Savage was not self-righteous: He confessed. If he were reinstated to office three weeks after sinning, the story would be very different. But by all accounts Highpoint Church observed Savage carefully in a context of accountability over the course of years before making him a pastor. Despite this cautious process, backlash persists.
Cultural backlash against the church may indeed indicate an error or moral failure. It may also indicate no such thing. Jesus never sinned, yet the world hated Him. At best our culture requires the church to support Woodson by crucifying Savage. Christ commands us to love both. At worst the culture deplores Savage as an irredeemable monster and the church as complicit in sexual predation. The world cannot grasp the wonder of Hebrews 11. Men of great faith are also men of great sin. Abraham, Moses, and David delved deep into sin, but Christ delved deeper into mercy. To diminish the former diminishes the latter.
Christian backlash presents a different challenge. Good Christians are calling for Savage to resign. Were the church to force his ouster it would send a powerful message to the culture: We police our own and will not tolerate abuse. The culture would applaud. But maybe the culture needs a different message: Jesus restores not only the abused but also the abuser. The culture is not rooting for the restoration of Harvey Weinstein. It does not want a wicked predator to know the mercy of Jesus, but the church should want just that. Each Christian must acknowledge, “I am the abused and the abuser.” Blessedly Jesus restores both.
In all this the church must not forget Jules Woodson’s wounds. Those who have suffered at the hands of a wolflike shepherd deserve the church’s utmost care. Jesus is tender with the wounded: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” His church must offer the same tenderness, binding up Woodson’s wounds with the love of Christ.
Twenty years ago on a dark road Andy Savage abused Jules Woodson. The only cure for Savage, Woodson, the church, and the world is: Jesus.
—Russell St. John is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute’s mid-career course