Predatory Pastors and the Monsters Who Make Them

There are days when the monsters make themselves so visible that you can’t avoid seeing them, as much as you’d like to.

On a recent Sunday morning, Pastor Andy Savage received a standing ovation from his Memphis megachurch congregation, when from the stage he admitted a “sexual incident” with a high school student in his care in 1998—saying that he had “sinned.”

Savage claimed that he had told church leaders at the time, that he believed the issue had been “dealt with” and that he did not realize he still had “unfinished business” with his victim.

Sexual incident? It’s sexual assault, pastor. It’s rape.
Sinned? You committed a crime. 
Dealt with? You covered it up with the help of powerful men around you and hoped it would remain concealed while you profited from your position.
Unfinished business? It’s called accountability, paying for your crimes, and admitting the irreparable damage you’ve done to a human life

This is why people despise Christians.
This is why they don’t trust the Church.
This is why organized Christianity is hemorrhaging.
This is why so many predators feel emboldened.

This is why so many survivors of sexual assault don’t step forward.
This is why Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore received 650,000 votes.

This is why we have the President we have.

We see the sheer scale of the moral sickness laid out in front of us in Savage’s story:
A reckless misuse of the trust of a young person he was charged with caring for.
A leveraging of his power and position in order to silence her after violating that trust.
A local faith community of professed Christian leaders, more concerned with self-preservation than protecting children from predators on the payroll.
A Bible Belt Christian community now willing to look the other way from the most horrific behavior in order not to see its own ugliness.

Andy Savage’s criminal manipulation of a teenager, his deception in the wake of it, church leadership’s concealing of it, and his congregation’s current adoration in the face of it all—is the kind of cancerous sickness I and others like me have been pushing back against. It’s the worst bastardization of the message of Jesus and a complete perversion of pastoral care.

As a twenty-year student pastor, I grieve it all fully.

Power and trust are the minister’s most valuable currencies, and they can either be treated with reverence, allowing us to nurture young people through the most turbulent of days—or manipulated in ways that do irreparable damage.

Student pastors are given sacred proximity to young people who look up to us, who look for evidence of Jesus in us, who make themselves vulnerable because they believe themselves safe in that vulnerability. If we fail these teenagers in the way Savage did, we don’t only betray that trust, we destroy their sense of security, we alter their sense of identity—and we pervert their image of God by making God a co-conspirator in the violence we perpetrate against them.

Andy Savage’s crimes against this young woman are beyond defense or explanation, but some things are equally reprehensible:
The code language he wielded when speaking publicly about it all; the way he attempted to minimize it with antiseptic words that belie the depth of the filth and the reality of the violence.
The using of the moment to somehow fashion himself as the hero; the flawed, repentant man of God confessing his sins and to a quickly forgiving multitude.
A community of supposed followers of Jesus so willing to applaud it all, so ready to give him a pass, so seemingly lacking any compassion for a young woman and young people like her, who are violated in the places they should feel most secure.

I shudder to think how many Andy Savages there are out there leveraging the trust and power that come with their position in order to satisfy their sickness.
My heart breaks at the number of young people who find themselves secretly carrying the guilt and shame heaped upon their shoulders by leaders who would victimize them a second time by silencing them.
My blood boils at professed spiritual leaders, whose ol’ Jesus Boy’s Club still protects predators and deviants and calls it religion.
I grieve the number of men and women filling churches across this country, who will gladly erase two decades of violence and deception by their leaders—in exchange for what amounts to little more than a self-serving, sanctified Sunday morning photo-op prior to passing a collection plate.

God help the predatory pastors, and the monsters who allow them to do monstrous things to young people.


A note to survivors of pastoral violence:

To the young people reading this who’ve been violated by those claiming to represent Jesus: I am so very sorry you’ve had to walk this road—and I’m equally sorry for the Christians who’ve further victimized you by excusing, concealing, and applauding them. I’m sorry for those who minimized your trauma or failed to believe you or failed to protect you. This was not your fault. It was their fault.

I can’t fix the things they’ve broken or undo the damage they’ve done or erase the memories you live with. I can’t help you make sense of it all because honestly it doesn’t make any sense.

I can only tell you that I grieve the pain you’ve endured, the fear and the shame you’ve been unfairly forced to carry. You don’t deserve these things. I would take them from you if I could.

It may not help, but I want you to know that there are pastors, ministers, priests, and youth leaders who are horrified by it all too; men and women who exist to be that place of safety and rest for people, who treasure the trust of those in their care, who feel sick knowing that you’ve been injured in this way.

There are faith communities out there who are fully disgusted by what you’ve had to endure; who would stand with you, cry with you, grieve alongside you.

But this has happened to you, and your trust was betrayed, and you have had to walk through this hell because of professed Christians—and so I know that doesn’t really matter.

More than anything, I just want you to know that you are far more than the terrible thing that was done to you; that you are beautiful and loved and deserving of good things in this life.

Please don’t carry your sadness in silence because it is too much for you to bear alone and you shouldn’t have to.

If you need a place to share the weight of this, please reach out here, or to the people below who are for you.

Be comforted and lifted and encouraged today.

National Sexual Assault Hotline
EROC (End Rape on Campus)
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Safe Horizon
INCITE (For Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color)
On Eagle’s Wings Ministries
Human Rights Campaign (LGBTQ)
NCLR Nation Center for Lesbian Rights 
Not Alone
Safe Helpline (Victim support for members of Military)


Order John’s book, ‘A Bigger Table’ here.





64 thoughts on “Predatory Pastors and the Monsters Who Make Them

  1. I wonder how any of the people who stood and applauded would feel had it been their daughter? That’s the question, and any answer is frightening in what it says about the current state of Christianity.

    Would they have applauded, even had it been their daughter? How frightening that the parent of a young girl might believe it was somehow OK because this was a Pastor (a “man of God”).

    Equally abhorrent, how very un-Christ-like to think it was OK that it happened to someone else’s child, and not my own. How far the mighty have fallen.

  2. From the description here I see a greater rot of Savage and thousands like him.
    He jumped ahead of the possible accusation of the violated person mentioned and likely others not mentioned with a calculated diversion tactic to use his power of the pulpit to circumvent backlash when it would have come out because the #me-too movement would have snared his sorry a**.

    It is time for the followers of Jesus to make a public divorce from the phony credentialed “christian” church!

  3. I’m not really sure why you are addressing your post to young people only. There are victims of this of all ages right through the church communities and beyond. Many have long since left the church because of what was done to them by pastors and by churches who stood by their pastors. Perhaps because it happened to me, I feel sick every time I read of it happening again to more innocent people. Thanks for writing about it.

  4. Just some constructive consideration:
    I wish you had put the address to the victims first. I don’t believe they would have read through all the first part of the article to get to the part for them.
    I read the whole article because I am a pastor, and because I know of sexual abuse within and without the church.
    The victims in our churches are often left or pushed out, disregarded, or denied.
    While I truly appreciate your intentions, it feels like the same treatment the church has traditionally given victims.

  5. To those reading this who voted for Trump and the GOP, you voted in favor of sexual assault. You told victims it didn’t matter to you that they had been harmed. That’s the message you sent to the people of the USA and to the world.

    You sinned when you did this.

    • You selfishly and cruelly vote in favor of killing inconvenient babies. Shame on christians like you who should know better. I voted against that.

      • Actually, if you voted GOP you are the one who wants more aborted babies. You may be under the mistaken impression that if you make abortion illegal, it will reduce the rate of abortion. Studies in Ireland and elsewhere where it’s illegal, have shown that’s simply not the case. More women die, with virtually no change in the abortion rate. That same study showed that if you make birth control more difficult to access, you actually increase the abortion rate. If you want to stop abortion, you’d be a advocate for birth control, not making it more expensive and difficult to obtain. The GOP’s passion for turning it’s back on the poor also contributes to the abortion rate. In studies, many women stated that they couldn’t feed the children they already had, as their reason for getting an abortion. The GOP wants to eliminate mandatory coverage for prenatal and maternity care, which reveals just how “sacred” that life is, until of course it cost them something. So forgive me if I completely disregard your ignorant feigned outrage. Your voting habits contribute to more aborted babies than mine. Well done. I wonder how many abortions Trump has paid for? I’d bet dozens.

        • As a Catholic I cannot support an immoral practice. However, condoms and bc pills are ubiquitous and cheap and nobody is preventing anyone from buying them.

          If you cared about the unborn you would want them to be protected by the law and not ripped to shreds at Planned Parenthood and other abortion mills. Why doesn’t your liberal big-government compassion extend to the least of these waiting to be born?

      • Oh heavens: you are so completely missing the point on so many levels; any form of harm to any human being is sinful. To blind yourself to the harm done to countless boys, girls, men and women by sexual predators and focus on one issue is beyond imagining. And to blindly state “killing inconvenient babies” represents an irrational understanding of abortion.
        You also voted against universal health care, which impacts the lowest and most underprivileged in society and thus contribute to the harming of even more innocent people. That’s not what Jesus called for.
        Shame on you.

        • I haven’t blinded myself to the outrage of sexual predation. I just don’t accept JP’s using every bad thing that happens as an excuse to hate Trump and those who voted for him.

          Abortion unjustly kills human beings. Why are you in favor of that? Why do you defend that injustice? Turning the tables on the pro-lifers doesn’t justify abortion.

          I don’t recall Jesus saying anything about government control of the health care system. I don’t want the people who bring us the DMV to be the same ones to control health care.

          Do you think Jesus blesses your killing of ebryos and fetuses? Do you think Jesus wants us to stop beating hearts?

    • Your remark gas no basis in law or fact.
      President Trump was in the public eye for over 40 years.
      As a millionaire and the billionaire he was around beautiful womwn
      All over the world. I am not aware, and I have read extensively about him,
      One one charge of sexism or sexual assault until mysterially
      He decided to run for President.
      To label 63 million of us as sexual predators says more about you than us.

      • Trump has been in the public eye for 40 years, and he’s never made a secret about what he is. Did you see the Howard Stern interview where he compared himself to Vietnam veterans because he has so much unprotected sex during the AIDS epidemic? I did. The tape you talk about being fake, is nothing but par for the course with Trump. Perhaps if you bothered to do some research for yourself, since clearly you weren’t paying attention for the last 40 years, and not just take everything Faux News feeds to you as the gospel, you wouldn’t make such a complete fool out of yourself here. The scads and scads of evidence of his vile behavior, in business and in his personal life that came out long before he entered politics. My complete and utter disdain far Trump far predates his political aspirations. New Yorkers literally loathe him after all his failures and cons, only 14% voted for him, in his hometown. So if you go on from here and keep shoveling what your shoveling, your just being willfully ignorant, and you’re giving Christians a bad name. Wake up!

        • Thanks for that Katherine; I wasn’t aware of the study you mention, but I have heard similar conclusions from other research. And ultimately, the choice must be up to the woman without being pressured by those who do not have genuine best interest at heart.

        • Again. a great response, Katherine.
          I would add that Trump did not earn his initial fortune. He inherited it from his father, Fred Trump, who made his money as a slum-lord and was a known racist.

  6. For me, it was Pastor Kyle Key in Austin, Texas. It will be 30 years ago this April 2018. I was told not to tell. He got probation. I was told I could no longer attend the campus fellowship or the local Assembly of God Church. I’m now 52. I never married. I never had kids. He nearly destroyed me, but it was the overseers in the Assembly of God Church who protected him that allowed his predatory behavior and abuse of power to be minimized.

  7. I am a 71 year old retired Psychotherapist. I am married and have 5 grown children.
    When I was 23 Dr. Thom Butts, then minister of the First Methodist Church in Brewton, Alabama seduced me while I was hospitalized with emergency appendicitis. He was suppose to be counseling me after I left my husband in NYC . During one of the times we had sex in a motel in another city he told me how at conventions Methodist ministers would don clerical collars and could pick up a woman in the elevator before they got to the first floor. He was later the pastor for the big Methodist Church in Montgomery, on TV every Sunday. My mother sent me his book, Tigers in the Dark.
    He was finally caught and disciplined after he chose a church secretary to mess with. It was 25 years before I could see Jesus independent of Christianity.

  8. Keep shining a light on what is wrong with the “church”…… you are a breath of fresh air that is long overdue. I always look forward to your articles & posts because it’s like breathing in clean, fresh morning air. For the longest time, I felt there was something wrong with me to see what I saw in the”church” and be repelled by it. Now I know I was just a little bit ahead of my time……

  9. As is almost always the case John you articulate the heartfelt reactions of people who may be unable to name what they feel thereby enabling us to understand ourselves and the world better. Bravo!

  10. imagine the lessons the horny teenaged boys in the audience learned. they already know they are superior to women. they now know all they need to do is ay i sinned. wow. just as good a s catholicism.

    you think people like savage are christian? that they love jesus? no.
    they love power. they love tithes. they love their domination of women.

  11. John, you have established sobriety on this difficult subject and the life-altering seriousness of the crime, and extended comfort, encouragement, and resources for victims. What is it you want from or for the perpetrators? What role if any does forgiveness have?

    • I don’t think he deserves forgiveness until after he admits his wrongs and apologizes. I think that’s what the Bible means by repenting of one’s sins. I’ve heard smooth talkers like this guy in parole hearings.
      It didn’t earn them parole, and it shouldn’t earn this guy a standing ovation. He needs to tell what he did. He needs to say it was wrong. He needs to beg forgiveness from his victims (perpetrators almost never have only one victim). As for that church, i hope they take a serious look at what it is they’re teaching, because it certainly isn’t anything I want to hear.

  12. Of course what he did is a horrible betrayal of trust. Likewise for predatory priests or anyone else who abuses their position of power and trust.

    But it’s not fair to lay that all at the feet of conservatives. And neither is it fair to say that’s why some people hate Christians.

    The world hated Christ before they hated us. In spite of bad people in the Church and in spite of parishioners with sins and weaknesses, the world hates Christians because they stand for the Truth. The Church speaks against sexual immorality, unjustly killing unborn babies, etc., and many hate being confronted with that.

  13. I can’t thank you enough for your wonderful post! I am a survivor of sexual abuse as well as spiritual abuse. It sickens me every time I hear the church response (as per this pastor). Yet, I am hopeful for change and growing compassion when I read posts such as yours. It is beyond time for the “church” to turn around and go a new direction. I am so grateful for your writing and your activism. May God richly bless you for all that you do to show true Light in the darkness.

  14. As I too was a youth pastor and leader of students for decades, THANK YOU for writing this piece. I grieve for those who have betrayed the trust given to them, and I grieve even more for those who were betrayed by people who are called to reflect the ways of Jesus to a broken and hurting world. Andy Savage should be resigning today instead of receiving any ovation. The Christian church in this country has largely lost its way…

  15. What this guy did is horrible and his “apology” only rubbed more salt in the wounds of his victim. But his acts and the apparent approval of his audience should not reflect on all Christians any more than we should think of all Muslims as violent. Besides that, the progressives have the most blood on their hands by supporting violence against the unborn as well as encouraging extremely immoral behavior.

    • What “extremely immoral behavior” would that be, Larry?
      I’m a progressive, and I don’t encourage anything immoral. Oh, wait– you probably think it’s immoral for gay people to be themselves, the selves that God made them to be. Yes, I certainly do encourage that.

      • Abortion is the most egregious, obviously, since it kills human beings.

        Any sexual practices outside of a marriage between a man and a woman are immoral. That covers much heterosexual sexual behavior and all same-sex sexual contact. Christians should not practice that or approve of that but the progressives (in the religious sense) have lost their way and believe in a very corrupted version of Christianity, if it is Christianity at all. It is more of a political movement.

  16. My father, a pastor in a small fundamentalist and cultish church, sexually assaulted me when I was 18. Dad had a sex addiction, which he never acknowledged, and a porn problem, which also was never acknowledged. He refused to get help for any problems because in his mind, he had more knowledge of counseling than trained professionals (because he had taken a class).
    Dad never once admitted that he harmed me. NEVER ONCE. He did not say he was sorry, he did not say he had sinned (or committed an offense). What he said to me was, “I have prayed and feel that God has forgiven me, so you should forgive me as well.” That was the end of it.
    Except, of course, it wasn’t. I have relived that incident over and over and over, in the 38 years since. It has messed up my thinking and feeling about men, especially men who are in a position of power. It has messed up my thinking and feeling about what is normal in a relationship…
    And in spite of that, I loved my Dad. He’s been gone for 6 years now, and I still miss him and still wish to call him, and still want to go see him, and miss his funny stories and his serious talks about anything and everything.

    • So heartbreaking that you suffered at the hands of your Father. Prison time would have been a good place for him to contemplate his crimes and the harmed they caused. And it would have been a good way to protect other potential victims from harm, –at least while he was in prison.

      If you were unable to report it to the police, I do not judge you for that. I know it’s extremely difficult for sexual abuse victims to come forward, for various reasons. One being that they are not ‘believed’ when it is a person that few would suspect, and also when the balance of power is tilted toward the perpetrator.

      It’s important that victims realize that their courage to report the crime, will help lessen the number of victims. Tragically, the perpetrator depends on victims remaining silent, so they can continue their crimes.

      Bill Cosby & Harvey Weinstein were able to abuse women for 30+ years.

  17. Let me add to the list of resources these 3 websires:

    Angela Shelton
    A n award-winning film about women across America who have survived this crime and are healing as they inspire hope.
    Actress, screenwriter, model,author, speaker, survivor:

    Marilyn VanDerbur:
    A story of recovery by a former Miss America whose Pastor DID help her recover from this crime. Healing is possible.
    Author, speaker, survivor, videos:

    Nicole Braddock Bromeley:
    A story of recovery by a woman whose mother did the right thing…changing the world by exposing this reality and increasing awareness about God’s ability to heal…
    Author, speaker, survivor, Christian activist, programs for small groups on healing.

  18. Oh! And…

    Phenomenal training program for all organizations and churches in particular to prevent this from happening and put procedures in place for responding with the love and compassion of Christ when it does!!!!!

  19. Implied in the standing ovation is the audience’s relief for their own guilt. If their beloved Pastor has fallen to these depths and repented of his sin, then that must mean it’s OK for the predators and abusers in the congregation. “Hey, if a God-chosen, Saintly man who knows Jesus on a first name basis rapes a teenager then whatever we’ve done, even if we’ve raped a young girl, can’t be as bad, because we’re just lowly sinners.”
    In a truly just society, Pastor Andy Savage’s victim should be the one who receives the applause, just after he’s arrested publicly based on her testimony before that same crowd.

    • Maybe they didn’t know or fully understand what he did. Maybe they were misinformed and are not “monsters” after all.

      But that’s not really what this post is about. It’s just another way and another excuse to hate on Christians and anyone who voted against the Swamp and against Crooked Hillary.

  20. This is not a new development. Since Medieval times and perhaps even earlier women have been considered meds chattel to be traded or given to deal a deal or to be used and treated poorly. Men somehow seen to feel entitled because of their set-assessed physical superiority of positions of wealth and power. How grossly unfair I ungodly. Many men should be undoubtedly ashamed! Do you know of any who have made amends to their victim? Not I.

  21. My faith was stolen from me by my Episcopal minister scant weeks before I completed my studies for confirmation. While he did not rape me, the sick combination of physical and emotional contact – being molested while supposedly being prepared for my big entry into the adult world of my church – effectively put organized religion into a box which I never again opened. This man, who my mother thought of as a saint on earth, may well have been doing this with other young girls but at the time I was too disgusted and angry at the betrayal to worry about them. My mother (bipolar and hopelessly unreliable) would never have believed me, so I bore the rage and disappointment alone. No shame – I was prematurely self aware and forward thinking due to having to deal with the unpredictable and often immature behavior of my mother. However I raged at having my faith ripped from me, never to return. Still angry 50 years later.

  22. John, as a “me too” I want to thank you for this post. The pastor of a church I once went to was called out by a famous evangelical writer as a priest and poet and prophet….. and he was also a pedophile. All week I’ve been wondering about the story of Recy Taylor who was walking home from church when she was gang raped by six white men. One day she was able to say “ I could have been killed. The Lord was with me that night.” I haven’t felt that yet, but your reaching out with the kind of empathy and compassion and anger you have gives me great comfort. So I thank you again! Keep saying the important stuff.

  23. Pingback: #NotAgain: Resources for Moving Forward from #MeToo - The Forgiven Wife

  24. I’m a survivor of multiple betrayals by spiritual leaders — those who assaulted me and those who refused to believe me. By my late 20’s I was so fed up I tried to “divorce” God. Dipped my toes into many religions, disciplines, practices. Finally realized the folly of trying to deal with “employees” and went straight to the “CEO” “Don’t bother with the help, talk to the owner” Now my spiritual life is rich and beautiful, growing more so every day. To other survivors — approach God one-on-one — trust God for your healing and remember that in the end those who hurt you will answer for their actions –directly to God. May you be blessed by God’s felt presence every moment from now on .

  25. It has taken me several days to leave this. This is so disturbing on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin. As someone who has served the church for most of my life, I am horrified and angry by these congregants who seem to make idols of the predator and make victims once again of the victim. As someone who has been victimized I am sad, so very sad that we are no farther along. I pray that people’s eyes and ears will be opened and they will change. Peace and Love

    • I think you’ve identified one of the big reasons why folks let their leaders (religious or otherwise) virtually get away with murder: idolization. Churches are particularly prone to idolatry because certain leaders tend to isolate their congregants and create a cult of personality. Even in small churches like mine I’m always reminding folks that it’s not about me, but about Jesus. I’m a tool; He’s the leader.

  26. John, Thank you for this very important message. Please be aware of the rapidly growing Protect LDS Children movement to call attention to the sexually explicit nature of Mormon “worthiness interviews.” Petition owner Sam Young and the victims of this awful practice tell their stories more effectively than I ever could. Please visit and support the effort.

  27. Just for fun it would be nice if the blog host occasionally posted something about a good Christian who is someone to emulate and not an object of hatred and disgust and an excuse to tar and feather all Christians.

    There are good Christians who respect and defend and care for all life from conception until natural death. Who live virtuous chaste lives. Who make great sacrifice for the sake of others.

    Does progressive christianity have to be such a hate-fest all the time?

  28. Sexual assault by any person, regardless of his/her religious affiliation, is a crime, as well as a sin. But I’m just curious: if this person had been an atheist, would you have said, “This is why people hate atheists”?

  29. Most definitely what he did was a terrible thing and should not go unsaid or unfinished fortunately we have to remember that he is human he is representing Jesus Is Not Jesus that doesn’t call for a person to lose their faith or trust in the church and it doesn’t call for other struggling pastors who have passed sexual offense or situations that they need to overcome to continue of come to my words of assurance and of comfort to all those who believe continue to believe and don’t give up and may God be with you

  30. Pastor, I don’t even believe in God, but I still like reading your blog posts. You care about people. I care about people. At the end of the day, I think that’s what matters most.

    Thank you for reaching out to those that truly need our love and compassion.

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