Christians focus deeply on a narrative of sin and redemption, but that theme can complicate how church leaders respond to sexual misconduct within their own ranks. Heartfelt confessions and a celebration of divine forgiveness may not be enough.
That challenge was made clear for some evangelicals earlier this month when a young Tennessee pastor, Andy Savage, stood before his congregation and emotionally confessed to what he called "a sexual incident" in 1998 with a 17-year-old girl, Jules Woodson.
In an abuse survivors' blog, Woodson wrote that Savage, then a youth pastor at a different church, had pressured her to perform oral sex on him one night after offering to drive her home from a youth event. Woodson said Savage subsequently apologized but asked her never to tell anyone. She said she informed a senior pastor at her church who then told her that the church would deal with Savage on its own and that she should keep what happened to herself. Woodson revealed the incident, she said, only because she had emailed Savage about it recently and gotten no response.
In his January 7 appearance before his congregation, Highpoint Church in Memphis, Savage said he tried to handle his encounter with Woodson "in a Biblical way," in a belief that "God's forgiveness is greater than any sin." He became emotional as he spoke, looking down at his prepared remarks.