An Alternate Answer to Jules Woodson from Steve Bradley
If you are a regular reader of Wartburg Watch, you likely saw the letter that SBC survivor Jules Woodson sent to her former pastor, who remains at Stonebridge Church more than twenty years after Jules was sexually assaulted by her youth pastor, Andy Savage, in 1998.
To this day, Bradley has not answered this important letter. That's why I decided I would answer it in his place, in a way he might have if he and members at Stonebridge had taken the Convention-wide Caring Well Challenge:
October 25, 2019
It's taken far too long for me to find the courage to answer your important letter, which I now see as an amazing gift. Thank you very much.
My delay I can only explain by telling you of the change of heart that has come to me in the past few months--partly because of your courage. Yet there's so much more to tell.
I want you to know that I am sincerely sorry for what I put you and your family through in the aftermath of Andy assaulting you, and I cannot even imagine what has gone on in your life because of the abuse or in spite of the abuse. Both I'd love to know more about.
It was so wrong of me not to help you press charges against Andy for sexual assault. In fact, at your age, with the new laws that had been passed in Texas in 1995, only three years before the assault, I should have called your mother to come in, explained to her myself what had happened and been certain she knew it was not your fault. At that point, I should have gone with the two of you, where you could have filed a full report with your mom sitting nearby for support when you were finished.
If I had done that, Andy would have been arrested, no doubt. This would have changed the way the congregation, including your youth group, would come to understand things. There would have been no minimizing because I would have been there, as your pastor, not as one pitting you against Andy like an ordinary dispute, but as one standing up for you.
Andy should have been fired. I should have exposed his ordaining congregation after reporting his actions to them if they refused to remove his ordination papers, which you may realize by now is the only way in the SBC system that ordination papers can be lifted. This would have prevented him from going on to other congregations, where he could find other vulnerable youth.
I remember thinking back then that all I wanted to do was get things back to normal in our church, never even thinking that your normal had changed forever already or that the church would lose one of its most precious young people in the process.
Like most of my pastor-friends, I've always hated rather than welcomed conflict as normal. Seminary simply didn't prepare any of us to do otherwise. As a result, too often I've pretended all was well. It wasn't after that awful day in our church, Jules--not for most of the last twenty-one years either until the survivors began coming forward, inspired by the #MeToo movement. Being forced to welcome their enthusiasm and listen to their stories of grief, many also telling how they've managed to overcome in spite of all through the acceptance of this congregation, brought much change in our congregation, where so many members who have come along since 1998 never knew of our sordid past here.
That was the start of my deep conviction of the wrongs I have caused you, and it kept eating on me--even before your letter arrived and ever since.
Yet, even in 2018, when I spoke with the press, I was not ready to be honest. I minimized the mishandling that came because I chose to make things up as I went along, allowing everyone else in the church to do likewise according to their choosing. I failed to lead and to come clean in my half-hearted "confession" to our congregation at that time, even with all the exposure.
It was only in the past few weeks that I've fully faced and confessed my failures that kept the church from moving forward as much as I wanted them to--all because they were in grief. Often about the wrong things! That's what happens when we fail to face the truth.
It was the survivors who led the way, and so much of it was because of you, Jules!
They kept asking questions, even as a survivor support group was started and soon drew victims from all over the area. It seemed like they had a sixth sense--I suppose from their own stories they suspected I was not telling the whole truth. Yet, as survivors tend to do, they waited patiently for a while, even as they continued to question me.
Next, they insisted I go with them to the Caring Well Conference in Dallas, held earlier this month. So, we chartered a bus and filled it with several of our leaders, as well as scores of survivors.
The only thing that disappointed those survivors was the much smaller crowd than they'd hoped to see, considering the millions of SBC members our denomination has. They rightfully expected to see many thousands of Southern Baptists there when, in fact, the attendance (though large) was only a small percentage of our Convention.
What they did not expect was to see me breaking down in tears during some of the testimonies. I'm sure they thought it was because of the testimonies. In reality, it was because I was under such conviction that I very much needed to give you the long-overdue answer to your challenging letter. My tears, at times, were also for you.
In a sense, your courage and theirs together have led me to see your suffering like I've never seen it
Consider this letter as just a start. I hope you will allow me to sit down with you and your mom at some point. Yet that's not all I want to do.
Let me tell you what happened in the last two weeks, as a result of the Conference:
1. I confessed my many sins related to what I did not do--first to God and then to my congregation.
2. I pledged to them to fully support our leaders who attended the conference and now want our congregation to accept the Caring Well Challenge that our SBC President urged us to do months ago.
3. I am thrilled to see the initial proposal that our survivor support group has drawn up, asking for us to have a Caring Well Conference ourselves right here in our congregation, inviting surrounding churches, even from other denominations, to join us that weekend. It will be held sometime next spring.
4. I checked to see if Savage's name is on Baptist Accountability site Chances are you are the one who covered that base already.
As for Savage's ordination, I called the pastor at the church responsible for Savage's ordination in the first place, telling him to expect a letter calling for the withdrawal of his ordination papers now. If he ever decides to take on another position on the pastoral staff of any congregation, this will mean he has to be re-ordained by some other church. While I cannot stop another church (Baptist or otherwise) from doing that if they so choose, I can see that Andy's name be exposed in the press if I ever hear of this happening.
Meanwhile, if they do not agree to cooperate by early December, I will expose Germantown Baptist Church to the press. In that process, I'll let the journalists know exactly where I messed up and that I am very sorry for not taking responsibility for my actions long ago.
They will also hear about the survivors who are leading the way for me and the entire congregation here at Stonebridge now. That's the exciting part.
What I'm asking you to consider is a request from our survivors for you to be the keynote speaker. Now that they know much more of the trauma we put you through, I suggested that we have a big party in your honor and invite the entire church to join in welcoming you in this homecoming. For you left in so much undeserved shame, I promise you that you'll be coming back as an honorable guest, and that you will see the change of hearts even in people you once knew.
If you agree to take on this challenge, I'd like for some of our survivors to meet you soon, so we can sit down and talk further. Yet, I also can accept that you may never wish to return here because of all the old wounds that most likely would be opened up in such a process. The choice is entirely yours.
If you choose not to participate in any of this, I'd still very much like to speak with you and your mom, to offer my sincere apologies and allow you to both air any further grievances you have.
Never will I ever ask you to forgive me. What I did was unforgivable.
I know there is no way we can put a price tag on your losses, but I personally would like to try to at least cover the money you have been out for therapy over the years. We can discuss that and anything else you wish if you'll give me a call at your earliest convenience.
(While I can't say what Jules Woodson would have done after receiving this letter. You can make up whatever ending you wish. Yet, I like to think she would have at least realized what a valuable person she is to all who have heard her story. Meanwhile, in the absence of true justice, she is doing a great job of writing her own ending, and I'm certain that will continue. Take Courage, Jules!)