Pastor Andy Savage’s apology, admitting to behavior almost 20 years ago, impressed the members at his Memphis megachurch.
“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 began his written address to the congregation. At the end he said, “I was sorry then and remain so today.”
And then, when he spoke from the pulpit, something unusual happened: The churchgoers rose to applaud their pastor’s honesty.
As the Tennessee pastor’s admission and Highpoint Church’s reaction became national news, not everyone agreed in celebrating the way Savage handled the situation — especially the most important person involved, the woman who was the victim of Savage’s behavior.
Jules Woodson, the victim who wrote a blog post describing the encounter with Savage that prompted him to admit his behavior, told Memphis media that she was frustrated by the church’s response
“His apology isn’t enough because number one, he’s lying about how he handled it,” Woodson told Memphis’s Action News 5. “He never came to me. The church told him he couldn’t talk to me, and they told me I couldn’t talk to him.”
As the story spread, many on social media agreed with Woodson that Savage’s apology was insufficient.
On Thursday, the church said it had reconsidered its response in light of the wider conversation. Effective immediately, Savage is on a leave of absence from his pulpit, and the church has brought on a “third party organization to do a full audit of our church processes and Andy’s ministry.”
Chris Conlee, the lead pastor who initially said he had “total confidence” and was “100% committed to Andy … and his continued ministry at Highpoint Church,” wrote a new statement on Thursday.
“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,” Conlee wrote. “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. … Please continue to pray for all involved.”