“Jules Woodson says she was 17 when her youth pastor, Andy Savage, sexually assaulted her. In late 2017, almost two decades later, Ms. Woodson, inspired by the #MeToo movement, emailed Mr. Savage asking whether he remembered what has haunted her for decades. When he didn’t reply, she told her story to a blog for victims of church abuse. Days later, Mr. Savage addressed his congregation at the Highpoint Church in Memphis, where he is a pastor, and the church streamed the service online as usual.
At the service, Mr. Savage apologized to the mega-congregation for what he calls a “sexual incident” when he was a 22-year-old youth pastor at his former church in Texas. He received a standing ovation from the congregation. Many online viewers of the video remarked on the applause.
The church pulled the video offline, but not before The Times saved a copy. We then viewed it with Ms. Woodson, whose reactions and commentary we taped for the Op-Ed video above. She recoils at Highpoint’s head pastor’s carefully orchestrated introduction of Mr. Savage and at Mr. Savage’s use of Christian tenets like sin and redemption to characterize his behavior and to try to absolve himself.
Mr. Savage never talks about the details of the event. Instead, Ms. Woodson points out, he refers to it only as a “sexual incident,” without a victim or a perpetrator.
The pastor to whom Ms. Woodson had reported her sexual assault resigned from his ministry in February, seeking her forgiveness for failing to protect her. Texas has a clergy law for sexual assault cases, but in a statement, the local police said that the case is beyond the statute of limitations.
Highpoint Church concluded an investigation of Mr. Savage this week. Its results are not yet public.”