A Southern Baptist megachurch in Memphis, Tenn., is standing by a teaching pastor caught in the spotlight of the #MeToo movement exposing histories of sexual abuse by powerful males.
Savage addressed the Memphis congregation during Sunday morning worship after a woman reported on two Christian blogs that Savage sexually assaulted her when she was 17 years old and a senior in high school.
Jules Woodson reported through The Wartburg Watch and Watch Keep that she thought Savage might be taking her out for ice cream when he detoured while driving her home from church one evening. He drove instead to a remote location where he instructed her to perform oral sex and unbutton her shirt.
Woodson said she complied because she was confused and scared. She reported it to a pastor, she said, who insinuated she was to blame for not resisting. Eventually Savage left the church, she said, amid vague rumors about a “poor decision” that led church members to blame his departure on her.
She said she remained silent until she saw a Twitter post by Savage commenting on the firing of NBC Today show host Matt Lauer for sexual misconduct. She asked Savage by email, “Do you remember that night that you were supposed to drive me home from church and instead drove me to a deserted back road and sexually assaulted me?” but received no response until the story went public.
“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,” Savage said in his statement to Highpoint 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,” Savage said. “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.”
Woodson told Memphis NBC affiliate WMC Action News 5 that Savage is lying about how he handled the situation.
“He never came to me,” she said. “The church told him he couldn’t talk to me, and they told me I couldn’t talk to him.”
Woodson said she recently filed a police report and hopes that telling her story will bring about change.
“I want other victims of sexual abuse, especially within the church, to know that they’re not alone and to know that they have a voice,” she said.
The K-Love Cruise, a Caribbean vacation featuring contemporary Christian musicians, dropped Savage from its 2018 lineup.