Church Leader Who Blamed Victim for Her Own Assault Resigns (20 Years Later)

We’ve written quite a bit over the past month about the saga involving Christian megachurch pastor Andy Savage. He’s the guy who received a standing ovation from his congregation after he confessed that he had “sinned” as a youth pastor. He didn’t tell them, however, that his sin involved driving a then-17-year-old Jules Woodson home from church, taking her to a secluded area, and pressuring her into giving him oral sex. Savage was 22 at the time.

Savage is currently on a leave of absence from his church.

But even if you think that’s just an attempt to lay low until all of this blows over, there’s finally someone taking the fall over his role in this whole situation.

To make sense of it, you need to understand what Woodson did immediately after being assaulted by Savage. Here’s what she wrote in a public statement earlier this year:

Larry Cotton was the Associate Pastor of Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church at the time. Steve Bradley was the head pastor. I mustered up the courage to go tell them what happened. For some reason, Steve wasn’t available, so I only spoke with Larry. I remember asking him if I could speak privately with him and he said yes. I started out by saying something awful had happened to me. I was already crying. Somehow, I felt brave enough to tell Larry every detail of what had happened with Andy. I was mortified but I thought I was doing the right thing as both Larry and Steve were over Andy in the church and I was way too embarrassed and scared to tell anyone else, especially my own parents.

Just as I had finished telling my story, Larry immediately spoke up and asked me to clarify. He said something to the effect of, ‘So you’re telling me you participated?’ I remember feeling like my heart had just sunk to the floor. What was he asking? More importantly, what was he trying to imply? This wave of shame came over me, greater than I had ever felt before. I had just gotten done telling him everything that Andy, my youth pastor, asked me to do. I didn’t say that I screamed no, jumped out of the car and ran into the dark forest because I hadn’t. I told him that Andy had asked me to perform oral sex and unbutton my shirt and I did. Every ounce of courage I had gathered, to walk in there and tell Larry the truth about what had happened to me, left in an instant. Not only did I suddenly feel this immense guilt for doing what Andy had asked me to do but I also started to feel that this was my fault somehow because I didn’t stop him.

In short, Woodson told people she trusted — people in a position of power over Savage — what happened as soon as she could… and Larry Cotton’s first response was to question her role in letting herself be assaulted. He didn’t say anything to law enforcement officials. And, more importantly, he didn’t punish Savage in any way.

It’s taken more than 20 years, but Larry Cotton says he accepts the mistake he made and he’ll now be resigning from his current home, The Austin Stone Community Church in Texas.

I want to express again my deepest grief and sorrow for Jules Woodson and all those who were wounded by what happened in 1998. During my leave of absence, I have come to better understand the weight of my mistakes and my responsibilities as a church leader at that time. I wish I had known 20 years ago what I understand today. I now understand that I did not do enough to serve Jules and help her feel protected and cared for — I wish I had done more. I understand that I failed to report the sexual abuse —I wish I had reported to the proper authorities. Even though it’s impossible, I wish I could go back in time and correct these mistakes.

I contributed to the pain and suffering of Jules and others, and for this, I feel great sorrow. I can identify with the words of Paul in the scriptures that help me see — Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst. But I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his perfect patience as an example for others who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Only Jesus can mend the unraveling caused by sin and weave in true justice, peace and healing.

I am praying for healing for Jules; that she might be comforted by the peace of Christ even in the midst of her pain. I hope for her forgiveness of me. I pray for The Austin Stone to continue to be a safe and Christ-honoring environment for men, women, students, and children to grow spiritually and flourish. And I thank you, my church family, for your continued love and prayers.

It’s a lot of Jesus babble, but he at least takes responsibility for doing everything wrong in that situation. You have to wonder how many women didn’t even bother coming to him in similar situations because they knew he’s the sort of guy who meets a rape victim and asks, “Well, what were you wearing?”

It’s just too bad Cotton didn’t resign until after this story went national. He had 20 years to atone for his mistakes and he sat silent until Woodson, once again, spoke up.

One other note: The church’s elders issued their own response and said that if anyone is aware of child sexual abuse, they should “report to Child Protective Services or appropriate criminal authorities.” In other words, the church elders said don’t come to us. That’s a huge step in the right direction. Other churches should follow in those footsteps.

Meanwhile, Savage, the guy who actually assaulted Woodson, still hasn’t resigned and hasn’t made any public statements since he took his leave of absence. His time is coming.

(Image via Internet Archive)

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