Note: Normally, I don’t write about topics like this, but this is really important. I talk about sexual assault, so if that triggers terrible memories or feelings in you, you may want to consider not reading this.
We are living in strange times. Really, really strange times. Disturbing times, actually.
Last week, megachurch pastor Andy Savage told his congregation that in 1998, he was involved in a “sexual incident” with a 17-year old girl in the youth group he pastored. After acknowledging the “incident”, he “apologized” publicly (I’m using quotes intentionally here) for the hurt he caused.
In response, the congregation gave him a 20 second standing ovation.
This is wrong and ungodly on so many levels. I’ve seen first-hand the absolutely devastating effects that sexual assault has on a person. And let’s be clear, it was sexual assault, not a “sexual incident”. He forced a 17-year old girl to doing something sexual to him that she did not want to do.
Let’s be even more clear. This was rape. The very definition of rape is forcing someone to engage in any form of sexual intercourse without their consent, which is exactly what happened.
That is wicked. That is sin.
I don’t know whether Andy Savage has repented to God for his sin, but what is clear is that he hasn’t truly owned his actions, doesn’t understand the catastrophic damage he has caused, and hasn’t suffered the appropriate consequences for what he’s done.
His “apology” wasn’t an apology or repentance. It was a faint acknowledgement that he was involved in something wrong in the past and also a defense that it had already been “handled within the church”.
What’s also clear is that many, many Christians don’t understand the nature of sexual assault. I know for certain that I don’t understand it like I need to, but I’m trying to learn and trying to do a better job of speaking up for those whose lives have been destroyed by it.
For the past 20 years, Andy Savage has continued on with his life as if nothing happened. He hasn’t been held back in ministry. He currently pastors a megachurch, and presumably has received the benefits associated with such a position. He was in the process of writing a book titled The Ridiculously Good Marriage, although that contract has since been canceled.
Meanwhile, his victim has had to carry the crushing weight of the assault for the past twenty years. She never received an apology. She never saw Andy Savage receive appropriate consequences for his actions. She never received the spiritual, emotional, and psychological help she needed to move forward. She was even made to feel like she was an active and equal participant in the assault, which is utterly deplorable.
(Note: this all comes from her personal notes on the matter. I’m not linking to it due to the graphic nature of it. It can be easily found if you want the details).
As she noted in a blog post she wrote:
As days passed [after the assault] 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.
This is grievous to God. Sexual assault utterly appalls him. A confession of sexual assault is not something to be applauded. Yes, we can be grateful that the event has come to light, but we shouldn’t be applauding a man for a half-hearted confession that should have happened twenty years ago. There is nothing admirable or praiseworthy in admitting you raped someone only after that person goes public with their story.
Romans 12:9 says, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” When we learn that a youth pastor raped a young girl, we should feel appalled. We should respond in the same way we would if we learned that he got away with murder twenty years earlier. It should be abhorrent to us. There should be no ovations, no applause, no commendations for “coming clean”.
Our immediate reaction should be to run to the defense of the victim and insist that she receive the justice and protection she deserves.
Can Andy Savage have his sin forgiven by the blood of Christ? Of course. But forgiveness from God doesn’t mean freedom from consequences. When David committed adultery and murder, God forgave him and still unleashed horrendous consequences upon him.
If the church is going to function as God intended, we need to take stand against sin in our midst. We need to take sexual assault and rape seriously and deal severely with it.
If we don’t, we’re worse than the unbelieving world.