SBC report just the start, but ‘the culture has to change’, says survivor
Jules Woodson immediately opened a long secret list of ministers accused of abuse published by the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and scrolled down to surnames beginning with “S”.
Andy Savage’s name was on the list.
“I felt recognized that they knew,” Woodson said. “But at the same time, it’s heartbreaking how many people they knew and didn’t tell others.”
The 205-page list, detailing the cases of hundreds of people accused of abuse, some of whose names have been redacted, was released Thursday night after Guidepost Solutions’ explosive report detailed how leaders of the largest Protestant denomination in the Countries have perpetuated a two-decade cycle of abuse by ignoring reports, rejecting recommendations for reform and belittling survivors.
After:Southern Baptist Convention Leaders Release Long Secret List of Accused Ministers
After:‘Ignored, in disbelief’: Details of Southern Baptist Convention sex abuse report covered up, decades of inaction
One of the stories detailed in the report is that of Woodson, who said she was sexually assaulted in 1998 by her youth pastor, Savage, while in high school at a church in Texas. Formerly called Woodland Hills Baptist Church, the church is now known as Stonebridge Church.
When Woodson first spoke publicly about his story in 2018, Savage was a teaching pastor at Highpoint Church, a Memphis megachurch with Southern Baptist affiliations. The church is no longer affiliated with the denomination.
When Savage first addressed the matter in front of the congregation, admitting to a “sexual incident”, he received a standing ovation. He would later resign after a lengthy investigation by a Texas attorney, saying he would retire from the ministry. Savage then started a new church, Grace Valley Church, currently located in Collierville.
A voicemail message left at Savage Friday was not returned.
Guidepost report details Woodson’s disastrous experience with credential committee
But the report published by Guidepost is limited in scope: it does not address the actual abuse suffered by Woodson. Rather, it focuses on allegations of abuse by Southern Baptist Convention executive committee members (one was reported), the mishandling of allegations of abuse and mistreatment of victims, a pattern of intimidation by victims or advocates and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives.
That means the report is just the “tip of the iceberg,” Woodson said. Despite this, she is grateful that it seems the survivors finally have momentum.
During Guidepost’s investigation, Woodson met with them in person on at least three occasions, received multiple phone calls and submitted documents electronically.
“I had a very positive experience with them,” she said. “I felt like they were trauma informed, that when I met them they cared, they listened without being defensive, I felt like it was like I was carrying on to participate in the process, I was encouraged by Guidepost.”
This contrasted sharply with his previous experiences with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Credentials Committee, which was responsible for determining whether a church should remain in “friendly cooperation” with the denomination.
Woodson had submitted his story to the committee, asking that Stonebridge be excommunicated. Her senior pastor did not report Woodson’s abuse to the police when she was in high school, nor has he responded to her efforts to contact him since she went public, she said. declared.
And, the pastor did not inform other churches of Savage’s abuse, allowing him to be employed first by the Germantown Baptist Church and later by Highpoint.
His experience with the credentials committee was “dismissive and ignorant,” Woodson said. They misspelled his name in an email. Months passed without an update. When they finally informed her that they weren’t planning on excluding Stonebridge, they referenced Woodson’s blog – when she doesn’t have a blog. And, they commended the church and its pastor, the same man who did not report Woodson’s abuse, for “taking significant and extensive steps to improve policies, practices and procedures.”
The Guidepost report summarizes: “(Woodson) was particularly upset that before a decision was made, she was not contacted to provide any facts or information regarding her submission, and that the CC only spoke to the church that had already treated her so badly. when she revealed her abuse.
Despite this experience with the Credentials Committee, Woodson made the decision to continue participating in Guidepost when he began his investigation.
“It’s so heavy because as a survivor, I always feel like I’m not just carrying my story, I’m carrying the story of all survivors,” Woodson said.
In many ways, she’s just trying to live her life. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She is a single mother of three children. She is an air hostess, constantly on the move.
But between the robberies and unpacking in hotel rooms, she makes time to phone members of the media, still talking about her assault.
She knows survivors who have not come forward to participate in the Guidepost survey and understands that.
“I understand when you have been decimated time and time again at the state level, at the local level at the national level, enough is enough. There’s so much someone can take,” she said. “Really, I can’t tell you the price it costs me.”
But the goal, she said, is to see the church “be a safe place.”
“I am very passionate about this and even though my faith has become kind of inside and personal since my abuse, it does not diminish God’s love and God’s call for justice, accountability and truth. be brought to light like all these things. are so important and I feel like I carry it as a survivor and an advocate for others,” she said.
In anticipation of Anaheim
Now, Woodson is planning the next annual Southern Baptist gathering, scheduled for June in Anaheim, Calif. She and other survivors are raising funds to attend, and there they hope to see a list of reforms proposed in the Guidepost report passed, pushing the conversation about sexual abuse beyond mere conversation and into action.
Among those reforms, she hopes to see an established database of pastors convicted or credibly accused, an independent commission to address long-term reforms within the convention, and a code of ethics and conduct that is accepted and adopted. at all levels of the agreement.
Woodson also hopes for a survivors’ compensation fund — controlled by a third party — and a survivors’ memorial at the convention headquarters in Nashville.
This memorial, she said, should be dedicated to Christa Brown, an early survivor whose story is told in the Guidepost report and who has advocated for convention reforms since 2004.
As for her own story, she still wants to see Stonebridge excommunicated, Woodson said.
And Woodson is continuing her calls for the Germantown Baptist Church to revoke Savage’s ordination and apologize for a harsh response sent to her when she first proposed in 2019.
A message left at Germantown Baptist by The Commercial Appeal was not returned.
Finally, with Savage no longer at a Southern Baptist church, the denomination may make a public statement about him, Woodson said.
“Washing your hands because his new church isn’t SBC doesn’t sit well with me,” Woodson said. “It was one of you. If you don’t say it was wrong and unacceptable, it sets a precedent that everyone will follow from the state level to the local level as well.
It stands out when Southern Baptist churches focus on spreading the gospel but don’t want to focus on eradicating sexual abuse among their own people, Woodson said.
“No more excuses,” Woodson said. “No more excuses. Now is the time to act. And it’s a long game. It’s going to take time to change a culture, and that’s OK. I’m here. I’m not leaving. I’m here for me and for all the other survivors who have been decimated by the SBC. I am not leaving. It will take time, but action must be taken. There must be ‘umph’ behind their words. There must be true repentance, which includes catering to survivors. All of those things, just the database, that’s one piece of the puzzle. The whole culture has to change.
Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at [email protected], 901-529-2799 or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.