Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Andy Savage Gets Standing Ovation for Admitting He Sexually Assaulted a Teenager

pastor andy savage

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Twenty years ago, Andy Savage, teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee, sexually assaulted a church teenager. He was never prosecuted for his crime. His church, at the time, Woodland Parkway Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, covered up his “sin.” Thanks to fine people at The Wartburg Watch, Savage’s victim’s story is being heard far and wide, forcing the not-so-good pastor Savage to shed crocodiles tears before his church as he confessed his crime. Astoundingly, the tone-deaf, clueless sheep at Highpoint Church gave their pastor a standing ovation.

Lisa Gutierrez and Adam Darby, reporters for the Kansas City Star, wrote:

Members of a Memphis megachurch stood and applauded their pastor on Sunday when he admitted to and apologized for engaging in a “sexual incident” with a high school student 20 years ago.

Jules Woodson, who accused Highpoint Church Pastor Andy Savage of sexually assaulting her when she was 17, told The New York Times she watched the moment, streamed live on the church’s YouTube page, in disbelief.

“It’s disgusting,” she said.

Though Savage, an author and podcast host, remains on the Highpoint staff, repercussions have begun for what Woodson says happened two decades ago.

The Times reported that on Monday afternoon, Christian publishing company Bethany House canceled the July publication of Savage’s book “The Ridiculously Good Marriage.”

Also on Monday, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis reported that the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, placed staff member Larry Cotton on leave.

Cotton was associate pastor at Woodland Parkway Baptist Church in Texas, where Savage worked at the time of the alleged assault.

Woodson has said a pastor at the church urged her to stay quiet about what happened.

“We grieve for what happened to Jules Woodson,” said a statement to the Commercial Appeal from Austin Stone’s communications director John Young. “… No person should ever be subject to sexual sin from any church leader.”

The church felt it was “appropriate to ensure (Cotton’s) qualifications for his current role of leadership,” the statement read.

“In order to remove our potential bias from the situation, we have placed (Cotton) on a leave of absence while an investigation by a third-party organization is undertaken. We will provide a full report to the church after its completion.”

Woodson graphically shared her story on Friday with The Wartburg Watch, a site started by two Christian women who pursued their faith but saw “disturbing trends within Christendom.”

After she did, Savage went on social media to say he “had a sexual incident with a female high school senior” when he was a college student working for a Texas Baptist church now known as StoneBridge.

Savage, who helped found Highpoint Church, said he responded in a “biblical way.” He said he had apologized to Woodson immediately and asked for her forgiveness, Fox 13 in Memphis reported.

During his remarks on Sunday he did not tell the congregation what happened, but he said he had sinned and had not keep it a secret from Highpoint’s leaders. He also said he believed the episode had been “dealt with in Texas.”

“Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules,” he said, reading a statement off his cell phone.

“Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing.”

When he finished, church members stood and applauded.

Chris Conlee, Highpoint’s lead pastor, said he supported Savage, one of the people “hurt by the ripple effect of the consequences of that sin.”

Woodson told The Times the episode had not been “dealt with” because it had never been reported to law enforcement authorities.

….

She told The Times she sent an email in December to Savage at Highpoint, asking him, “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 decided to go public when he didn’t respond after more than a month.

Here’s some of what she wrote in the blog post.

“One evening, in the early Spring of 1998, I was hanging out with my youth minister, Andy Savage, at my church, Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church located at 10801 Falconwing Drive,” she wrote.

“I was 17 years old at the time and a senior at The Woodlands High School. There had been multiple kids there at the church after school, but as the night got later I was the only student left, alone in the church with Andy. I did not have a vehicle at the church, so Andy offered to take me home to my Mom’s house. …

“We reached a dead end and he turned the truck around before putting it in park. We were stopped, and he turned the headlights off. 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.

“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 …”

She said she felt manipulated and used, and that guilt and anxiety were “eating at her soul.” She said she took her accusations to the church’s leaders, but police were never called.

She said she was told that the associate pastor would inform the head pastor and the church would deal with the situation.

Savage, she said, went on as though nothing was outside of the norm, teaching a workshop titled “True Love Waits” about sexual purity and abstinence.

….

Other links to stories about Andy Savage:

The Pastor of Andy Savage’s Church Calls Bloggers and Social Media Critics ‘Hateful’

Amid #MeToo, Evangelicals Grapple With Misconduct In Their Own Churches

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8 Comments

  1. Lynn123

    Good grief! Where was her mother in all this? Where was her father?

    Reply
    1. Rachel

      Where are the parents in so many cases of this type? Standing in the corner of the pastor. Maybe they knew but blamed the girl? Maybe she knew of their regressive attitudes beforehand and so felt she couldn’t approach them.

      Once again, the moral is clear: Never, ever rely on church authorities to deal with abuse; they appear totally unable to do so.

      Reply
      1. Lynn123

        I do not believe that most parents would be standing in the corner of the pastor against their daughter! Good grief!

        Reply
        1. Rachel

          It happens. A series of cases here in England have involved a private Catholic boys’ school in London run by the order of Benedictines. Several of the monks have, over the past few years, been convicted of child sexual abuse within the school. (The most recent trial has just ended.) Guess what? Most of the colleagues of these men knew exactly what was going on and chose not to go to the police. And many of the parents knew and also chose to keep silent, believing that the reputation of the Church is more important than the basic wellbeing of children (including their own.)

          And this is just one example: there have been other Catholic schools, other sets of teachers, other parents. Innumerable children who have been violated and damaged. This is why nowadays I have no truck with religion (any religion): the more you look, the more you find that this is what goes on, men (almost always men) in positions of authority either raping children themselves or keeping quiet in order to protect other men. There was a case here a while ago involving the Jehovah Witnesses, and several involving the Church of England. A lot of this just couldn’t go on without the collusion of parents.

          Reply
    2. ObstacleChick

      Libby Anne has a good article on patheos at Love Joy Feminism that has some additional details on this matter – you might want to take a look. Apparently, her parents were not informed by the church after the victim went to an assistant pastor. The church covered it up, even neglecting to inform the parents. Years later, the church wanted to bring this abuser back and they asked the parents if they minded – they minded, and the pastor wasn’t brought back.

      I have a 17 year old daughter – I am not with her all the time, obviously. We allow her to go out with friends, sometimes driving herself, sometimes riding with a friend. She is in the school’s musical, and rehearsals can last from 3-8 pm or 4-9 pm, and there’s usually a dinner break where the kids with licenses can drive to nearby restaurants to pick up food. My 15-year-old son is on the school’s soccer, bowling, and baseball teams, and they have practices and games after school (taking the bus to away games). The kids go to the park on their own. They go to friends’ houses. My point is, there is ample opportunity for abuse to happen and I’m not there. If someone assaulted my child at any of these places, I would not know unless they or someone else told me. But you can guarantee, if they told me something happened, I would take action right away.

      It’s sick, sick, sick that the congregation gave a standing ovation to a pastor who stated that he abused someone.

      Reply
  2. Lynn123

    I guess it’s hard for me to imagine her going to an assistant pastor-another man-to tell about oral sex? That sounds very strange to me. If that happened to me at 17, I can imagine telling my mother or a friend or another woman, but not a man. And her parents must have been told by her or someone somewhere along the way if they objected to this pastor returning.

    Also it seems obvious that churches should have strict rules about youth pastors-for example, male youth pastors cannot be alone with a female and certainly cannot give them a ride. I don’t even think it’s a great idea to have a male youth pastor with female teenagers. Teenage girls easily get crushes on men in their 20’s or 30’s. For example, I had a crush on my algebra teacher in 9th grade.

    About the congregation giving a standing ovation-yeah, I’ve been trying to figure that one out. It sounds pretty disgusting, but it’s probably his “I sinned, I asked God to forgive me, I’m sorry” routine that they were applauding. Probably some of them went home and gave it more thought and felt ill-hopefully.

    Reply
    1. ObstacleChick

      It’s hard to predict how a victim may be feeling and what they may do after assault. I don’t even know who I would tell first. Maybe the girl thought she had more recourse going to a pastor than going to her parents. Maybe she was afraid her parents would be mad and do harm to the offender. Or maybe she didn’t want to hurt her parents by telling them. Who knows. In any case, she must have trusted the pastoral staff enough at her church to believe they would deal honestly and justly with the situation (which they didn’t).

      When I was a teen, many of the girls (myself included) had a crush on our youth pastor – he was young, not much older than we were. His girlfriend (later fiancee and wife) was not much older than we were, and he had met her when she was in high school. I got an inkling that he was either in college, maybe interning at her church as a seminary student, but I wasn’t sure. It seemed likely that they started dating under circumstances that these days would be considered sexual harassment, but I never found out for sure. 30-something years later they’re still married.

      My husband started teaching high school when he was 22 years old, scarcely older than some of his students. He always kept his classroom door open when class wasn’t in session because he never wanted the appearance of impropriety. His friend, an English teacher who started at the same time, had some girls who flirted with him, and he had the same open door policy. However……men (and women) should be aware of their positions of influence or authority and make sure they are not sexually harassing others, period.

      Reply
  3. Prack Stibbley, PhD

    <>…that’s what these circuses aim for, members innocent enough to believe that the heirarchy can be trusted & counted on to do what’s right instead of covering their own butts for the sake of the church’s precious image plus their own careers. It’s Laodicea to the hilt. And that standing ovation is the epitome of Stockholm Syndrome.

    Reply

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