The pastor and co-founder of a Christian megachurch in Memphis (Tennessee) has admitted to sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl when he served as her youth pastor. And she’s pressing charges.
The victim is Jules Woodson and she was assaulted by Andy Savage, the co-founder and pastor at Highpoint Church, nearly two decades ago. Her story was published by multiple websites, and it details how Savage was supposed to drive Woodson home from church. Instead he drove her to a “deserted back road” where he sexually assaulted her.
I am a grown woman now and although it’s been almost 20 years since everything happened, it still affects me to this day. There are triggers that take me back to that night, there are nightmares that haunt my dreams.
My hope in finally coming forward with my story is not only that I can begin to get closure and healing for all that has happened to me, but more so, that my story might have a positive impact on others and effect positive change in how these types of situations are handled within the church.
To anyone who has suffered from sexual abuse in the church and the subsequent cover up and pressure to remain silent, I want you to know that it is not your fault. Most importantly, I want you to know that you are not alone.
Woodson’s account is incredibly detailed and graphic. It also gained enough traction to pressure Savage into responding. (Prior to that, he was ignoring her emails.)
Instead of blaming the victim or saying she was “fake news,” Savage apologized for his actions. He also stressed that this took place “more than 20 years ago” while he was working at a church as a student, and called the assault a “sexual incident.”
I apologized and sought forgiveness from her, her parents, her discipleship group, the church staff, and the church leadership, who informed the congregation. In agreement with wise counsel, I took every step to respond in a biblical way.
I resigned from ministry and moved back home to Memphis. I accepted full responsibility for my actions. I was and remain very remorseful for the incident and deeply regret the pain I caused her and her family, as well as the pain I caused the church and God’s Kingdom.
Savage admits this information isn’t news to other church leaders, which raises even more questions than it answers. (Why did no one report the crime to authorities at the time?) That said, the apology and confession might be important for another reason: the victim is interested in pursuing charges.
In her blog post, Woodson pointed to Texas Penal Code Chapter 5 (22.011), which states specific rules related to sexual assault and clergymen. One of the ways the law defines sexual assault (without the victim’s consent) is when a religious leader “exploit[s] the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual adviser.”
Woodson’s post says she “recently submitted a report to law enforcement” and notes that Savage “was an adult in a position of trust” who violated that trust and “preyed upon a minor.”
This is sexual assault. We hope that anyone else that has been harmed by Andy Savage will know that they are not alone and will feel safe to come forward and make a report to law enforcement and seek help to heal.
For his part, Savage hasn’t addressed the possibility that he might be charged in a court of law. He did, however, ask for God’s forgiveness. So I guess that’s supposed to make everything better.
Let me guess: His God will forgive him, and he’ll learn his lesson, and he’ll never do it again. Lucky for us, God is never a character witness in court, so this case will be in the hands of the justice system.
Even if church associates were aware of the crime, Woodson’s bravery means the “incident” is no longer a secret. Every member of that church will have to answer for themselves whether they want to be part of a congregation that allows a man who assaulted a minor to teach them how to be moral human beings.