Highpoint Pastor Announces Leave Of Absence Following Sexual Assault Allegation

MEMPHIS, Tenn (localmemphis.com) - Pastor Andy Savage has been at the center of a national story involving accusations sexually assaulting a teenager for the past week. On Thursday it was announced he is taking a leave of absence, effective immediately.

 

For an hour Thursday, Highpoint Church Teaching Pastor Andy Savage shared his story on the "Ben Ferguson Radio Show." He told the host and viewers what had happened in 1998 was consensual.

 

Savage apologized for what happened, but this is the first time he's characterized the encounter.

 

"I do not believe I broke the law," Savage told Ferguson.

 

He did admit what he did was wrong, but not illegal, citing Jules Woodson was 17-year-old at the time and consented.  Savage told Ferguson her account of what happened in Texas was not how he remembered it.

 

As multiple news outlets have reported, the incident happened 20 years ago. It resurfaced last week when Woodson wrote about it in a blog.

 

Woodson wrote Savage was driving her home when he turned a dirt road and sexually assaulted her.

 

"The atmosphere was very flirtatious. That flirtatious environment uh, continued to uh, move forward um, which led to um, uh, us making out, some heavy petting. Uh, it was a very uh, mutual, spontaneous, physical uh moment and our hormones were obviously uh, very much in that moment and uh, she performed oral sex," Savage said during the interview.

 

Both Savage and Woodson told church leaders what happened, but no one called police.

 

"It was a very mutual, spontaneous, physical moment. Our hormones were obviously very much in that moment, and she performed oral sex," Savage said.

 

"I heard snickering and laughing and that made me sick, listening to him," said Amy Smith.

 

Smith is Woodson's spokesperon. Speaking to Local 24 via Skype Smith said all she heard was victim blaming.

 

"That entire radio show was a total re-victimization, pointing the blame on a then teenage girl who he said was a willing participant." she said. "He was an adult and he was a pastor and he was in a place of trust."

 

As Local 24 has reported no charges will be filed in this case. Law enforcement officials in Texas said the statute of limitations has passed.

 

Despite some outrage over Savages Thursday interview, many of Savage's parishioners still support him. There is an online petition in favor of him with close to 1,500 signatures. A petition calling for his resignation has roughly 2,300 signatures.

 

Local 24 put in a request for an on-camera interview with Andy Savage but was told by Church leaders he committed to Ben Ferguson and would not be taking any other requests.

 

He told the host Thursday, "I am in full cooperation with our leadership at Highpoint. I'm going to be  taking leave of absence for the purpose of cooperating with a third party, independent firm that will come in and do an audit of my ministry, the policies that we work with at Highpoint."

 

Highpoint Church released a statement Thursday evening that read:

 

 "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."

 

Local 24 has asked Highpoint Church Leaders to identify that third party. Our team also asked if Savage is on paid leave. We are still waiting on a response.


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