Updated Friday, January 12 2018, 8:55 AM EST: CNN reports that a pastor who admitted to having a sexual encounter with a teen will be placed on leave.
Andy Savage, a pastor at Highpoint Church in Tennessee, confessed on Sunday to his congregation that he had a “sexual incident” with a high school senior in Texas he had offered to drive home from church. At the time, he was 22; his victim, Jules Woodson, was 17.
On Thursday night, Highpoint Church’s lead pastor, Chris Conlee, announced in a statement that the church had issued Savage a leave of absence to begin immediately.
Today we bring you two accounts of pastors accused of sexually assaulting minors—with two very different endings.
In one case coming out of Fayetteville, N.C., a former pastor has been charged with 142 charges of child sex crimes, including the rapes of four children. According to WTVD-TV, Glenn Tyrone Collins has been accused of repeatedly sexually abusing children between 1996 and 2009.
The TV outlet notes that one of the alleged victims was Collins’ neighbor. But a look at the charges against Collins—namely, 39 counts of sexual activity by a parent—indicates that Collins is also accused of abusing one or more of his own children or, at the very least, someone for whom he was the primary guardian.
Police say that they picked up the case after one of Collins’ accusers came forward, describing the alleged abuse as years of emotional torture, according to WTVD-TV. Collins turned himself in to police on Monday after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
At a bond hearing, Collins pleaded with a judge for his release, defended his reputation as a pillar in the community and told the court that he wasn’t “guilty of this stuff.”
As of Tuesday, the former pastor was being held at the Cumberland County Jail on a $3.75 million bond.
As North Carolina police were securing warrants against Collins, in Memphis, Tenn., a pastor of a megachurch there received a standing ovation from his congregation Sunday after admitting to his abuse of a child.
Andy Savage admitted to his flock that he had engaged in a “sexual incident” with a teenage girl he drove home from church 20 years ago. He was a youth minister at a church in suburban Houston at the time.
From the New York Times:
[Savage] did not tell the congregation at Highpoint Church what took place in 1998, but he said that he had sinned, taken responsibility for it and never kept it a secret from church leaders. He said that before [his accuser] took her story public, he believed that the episode had been “dealt with in Texas.”
“Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules,” Mr. Savage, 42, said during the service, which was streamed live online. “Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing.”
Of course, Savage didn’t come forward with his “sin” of his own volition. His accuser, Jules Woodson, went public just days before, writing a blog post that detailed his assault against her.
In the blog, which highlights sexual abuse within the church, Woodson says that Savage offered to take her home from church, where she had gone after school. Instead of dropping her off at her house, though, Savage drove past to a secluded area and had Woodson perform oral sex on him. Later, she says, Savage got out of the car and went to her passenger-side door, getting on his knees and begging her not to tell anyone what happened.
According to Woodson, the man of Gold told her, “You can’t tell anyone, Jules, please. You have to take this to the grave with you.” She was 17 years old at the time.
Woodson says that she reached out to Savage following news of Matt Lauer’s firing from NBC for sexual abuse, asking him in an email if he remembered that night, and the sexual assault that took place.
Savage never responded to her. After a month of no reply, reports the Times, Woodson decided that it was time to go public with her story.
Woodson also told the Times that she had reported the incident to an associate pastor at the church back in ’98. Instead of reporting the incident to authorities, Woodson says that Larry Cotton, a pastor at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church, advised her to stay quiet and said that the church would address the issue itself.
From the Times:
After Ms. Woodson told Mr. Cotton about her story in 1998, she said the church sent Mr. Savage to apologize to her mother. But he never told her mother explicitly what had happened, leaving the impression that they had only kissed. In Sunday’s service, Mr. Savage said that at the time he handled the situation in a “biblical way” and resigned from the church and returned to his hometown, Memphis.
Where, as we know, Savage simply went on to another church.
Personally, I’d like to know specifically what “biblical way” Savage took to address this situation. Unfortunately, it wasn’t wandering in the desert for 40 years. And I must have missed the part in the Bible where a man of God takes advantage of a teenage girl, gets called out on his behavior and then just bounces to another, bigger church where he receives a 20-second standing ovation for admitting he abused his power.
Maybe that’s in Deuteronomy, or maybe Jesus only wanted teenage girls in dark, secluded places to touch the hem of his garment.
Either way, Highpoint Church says it’s standing by its man.