In a shocking twist, Memphis megachurch pastor Andy Savage received a standing ovation after he admitted to sexually assaulting a teen 20 years ago.
Savage made a confession during the weekend at Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee, several days after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1998 when she was just 17 years old and he was a youth minister at a suburban Houston church.
One night, Savage offered to drive Jules Woodson home from church but then took a detour, took her to a wooded area off the road and forced her to perform oral sex on him, according to the victim. He later went down on his knees in front of her and apologized to her but told her not to tell anyone else of the incident and take it to her grave.
On Sunday, Savage did not recount the entire ordeal he put Woodson through but only said he had sinned and taken responsibility for it.
“As a college student on staff at a church in Texas more than 20 years ago, I regretfully had a sexual incident with a female high school senior in the church,” he said.
He also said he did not keep the incident secret from the church leaders and said he thought the matter was “dealt with in Texas” before Woodson made it public.
“Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules,” Savage, 42, said during the service, which was streamed live online. “Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing.”
After his apology, church members stood up and applauded for the pastor for about 20 seconds. To make matters worse, the lead pastor, Chris Conlee, implied Savage was the real victim here who was “hurt by the ripple effect of the consequences of that sin” — which apparently referred to the cancellation of Savage’s book “The Ridiculously Good Marriage” by a Christian publishing house. Never mind the fact that Savage scarred a young girl for life.
In a phone interview Monday night, a tearful Woodson said she was in utter disbelief at the video.
“It’s disgusting,” she said.
Woodson reported the incident was never “dealt with.” She was scared of informing her mother of the ordeal but thought the senior members of the Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church would support her. She disclosed the incident to their associate pastor Larry Cotton who was completely unsupportive and unsympathetic to her plight. She then told the head pastor, Steve Bradley, who eventually talked to her mother but twisted the story so that it only seemed like Savage and Woodson had shared an “innocent kiss.”
Meanwhile, Savage remained on his regular duties and even had the gall to lead a workshop on the virtues of abstinence.
Now years later, Woodson only got the courage to come forward after she saw “Today” host Matt Lauer dismissed over sexual assault allegations. She first emailed Savage to ask if he remembered the incident but got no reply for over a month. The she decided to go public with her story. The survivor said the issue was not resolved because the police never got involved.
“I just hope that by me coming forward that I would give courage to one other person,” Woodson said. “It doesn’t matter if I was his only victim. What matters is that this was a big problem and continues to go on.”
Social media users rallied under the hashtag #ChurchToo, which is a version of the hashtag #MeToo for abuses involving the clergy.
To men who used church power to abuse, praying for forgiveness doesn't mean it's going to be thrown under the rug. #churchtoo— Ashlyn Rudolph (@lissomeyy) January 8, 2018
Today, I remembered the time our youth leader told me and a friend (we were 14) that he could tell any woman’s breast size.#churchtoo— Emily Culella (@CulellaDeVille) January 6, 2018
This story is incredibly disturbing, and the church’s response both at the time of the assault and again today is disgraceful. There needs to be a massive reckoning with #ChurchToo. https://t.co/vE7dkX09GH— Matthew Vines (@VinesMatthew) January 6, 2018
Church: Silencing the suffering is never, ever, ever the way of Christ.— Ann Voskamp (@AnnVoskamp) January 9, 2018
Because when we don't stand with the suffering?
*We don't stand with our suffering Savior, who is always with the suffering. #silenceisnotspiritual #ChurchToo #MeToo
I am sickened by the theatrics at High Point Church today. Instead of a standing ovation for a molester, you should have walked out. Your sloppy grace for Andy Savage is more abuse heaped on his victim.#exvangelical #notgrace #churchtoo— Mike Phillips (@sacwriter) January 7, 2018
@ShaunKing unfortunately churches are fertile ground for sexual predators. Churches rarely do background checks and when caught predators can wrap themselves in the Bible and demand that victims be good Christians and forgive. #metoo #churchtoo https://t.co/T4wMsS0Bup— LanaEliza (@Eliza1Lana) January 10, 2018
When I was in high school my youth pastor slept with several underaged girls in my church and after he left, he did it at his next church too. A couple years down the line he "admitted" it to his new church and was met with acceptance. He's still a pastor now #churchtoo— B (@littlepetbee) January 10, 2018
Thank you, Jules Woodson, for bravely speaking #MeToo, #churchToo:— Ann Voskamp (@AnnVoskamp) January 9, 2018
When someone takes something from you that doesn’t belong to them—they take your voice too.
But The Truth always finds it voice—because the Truth is like the lion of Judah & it will roar. #silenceisnotspiritual
Perhaps it’s time that people start applauding sexual assailants less and ensure their reckoning more.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky VIA Reuters