A Memphis megachurch minister received a standing ovation during a church service Sunday after he admitted that he had engaged in a "sexual incident" with a high school student 20 years ago in Texas.
The admission by the pastor, Andy Savage, came several days after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1998 when she was 17 and he was the youth minister at a suburban Houston church. One night, Savage offered to drive her home from church but first took her to a wooded area off a dirt road and had her perform oral sex on him, the woman, Jules Woodson, wrote in a blog post detailing her story.
On Sunday, Savage did not tell the congregation at Highpoint Church what took place in 1998, but he said that he had sinned, taken responsibility for it and never kept it a secret from church leaders. He said that before Woodson took her story public, he believed that the episode had been "dealt with in Texas."
"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 he finished addressing the congregation, church members stood and applauded him for about 20 seconds. The lead pastor at Highpoint, 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."
On Monday, Woodson said she was in disbelief watching the video, which was posted on the church's YouTube page.
"It's disgusting," Woodson said through tears.
She said that the episode had not been "dealt with" because it had never been reported to law enforcement authorities. On Monday, she said she reported it that day, speaking with a detective in the Montgomery County sheriff's office, which is just north of Houston. A sheriff's department spokesman did not return a phone call and an email seeking comment Monday.
It is not clear whether the case could be investigated. In Texas, most sexual assault crimes have a statute of limitations that would have expired by now.
"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."
She said that Larry Cotton, an associate pastor of the church, The Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church, urged her to stay quiet when she told him what had happened. Instead of telling her to inform the authorities, he told her that the church would address the episode internally.
Cotton later left that church and became a director at a church in Austin, Texas. On Tuesday, the Austin Stone Community Church said that it placed Cotton on leave while it investigates "his qualification for his current role of leadership." Cotton could not be reached for comment on Tuesday afternoon.
After Woodson told Cotton about her story in 1998, she said the church sent Savage to apologize to her mother. But he never told her mother explicitly what had happened, leaving the impression that they had only kissed. In Sunday's service, Savage said that at the time he handled the situation in a "biblical way" and resigned from the church and returned to his hometown, Memphis.
Savage did not return a call seeking comment on Monday evening. On Monday afternoon, the Christian publishing company Bethany House said it had canceled the July publication of his book The Ridiculously Good Marriage.
Religion on 01/13/2018
Print Headline: Assaulted victim reviles pastor's admission