Another story came out this week about another pastor who had sexually abused a minor. The victim, a 17-year-old girl, immediately came forward to Andy’s bosses, and she was asked, “so you’re telling me you participated?” She was told that she was responsible too and not to tell anyone. Afterward, Andy was asked to resign. He complied, but nobody knew what for. His abuse was covered up by the church and was never known. A church tried to hire him again a few years later, and he later became a megachurch pastor.
A couple of days ago, the victim, gave the account of her harrowing experience and has decided to press charges, the perpetrator, Andy Savage, admitted his crime to his church to standing ovation.
This is not the first time the church has covered up sexual abuse. There are stories about it all over the internet, and if you really want to be disturbed, watch the documentary the Keepers on Netflix.
It puts us Christians in an interesting place.
I have no desire to hate on the church, to point out her flaws to the world, but I do feel compelled to be honest about the damage her members and non-members alike have received at the hands of those in authority.
I feel compelled to talk about the message that sends to the world and speak to the world about Jesus, and how his church does not necessarily represent his character.
Churches don’t have total control in preventing things like this from happening, but we absolutely can control the way we respond to it. We need to own up to our sins to the world, we need to have systems in place that side with the victim, not those in a position of power. Maybe if we did, the world would be more interested in Jesus.
Of course, people don’t want to come to church when they see her hiding her sins, and protecting perpetrators at the cost of victims. In what way is the church a refuge if we continue to act like this? Why would people want to come if people see news stories of churches covering sin up?
I get it, it doesn’t happen at most churches, but for the times it does, let’s publically hold perpetrators accountable, let’s publically show how the church is a protector, like Jesus.
Jesus cared about the oppressed, the abused, those living in poverty, and minorities. And for people reading the news, it looks like the church doesn’t.
And I get the case for forgiveness, I do. Forgiveness is absolutely essential in order for this world to function. And I am glad that people of the church are able to forgive Andy Savage, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to be held accountable for his actions, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have to serve jail time for what he did.
I also find it hard to cope with the fact that the church is so willing to forgive and accept men who sexually abuse children, but doesn’t offer the same kind of forgiveness and understanding to members of the church who interpret scripture differently than they do. Look at the way that the prominent religious leaders ousted people like Rob Bell and Jen Hatmaker, pulling their books from the shelves and effectively ousting them from the Christian circle while protecting and embracing men like Andy Savage.
These stories are not about grace and forgiveness, they are about control, and the world can see it. I can see it, so we’ve got to talk about it.
What message do you think it sends to the world when white Christians in Alabama voted and publically supported a man who had sexually assaulted minors? What message do you think it sends when mega-church pastors are applauded for admitting sexual assault of minors? What message do you think it sends when white evangelicals elect a president who has bragged about sexual assault, regularly uses racist language and takes away systems that help the poor?
Sure, I guess you could argue that there is no substantial proof Roy Moore sexually assaulted girls, that people were applauding for the confession, not the act, that voting for a man who brags about sexual assault was the moral choice.
But those arguments show one thing: that many evangelicals are more apt to defend their poor choices than listen to how to how they are perceived by the world. In doing so, they are forgetting that they are meant to represent Jesus.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is when Jesus saves the woman caught in adultery. The religious leaders at that time threw her out on the street to stone her (and this begs the question what of the man? he was equally guilty) and wanted Jesus to condemn her.
In response, Jesus wrote in the sand, and the men who accused her dropped their stones and left. It never says what he writes, but whatever it was led the men ready to stone this woman in public suddenly drop their stones. There is some speculation here that he wrote the names of the men who were about to stone her.
There’s context here that I never knew about until reading Rob Bell’s book “What is the Bible?” (I get that he’s controversial, doesn’t mean we can’t learn from him.) This “adulterous” woman was thrown onto the street during the Feast in the Tabernacles, a time when the religious leaders and rabbis of the time repeat or chant Jeremiah 13:17 over and over again. The exact Hebrew translation is “all those who leave your way shall be put to shame (publicly embarrassed), those who turn aside from my ways will have their names written in the dust and blotted out”
Jesus knew this, and during this festival where these men were chanting that if they left God’s way, let their names be written in the dust Jesus bent down, and did what? He wrote in the dust. I think he wrote their names in the sand, reminding them that they had left God’s way in wanting to paint themselves as holy while condemning the rest of the world.
In fact, all over the new testament, we see Jesus over and over again standing up to religious authority, challenging it, and in doing so advocating for the poor. It doesn’t seem like he was not a fan of religious hierarchy, and surely he would not protect it at the cost of the victims of religious leaders.
So in light of recent events, I want the world to know that Jesus wouldn’t cover up sexual abuse in the church, he would talk about it, he would condemn it.
And I guess that’s why I’ve found the last year so incredibly difficult.
I felt like the church had betrayed me, and more so, betrayed Jesus in supporting sexual abusers and calling them “Christian.” When Trump was elected, I cried. I posted on Facebook that I was saddened and had several Christian “friends” reach out to me, letting me know they were praying for my soul and salvation, effectively ousting me from the Christian club.
And when they did that, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a Christian anymore, at least not the kind they were.
Not the kind that votes for men like Trump for their own political gain and benefits at the expense of women who had been assaulted, minorities from “s***hole” countries, and the poor who relied on government programs to get a small hand up to change their life around.
I struggled to come to Jesus because now there were two options left: either the Trump supporters were right about the kind of man Jesus was… or I was. Both scenarios terrified me… because even if I was right about Jesus, it meant that other people weren’t.
For months I struggled with intense anger toward them, until, finally, I realized I needed to forgive.
It was hard for me to see because it wasn’t an individual I was angry at, it was 80% of evangelicals that voted for him, many of whom were my friends and family. I had to learn to forgive systems that appeared to stomp on the poor for the gain of the rich.
I’d never had to forgive a system or a group of people before, and when I did, I realized that minorities had been doing it for a long time.
I don’t say this to condemn individuals who voted for Trump. Truly, I don’t.
I am trying to explain what the weight and gravity a Trump win at the hands of Christians held for me. I’m trying to explain what it meant to a lot of us.
I recently started seeing a Christian counselor to process Trump’s win, to try and understand why the betrayal felt so deep. Surely, something must be wrong that I was feeling so hurt, so angry.
When I spoke to her, she said that I wasn’t alone, that they had a huge spike in Christians coming to see a counselor after Trump was elected, precisely over this issue. I felt less alone.
She explained that I had felt betrayed and orphaned by the very institution that I had built my life around and that it was traumatizing.
Praise God that the story doesn’t end there.
I’ve recently been digging into my Bible and wrestling through scripture, talking it over with my husband every night. And it turns out Jesus is all about love, and with that, reconciliation.
I’m proud to say I haven’t left the church, and I still love her. I’m still deeply involved and supportive of my own church.
The church had a huge hand in shaping me, but I’m not going to let her forget her role in the world. And it’s not well represented by the leaders we have elected.
I find myself understanding the man Jesus was more and more each day, and that desire was catalyzed by a Trump win. So maybe his win was God’s will, who knows?
All I know is that Jesus is about love. He’s for the underdog, the victim, the oppressed, the poor, tax-collectors, and the prostitutes. And nothing seems to make him angrier than Pharisees claiming to know God while promoting and protecting themselves at the cost of everyone else.
Don’t believe me? Try reading the New Testament again. Read the gospels and see how Jesus interacted with the religious elite, how he lifted the outcasts, and how he changed everything. Try taking away the years of what you were taught it meant, and reading it for what it’s actually saying.
I think you’ll find Jesus isn’t well represented by the image the world sees of the church today.
Church, we’ve got to do better, because the world needs Jesus, and we’re pushing the world further and further away when we misrepresent the kind of man he is.
And now I’m crying because I know how much Jesus means to me. I know how he walked me through the hardest times in my life. I know his kindness, his compassion, his grace. I know a love so deep it makes me physically shake, but people aren’t going to see that when the institution meant to represent him protects and supports sexual predators.
The Church isn’t God, and I needed to remember that before I could find him again.
Today I’m praying for myself and the church. May we represent Jesus better.