Jules Woodson accused Memphis magachurch minister Andy Savage of sexually assaulting her during a ride home in 1998. She was 17 at the time of the incident, and he was the 22-year-old youth minister at a Houston church. In a blog post on Watch Keep, Woodson described what happened. Savage had offered to drive her home, but took a detour into the woods.
“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 did it because I was scared and I was in shock and I didn’t understand what was happening. 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,” she wrote.
“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.’”
Woodson said that she told another pastor at the church, and he told her to follow Savage’s demand and keep quiet.
She said felt compelled to take action in light of the “Me Too” movement, and emailed Savage last month reminding him of the incident.
Last Sunday, a few days after Woodson finally went public, Savage told his throng, “As a college student on staff at a church in Texas more than 20 years ago, I regretfully had a sexual incident with a female high school senior in the church.” The Highpoint Church congregation stood and applauded for 20 seconds, CBS News reported.
“Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules,” Savage said during the service, which was streamed live online. “Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing.”
- That wasn’t a “sexual incident.” That was sexual assault. It wasn’t statutory rape, because the age of consent in Texas is 17.
Savage’s failure to accurately describe what happened, intentionally minimizing it to avoid accountability qualifies as deceit. His confession was neither brave nor praiseworthy.
- Since it was not an open and honest admission of wrongdoing, the apology is hollow. Using the Apology Scale, I’ll rate it a 9.5, somewhere between a 9...
9. Deceitful apologies, in which the wording of the apology is crafted to appear apologetic when it is not (“if my words offended, I am sorry”). Another variation: apologizing for a tangential matter other than the act or words that warranted an apology.
and a 10…
10. An insincere and dishonest apology designed to allow the wrongdoer to escape accountability cheaply, and to deceive his or her victims into forgiveness and trust, so they are vulnerable to future wrongdoing.
Savage apologized for an act that he deliberately misrepresented, and he’s attempting to “escape accountability cheaply.”
- Was he being cheered because he didn’t deny his victim’s claim? You get cheers for not lying now? What other choice did he have? What is so admirable about, “I’m so sorry about the conduct that I have done nothing about nor admitted for 20 years but now that you mention it, I’m sorry, and remember, it was 20 years ago and we all should be forgiving”?
Could he be more self-serving? Yecchh.
- What stands out for both its cowardice and stupidity is that when Woodson gave Savage a chance to deal with the situation by contacting him privately, he didn’t respond. In previous cases during the run of the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck, Ethics Alarms has criticized alleged victims of sexual abuse long past for going public before giving their abuser a last chance to make amends privately. Woodson gave Savage that courtesy, sending him an email that said, “Do you remember that night that you were supposed to drive me home from church and instead drove me to a deserted back road and sexually assaulted me?” He did nothing. She can’t be criticized for exposing him publicly after that.
As for Savage, he didn’t tell his congregation that his victim had reached out to him privately first. Would they have cheered him if he had? Oh, probably. The Lord is All Forgiving, after all. Creeps like Savage teach that, and rely on it. He even said that before Ms. Woodson took her story public, he believed that the episode had been “dealt with in Texas.” That was another lie, because if it had been dealt with in Texas—which it hadn’t been—why did he think she contacted him last month?
- Savage’s conduct with the 17-year-old, trusting, stunned Woodson is truly repulsive. He gets what he wants, then quickly plays the horrified, repentant sinner, begging for compassion and forgiveness, while demanding that she keep silent forever for his sake. He’s the victim, somehow. Nice routine. I wonder how many other times he pulled it off. He had apologized later to Woodson’s mother without explaining what he was apologizing for—she had the impression that he had stolen a kiss—then soon he left the church and the state.
This is known as “running away.”
- It certainly seems as if Woodson’s conduct could not have been more ethically impeccable. She says she informed Larry Cotton, an associate pastor of the church, The Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church, about what had happened, and he urged her not to inform the authorities, promising that the church would address the episode internally. Cotton apparently did nothing. He is now a director at a church in Austin, Texas, and that church has placed him on leave while it investigates “his qualification for his current role of leadership.”
Once again, a religious institution betrayed the innocent victim of abuse by one of its moral leaders. I would love to know what Jules Woodson’s current relationship with organized religion is.
- The situation where someone engages in sexual misconduct and it remains unreported and unresolved years later is still ethically murky. It is not ethical for a victim to hold the episode over the head of her (or his) abuser, like the sword of Damocles, until a public revelation will do the most damage or perhaps glean the most publicity, speaking fees, or revenge. On the other side of the ledger, it is not ethical for the abuser to go on as if all is forgotten and forgiven when he (or she) has done nothing to earn either. Savage had 20 years to make amends to Woodson, and she gave him a final chance when she contacted him. He still tried to avoid accountability.
He should not have been applauded.
And now we wait to see if there were other victims in that 20 year period, and if there are, how long his flock will keep applauding.
Pointer: Neil Dorr