Highpoint appears to be grasping this lesson. Shortly after the January 7 service, the church announced it was placing Savage on a leave of absence and hiring a third party to conduct an investigation.
Lesson 5: Don’t Make the Perpetrator Into a Hero
The problem that a lot of people have pointed out with Highpoint’s handling of the resurfaced allegations is that Savage was literally applauded by the congregation after he admitted he had a “sexual incident” with Woodson. He was given a platform to make his case for why he was still fit to lead and the church leadership was determined to stand behind him. It would have been better for Highpoint to ask for an investigation immediately and honestly consider whether Savage was still fit to lead before addressing the congregation.
Savage’s first church in Houston also appeared to lift him up as an example. After informing the pastor, Cotton, of the “incident,” Woodson says Savage was still allowed to teach. Finally, after Woodson told more people, the church leadership acted. Savage resigned and decided to go back home to Memphis. The way this was presented to the church, however, was troublesome. Woodson recalls, “Andy was allowed to go before the church and basically say that he had made a mistake and that it was time for him to move on.”
Lesson 6: Don’t Blame the Victim
This last lesson applies more to Savage’s first church in Houston than it does to Highpoint. In her interview, Woodson says, “because no one was saying the severity of what had happened, I was being blamed. It was—in their eyes—a consensual sexual sin.”
The fact of the matter is a 17-year-old in a youth group cannot give consent to become sexually active with the youth leader. Savage now sees this as meeting “the definition of abuse of power.”
Woodson sums up the situation best in her interview:
“The church of all places should be getting this right. It’s unfathomable to me that the secular world—Hollywood—are taking a stand. The church should have been the first group to stand up and say ‘We will not allow this.’ ”
Honestly, this is not an easy situation for the church to navigate. It’s encouraging to see churches like Highpoint admitting when they’ve missed the mark and committing to educating themselves so they can do better next time. Unfortunately, any organization that deals with people is going to have to handle sexual assault and allegations of abuse. The question is not “if” but “how” will we respond?
By the grace of God, I hope we can get it right.