A Memphis pastor who endorses conversion therapy and preaches that homosexuality as a sin has admitted to a “sexual incident” with a 17-year-old girl in the 1990s.
On Friday, Jules Woodson came forward to accuse Highpoint Church preacher Andy Savage of sexual assault, stemming from a 1998 incident when she was in high school and Savage a college student working at a Baptist church in Houston.
According to Woodson, Savage was driving her home one afternoon when he suddenly pulled over, exposed himself, and told her to perform fellatio.
“Andy unzipped his jeans and pulled out his penis. He asked me to suck it,” she recounted in a blogpost. “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 the assault, Savage told her not to discuss the incident with anyone. But it weighed heavy on her. “I couldn’t concentrate at school. I couldn’t think about anything else,” she wrote. “The fear, shame, anger and hurt consumed me.”
Woodson approached church leaders, who told her to keep silent so it could be dealt with internally.
“I had to report this. Little did I know, the very people I was about to entrust to protect me and help me would not only victimize me all over again but would also engage in a cover up to protect my abuser and the image of the church.”
Then, last year, emboldened by the #MeToo movement, Woodson emailed Savage to discuss the assault. She was also nonplussed at Savage’s social media posts, which called out other alleged abusers, like Matt Lauer.
“So saddened to hear of another high-profile person in the midst of sexual misconduct allegations,” he tweeted. “It’s beginning to seem that sex on our own terms isn’t working. Go figure,”
After Savage refused to reply to Woodson, she went public in her blog post.
Then, on Sunday Savage confessed to his congregation—to what he called a “sexual incident” with Woodson. He insisted he was was taking “full responsibility” for his behavior.
“I was and remain very remorseful for the incident and deeply regret the pain I caused her and her family,” he declared, “as well as the pain I caused the church and God’s Kingdom.”
In a statement on the church website, he claimed the incident had been “dealt with” 20 years ago.
Highpoint head pastor Chris Conlee said church leaders were aware of the accusations, but that they stood with Savage, who said he “took every step to respond in a biblical way.”.
“Our responsibility is that we must take God’s side,” Conlee told parishioners. “Now what is God’s side? Does God want us to criticize people? Does he want us to criticize Andy and discount what confession, forgiveness, and repentance is all about, and about the fruit that is in keeping with that?”
Though it’s not clear what Savage has done to repent for the attack, congregants at Highpoint responded to his testimony with a standing ovation. Woodson called the reaction “disgusting,” according to The New York Times.
Pastor Savage has avoided the fire-and-brimstone homophobia of other evangelicals, but his views on LGBT people are clear. His “Sex Nation” video series rails against homosexuality, pornography, divorce, and “sexual atheism.”
The Highpoint Church website advises “compassion without compromise” when dealing with gay people.
“Even if you feel compelled toward the homosexual side, then I would simply say biblically, you may have to choose otherwise with what scripture teaches,” he told WREG in 2012. “I would guide them very similarly to the way I would guide a couple, or a spouse who’s married, who feels compelled to have an affair.”
Savage has also condoned reparative therapy for children, a practice condemned by most major mental-health and medical organizations: “Sometimes… kids are put in situations against their own will as children,” he told WREG, “and sometimes that means the parents get it right.”
He claims to know people who have completely eradicated theirs same-sex desires with Jesus’ help, as well as people who still have homosexual desires but live chaste lives.
“We’re going to trust God, even if we don’t understand Him.”