Since the surfacing of sexual assault scandals by big names like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer, the #MeToo movement has empowered many women to speak out about their own stories.
In fact, seeing Lauer’s termination on the cover of USA Today is what made Jules Woodson decide to come forward about a “sexual incident” that occurred with Memphis megachurch pastor Andy Savage 20 years ago.
Ironically enough, Savage took to Twitter the day of Lauer’s dismissal writing, “So saddened to hear of another high-profile person in the midst of sexual misconduct allegations. It’s beginning to seem that sex on our own terms isn’t working. Go figure.”
Little did he know, it was precisely this incident that would lead to the resurfacing of his own past sins.
Savage admitted to his sexual misbehavior with a high school student on stage during service this Sunday, after which he received a standing ovation from congregants (@20:07).
This admission came just days after a blog post written by Woodson that detailed the traumatizing event occurring in 1998.
Woodson says Savage offered to take her home from church one night, but first drove her into a wooded area where he asked her to give him oral sex.
“We reached a dead end and he turned the truck around before putting it in park,” she wrote. “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.”
Afterwards, he allegedly told her, “You have to take this to the grave with you.”
Pastor Savage didn’t relay the details of his sexual offense to his Highpoint Church congregation, but he did admit that he sinned and took responsibility for his actions long ago by bringing it to the attention of church leaders.
“Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules,” he said during a service streamed online. “Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing.”
Savage later posted his statement on the church’s website:
“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. 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.
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.
There has never been another situation remotely similar in my life before or after that occurrence. The incident happened before Amanda and I were engaged and I shared every aspect of this situation with her before I asked her to marry me. I further disclosed this incident to Chris Conlee before coming on staff at Highpoint and have shared with key leaders throughout my tenure.
This incident was dealt with in Texas 20 years ago, but in the last few days has been presented to a wider audience. I was wrong and I accepted responsibility for my actions. I was sorry then and remain so today. Again, I sincerely ask for forgiveness from her and pray for God’s continued healing for everyone involved.”
According to Woodson, she emailed Savage the day Lauer’s scandal surfaced saying, “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 expected an apologetic response, but after hearing no reply for almost a month, she decided to go public with her story in the blog post.
“I just hope that by me coming forward that I would give courage to one other person,” says Woodson. “It doesn’t matter if I was his only victim. What matters is that this was a big problem and continues to go on.”
According to the New York Times, it’s still unclear whether the case could be open to investigation. Savage could not be reached for further comment.