual assault perpetrator response.
Your infuriating attempt to avoid responsibility perpetuates rape culture and fails at bringing about the healing you claim you want for your victim.
If you are truly sorry for your sins and really want to make a confession to your church, please let me help you with your response.
I’d prefer to start from scratch but In an effort to begin where you left off, I modified the transcript of your message to your congregation.
Senior Pastor: Highpoint Church, at all of our locations, everybody watching online, we need to share with you a very serious sin and a crime committed by one of our staff; and how this church responded and ways we violated your safety and trust.
If you are a guest, I am embarrassed and ashamed of our actions. I do pray that if you are a guest, that if you are online, I pray that what you will witness today will give you confidence that we will take all reports of inappropriateness seriously.
Warning: What we are about to share will be graphic and may be a PTSD trigger for anyone who has witnessed or experienced any type of sexual assault.
This is not a discussion appropriate for children. We have child therapists meeting with the children sharing a more age appropriate message.
We do have professional counselors here and at our call center to talk with you about what we are about to share.
Also, we will take a few moments to allow anyone who does not wish to hear this message to logoff or leave.
Now we will have a female professional counselor read the victim’s story in the victim’s own words.
One evening, in the early Spring of 1998, I was hanging out with my youth minister, Andy Savage, at my church, Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church located at 10801 Falconwing Drive. I was 17 years old at the time and a senior at The Woodlands High School. There had been multiple kids there at the church after school, but as the night got later I was the only student left, alone in the church with Andy. I did not have a vehicle at the church, so Andy offered to take me home to my Mom’s house.
It was dark outside. As he was driving me towards my home, he passed the turn he should have made to go to my house. I asked him where he was going. I don’t remember his exact response, but it was something along the lines of ‘you’ll see’ or ‘it’s a surprise.’ I know for sure he did not tell me where he was taking me. I remember feeling special and excited, as in my mind, he obviously wanted to spend more time with me before taking me home. I assumed we were going to get ice cream.
*He turned onto a dirt road and continued to drive. There were trees all around. I could not see the main road anymore, from which he turned from. I asked what was back here. He told me they were building a church. I thought, maybe that’s what this was about, maybe he has some secret to tell me, like perhaps he was moving to another church. We reached a dead end and he turned the truck around before putting it in park. We were stopped, and he turned the headlights off. Suddenly, Andy unzipped his jeans and pulled out his penis. He asked me to suck it. I was scared and embarrassed, but I did it. I remember feeling that this must mean that Andy loved me. He then asked me to unbutton my shirt. I did. He started touching me over my bra and then lifted my bra up and began touching my breasts.
After what I believe to have been about 5 minutes of this going on, he suddenly stopped, got out of the truck and ran around the back and to my side before falling to his knees. I quickly buttoned my shirt back up and got out of the truck. Now I was terrified and ashamed. I remember him pleading, while he was on his knees with his hands up on his head, ‘Oh my god, oh my god. What have I done? Oh my god, I’m so sorry. You can’t tell anyone Jules, please. You have to take this to the grave with you.’ He said that several times. My fear and shame quickly turned to anger. I had just been manipulated and used. I swore to him I wouldn’t tell anyone just to get him to stop. We both got back in the truck. As he drove me home, I don’t remember there being any conversation. I was in shock.
As soon as I got home, I went straight to bed. I couldn’t fall asleep fast enough. Please God, let this all be a bad dream, I thought. Yet the hurt I was beginning to feel soon snapped me back into reality. This was no bad dream, this was a living nightmare. The secret quickly began to eat away at my soul. I couldn’t concentrate at school. I couldn’t think about anything else. The fear, shame, anger and hurt consumed me. As embarrassing as it would be for me to tell all the ‘dirty’ details of this horrible secret, I had no other choice. What happened to me was not right nor had it been my fault. I had to report this. Little did I know, the very people I was about to entrust to protect me and help me would not only victimize me all over again but would also engage in a cover up to protect my abuser and the image of the church.
Larry Cotton was the Associate Pastor of Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church at the time. Steve Bradley was the head pastor. I mustered up the courage to go tell them what happened. For some reason, Steve wasn’t available, so I only spoke with Larry. I remember asking him if I could speak privately with him and he said yes. I started out by saying something awful had happened to me. I was already crying. Somehow, I felt brave enough to tell Larry every detail of what had happened with Andy. I was mortified but I thought I was doing the right thing as both Larry and Steve were over Andy in the church and I was way too embarrassed and scared to tell anyone else, especially my own parents.
Just as I had finished telling my story, Larry immediately spoke up and asked me to clarify. He said something to the effect of, ‘So you’re telling me you participated?’ I remember feeling like my heart had just sunk to the floor. What was he asking? More importantly, what was he trying to imply? This wave of shame came over me, greater than I had ever felt before. I had just gotten done telling him everything that Andy, my youth pastor, asked me to do. I didn’t say that I screamed no, jumped out of the car and ran into the dark forest because I hadn’t. I told him that Andy had asked me to perform oral sex and unbutton my shirt and I did. Every ounce of courage I had gathered, to walk in there and tell Larry the truth about what had happened to me, left in an instant. Not only did I suddenly feel this immense guilt for doing what Andy had asked me to do but I also started to feel that this was my fault somehow because I didn’t stop him.
As you might imagine, I was beyond overwhelmed at the myriad of emotions I was feeling. I remember Larry telling me that he would have to share with Steve all that I had told him. I asked what was going to happen next and he said that him and Steve would be talking to Andy and that the church would be handling the situation. He told me not to speak with Andy and said that he would be telling Andy not to speak with me as well. Through the tears, I told him that I was too embarrassed to tell my Mom what had happened. He said not to worry, that they would talk to my Mother as well. He then told me not mention anything that had happened to anyone else. It was very clear to me that I was not to say a word to anyone.
As days passed I remember feeling more and more hopeless. I was confused as it seemed that Andy got to go about his day to day life, within the church and outside of it, as though nothing had ever happened. In fact, he led a 2-day event at the church, known as True Love Waits, promoting sexual purity not only in abstinence from intercourse before marriage but also abstinence in any physical contact, actions and thoughts which might lead to sexual arousal. The irony had not been lost on me. Yet, here I was sinking deeper and deeper into this pit of depression. I had no where to go, no one to talk to. After all, I was given one job by the person I had sought help from (Larry,) and that was to keep my mouth shut.
Not long after, I was meeting at the church with my all female discipleship group. I hadn’t had much interest in even being at church since everything that had happened but, deep down, I think I was just seeking some sort of solace in my faith for all the pain and hurt I was going through. Something came over me that night. I remember feeling disgusted and frustrated. What happened to me was not right! Why were my pastors not listening?! As if a final breath of courage filled my lungs, I opened my mouth and began to share some of what had happened to me. Looking back now, I know without a doubt, it was a cry for help. Tears ran down my cheeks. I remember feeling a slight sense of relief as this was no longer just a secret between myself, Andy, Larry and Steve. However, I too remember feeling as though I had just played my last card. I knew I had broken the rules of silence and that there would be consequences to my actions.
Word got back to Larry and Steve, almost immediately, that I had shared some things with my discipleship group. Now they had to do something. The youth group had a ski trip coming up and they announced to the families that Andy would not be going. Rumors were starting to spread that something had happened between myself and Andy. People thought/assumed that we had exchanged an ‘innocent’ kiss. The church, however, never came out with an official statement addressing what had happened and/or what was being done about it. Instead, they held a going away reception for Andy at the church in which he was allowed to simply say that he had made a poor decision and that it was time for him to move on from our church. Many people came to love on him, support him and say their goodbyes. There were hugs shared and tears shed. No one truly knew why he was leaving except myself, Andy, Larry and Steve. The gossip amongst my church family only continued to flourish. No one could imagine Andy doing anything bad or immoral, much less illegal, and so, it somehow became my fault that Andy was leaving.
I couldn’t have been more grateful that it was the spring of my senior year as all I wanted to do was to leave town and get away from everything and everyone. I had basically shut down. I felt so alone. It wasn’t until much later that I would realize that no matter how far away I moved nor how much I tried to move on with my life, that I could never truly escape what had happened to me. For example, when I found out that the church had contacted my parents, years later, and asked their permission to bring Andy back on staff, it brought back a whirlwind of emotions. Of course, my parents said NO, but even learning of this was traumatizing. I am a grown woman now and although it’s been almost 20 years since everything happened, it still affects me to this day. There are triggers that take me back to that night, there are nightmares that haunt my dreams.
My hope in finally coming forward with my story is not only that I can begin to get closure and healing for all that has happened to me, but more so, that my story might have a positive impact on others and effect positive change in how these types of situations are handled within the church.
To anyone who has suffered from sexual abuse in the church and the subsequent cover up and pressure to remain silent, I want you to know that it is not your fault. Most importantly, I want you to know that you are not alone.
Senior Pastor: I know we are all shocked, perhaps scared, hurt and in a state of disbelief.
Imagine how difficult it has been for this young women to carry this burden.
She was very brave to share her story. And we believe her.
We will not act like her former church.
We all think we know Andy and may think we need to defend the man we thought we knew. We don’t.
We need to be a zero tolerance church.
However, we did not act appropriately when we first learned about what Andy did to this young teen. We only considered Andy’s version of what happened.
We did not investigate the allegations, seek input from the victim or consider the risks we took in hiring Andy Savage.
We were wrong for hiring Andy Savage.
We we’re reckless and careless with the safety and well-being of this congregation and our young people.
We were wrong for defending Andy Savage.
Andy Savage was in a position of power over the victim.
We gave him a position of power here. We should not have hired Andy Savage.
The victim did nothing wrong.
Andy Savage didn’t take her home.
The victim had no way to escape.
The victim didn’t do anything wrong.
Andy Savage took advantage of her trust. Andy Savage took advantage of her faith. Andy Savage took advantage of her innocence.
Andy Savage committed a crime.
Andy Savage no longer works for HighPoint. And has been reported to the authorities.
This is why we have our youth protection policy. We need to be a zero tolerance church. We need to put our policy in practice.
Andy, If you still want to make a statement to the congregation. Here is a more appropriate response.
Andy Savage: You heard my victim’s statement.
I don’t want to minimize anything because I’ve spent twenty years minimizing what I did and creating co-conspirators of my crime.
I sexually assaulted the victim as she described. I was a youth pastor at the church in Texas. I was her youth pastor. She was a youth.
I offered to drive her home and instead I sexually assaulted her. I tried to hide my crime and begged the victim not to tell anyone what I had done because I was ashamed of what I did. I made myself the victim.
I minimized my actions. I apologized without acknowledging what I had done. I lied to myself and everyone else. I presented myself as the victim. I’m not the victim.
Selfishly, in an effort to stay employed as a youth pastor, I sought approval of my actions from the victim, her parents, her discipleship group, the church staff, and the church leadership, and the congregation.
I did not respond in a biblical, legal, empathetic, compassionate, remorseful or remotely ethical way. I was only concerned about myself.
I took a short break from church ministry. I never accepted full responsibility for my actions. I was and remain very remorseful for being caught and for the assault being brought up again twenty years later.
I deeply regret the pain I caused myself and my family. I regret that I am not fit to be a minister.
Since I have difficulty being honest, with myself, and others, I may or may not have assaulted others before or after the assault we are discussing today.
I have not learned about consent.
I did not respect the boundaries of my profession and violated the safety of a minor.
The assault happened before Amanda and I were engaged and I lied to her about the assault. I pretended to tell her before I asked her to marry me. I told her I did something. I was not proud of the “incident” or “situation.” Therefore, by disclosing my version of the assault, I appeared honest, presented the incident as consensual and myself as a co-victim in the incident.
I was not a victim. I assaulted the victim.
I further lied to the senior pastor before coming on staff at Highpoint and lied about the incident to key leaders throughout my tenure. I made everyone I told a co-conspirator against the victim.
The truth about the assault is being brought up twenty years later because of the bravery of the victim.
I was wrong and I did not accept responsibility for my actions. I was sorry I was caught. And remain sorry I was caught.
When this happened 20 plus years ago, I did everything I knew to do minimize my behavior, repent for my feelings, avoid responsibility for my actions, and seek validation. I always sought to cover this up.
Finally, I should be held responsible for my actions. I should register as a sex offender and be charged of my crimes. I plead guilty.
As our senior pastor noted, I am no longer a called and ordained pastor. I will never again work with children or other vulnerable people.
I pray but do not deserve forgiveness.
Senior Pastor: [With arm around Andy]: The police are here. I will see you the third Wednesday of every month at the prison. Farewell brother.
We have professional counselors here for anyone who needs help processing what they’ve heard or needs to share their own story.
We were wrong for hiring Andy Savage. And placing him in a position of power.
We are a zero tolerance church.
Lord have mercy.
This is the link to what Andy Savage and his pastor actually said that led to his congregation giving him a standing ovation.