A church leader in Texas has been put on leave of absence and is under investigation after it was alleged that he told a 17-year-old girl 'not to mention' being sexually assaulted 20 years ago by the senior pastor Andy Savage.
As the fallout from the scandal continued, Savage's book on marriage was dropped by its publishers.
The fresh developments came after the Highpoint megachurch in Memphis, Tennessee, where Savage now works rallied around him over the weekend after he admitted to a 'sexual incident' which took place at his previous church in Texas and was outlined in a blog post by the victim, Jules Woodson, published on The Wartburg Watch.
In her blog, Woodson said she spoke to Larry Cotton, who was the Associate Pastor of Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church, about the incident and that Cotton told her he would talk to fellow church leadership, along with Savage, and she should 'not mention anything that had happened to anyone else'.
Cotton now works as the Director of Internship and Residency at The Austin Stone Community Church. That church has now put Cotton on a leave of absence while an investigation is conducted by a third-party.
In a statement, the church said: 'We grieve for what happened to Jules Woodson. It was wrong and unjust; we cannot overly express our sadness for what this woman experienced in God's church. No person should ever be subject to sexual sin from any church leader. Every church should be a safe place for the vulnerable. The trust afforded to any church must be used to care for God's people, never to harm them.
'At the Austin Stone Community Church, we take our responsibility to care for and protect our children and students very seriously. This especially includes protection from any kind of sexual abuse or misconduct...In light of the seriousness of these accusations against Larry Cotton, we feel that due diligence is appropriate to ensure Larry's qualification for his current role of leadership. In order to remove our potential bias from the situation, we have placed Larry on a leave of absence while an investigation by a third-party organization is undertaken. We will provide a full report to the church after its completion.'
By contrast Savage received a standing ovation at church on Sunday after making the admission and appealing for forgiveness.
Chris Conlee, the lead pastor of Highpoint Church, said in a statement after Savage admitted the incident: 'This information is not new to me or to our leadership...On behalf of the elders, pastors, staff, and Trustees of Highpoint, I want to affirm that we are 100 per cent committed to Andy...and his continued ministry at Highpoint Church.'
In her blog, Woodson recalls an evening in Spring 1998 when Savage offered her a lift home after a meeting at the Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church. According to the account, he drove past the turn-off for her house and instead carried on down a dirt road with a promise of a 'surprise'.
After arriving in a deserted area of woodland, she writes that he asked her to engage in sexual activity with him, which she reluctantly did. Then, after around five minutes, she said Savage suddenly jumped out of the vehicle and ran over to her, falling to his knees with his hands on his head and begging her not to tell anyone what had happened. 'You can't tell anyone Jules, please. You have to take this to the grave with you,' she quotes him as saying.
The victim then states that she approached the church's associate pastor to inform him of the incident and that the first thing the man said in response was: 'So you're telling me you participated?'
She writes: 'Not only did I suddenly feel this immense guilt for doing what Andy had asked me to do but I also started to feel that this was my fault somehow because I didn't stop him.'
She writes that the church sought to cover up the incident until she gained the courage to tell more people about it, and Savage subsequently left the church due to a 'poor decision' he had made, with no details being provided to the church's congregation.
'No one could imagine Andy doing anything bad or immoral, much less illegal, and so, it somehow became my fault that Andy was leaving,' the victim writes.
In his statement admitting to the incident, which he read out in church on Sunday, Savage said: '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.
'I resigned from ministry and moved back home to Memphis. I accepted full responsibility for my actions. I was and remain very remorseful for the incident and deeply regret the pain I caused her and her family, as well as the pain I caused the church and God's Kingdom.
'There has never been another situation remotely similar in my life before or after that occurrence. The incident happened before Amanda and I were engaged and I shared every aspect of this situation with her before I asked her to marry me. I further disclosed this incident to Chris Conlee before coming on staff at Highpoint and have shared with key leaders throughout my tenure.
'This incident was dealt with in Texas 20 years ago, but in the last few days has been presented to a wider audience. 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.'
The developments came as Bethany House Publishers announced that they were dropping the publication of Savage's book, The Ridiculously Good Marriage.