Churchgoers gave a Memphis pastor a standing ovation on Sunday after he admitted to a “sexual incident” with a teenage girl some 20 years ago.
Andy Savage, 42, a pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, told churchgoers he sinned in 1998 but did not go into detail, The Kansas City Star reported.
A few days earlier, Jules Woodson wrote a blog entry on Watch Keep, a website for survivors of sexual abuse. Woodson wrote that she was 17 in the spring of 1998 when Savage offered to drive her home from the Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in a Houston suburb. Woodson wrote that the pastor pulled over on a dirt road and asked her to perform oral sex on him before he demanded she take off her top. Woodson wrote he begged her not to tell anyone what transpired.
“You have to take this to the grave with you,” Savage told Woodson, according to her account.
In a statement, Savage admitted to having a “sexual incident with a female high school senior in the church” and said he apologized and “took every step to respond in a biblical way.”
On Sunday, Savage said he took responsibility, but believed it was “dealt with in Texas.”
“Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules,” Savage said. “Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing.”
Following his speech, the churchgoers gave Savage a standing ovation, which lasted about 20 seconds. Chris Conlee, the megachurch’s lead pastor, told the crowd Savage was “hurt by the ripple effect of the consequences of that sin.”
Woodson told The New York Times she was disgusted after watching Savage’s speech online.
“It’s disgusting,” Woodson said while crying.
Woodson told The Times the matter was never “dealt with” because she never reported her allegations to authorities. She said she went to authorities Monday to make a report, but it was not immediately clear if the statute of limitations had expired.
Woodson said she wanted to come forward with her story after hearing about disgraced “Today” show host Matt Lauer being fired from NBC for sexual misconduct.
The day she heard about Lauer’s firing, Woodson said she sent an email to Savage asking if he remembered that day he drove her home in 1998.
Woodson said she wrote in an email, “Do you remember that night that you were supposed to drive me home from church and instead drove me to a deserted back road and sexually assaulted me?”
She said she hoped Savage would respond, but he did not, which led her to go public with her story.
On Monday, Christian publisher Bethany House announced it had canceled the publication of “The Ridiculously Good Marriage” by Savage, The Associated Press reported.