A Tennessee megachurch pastor publicly admitted to engaging in a “sexual incident” with a 17-year-old girl when he was a college-aged church staff member 20 years ago. His admission — which was made on the platform of Memphis’ Highpoint Church on Sunday — received a standing ovation from the congregation.
Memphis pastor Andy Savage’s confession comes just days after a woman named Jules Woodson publicly revealed the “sexual incident” that reportedly took place when he was a staff member at a Texas church where she belonged.
What was the alleged incident?
Woodson published the details of the incident Friday on Watch Keep.
According to the website, Woodson said that during a 1998 ride home from a church event, Savage — who was driving her alone — purportedly pulled off the road.
“Suddenly Andy unzipped his pants and pulled out his penis,” Woodson told the website. “He asked me to suck it. I was scared embarrassed, but I did it. I remember thinking this must mean that Andy loved me. He then asked me to unbutton my shirt. I did.”
Woodson said, according to the website, that she believed Savage must have loved her if he was asking her to engage in this type of behavior.
Woodson revealed, according to the website, that after five minutes, Savage got out of the car and fell to his knees, where he reportedly begged for forgiveness and asked Woodson not to tell anyone about the alleged incident.
Woodson went on to detail the shock, shame, and anger she felt in the coming days as she kept the details of the alleged incident to herself.
When she could no longer take it, Woodson said that she confided in the associate pastor of the church, according to the website. She detailed the pastor’s response, and indicated that she felt he was blaming her for her role in the incident, though the pastor said that the church would address the incident and handle the fallout.
Woodson added that she felt compelled to keep the story to herself after discussing it with the pastor.
Dissatisfied with the way the pastor handled her confession, Woodson told the website that she divulged the story and its details to her all-female discipleship group.
“The church, however, never came out with an official statement addressing what had happened and/or what was being done about it,” Woodson said. “Instead, they held a going away reception for Andy at the church in which he was allowed to simply say that he had made a poor decision and that it was time for him to move on from our church.”
Woodson said that the reported occurrence has dogged her for the last two decades, and only just recently reported the alleged incident to law enforcement.
How did it resurface 20 years later?
The website reported that in addition to speaking with law enforcement, Woodson reached out to Savage via email in December, asking if he recalled the purported occurrence.
A copy of the email, obtained by the publication, with the subject line “Do you remember?” read:
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?
Do you remember how you acted like you loved me and cared about me in order for me to cooperate in such acts, only to run out of the vehicle later and fall to your knees begging for forgiveness and for me not to tell anyone what had just happened?
Well, I REMEMBER.
The website reported that Savage did not reply to Woodson’s email.
What was Savage’s response?
Savage took the stage on Sunday alongside Highpoint Church’s lead pastor, Chris Conlee, and divulged his role in the incident, which had been picked up by the media in the days since being published on Watch Keep.
“Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules,” he said. “Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing. And I mean that.”
“I was sorry then, and I remain so today,” he added.
Savage said earlier that he resigned from his position at the Texas church after the incident and handled it in what he believed to be a “biblical” way.
“When this happened 20-plus years ago, I did everything I knew to do under the counsel I was given to cooperate with those involved, to repent of my sins, take responsibility for my actions, and seek forgiveness,” Savage said. “I never sought to cover this up.”
Savage noted that he never attempted to keep this a secret from his family, his future wife, or from leaders in his church either then or in recent times.
“Church, our sins are never isolated,” he added. “Like throwing a rock in a pond, the consequences ripple out and affect many people. I was, and remain, sorry for my sin. I am sorry to Jules, to her family, to my family, to my church family, both then and now; and most of all, to the Lord.”
“My repentance over this sin 20 years ago was done believing that God’s forgiveness is greater than any sin,” he said. “And I still believe that.”
Savage concluded, “For any painful memories or fresh wounds this has created for anyone, I am sorry. And I humbly ask for your forgiveness.”
The church also published comments from Savage on its website, where Conlee shared his own statement.
Conlee’s statement read:
This information is not new to me or to our leadership. As one of my closest friends and partners in ministry, I can assure you that I have total confidence in the redemptive process Andy went through under his leadership in Texas. In addition, for more than 16 years, I have watched Andy strive to live a godly life and proactively share what he has learned to help others.
On behalf of the elders, pastors, staff, and Trustees of Highpoint, I want to affirm that we are 100% committed to Andy, Amanda, and their family and his continued ministry at Highpoint Church. We ask for your prayers and support for all involved.
After Savage delivered his speech, members of the congregation stood and applauded his comments.
Did Woodson respond to Savage’s comments to the church?
In an interview published on Tuesday with the New York Times, Woodson tearfully called Savage’s comments “disgusting” and noted that the alleged incident hadn’t been “dealt with” because she didn’t report it to authorities at the time.
“I just hope that by me coming forward that I would give courage to one other person,” Woodson told the Times. “It doesn’t matter if I was his only victim. What matters is that this was a big problem and continues to go on.”
She also told the newspaper that she spoke to a Texas detective.
It’s not clear at this time whether the statute of limitations would apply to the alleged incident.
Is there more?
Christian publishing company Bethany House on Monday said on Twitter that they’d canceled the release of Savage’s upcoming book, “The Ridiculously Good Marriage,” which was set to hit shelves in July.
“Bethany House and Baker Publishing Group have cancelled publication of the Andy Savage book The Ridiculously Good Marriage,” the tweet read.
“It may remain on various retail web sites for a short time until those sites update.”
Bethany House and Baker Publishing Group have cancelled publication of the Andy Savage book The Ridiculously Good Marriage.
It may remain on various retail web sites for a short time until those sites update.
— Bethany House (@bethany_house) January 8, 2018