Andy Savage and the evangelical culture of forgiveness.

Savage did not try to excuse what he did. But he also didn’t really describe it. An audience member hearing about a “sexual incident” would have no sense of the raw details of Woodson’s accusation: that Savage drove her to a secluded area at night, that he took his penis out of his jeans with no warning and asked her to suck it, that he asked her to open her shirt and fondled her breasts, and that he abruptly stopped and begged her not to tell anyone. (“You have to take this to the grave with you,” she alleges he said.) A listener on Sunday could just have easily imagined the “incident” was a kiss or a lingering hug—inappropriate between a youth pastor and his charge but more easily brushed off. Savage also repeatedly emphasized how long ago all of this happened. Between them, Savage and Conlee used the phrase 20 years ago or more than 20 years ago eight times during the service. (Actually, it has been a little less than 20 years.)

Even if Savage had divulged all the details, though, an apology would likely have made them moot. The pastor was not applauded for his transgression but for his perceived realness, repentance, and regret.