Tag Archive: Andy Savage

What Andy Savage, Mark Driscoll, and Ted Haggard Have in Common

bruce gerencser 2002

Bruce Gerencser, 2002

Andy Savage, Mark Driscoll, and Ted Haggard are all Evangelical pastors who have checkered pasts. Twenty years ago, Andy Savage sexually assaulted a church teenager. While pastor of Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee, Savage admitted his crime. Unfortunately, he was never punished due to the statute of limitations expiring. Savage later left Highpoint. (Please see Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Andy Savage Gets Standing Ovation for Admitting He Sexually Assaulted a Teenager and Black Collar Crime: Dominoes Continue to Fall Over Andy Savage Scandal.) Mark Driscoll was the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. Accused of having an autocratic management style, verbally/emotionally abusing congregants, plagiarism, and “squishy book-promotion ethics,” Driscoll resigned. Three months later, Mars Hill closed its doors. Ted Haggard was the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Haggard, a closeted bisexual, used crystal meth, cavorted with a male prostitute, and had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a male congregant. In late 2006, Haggard was fired from New Life and resigned his position with the NAE.

All of these men were married, had children, and pastored multi-million-dollar churches running thousands in attendance. All of these men were Evangelical in doctrine and well respected by congregants and colleagues alike. All of these men traveled the Evangelical conference circuit, speaking to thousands of people. These men were widely considered to be preachers God was mightily using to advance his kingdom. Yet, Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard fell from their lofty perches and were drummed out of their churches.

End of story? Surely you jest! Evangelicals are quite forgiving and love a good comeback story. In 2010, Ted Haggard started a new church, St. James Church, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 2016, Driscoll birthed a new congregation, The Trinity Church, in Scottsdale, Arizona. And Savage? He is ramping up a new church plant, Grace Valley Church in Eads, Tennessee.

“Bruce, how can these guys do what they did and still be pastors?” Simple. Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard are independent contractors, free to do what they want, including starting new churches. There are no federal or state laws that forbid these men from setting up new non-profit churches (businesses). (Please see How to Start an Independent Baptist Church.) Anyone, including you, can gather a handful of people together and start a church. It’s really that easy. In 2015, comedian John Oliver proved just how easy it is to start a new church, by setting up a non-profit religious organization called Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. Oliver later closed the church and donated the “offerings” to “Doctors Without Borders.”

Why didn’t Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard admit that they were no longer Biblically qualified to be pastors? 1 Timothy 3 gives the qualifications for pastors, and none of these “men of God” met the Biblical standard. Truth be told, I don’t know of any man who meets the qualifications. The Bible says:

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

And let’s not forget about Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

And finally, pastors should be expected to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, yes? Galatians 5:22,23 says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Taking these three passages of Scripture together, it’s clear that Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard have no business being pastors. In fact, no man is qualified to be a pastor. What about you, Bruce? Were you qualified? Absolutely not. At best, I was a “two out of three ain’t bad” kind of preacher. I really, really, really wanted to be a pastor, so just like every other man to ever pastor a church, I rationalized my shortcomings, telling myself that I would work hard to become a better man and preacher. All in all, I was a feeble, frail, fallible man who hopefully did more good than harm.

In the fall of 1995, I left the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio. I was at Olive Branch for seven months. A quick overview of my ministerial career reveals that I either stayed at churches for a long time or left after a few months — seven months to be exact. That’s right. I left three of the churches I pastored after being there for only seven months — started in the spring, left in the fall. I am sure there is some Freudian shit in there somewhere to unpack.

After leaving Olive Branch, I moved five miles down the road and started Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I pastored this church for seven years. One day, I received a letter from a ministerial colleague of mine. He and I met when I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Dick, at the time, was the pastor of an IFB church in nearby New Lexington. The previous pastor had left due to allegations of misconduct. This was Dick’s first and only church. The church had a lot of internal problems. I thought of Dick — a kind, decent man — as a sacrificial lamb. His congregation ripped him to shreds. After a year or so, Dick resigned and returned home to southwest Ohio, never to pastor again.

Dick’s letter was quite pointed. Due to my recent moves from church to church to church, Dick questioned my emotional stability and suggested I reconsider starting a new church. I remember how offended I was by his words. I thought, “Didn’t he know I was a divinely called man of God? Didn’t he know I was just following God’s will?” I never spoke to Dick again, but years later after a size sixty bit of hindsight, I concluded that he was absolutely right. I should have hit the pause button and reevaluated my life. It would be another decade before I stopped thinking that being a pastor was the sum of my life; that not pastoring a church was a betrayal of Jesus and all I held dear. It took me years after that to regain any sense of self. Jesus and the ministry had swallowed up Bruce Gerencser. I lost any sense of personal identity and self-worth. To this day, I see a secular counselor on a regular basis. Therapy is essential to me recovering any sense of mental wellness.

The title of this post is “What Andy Savage, Mark Driscoll, and Ted Haggard Have in Common.” Let me add my name to theirs, and the names of every Evangelical preacher. I am going to admit something here that most preachers will NEVER admit: preachers love the adulation they receive from congregants. They love being the center of attention. They love being the hub around which everything turns. And it is for these reasons fallen, disgraced preachers have a hard time quitting the ministry. Think of all the preachers you know who were drummed out of the ministry, only to start a new church or assume the pastorate of an established church months or years later. I could spend weeks detailing the stories of such men.

“Bruce, why can’t these men quit the ministry?” They are addicts. Standing before fawning congregants on Sundays and being thought of as THE MAN is like crack cocaine. Once you feel the rush, you want more, regardless of what you have to do to get the drug. Preachers need the thrill they feel when doing the work of the ministry. I am not suggesting that all pastors are bad men — they are not. But preachers need to be honest about the emotional and psychological “bump” they get from preaching and ministering to others. It is okay to admit this, preachers. You are human. 

I started blogging in 2007. Come December, this current iteration of my blog will celebrate its fifth anniversary. In many ways, this blog is my “church.” Thousands of people read my writing. I reach far more people now than I ever did as a pastor. When my work is well-received, it pleases me and spurs me on to continue writing. My counselor tells me that I am still a preacher; that I have just changed teams. Perhaps. I will leave it to others to make such judgments. I do know that I find writing emotionally gratifying. Whether one hundred people are reading it or five thousand, I am driven to continue to tell my story. That some people find my writing helpful is all the more reason to keep on preaching the humanist gospel.

That said, there are differences between the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry and being a writer. The Evangelical churches I pastored were captive audiences. I was an authority figure, someone given the power to guide, direct, and correct their lives. Today, I pastor a “church” of thousands, yet I have no authority over anyone. Readers are free to come and go; love me or hate me; praise me or ridicule me. Church members were required to tithe and give offerings. Readers are under no such compulsion. They are free to donate, or not. Either way, the “church” remains open for “whosoever will.”

I hope my honesty has not caused you to think any less of me. I know this post will give my critics more ammunition. There’s nothing I can do about that. It is far more important for me to give an open, honest, pointed accounting of my life. I trust you found my words insightful and helpful.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Black Collar Crime: Highpoint Church Gives Chris Conlee a Standing Ovation

wtf

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Last week, I wrote a post titled, Black Collar Crime: Dominoes Continue to Fall Over Andy Savage Scandal. I detailed the fall out from Andy Savage’s admission that he sexually assaulted a church girl twenty years ago. Savage, a pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee, received a standing ovation from congregants after he oh-so-humbly admitted the “sexual incident” twenty years before. Savage later resigned after public outrage over his tone-deafness and lack of true repentance and sorrow.

Yesterday, Savage’s fellow pastor Chris Conlee (who resigned last week) had an oh-so-touching parting moment with his church. Afterward, Conlee received a STANDING ovation, thus proving that the entire Highpoint congregation is deaf and blind, oblivious to how such crass behavior appears to outsiders. It’s evident that Highpoint and its leaders do not take sexual abuse seriously. Had they done so, they would have never hired Savage — the church new about the sexual abuse allegation when they hired him — and after hiring him anyway, the church should have fired Conlee for giving Savage cover. Instead, both men received ovations. Yes, both Savage and Conlee are gone, but there’s no sign from Highpoint that they understand their own culpability in this sordid story of sexual abuse and cover-up.

Here’s one thing I know for sure: Savage and Conlee will resurface somewhere, ready to shear more sheep on their road to personal fame and glory.

Black Collar Crime: Dominoes Continue to Fall Over Andy Savage Scandal

andy savageThe Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Earlier this year, Andy Savage, a pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee admitted to the church that he had sexually assaulted a teen girl years ago at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Savage called the assault a “sexual incident.” Afterward, the Highpoint congregation gave Savage an ovation for being so open and honest — feel free to puke. And with that, Savage continued to work for Highpoint Church. Sin confessed, onward, upward Buzz Savage. Highpoint, by the way, knew of the sexual assault before hiring Savage. What’s a little sexual assault among friends, right?

Several weeks later, after outrage over Savage’s tone-deafness and lack of true repentance and sorrow, Savage resigned. Jules Woodson, the woman Savage sexually assaulted years ago, reported the assault to pastor Larry Cotton, then pastor of Woodlands Parkway Baptist. Cotton, as Evangelicals are wont to do, did nothing. In February, Cotton, now pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, resigned, admitting that he should have reported Savage’s misconduct to law enforcement authorities. Savage will not be prosecuted for his alleged crimes due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Today, another domino fell in the Andy Savage scandal. Chris Conlee, the lead pastor and founder of Highpoint has resigned, saying that it was time for him to pass the baton to someone else.You can read Highpoint’s board’s statement: here. Again, prepare to puke. No mention is made of the Savage scandal.  Instead, the church plans to give Conlee a grand send-off, thanking him for all he has done for Highpoint.

The Andy Savage scandal is sickening from start to finish. No one, I repeat NO ONE, acted on behalf of the victim. Instead, what we see is cover-your-ass moves and attempts to move on without honestly and fully dealing with Savage’s criminal behavior. And here’s the thing: all of these “men of God” will land somewhere on their feet, ready and willing to WOW new churches. And the beat goes on, one victim at a time.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Andy Savage Gets Standing Ovation for Admitting He Sexually Assaulted a Teenager

pastor andy savage

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Twenty years ago, Andy Savage, teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee, sexually assaulted a church teenager. He was never prosecuted for his crime. His church, at the time, Woodland Parkway Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, covered up his “sin.” Thanks to fine people at The Wartburg Watch, Savage’s victim’s story is being heard far and wide, forcing the not-so-good pastor Savage to shed crocodiles tears before his church as he confessed his crime. Astoundingly, the tone-deaf, clueless sheep at Highpoint Church gave their pastor a standing ovation.

Lisa Gutierrez and Adam Darby, reporters for the Kansas City Star, wrote:

Members of a Memphis megachurch stood and applauded their pastor on Sunday when he admitted to and apologized for engaging in a “sexual incident” with a high school student 20 years ago.

Jules Woodson, who accused Highpoint Church Pastor Andy Savage of sexually assaulting her when she was 17, told The New York Times she watched the moment, streamed live on the church’s YouTube page, in disbelief.

“It’s disgusting,” she said.

Though Savage, an author and podcast host, remains on the Highpoint staff, repercussions have begun for what Woodson says happened two decades ago.

The Times reported that on Monday afternoon, Christian publishing company Bethany House canceled the July publication of Savage’s book “The Ridiculously Good Marriage.”

Also on Monday, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis reported that the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, placed staff member Larry Cotton on leave.

Cotton was associate pastor at Woodland Parkway Baptist Church in Texas, where Savage worked at the time of the alleged assault.

Woodson has said a pastor at the church urged her to stay quiet about what happened.

“We grieve for what happened to Jules Woodson,” said a statement to the Commercial Appeal from Austin Stone’s communications director John Young. “… No person should ever be subject to sexual sin from any church leader.”

The church felt it was “appropriate to ensure (Cotton’s) qualifications for his current role of leadership,” the statement read.

“In order to remove our potential bias from the situation, we have placed (Cotton) on a leave of absence while an investigation by a third-party organization is undertaken. We will provide a full report to the church after its completion.”

Woodson graphically shared her story on Friday with The Wartburg Watch, a site started by two Christian women who pursued their faith but saw “disturbing trends within Christendom.”

After she did, Savage went on social media to say he “had a sexual incident with a female high school senior” when he was a college student working for a Texas Baptist church now known as StoneBridge.

Savage, who helped found Highpoint Church, said he responded in a “biblical way.” He said he had apologized to Woodson immediately and asked for her forgiveness, Fox 13 in Memphis reported.

During his remarks on Sunday he did not tell the congregation what happened, but he said he had sinned and had not keep it a secret from Highpoint’s leaders. He also said he believed the episode had been “dealt with in Texas.”

“Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules,” he said, reading a statement off his cell phone.

“Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing.”

When he finished, church members stood and applauded.

Chris Conlee, Highpoint’s lead pastor, said he supported Savage, one of the people “hurt by the ripple effect of the consequences of that sin.”

Woodson told The Times the episode had not been “dealt with” because it had never been reported to law enforcement authorities.

….

She told The Times she sent an email in December to Savage at Highpoint, asking him, “Do you remember that night that you were supposed to drive me home from church and instead drove me to a deserted back road and sexually assaulted me?”

She said she decided to go public when he didn’t respond after more than a month.

Here’s some of what she wrote in the blog post.

“One evening, in the early Spring of 1998, I was hanging out with my youth minister, Andy Savage, at my church, Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church located at 10801 Falconwing Drive,” she wrote.

“I was 17 years old at the time and a senior at The Woodlands High School. There had been multiple kids there at the church after school, but as the night got later I was the only student left, alone in the church with Andy. I did not have a vehicle at the church, so Andy offered to take me home to my Mom’s house. …

“We reached a dead end and he turned the truck around before putting it in park. We were stopped, and he turned the headlights off. Suddenly, Andy unzipped his jeans and pulled out his penis. He asked me to suck it. I was scared and embarrassed, but I did it. I remember feeling that this must mean that Andy loved me. He then asked me to unbutton my shirt. I did. He started touching me over my bra and then lifted my bra up and began touching my breasts.

“After what I believe to have been about 5 minutes of this going on, he suddenly stopped, got out of the truck and ran around the back and to my side before falling to his knees. I quickly buttoned my shirt back up and got out of the truck. Now I was terrified and ashamed. I remember him pleading, while he was on his knees with his hands up on his head, ‘Oh my god, oh my god. What have I done? Oh my god, I’m so sorry. You can’t tell anyone …”

She said she felt manipulated and used, and that guilt and anxiety were “eating at her soul.” She said she took her accusations to the church’s leaders, but police were never called.

She said she was told that the associate pastor would inform the head pastor and the church would deal with the situation.

Savage, she said, went on as though nothing was outside of the norm, teaching a workshop titled “True Love Waits” about sexual purity and abstinence.

….

Other links to stories about Andy Savage:

The Pastor of Andy Savage’s Church Calls Bloggers and Social Media Critics ‘Hateful’

Amid #MeToo, Evangelicals Grapple With Misconduct In Their Own Churches