Megachurch pastor Andy Savage will take a leave of absence from Memphis’ Highpoint Church.
The news comes after a woman named Jules Woodson, inspired by the #MeToo movement, recently came forward and said that when she was a 17-year-old, she was the victim of sexual assault. Woodson was a member of a youth group that Savage led in a church in Texas (he was 22 at the time), when he drove her to a secluded road, asked her to perform a sex act on him and and touched her inappropriately. Woodson said that though Savage was asked to leave the church at the time, the leadership there essentially covered it up.
Last week, Savage admitted to his current church that a “sexual incident” had occurred years ago, but did not give details. In a recent radio interview, Savage said the incident was “very mutual.” Woodson has now filed a report with local police, but officials say that the statute of limitations has now passed, saying, “We are unable to investigate and seek justice to the full extent of what would we normally would in such a case.”
Woodson’s spokesperson told Local Memphis, “That entire radio show was a total re-victimization, pointing the blame on a then-teenage girl who he said was a willing participant. He was an adult and he was a pastor and he was in a place of trust.”
Highpoint Church has now released a statement, saying that Savage has been put on a leave absence. They wrote:
“Please know that we support Andy as a leader of our church, but we also understand this has been a difficult season not only for Andy and his family, but for our congregation as well. We want to maintain trust in both Andy and our church leadership that we are not only doing things right, but we are doing right things. To that end, we are engaging a qualified, independent, third party organization to do a full audit of our church processes and Andy’s ministry.
“Further, it has been mutually agreed upon that Andy will take a leave of absence effective immediately. While this audit is being completed, we will continue to support Andy and his family. Please continue to pray for all involved.”