Former Highpoint Church Teaching Pastor Andy Savage, who criticized the #ChurchToo movement as "very attacking" after he was forced to resign in 2018 over a 20-year-old sexual assault involving a teenage parishioner while he was her youth pastor, has launched a new church and his victim isn’t happy about it.
“Devastating news today. My abuser is back in the pulpit,” Savage’s victim Jules Woodson announced in a tweet Saturday. Her message also shared a tweet from Amy Smith, a sexual abuse survivor advocate, which included a recording of a recent sermon from Savage preaching at his new Grace Valley Church in Memphis, Tennessee. The website for the church is now just collecting information from potential members through a Google form.
Woodson's tweet attracted support from popular Bible teacher Beth Moore and others.
“Jules, I can’t imagine how devastating that must be. I am so sorry,” Moore tweeted at Woodson’s announcement.
“Thank you Beth. I am heartbroken and angry. Jesus weeps,” Savage’s victim replied. Moore responded: “Yes, He does, Darling.”
Savage was forced by #ChurchToo activists to publicly discuss his past in early January 2018 after an online uproar over revelations by his now adult victim, Woodson, who told The Wartburg Watch that he coerced her into performing oral sex on him on a dark Texas dirt road some 20 years ago.
Savage maintained that the sex between him and the teenage Woodson was consensual. Following a time of reflection during a leave of absence after the story gained national attention, however, Savage said he came to a different conclusion which he believes required his resignation.
"As I've reflected during my leave of absence, I have come to see that many wrongs occurred in 1998. The first was my inappropriate relationship with Jules, which was not only immoral, but meets the definition of abuse of power since I was her youth pastor; therefore, when our relationship became physical, there could be no claim of mutual consent. Another wrong was the failure to follow due process afterward; Jules deserved, and did not get, a full investigation and proper response 20 years ago," he said in a March 2018 statement.
On Monday, Woodson explained in another tweet that she is growing more frustrated and angry over Savage’s return to ministry as she continued to garner support online.
“Thank you to everyone who has offered encouragement & support over the last couple of days. I am hanging in there. My shock and sadness is turning to frustration and anger. What we are seeing, should not be...Not for me, not for any survivor. I will not stay silent! #ChurchToo”
In his October message, Savage said: “The whole premise behind the name of Grace Valley Church is based on the idea that grace flows down. Grace never flows up and God’s word tells us that. The Bible says God gives grace to the humble but He opposes the proud. Grace will always flow down which means if we are going to experience the grace of God in our lives we have to recognize him in our valleys, in our struggles, in our difficulties.”
He explained that he began thinking about the chance at returning to ministry just months after his resignation, after considering the majority of people who were struggling in the valley.
“Nearly a year ago. I had this thought. If I ever get back into ministry again, I’m not gonna do what I did before. I don’t want to live a ministry where I let people’s struggles go out of sight, out of mind. I don’t want to pretend that basically everybody is doing ok and a few of you are struggling because that’s just not reality. And part of embracing life as we get it, it is that we have to accept reality,” Savage said.
Savage said not understanding that God does his best work in valleys is a truth many people need to understand and not resist.
“More people are struggling than those that aren’t. There are more people in a valley than those that aren't in a valley. In fact, I would even say that the people that think they are not in a valley, they are confused. They really don’t realize that they’re in a valley. They’re in denial, they are not looking around, something, they’re not paying attention,” he said.
Shortly after he resigned, Savage went on to criticize the #ChurchToo movement as "very attacking" while praising the movement's secular #MeToo counterpart as a "more biblical response" to sexual misconduct in the church.
"I was encouraged by what's coming out of the #MeToo movement, the sense of seeking a balanced voice," Savage told Mother Jones. "I feel like the #ChurchToo movement, what little I've seen and what's been related to me, is that there's not a real effort to seek a balanced voice in terms of all sides of the issue. It feels, at least from my perspective, it feels very aggressive and very attacking."