Editor’s Note: There was some special formatting on Jim’s poem that just doesn’t translate to WordPress. I apologize.
When things confuse me, I write poetry. When I read Adam Blosser’s recent blog on Andy Savage and the many comments, I needed to say something, but did not know what. I watched the video of Highpoint Church’s worship service where it was revealed that Andy had a “sexual encounter” with a teenage girl, Jules Woodson, who was under his leadership as Youth Minister. I paid close attention to what was said by Chris Conlee, Andy, and the Worship Leader, as well as the congregation’s reaction. I knew then something had to be said.
A lot of things came at me, including the brutality of my grandfather’s sexual use of me, abetted by a mother who later used me. I recollected what it took for God to find, reconstitute, regenerate, and bring me into His Kingdom. I thought of a lot of things as I listened, watched, and read. As it all swirled around, I thought and I prayed and late into the night I wrote this (abridged version):
The Words of Chris(t)
20 years is a long time.
We … revive?
His wife and family grieve.
Word of God?
We … reclaim?
His ministry has borne fruit.
We … reorient?
Proud to call him “Co-founder.”
We … believe?
Chris(t) offers counsel.
We … resuscitate?
And When All is Said and Done…..
Chris(t) reaches out.
We … re-think?
As I wrote, what came to mind was a hard lesson I learned when I started to speak in church about what happened to me. I thought I was testifying about God, but I soon learned it is not that we do not want to know, it is that we do not like going too near evil; it is better to forgive quickly, keeping ourselves in love so we do not grow too afraid of our vulnerability and frailty. Here, I am not talking about temptation; I am talking about the arbitrary and capricious brutality of Sin: murder, mayhem, maiming, mutilation, assault, rape, carnage, disease, and affliction.
It is why, I believe, that we Baptists love to hear testimonies of repentant sinners, or those saved from calamity. These testimonies are comforting because they assure us that evil can be pushed back by the mighty hand of God. That is true, but we make it personal: we see ourselves as being specially protected from the brutality of Sin. It is similar to guardian angels. I hear people tell me how they grew up safe because their guardian angel kept them from harm. I hear these stories and think to myself: Where was mine when I needed him?
We do not like to hear about victims because if they testify, they have to say what happened, where they have been, and where they are now. Not only do people not like to hear about evil unrestrained, those like me never say we were restored back to the way we were; we always say that God put us back together and grew us anew. We acknowledge we can never return to the moment before the brutality but that we must live with it. That is what makes people afraid to hear about victims and so eager to forgive sinners: forgiveness gives us a sense of control; inhabiting the awfulness of lives touched by sin forces us to see our frailty.
We want evil to be within control because, after all, are we not in the hands of a benevolent God, one who loves us in spite of who we are? Here we need to pay close attention to the songs sung before Chris and Andy spoke. The songs were about a comforting and magnanimous love that covers a multitude of sins. We like this kind of love; we do not like to see the love that cannot protect and can never restore what Sin has torn from victims: the wasted years, the loss of innocence, the crushing of personal autonomy, the fear, loss, and shame. We simply do not sing of a love that can only re-assemble Jules (and me) into a new person around the trauma as it ameliorates the disruption.
Thus, to me, the whole service was intended to arouse the love that conquers by forgiveness, thereby keeping Andy as co-founder. Yes, there were words offering comfort to Jules, but these words really did not say anything. These words seemed, to me, intended to maintain the atmosphere of “love” to restore Andy. It was a refrain: Andy has served us well; he has a family who are grieving and who, also, we love; he was forthcoming with the staff; and he used this sordid event in his life strengthen his ministry. It was a love that could all put it back into the bottle.
But what love was offered to Jules? Was it a love that could peer into the empty years when Jules was simply a hushed-up fact hidden among the elders? Why not reach out? Why not facilitate healing? Why not tell Jules a long time ago that we care and we pray for you? The problem with these words, even if spoken many years before, are that they are not creative: Jules will have to trust and put herself in the hands of those who stand beside/supportive of/in fellowship and brotherhood with the man who betrayed the authority given to him as an adult and an elder in the church.
What can be done for Jules? Here I refer to Anselm who advanced this theory of satisfaction:
So long as he [the offender, or sinner] does not restore what is taken away, he remains in fault; and it will not suffice merely to restore what has been taken away, but, considering the contempt offered, he ought to restore more than he took away. For as one who imperils another’s safety does not do enough by merely restoring his safety, without making some compensation for the anguish incurred; so he who violates another’s honor does not do enough by merely rendering honor again, but must, according to the extent of the injury done, make restoration in some way satisfactory to the person whom he has dishonored. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo
Those who shared in Andy’s ministry and knew are equally bound to satisfy. And, as is clear from the worship service, no satisfaction was ever offered or undertaken before or after revelation.
I have counseled and been an accountability partner for several men who committed adultery. What I learned is that once the notoriety fades, they all want to go back to the way things were, to just pick up where they left off. They start telling me they are deeply repentant and ashamed, they have suffered, and they know God has forgiven them. They might even tell me their spouse has forgiven them. They are desperate to have it all back. I have to tell them the truth: you can never go back because you have altered too much; I tell them they must find a new way with God – and it will be a long, lonely, and humble journey to a new reality – and the road runs through satisfaction.
So then, what does love demand we do for Andy? We should, in love, help him be rightfully restored to God and to fellowship. At that point, it really is up to Andy. He has the responsibility to turn and face God who knows every detail, every thought, every scintilla of torment and damage, and ask: what would you have me do with my life now?
To confess is really to see ourselves as God sees us. It is something we recoil from even without grave sin in our lives.
If I were Andy I would confess sincerely, and then, in the deepest humility, wait a long, long time for an answer. If he is not willing to wait, we must tell him to wait; if he is not willing to listen to the answer, we must tell him to face the answer. No stone need be thrown. No excommunicat,ion. No shaming. Just space, love, time, and truth.
Finally, if I were Andy and wanted to make sure I got the right answer, I would ask Jules.