Monday, March 12, 2018

USA pastor Andy Savage sexual abuse case twenty years ago in Texas which was made public by victim Jules Woodson in end 2017/Jan 2018; How do spiritual healing and forgiveness happen in such situations?

Last updated on 14th March 2018

Warning: This post is about a sensitive sexual abuse matter. Readers who don't like to read such stuff may please skip reading (the rest of) this post.

Andy Savage is a USA pastor who misused his youth pastor position 20 years ago when he was 22, with a 17 year old girl congregant, and induced her to give him oral sex and he also touched her intimately.

The #MeToo movement made the now lady open up on the matter. She is furious with what she perceives to be an improper apology and an improper level of support for the pastor!

*) https://www.facebook.com/nytimes/videos/2099460743402204/ around 7 mins - Associated NYT article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/09/opinion/jules-woodson-andy-savage-assault.html

*) Has Victim's account too: http://watchkeep.blogspot.in/2018/01/silent-no-more-survivor-of-sexual.html, Jan 2018

*) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/01/10/a-pastor-admitted-a-past-sexual-incident-with-a-teen-his-congregation-gave-him-a-standing-ovation/

Some key points that strike me about this matter:
1) I congratulate the lady, Jules Woodson for having had the courage to go public with this matter. I pray that she gets the healing and comfort that she needs to handle her suffering.

2) Jules reported the matter to the evangelical church authorities then (1998) but the evangelical church authorities failed to take the matter seriously enough. As I understand it, the act was a crime committed by Savage who was an adult (22 years old), as Jules was a minor and so the concerned church authorities should have reported it to the police! Instead they tried to cover up the matter. Jules went through hell seeing that nothing was being done to Savage and so spoke out to a wider community in her church then (in 1998 itself). That saw to it that Savage was politely and decently let go from that church. Jules seems to have never got a proper apology from Savage then or from her church. Instead she seems to have been viewed as the wrongdoer! My view is that Jules put her faith in her youth pastor Andy Savage and so the main fault lies with Andy Savage for having induced her, though not forced her, to do the oral sex act with him. Jules at 17 saw that Savage was not being punished properly for his act, and that seems to have created great anger and frustration in her.

3) Andy Savage seems to have realized his big mistake soon enough as he prayed to Jesus for forgiveness. But he did not seek forgiveness from Jules perhaps viewing her as an unimportant person and told her to take the incident to her grave. That was utterly unacceptable behaviour from Andy Savage. He should have sought forgiveness not only from Jules Woodson but also from her parents. That he did not do so, makes him appear not being sincere in his repentence then.

4) As the statute of limitations for this matter has passed, law enforcement cannot come into the picture now. So my understanding is that neither Andy Savage nor the authorities in the church to whom Jules had reported the matter, will face any law enforcement consequences for their action/inaction. The pastor to whom Jules had reported the matter in 1998, after this matter became public now, resigned from his ministry. https://www.christiantoday.com/article/pastor-who-failed-to-report-andy-savage-sexual-assault-allegation-resigns/126094.htm, dated 20th Feb. 2018 states that the pastor (Larry Cotton) wrote in a letter (in Feb. 2018) to his church, "I now understand that I did not do enough to serve Jules and help her feel protected and cared for. I understand that I failed to report the sexual abuse – I wish I had reported to the proper authorities".

5) Andy Savage has now in early 2018 repented in public for the incident and sought forgiveness from Jules Woodson, after Jules Woodson went public with the matter in Dec. 2017/Jan. 2018. Andy Savage is now married and has five children. His upcoming book, 'The Ridiculously Good Marriage' has been cancelled by his publisher, https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/2018/01/09/publisher-cancels-book-memphis-pastor-andy-savage-over-sex-assault-allegations/1017558001/. The article also states, 'The victim, Jules Woodson, says, meanwhile, that she is "disgusted" by Savage's public apology and doesn't agree that the matter was "dealt with" at the time as Savage suggested.'

6) Jules Woodson says that the (evangelical) church's attitudes and culture to such crimes/incidents have to change.

Now about some thoughts of mine about this matter:

a) If Andy Savage, who was a youth pastor at the time the crime/incident had happened, had followed something like the Billy Graham rule and ensured that he was not alone with a (17 year old) girl (not his wife, of course), then he would have not fallen victim to this temptation.

b) The evangelical church response to cover up the matter and protect the youth pastor, Andy Savage, and the church's reputation, was ***wrong*** and seems to have been a violation of the law of the state (Texas) then.

c) Now in early 21st century, my view is that all religious institutions around the world should follow strict code of reporting such incidents of adult pastor/preacher/spiritual teacher having sex with minor congregant/follower, to the police in places where it is a crime (most places in the world, I guess) and to appropriate other authorities (like human rights commissions) in places where it is not a crime. There should be ***NO*** cover-up.

d) From a repentance point of view, I think the pastor/preacher/spiritual teacher who has committed the act must genuinely seek forgiveness from the victim and his/her family. Without such seeking of forgiveness from the victim and his/her family, and a cover-up being done to suppress public knowledge of the bad act, if the pastor/preacher/spiritual teacher continues to do his/her ministry/spiritual teaching work then that pastor/preacher/spiritual teacher is a ***big sexual hypocrite***. Such hypocrisy will only lead to spiritual downfall and spiritual darkness, no matter how much outer world 'success' and fame, the pastor/preacher/spiritual teacher may seem to have got.

e) It seems to me that Jules Woodson was unable to stomach the fact that Andy Savage was able to lead a regular pastor's life without having made any apology to her and sought her forgiveness. She would have felt that it was a terrible injustice. And so she decided to expose the matter publicly with inspiration from the #MeToo movement. I think such feelings are very normal and very human. Those who have been victims of injustice typcially want justice to be delivered to the culprits who victimized them and especially cannot stomach such culprits leading a normal life as if they had done nothing wrong.

I personally have been a victim of abuse of power on some department/institution politics kind of matter (nothing as horrific as Jules Woodson being sexual abused). I reported the matter internally but no action was taken on the perpetrators, and neither did I get any apology from the perpetrators of abuse of power. I got disgusted and quit the institution. But it was only after a few years after I quit, when I went public with the matter, and then saw some impact on the perpetrators (though no apology from them), that I felt more comfortable! As justice was not being delivered by the organization bosses, I delivered justice to the perpetrators myself by going public with the matter. That brought some satisfaction to me. I think it must be the same with Jules Woodson though her suffering is far, far (orders of magnitude) more than the institution/department nasty politics thing that happened to me.

f) It is good that Andy Savage has publicly sought forgiveness from Jules Woodson, even if Jules Woodson is not at all satisfied with that seeking of forgiveness. I don't know what exactly Jules would like Andy Savage to do now, for her to forgive him. Perhaps the forgiveness that Andy Savage sought did not reflect that he really understood the hurt that Jules went through all these years due to his act. Perhaps the fact that he referred to it as only a (sexual) incident but not a crime, gave Jules the feeling that he was taking it lightly even now. This is a really tough situation, from a forgiveness point of view, IMHO.

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Terry Reis Kennedy wrote over email (and was OK with sharing):

Good, Ravi.  Thanks for this!

Though the statute of limitations had long run out in my case against the Catholic priest who had sexually used me and traumatized me severely from the age of 9 onwards.....by the Grace of Bhagawan, when my memories came back to me much later in life, in fact when I was living inside the ashram at Prasanthi Nilayam, I started therapy and eventually found a USA attorney to work pro bono on the case.  He often remarked, there is no statute of limitations on JUSTICE.

At any rate, you know the story.  But working with an ethical lawyer who will make mincemeat out of the statute of limitations "law" it's possible to fight for the victim and  get compensation for the damages......in most cases severe!      With God ....all things are possible.

Jai Sai Ram
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I (Ravi) responded (slightly edited):
Thanks for your response, Terry.

Yes, I have read the horrendous experiences you went through. I pray to God to give you healing and strength on this matter. At that time though I had not yet matured as a writer on spirituality & religion to publicly write about these topics. Now I think I am getting there.
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