“Andy Savage, accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in Texas 20 years ago, has resigned from his ministerial post at Highpoint Church.
The Memphis megachurch announced the resignation Tuesday, saying that while an investigation found no other instances of abuse, “the leadership team at Highpoint Church agrees that Andy’s resignation is appropriate.”
The statement is the first time the church leadership has termed the encounter involving Savage as “abuse.”
Savage was teaching pastor at Highpoint, part of the church’s senior leadership team. His resignation from the post follows a lengthy investigation by Scott Fredricks, a Fort Worth, Texas, attorney whose specialties include assisting churches with child abuse investigations.
Jules Woodson, the woman who accused Savage, said she was “trying to process” the news Tuesday afternoon and would have a statement in the near future.
In addition to the letter from church leaders, Savage posted a personal letter on the church website Tuesday. In the letter, he said opinions expressed over the past two-plus months have helped him “gain perspective that I simply could not have achieved on my own. I have come to understand Jules’ vantage point better, and to appreciate the courage it took for her to speak up.
“While Jules cried out for justice, I carelessly turned the topic to my own story of moral change, as if getting my own life in order should help to make up for what she went through and continues to go through.”
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Savage did not offer specifics about what his next steps would be, but he said he would “step away from ministry in order to do everything I can to right the wrongs of the past.”
Church leadership, in its letter, said it had 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 …”
Church leadership and members received national criticism over a video that showed Savage getting a standing ovation from the congregation after discussing the case.
The church said it “humbly commits” to develop a deeper understanding of an appropriate and compassionate response to abuse victims. The statement also urged anyone with suspicions of child abuse to report it to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services or local law enforcement.
Woodson was a 17-year-old high school senior at the time of the alleged assault involving Savage in 1998. He was her 22-year-old youth pastor at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in suburban Houston.
Woodson said in January, when the encounter came to light on the Wartburg Watchwebsite, that Savage took her to a secluded area when he supposed to be driving her home from church. She said he asked her to perform oral sex but then changed his mind and asked her not to say anything.
Savage said in a radio interview shortly after that he remembered the moment as a spontaneous and consensual situation.
Another pastor at Woodlands Park who was involved in the incident resigned from his post at an Austin, Texas, church in February following an investigation similar to the one of Savage that began in January.
Larry Cotton, the pastor to whom Woodson reported what happened between her and Savage, resigned from The Austin Stone Community Church in February. Cotton said in a letter to church members that he decided to step down from his ministry leadership position after coming to understand “the weight of my mistakes.”
“I now understand that I did not do enough to serve Jules and help her feel protected and cared for,” Cotton wrote in a letter to members of his Austin church. “I understand that I failed to report sexual abuse — I wish I had reported to the proper authorities.”
Savage left the Texas church quietly following the incident, returning home to Memphis where he worked at Germantown Baptist Church and eventually took the post at Highpoint. Leaders at Highpoint were aware of the Texas incident when they hired Savage.
In a New York Times video published earlier this month, Woodson said she looked up to Savage and trusted him before the 1998 encounter. Afterwards, she said church leaders didn’t handle it properly.
“What happened was a crime,” Woodson said. “This is not something the church should handle internally. … We as a church, of all places, should be getting this right.”
Texas authorities were contacted by Woodson after the case was publicized in January, but they said the statute of limitations had expired. They said Texas law in effect at the time would have made charges difficult, anyway.
In addition to Fredricks’ investigation into Savage, Highpoint has retained MinistrySafe, also based in Fort Worth, to review the church’s child protection practices. MinistrySafe said its work would not begin until the Savage investigation concluded.”