By Bob Smietana
Andy Savage, a Memphis megachurch pastor accused of sexually abusing a high school student when he was a youth pastor in the 1990s, has resigned.
Savage admitted having a “sexual incident” with the student but claimed it was consensual. At the time, he was a youth pastor in his 20s. The student, Jules Woodson, was 17.
The assault came to light after Savage made comments on Twitter about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault. Woodson emailed him—reminding Savage of his alleged assault. She said she never received an apology from him for the assault.
When Savage did not respond, she told her story to a blogger. When news of the story broke, Savage told Highpoint Church about the “sexual incident” and received a standing ovation.
Church leaders also knew about the abuse but said he had repented and been cleared for ministry.
He was later placed on leave. The church then hired an outside firm to do an investigation. While the church says it found no other abuse by Savage—it was time for him go to.
“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,” the church said in a 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.”
In his resignation letter, Savage admits he abused Woodson.
I have come to see that many wrongs occurred in 1998.
The first was my inappropriate relationship with Jules, which was not only immoral, but meets the definition of abuse of power since I was her youth pastor; therefore, when our relationship became physical, there could be no claim of mutual consent.
Another wrong was the failure to follow due process afterward; Jules deserved, and did not get, a full investigation and proper response 20 years ago.
The church also said it will work to improve its systems to prevent 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.
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BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.