Church Defends Pastor Accused Of Sexual Assault, Says They Knew About It

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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A Memphis megachurch defended one of its pastors accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl, saying they knew about the incident and believe he’s redeemed.

Chris Conlee, head pastor of Highpoint Church, published a statement Friday defending co-founding pastor Andy Savage’s ministry in response to a blog post written the same day alleging that Savage sexually assaulted Jules Woodson in 1998 when she was 17 years old. Conlee wrote that the church had known about the incident for some time, but the members support Savage in light of the character he has displayed over the years and the “redemptive process” he underwent since the assault.

This information is not new to me or to our leadership. As one of my closest friends and partners in ministry, I can assure you that I have total confidence in the redemptive process Andy went through under his leadership in Texas. In addition, for more than 16 years, I have watched Andy strive to live a godly life and proactively share what he has learned to help others. On behalf of the elders, pastors, staff, and Trustees of Highpoint, I want to affirm that we are 100% committed to Andy, Amanda, and their family and his continued ministry at Highpoint Church. We ask for your prayers and support for all involved.

The blog post that prompted the church’s response alleged that Woodson sent an email to Savage reminding him of the incident. Woodson claimed in the email that Savage, then a youth minister at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in Texas, offered to drive her home but instead drove to a deserted back road and coerced her into oral sex. The email, as displayed in the blog post, is dated Dec. 1, 2017. Amy Smith, who authored the blog post in coordination with Dee Parsons of The Wartburg Church, said that Savage had not responded to Woodson’s email by the time Smith published the blog post.

Conlee attached a statement from from Savage to his response on behalf of Highpoint Church. Savage that he was remorseful and filled with regret over the incident he described “as a sexual incident with a female high school senior.” He also said that sought forgiveness from Woodson, her family, and the church after the act. He then resigned from the church’s ministry and moved to Memphis.

“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,” Savage wrote.

“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,” Savage added.


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