Sexual assault survivors clap back to the backlash. No, not in a vengeful, bitter way (read a Christian survivor perspective here). Expecting to be treated with dignity does not make one hateful. It makes one human. A human of value. Sexual assault survivors are not fighting for special treatment. They’re fighting for reasonable treatment due any human. They’re holding their ground and lifting up a “better” standard than one that tolerates sexual violence. Some have said they just didn’t know. Well, now the nation knows. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. And as Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Here are some recent news headlines lending hope to society finally “doing better.”
Responses to Andy Savage’s sexual assault apology: “God requires more than cheap forgiveness.”
Cheap forgiveness is what a person gets when he confesses to a crime only after being exposed as a criminal (e.g., he holds on to his “stolen goods” sans remorse until police find the goods in his possession). Authentic forgiveness requires accountability. A person gets this when he, himself, is internally convicted, feels contrition, repents with humility, and accepts accountability. The internally convicted criminal wants to do the time for his crime, he seeks to know the depth of harm he has caused, and he acts to restore any he harmed. Even the vilest criminal can be reconciled to God, but only where he takes full responsibility for both his crime and his sin. And only where he comes to God of his own will in sincerity of spirit and independence of mind.
This is not what Andy Savage, a church pastor accused of sexual assault, did. Jules Woodson, Savage’s victim, spoke out recently (she spoke out in proximity to the abuse, too). In response, Savage admitted to a “sexual incident” (minimizing the gravity of his conduct). He gave a public “apology” in the form a speech before his megachurch congregation. In that speech, Savage glossed over truth. He evaded accountability, and got cheap forgiveness. Following Woodson’s report decades ago, church leaders “counseled” Savage. What was the consequence of his crime? Church leaders privately counseled him, and then gave him a new position of leadership and a new congregation with which to work.
The real public outrage, though, came from the church congregation’s response to Savage’s admission. Without even knowing what happened to Woodson, without ever seeking to know the truth, the congregants offered Savage clearance-priced, flash sale forgiveness. They gave Savage a standing ovation. Standing ovation! Savage was Woodson’s youth minister. He groomed her, isolated her, and grossly overpowered and coerced her, then harmed her. Yet, the congregants had so dehumanized this female in their own minds that, even when Savage didn’t deny Woodson’s allegation, they didn’t care.
This not only damages sexual violence survivors but also damages and waters down the very gospel of Christ (the church’s website removed the content in the wake of negative response). Twitter reflects the immediate damage to Woodson (and other victims of violence witnessing). What’s also evident, though, is the subsequent damage to the name of God.
It was over a decade ago drop it already🤦🏼♂️🤦🏼♂️🤦🏼♂️
— *$LY* (@gothboysly) January 30, 2018
You mustn't be following the story as she did tell people but the Church hushed it up. Which in my experience is their first and always incorrect action.
— Rhonda Aubert (@RhondaAubert) January 30, 2018
#1. Victim shaming fact: Chris Conlee sermon following Andy Savage reading his statement treated Jules Woodson as a non-healed co-sinner of a sexual experience with Andy Savage. That is victim shaming.
— Julia Dahl (@jdahlmd) February 25, 2018
Case Closed on the Veracity of Jules Woodson’s Story: Now Sit Back and Watch Savage, Conlee and Bradley Attempt a Gold Medal in Bible Gymnastics. New TWW post. https://t.co/FYoz5he06C
— Dee Parsons (@wartwatch) February 20, 2018
For anyone considering the time of quiet that Jules Woodson has afforded herself, for anyone thinking her brief silence means she agrees with @andysavage account on the BF show: (1) read this tweet and (2) silence does not mean agreement. #JusticeForJules #Churchtoo https://t.co/4uBAVe1yNA
— Julia Dahl (@jdahlmd) February 10, 2018
Johnny Brown, you are being very unfair to Jules Woodson. You have swallowed #andysavage's airbrushed versions of his story. Read Jules's statement at The Wartburg Watch and the Watchkeep blogs. https://t.co/S2l5MB0z8A
— Barbara Roberts (@NotUnderBondage) January 30, 2018
Pastor @Andysavage didn’t tell anyone that he molested a 17yr old girl in his youth group until she, Jules Woodson went to the lead pastor and told what he did. The church didn’t do anything until she said something to the girls in her church class and it became public.
— sandy (@sandycompany) January 28, 2018
Bruce A. Jones has just deleted his Twitter account. This is the man who has vowed to go after Jules Woodson and *expose* who she was as a teen. What al lovely group of people at that church.
— Dee Parsons (@wartwatch) February 6, 2018
Reconcile these responses with the Bible’s treatment of sexual assault.
Maybe start with the book of Judges. The Battle of Gibeah. Read about God’s smiting the Benjamites for repeatedly assaulting the nameless Bethlehem concubine. When people justified sin in their own minds, followed their own lusts, ducked accountability, and dehumanized their fellow humans, they fell out of favor with God. God didn’t only “smite” the men who actively harmed the woman. The apathetic Benjamites who refused to hand over the miscreants roused God’s anger and provoked a bloody war. It’s pretty clear that those who would handle the gospel so recklessly and justify sexual violence, a crime against God’s creations formed in His own image, discredit not only the church but also God.
Contrary to myth, research shows it is more traumatic for victims when they are violated by a person of trust. Where the offender is respected and generally liked by a community, the power disparity is greater. The victim has less support, is less likely to report, and suffers greater shame. Watch the video below. From a Christian perspective, what message do these responses send to victims? Is this really what God would have us do? (Scripture says it isn’t.)
Survivors of sexual assault demand the Church do better.
Women congregants of a church in Oregon move to action after they say church officials coerced their silence for decades. They hired a private investigator, and their investigative efforts led to the resignation of alleged offender, Pastor Ken Engelking. These women implicate patriarchal pressure and gender stereotypes in the coercive tactics used to shame them and keep them silence. They break that silence and demand accountability. One could read this as another example of institutional failure (and it is), but one could also read this as a story of hope and change. Church survivors are reclaiming their churches from both active abusers and third party participants who are apathetic to abuses.
Duty to warn? Failure may result in jail time.
Michigan lawmakers stiffen criminal sexual conduct laws and penalties for institutions and persons in positions of trust who fail to report sexual violence disclosures, making failure to report a TWO YEAR prison penalty. The key phrase is “positions of trust.” Generally, persons have no duty to warn a third party. However, that is not the case where persons are in particular positions of trust and/or influence–school officials to students, coaches to athletes, church leaders to congregants.
Washington State protects sexual assault victims’ voices.
Washington State lawmakers say no more using corporate confidentiality agreements to silence criminal sexual conduct. Additionally, they pass protections for employee-victims recovering from sexual assault, applying some of the language of the Americans with Disabilities Act (i.e., reasonable accommodations).
Rachael Denhollander steps up again–calls on the church to LEAD in truth, transparency, and accountability.
Finally, the Sovereign Grace leadership about whom Rachael Denhollander spoke in her victim-impact statement at Larry Nassar’s sentencing is facing a shake-up as leader C.J. Mahaney resigns. Read Denhollander’s full Facebook post in response to Sovereign Grace here.