Savage asked for forgiveness over what he called a ‘sexual incident’ involving then-minor Jules Woodson in 1998
This past Sunday, mega church Pastor Andy Savage stood in front of the congregation at Memphis’ Highpoint Church in Texas and admitted that when he was a 22-year-old adult in a position of power within the church, there was what he called a ‘sexual incident’ with Jules Woodson, who was 17 at the time. He asked the congregation, and Woodson, for forgiveness.
“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,” he said during the service. “I apologized and sought forgiveness from her, her parents, her discipleship group, the church staff, and the church leadership, who informed the congregation. … I took every step to respond in a biblical way.”
What did the audience do, upon hearing someone admit to being a sexual abuser? Rush the stage in an angry mob all Beauty and the Beast style and march Savage to the nearest police station? Nope.
Instead they applauded him. Like he just performed a fucking piano solo rather than confessed to a crime.
What Savage calls a ‘sexual incident’, Woodson calls an assault. She shared the details of what happened to her on the Watch Keep blog, along with a screen shot of an email she sent to Savage last month reminding him she hadn’t forgotten about that night. “#metoo” she signed off.
In her post, Woodson explains what happened that night. Savage was her church youth pastor, and had offered to give her a ride home from church. “As he was driving me towards my home, he passed the turn he should have made to go to my house. I asked him where he was going. I don’t remember his exact response, but it was something along the lines of ‘you’ll see’ or ‘it’s a surprise.’” Woodson alleges Savage exposed himself and asked her for oral sex before fondling her bare breasts.
After a few minutes Savage got out of the truck and ran to her side. He got on his knees and said, “I’m so sorry. You can’t tell anyone Jules, please. You have to take this to the grave with you.”
In case you’re wondering just how repentant Savage is for his sexually predatorial ways, he never responded to Woodson’s email. Instead he chose to issue this public message in what seems to be a bid to save his reputation. (He can kiss his latest book goodbye though.)
“In hindsight, I see that more could have been done for Jules,” Savage said in his address. “I am truly sorry more was not done. Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules. So today, I say, ‘Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing. And I mean that.'”
You can use buzzwords like “sorry,” “forgiveness,” and “healing” all you want. But noting that he was in college, repeatedly pointing out how long ago the attack happened, and refusing to outright acknowledge it for the assault it was makes his words sounds like self-serving bullshit. Woodson agrees. She told CNN through a victim advocate that she found Savage’s ‘apology’ “disgusting.”
Woodson told Larry Cotton, who was the Associate Pastor of her church at the time, what happened. Rather than alert the authorities and have Savage held accountable for his actions, as he should have, Savage was quietly fired from his role in the church. Now he’s a successful man in a position of power at a massive church. Thanks to the statute of limitations in Texas, can’t be held legally accountable for his crimes. I feel sick just typing that sentence.
Even if it’s too late for Savage to face charges for what he did, Woodson told Action News 5 that she hopes telling her story will help spark change, particularly in church communities sexual assault victims may be pressured to stay silent.
“I want other victims of sexual abuse, especially within the church, to know that they’re not alone and to know that they have a voice,” Woodson said.
If anyone deserves applause, it’s her.