Memphis megachurch pastor Andy Savage has resigned from his teaching position at Highpoint megachurch, it was announced yesterday. Savage had been embroiled in controversy following revelations about his prior sexual misconduct with a teenager.
The original incident – what Savage has now called an 'immoral' relationship – took place in 1998. Savage was a youth pastor at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in Houston and the alleged victim, Jules Woodson, was a 17-year-old high school senior when the incident occurred.
In an account originally published on the website The Wartburg Watch, Woodson said that Savage sexually assaulted her in his car in a secluded area while driving her home from a church event.
Savage has saidhe believed the relaitonship was consensual.
He later left Houston to join Highpoint church, who were aware, to some degree, of the relationship. In January, when Savage went public about the situation in front of the church, both he and Highpoint were widely criticised when he was seen receiving a standing ovation for his confession.
In a letter released on Tuesday, Savage said in recent months he had '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.
He added: '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 an 'investigation conclusion' statement, the church concluded that Savage's resignation was 'appropriate'. It added: 'Highpoint leadership has come to recognise that it was defensive rather than empathetic in its initial reaction to Ms Jules Woodson's communication concerning the abuse she experienced, and humbly commits to develop a deeper understanding of an appropriate, more compassionate response to victims of abuse.'
A church email to the Highpoint congregation read: '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.'