Disturbing Commentary In the Jules Woodson Case

Most of you will by now know of Jules Woodson, the young lady whose youth pastor, Andy Savage, molested her as a teen. The story broke jointly with The Wartburg Watch and another blog, and has since gained worldwide attention. What is troubling, in addition to the already appalling story, is both the response inside Savage’s church and some of the recent commentary about Jules.

The response inside Savage’s current church already is well known. Folks weren’t shocked and outraged, He wasn’t immediately suspended from ministry. Instead the man received a standing ovation.

So help me get this straight. The guy does something illegal, and members of Highpoint Church give him a standing ovation? Even among those who have teenagers? We are talking seriously broken ethics.

Meanwhile, there are commenters who lament Jule’s unwillingness to reconcile, What? Since when did a victim have an obligation to reconcile? That’s the doubly the case, when as here, nothing has been done to care for Jules.

Even forgiveness, which benefits the victim, comes in its own time, if at all. But forgiveness is not something victims owe. Instead, it’s something aspirational, and for their own benefit. It is injurious to the victim to try to set a timeline on healing. Jules’ only obligation is to herself, which is to become healthy and live the life God wants her to live. And as that happens, guess what–she likely will forgive Savage. But it’s up to her, including when and if it happens.

Most troubling are comments from some suggesting that Jules had a crush on Andy. That would not be surprising–he’s a good-looking guy, charismatic, and he has a position of power. But the one great truth of clergy relationships is that clergy always are responsible for maintaining boundaries. Always. No exceptions. So, if Andy knew or suspected Jules had a crush, all the more reason for him to make sure he wasn’t alone with her. (Actually, he should have never been alone with any of the teens entrusted to his care.)

I’m also going to raise another possibility. My hunch is that Andy is a narcissist. Many of the trappings are there: The attention to his body/looks, the ability to almost magically engage with others, the over-the-top proclamations about how special his marriage is. In such cases, narcissists crave attention, and it would be entirely typical for Andy to deliberately work towards that goal. Why? Because it gives him adulation, power and control.

In that sense, the abuse of power isn’t just about sex. It goes deeper. It’s about worship of the pastor or priest. Indeed, I have known more than one perfectly straight clergyperson who has a string of gay admirers, and it is very obvious that they court this very result. Would it ever lead to sex? Highly doubtful. But sexual attraction can be a powerful magnet and means of control.

So, before folks at Hightower and elsewhere try to slut shame Jules, let me give you a word of caution: Don’t go there. If Jules did have a crush on him, then he is doubly responsible for his failure to protect against abuse.

About Eric Bonetti

I'm a cradle Episcopalian, living in Northern Virginia. My interests include writing, policy, sports, cooking, volunteer work, good food and wine, and teaching kids' cooking classes. I retired in 2017 and now just work for fun. I'm also a regular contributor to Episcopal Cafe, and have been published at HuffPo and other major sites and publications.
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