A pastor at a mega-church in Tennessee who drove a teenage girl into the woods and sexually assaulted her has said he doesn’t think he did anything wrong because she was ‘flirtatious’.
Andy Savage, the Teaching Pastor at Highpoint church in Memphis, got a round of applause from his congregation when he came clean about the incident more than two decades ago.
Savage revealed that he was driving the 17-year-old girl home when he took a detour into a wooded area, pulled down his pants and asked her to perform oral sex on him, which she did, before fondling her breasts.
Speaking about the incident on the Ben Ferguson Radio Show, the now-married pastor said: ‘I do not believe I broke the law.’
Savage admitted it was wrong, but said the victim, Jules Woodson, consented.
‘The atmosphere was very flirtatious,’ he said.
‘That flirtatious environment continued to move forward, which led to us making out, some heavy petting. It was a very mutual, spontaneous, physical moment and our hormones were obviously very much in that moment and she performed oral sex.’
Andy Savage, the Teaching Pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee, was placed on a leave of abstinence
The leave comes after Savage admitted to a sexual encounter with a 17-year-old girl more than two decades ago when he was the youth pastor at a different Texas church
He said he told church leaders what happened and no one called the police.
Andy Smith, a spokesman for Woodson, told the outlet that Savage’s radio interview made him sick.
‘That entire radio show was a total re-victimization, pointing the blame on a then teenage girl who he said was a willing participant,’ Smith said. ‘He was an adult and he was a pastor and he was in a place of trust.’
Shortly after the radio interview, the lead pastor at Highpoint announced that Savage would be placed on leave, effective immediately.
Chris Conlee went on to say that the church is standing by Savage’s side.
‘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,’ he wrote in a message posted to the church’s website.
Conlee also said that a third-party organization has been hired to audit the church as well as Savage’s ministry.
‘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,’ the message read. ‘While the audit is being completed, we will continue to support Andy and his family.’
The church has not said whether the leave will be paid.
Highpoint Church’s lead pastor Chris Conlee said in a statement posted on its website Thursday that they are sticking by Savage
Jules Woodson penned a blog post saying Savage, who was 22 at the time, offered to drive her home after a church event but instead took her to a deserted road and asked her to perform oral sex on him. Pictured is an interior of one of the three megachurch branches of Highpoint Church, Savage’s current employer
Savage said in a radio interview that the incident was consensual after they had been flirting
The 42-year-old pastor’s troubled past came to light last week after a woman posted a lengthy message on WatchKeep saying Savage sexually assaulted her in 1998 after he offered to drive her home from church.
At the time, Savage was a 22-year-old college student and youth minister at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in Texas.
She was a 17-year-old high school senior and member of his youth ministry.
Woodson, said Savage turned down deserted road, unzipped his pants, took his penis out, and asked her for oral sex.
She said Savage told her he had a surprise for her before he drove past her house to the wooded area.
‘I remember feeling special and excited,’ she wrote. ‘I assumed we were going to get ice cream.’
Instead, she said, he turned off the car’s lights and asked her to perform oral sex on him.
‘I was scared and embarrassed, but I did it. I remember feeling that this must mean that Andy loved me,’ she posted.
She also said that Savage asked her to unbutton her shirt and then touched her breasts.
Savage is now married and has five children, all boys
Savage (pictured left with his co-pastor) apologized to his church during Sunday’s service
At the end of his apology, he received a standing ovation and applause. Pictured is an interior of a Highpoint Church location
Following the incident, Savage asked Woodson to keep what happened a secret and took her home.
Woodson wrote that she told church leaders what happened, and she was seemingly dismissed.
‘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 wrote.
During Sunday’s service at Highpoint Church, which was shared on the church’s YouTube page, Savage apologized for ‘any painful memories’ or ‘fresh wounds’ the incident caused.
‘I am sorry and I humbly ask for your forgiveness, I love you all very much,’ he said, to which the audience stood up and roared in applause.
Woodson told the New York Times she found the apology ‘disgusting’ and said the incident was never properly handled.