Memphis pastor apologizes, resigns after admission of sexual misconduct
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A top pastor at Highpoint Church has resigned after admitting that he committed sexual misconduct with a high school student more than 20 years ago.
Andy Savage said he was a college student working for a church in Texas at the time. He said he asked for forgiveness from the teen and the church, resigned, and moved back to Memphis.
Savage was the Teaching Pastor at Highpoint, and said he told church leaders about what happened before he was hired. He has been on a leave of absence as the church investigated the allegations.
WMC Action News 5 spoke exclusively with the victim about her side of the story.
Savage released a statement early Tuesday announcing his resignation:
Throughout the last two and a half months, I've had the opportunity to spend much time in prayer and God's Word, as well as to reflect on the thoughts shared by so many who responded to the post by Jules Woodson and to my statement on January 7th. Your passionate opinions on this important matter have truly helped me to 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.
When 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. Morality is meant to guard against injustices, not to minimize them, to compensate for them, or to obscure them. I agree with Jules that, of all places, we as the Church should be getting this right.
As I've reflected during my leave of absence, I have come to see that many wrongs occurred in 1998. The first was my inappropriate relationship with Jules, which was not only immoral, but meets the definition of abuse of power since I was her youth pastor; therefore, when our relationship became physical, there could be no claim of mutual consent. Another wrong was the failure to follow due process afterward; Jules deserved, and did not get, a full investigation and proper response 20 years ago.
Admittedly, at 22 and in my first job, I truly believed that I was being guided through proper steps for restitution, which included resigning my position and moving from Houston to Memphis. Those steps seemed significant at the time, and I trusted in the process assigned to me. Only through my recent time of reflection have I realized that more should have been done.
Of course, this does little to relieve the suffering Jules experienced because of my mistakes and the neglect of due process that followed. I sincerely want to get this right. I want the Church to get this right. I want Jules, finally, to see it gotten right.
That is why, after much prayer and counsel, I now believe it's appropriate for me to resign from my staff position at Highpoint Church and step away from ministry in order to do everything I can to right the wrongs of the past. Apologies are important, but more is required. I know that stepping down once, or even a second time, still doesn't make things right for Jules. But addressing my own acts of abuse this way acknowledges the importance of confronting abuse in our culture and in the Church at large. In addition, I will continue striving to grow through this experience going forward as I seek God's will.
To my Highpoint family, I am grateful for all the ways you've loved me, my wife, and our boys. I would never have been able to come to this place of understanding and conviction without your love and loyal support throughout this process. I will always treasure the opportunities we've had to serve the Lord together.
Highpoint Church also released a statement following Savage's resignation:
Dear Highpoint Family,
We as a church are deeply saddened by the suffering experienced by Jules Woodson and all victims of abuse, and we remain committed to understanding how our church should minister to the needs of our community.
Before employing Andy Savage, the church leadership was informed of his past with Jules Woodson and we understood that it had been thoroughly addressed at the time. We have since learned that this was not the case, and we have accepted Andy's resignation. Our prayers are with Andy, Amanda, and their boys as they enter this new season.
Woodson responded to Savage's apology and resignation:
While yesterday's announcement is a step in the right direction, the conversation must not end here. Instead, this needs to be a wakeup call for everyone. There is a systemic problem within the institution of the church that props people up in places of power and gives them immunity based on cheap grace and a call for forgiveness. This has bred a culture ripe for abuse and cover-up. Repentance, accountability and justice should not be contrived.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique. My hope in speaking out is that this opens up the conversation and empowers others. We, as Christians, should be leading the way in recognizing, preventing and handling abuse.
Genuine repentance is not demonstrated by one decision but by many decisions that, over a period of time and born out of humility, transform the culture of the church. As Jesus demonstrated, the church should be the safest and most affirming community for the vulnerable and the wounded. This announcement is one step forward and I am hopeful there are many more steps to follow.
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