The NYTimes recently resurfaced the video of pastor Andy Savage’s public apology at Highpoint Church in Memphis for sexually abusing Jules Woodson when he was her youth pastor. In it, he characterized his assault as a “sexual incident.”
The congregation gave him a standing ovation.
This latest version of the video, titled “I was Assaulted; He was Applauded,” included Woodson’s commentary. She was seventeen at the time of the assault. [please see the editor’s note at the bottom of this page]
The #MeToo movement gave Woodson the moral courage to voice her story even though the statute of limitations had expired. Her story is a vivid reminder that sexual abuse is not confined to secular settings. It happens inside the church. Sometimes sexual assault is inflicted by a trusted church leader. All too often other leaders compound the trauma by circling the wagons to cover-up and protect the perpetrator and the ministry involved. Victims are often re-abused by being disbelieved, pressured to forgive, forget, and move on, or when leaders a victim turns to for help simply fail to act.
All this without involving law enforcement or professional counselors.
If there was ever any doubt about the church’s complicity in the #MeToo crisis, the damning flood of #ChurchToo tweets that followed on the heels of the #MeToo twitter storm exposed a serious internal church problem we can no longer ignore.
When the Church is Not a Safe Place
For many, former USA gymnast (now attorney) Rachael Denhollander has become the face of both #MeToo and #ChurchToo. Her #MeToo story made national news in the conviction of USA Gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar. She was the first to accuse him publically and she gave the last impact statement at his trial.
She became embroiled in the #ChurchToo crisis when she challenged prominent evangelical leaders for a sexual abuse cover-up she described as “widely recognized as one of the worst, if not the worst, instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse.”  The cover-up of abuse and the mistreatment she received for her advocacy for the victims led her to voice a conclusion many other women and girls in the church share.
“Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. . . . It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church.”
#MeToo Stories in the Bible can help
What is tragically ironic about these current reports of sexual abuse within the church is the fact that the Bible is full of #MeToo stories. Not only should we have been the first to name them, we should be at the forefront of the effort to address and prevent sexual violence against women and girls. Yet somehow we’ve managed to sanitize, spin, or skip these biblical #MeToo stories or else we blame the women involved. They haven’t stirred up righteous indignation in us or caused us to wrestle with these texts.
Abraham and Sarah’s desperation for a son is one of the best-known stories in the Bible. Yet do we ever stop to notice the sexual abuse of Hagar? Not only was she a trafficked slave girl, when Sarah and Abraham compelled her to be a surrogate for Sarah to produce the desired male heir with Abraham, she discovered sex was part of the deal.
The dysfunction of Jacob’s family and the warring between his wives and among his sons give us some of the Bible’s most gripping drama. But have we ever wondered how those stories played out for slave girls Bilhah and Zilpah, whose mistresses (Leah and Rachel) offered them up to a willing Jacob. They commandeered these young girls’ bodies (without their permission) in the desperate quest for sons.
We also have the #MeToo stories of Esther, the Tamars, Bathsheba, and plenty of others. 
The Healing Power of the Bible’s #MeToo Stories
These #MeToo stories give pastors the opportunity to raise awareness of the world’s tragic history of sexual abuse and violence against women and girls. It provides opportunities for pastors to acknowledge the trauma and pain that exists today among their own parishioners and to take intentional steps to make the church a place of safety, help, and healing.
Editor’s Note: Savage has since resigned from Highpoint and released a statement. Savage writes, “When Jules cried out for justice, I carelessly turned the topic to my own story of moral change, as if getting my own life in order should help to make up for what she went through and continues to go through.”
 Christianity Today interview: “My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness”
 Sandra Glahn, ed., Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible