Andy Savage is the megachurch leader from Memphis who sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl two decades ago when he was her youth pastor. The victim went public with her story earlier this year, detailing how Savage drove her to a secluded area, whipped out his penis, and pressured her into giving him oral sex.
Or, as he now refers to the whole encounter, that “incident.”
Savage finally came clean to the entire Highpoint Church congregation in January — without going into any of the details — and the members gave him a standing ovation for it. His colleagues subsequently announced that Savage would be taking a “leave of absence” while they investigated the situation.
The church also took down the video of his “apology,” perhaps hoping they could destroy evidence of how low evangelicals have sunk, but the New York Times saved a copy before it was taken down and recently posted a video of Jules Woodson — the woman Savage assaulted all those years ago — watching it and reacting.
Because of her willingness to speak out about the assault, however, there’s finally some real action.
Today, the church announced that the investigation is complete and Andy Savage has resigned, adding that their own response was far from adequate.
Cantey Hanger’s independent investigation of Andy Savage’s ministry has been completed and the findings communicated to the elders and trustees of Highpoint Church by lead investigator Scott Fredricks.
While the investigation found no other instances of abuse in Andy’s ministry, the leadership team at Highpoint Church agrees that Andy’s resignation is appropriate, given the reasons stated in his resignation statement. Highpoint leadership has come to recognize that it was defensive rather than empathetic in its initial reaction to Ms. Jules Woodson’s communication concerning the abuse she experienced, and humbly commits to develop a deeper understanding of an appropriate, more compassionate response to victims of abuse.
Highpoint Church remains committed to ensuring that it protects families and children involved in its ministries to the highest standard. Accordingly, as announced earlier, Highpoint Church has asked MinistrySafe to conduct an assessment of Highpoint’s current training, policies, screening practices, and supervision in ministries serving minors at Highpoint Church, then help us implement any needed enhancements. That work will begin soon. In the meantime, our child safety policies can be found online here.
We urge anyone with suspicions of child abuse to make a report to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services or local law enforcement.
It’s a start.
Other important questions still remain:
- What will Savage do now?
- What exactly did the investigation find that the church didn’t know about already, and was it any different from what Woodson described?
- Will the church make any meaningful changes to how they talk about sexual abuse (or sex at all)?
- Will other churches take pre-emptive action against their own leaders who have confessed to similar crimes (as Savage allegedly did before he was hired)?
It would be disappointing if church leaders didn’t issue a sincere apology for the way they handled this situation at this weekend’s services. At the very least, they never should have allowed Savage to give a speech portraying himself as the victim of anything.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)