How Pastor Andy Savage coerced a then 17 year old Jules Woodson to stay quiet about a sexual assault incident, and how a Memphis megachurch assisted and abetted a cover-up.
Memphis megachurch pastor, Andy Savage has been lauded by his congregation after confessing having engaged in a ‘sexual incident’ with a high school student 20 years ago, where he told of ‘doing the right thing.’ The admission led to the reverend receiving a standing ovation.
Told Pastor Andy Savage, 42, on Sunday at Highpoint Church, ‘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’.
CBS News reported Savage’s admission coming a few days after Jules Woodson accusing Savage of sexually assaulting her during a ride home in 1998 when she was 17 and he was a then 22-year-old youth minister at a Houston church.
At the time, the pair were returning from a youth group event, where Savage was Woodson’s then youth pastor. Woodson had accepted the ride believing her youth minister instead of taking her to the woods to sexually exploit her was ‘innocently’ taking her out for ice-cream. At least that is what she believed.
‘I did it because I was scared and I was in shock and I didn’t understand what was happening,’ said Woodson, adding that she notified another pastor, who told her to keep quiet.
Jules Woodson: ‘I thought Pastor Andy Savage was taking me for an ice-cream, not to rape me’.
In a blog post, Woodson described her ordeal on a remote dirt road in 1998:
‘Suddenly, Andy unzipped his jeans and pulled out his penis. He asked me to suck it. I was scared and embarrassed, but I did it. I remember feeling that this must mean that Andy loved me. He then asked me to unbutton my shirt. I did. He started touching me over my bra and then lifted my bra up and began touching my breasts,’ she wrote on Watch Keep.
‘After what I believe to have been about 5 minutes of this going on, he suddenly stopped, got out of the truck and ran around the back and to my side before falling to his knees. I quickly buttoned my shirt back up and got out of the truck. Now I was terrified and ashamed,’
‘I remember him pleading, while he was on his knees with his hands up on his head, ‘Oh my god, oh my god. What have I done? Oh my god, I’m so sorry. You can’t tell anyone Jules, please. You have to take this to the grave with you,’’ she wrote.
Following the incident, Savage is alleged to have told Woodson, ‘not to tell anyone that he had assaulted and molested her.’ And so the incident stayed out of the public realm for 20 years until Woodson could no longer take on Pastor Savage’s burden and the church’s indifference.
Noted patheos: ‘In summary, it happened like this—he assaulted her, he tried to cover it up by telling her to tell no one, she told the associate pastor, he did nothing (another act of coverup), so she told someone in her women’s discipleship group. At that point the pastors determined that they had to do something or word would get out, so they again covered up what happened by telling everyone that Savage had “made a poor decision” and shuffling him to another church.’
Which is to say, ‘doing everything right’ is what’s right in saving one’s career in the church, the church’s reputation, and of course one’s own hide, by avoiding having to face the legal ramifications which had the church followed through would likely have led to Paster Andy Savage facing potential jail time. And of course, having followers then applaud you as well.
Memphis Pastor Andy Savage: ‘I did what i had to do to save myself and the church’s reputation.’
Woodson said she felt compelled to finally speak out in light of the ‘Me Too’ movement and NBC’s firing of ‘Today’ show host, Matt Lauer because of sexual misconduct.
She said she emailed Savage last month who only responded Monday, a day after his church confessional, saying he was ‘sorry’.
In his Sunday mea culpa, Savage did not tell the congregation what transpired ‘some 20 years ago,’ but said he had sinned, taken responsibility ‘for it’ and never kept it a secret from church leaders, the New York Times reported.
‘Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules,’ Savage said during the service. ‘Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing.’
Church members then stood and applauded the Memphis pastor for about 20 seconds.
Highpoint’s lead pastor, Chris Conlee, told the congregation that he supported Savage, who he said was one of the people ‘hurt by the ripple effect of the consequences of that sin.’
Savage also posted a statement on the church’s website.
‘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,’ he said.
‘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.’
Pastor Andy Savage: Expiration of statue of limitations, but sanctions follow through anyway….
Woodson has told of being stunned following Savage’s weekend confession, saying ‘it’s disgusting’.
Come Monday the violated woman reported the incident to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, just north of Houston.
Texas law maintains most sexual assault crimes having a statue of limitations, with Woodson’s sexual assault unlikely to move forward.
‘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.’
In the wake of Savage’s weekend ‘confession’, Christian publishing company Bethany House said Monday that it had canceled the July publication of Savage’s book “The Ridiculously Good Marriage.”
On Amazon, where the book was still available for pre-order as of Wednesday, the description calls Savage a ‘pastor and relationship coach’ who ‘has been in the trenches of marital hardship.’