On Sunday, Andy Savage told his Memphis Highpoint Church that he had sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl while he was a college student on a church staff.
"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," he told his congregation.
The megachurch pastor received a standing ovation after he admitted the abuse. After the admission, Chris Conlee, the lead pastor of the Memphis church where Savage now ministers, prayed for Savage and Woodson.
"It saddens us that Ms. Woodson has not been on the same road to healing," Conlee said at the time.
Jules Woodson, the victim, replied, "An apology does not change the fact that what happened to me was against the law and that it was wrong."
In her story, she revealed that on the night of the incident, Savage got down on his knees and apologized. However, he also pressured her to keep the incident a secret and "take it to her grave."
On Tuesday, the church issued a statement. It only said that "there will be additional information from Andy and the church soon."
Savage revealed the incident after the victim, Jules Woodson, took her story public on a Christian blog. In the post, she shared how in 1998, Andy Savage, who was a youth minister at her church, offered to drive her home. Instead, he took her to a secluded area and asked her to perform sexual acts.
When Savage revealed the indecent to his church, he did not detail what took place. He simply told them he had sinned, taken responsibility for it, and never kept it a secret from church leaders.
He said that before Woodson 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.”
Woodson told The New York Times she decided to come forward with her story in the wake of the #metoo movement. After seeing a story about Matt Lauer's firing for inappropriate sexual behavior, she decided to reach out to Savage at his church.
She sent him an email that said, “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?”
Ms. Woodson told the Times that she thought he would respond—she thought he might apologize. Instead, a more than a month passed with complete silence. Then she decided to go public with her story, which can be read in full here.
She recounts how after the assault, she told the associate pastor of the church, Larry Cotton. Cotton encouraged her to stay quiet. He sent Savage to Woodson's mother to apologize for the incident.
"But he never told her mother explicitly what had happened, leaving the impression that they had only kissed," said the Times. They continued, "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."
In a phone interview on Monday night with the Times, Woodson explained her feelings after watching the video where Savage revealed the incident and his church applauded.
“It’s disgusting,” Ms. Woodson said through tears.
She also told the Times that said that the episode had not been “dealt with” because it had never been reported to law enforcement authorities. On Monday, she reported it to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, which is just north of Houston. It is not clear whether the case could be investigated because the statute of limitations has likely expired.
“I just hope that by me coming forward that I would give courage to one other person,” Woodson said. “It doesn’t matter if I was his only victim. What matters is that this was a big problem and continues to go on.”
The Daily Wire writer and Christian bloger Matt Walsh agreed with Woodson about the nature of the response. He commented on the situation on his Twitter.
He wrote, "A standing ovation is not the proper response to this kind of confession. Just shows again the silly, unserious, football stadium atmosphere that many churches have created.
Savage did not return The New York Times calls for comment on Monday evening. On Monday afternoon, the Christian publishing company Bethany House said it had canceled the July publication of his book “The Ridiculously Good Marriage.”