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Tenn. pastor admits to 'sexual incident' with teen, receives standing ovation from congregation

The accuser, Jules Woodson, alleges that in 1998, the pastor was driving her home from church when he drove to a deserted road and forced her to perform oral sex on him.
Photo: Twitter

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee-based megachurch pastor received a standing ovation from his congregation on Sunday after he admitted to a "sexual incident" involving a teenager 20 years ago.

Pastor Andy Savage, who preaches at Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tenn., came under fire last week when a former church member came forward with her story of sexual assault. The accuser, Jules Woodson, alleges in a blog post that in 1998, Savage, then 22-years-old, was driving Woodson, then 17-years-old, home from his then-Texas church when he drove to a deserted road and forced Woodson to perform oral sex on him.

"I was scared and embarrassed, but I did it," Woodson wrote. "I remember feeling that this must mean that Andy loved me. He then asked me to unbutton my shirt. I did. He started touching over my bra and then lifted my bra up and began touching my breasts."

During the Sunday service streamed online, Savage addressed his congregation and admitted to engaging in a "sexual incident." He said he had sinned and taken responsibility, but allegedly told church members of the confrontation.

"Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing."

Following his admission, church members stood and applauded Savage for around 20 seconds, The New York Times reported. Chris Conlee, the lead pastor at Highpoint Church, waved his support for Savage, and added he was one of the people "hurt by the ripple effect of the consequences of that sin."

However, Woodson said Savage pleaded with her to not tell anyone of the situation as soon as Woodson stopped performing oral sex.

"I remember him pleading, while he was on his knees with his hands up on his head, 'Oh my God, oh my God. What have I done? Oh my God, I'm so sorry. You can't tell anyone Jules, please. You have to take this to the grave with you.' He said that several times."

Woodson told The Times she found the round of applause for Savage "disgusting" and added the incident had not been properly "dealt with" because it was never was reported to law enforcement.

In December, Woodson sent an email to Savage's church email, in which she said in part, "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? Well, I REMEMBER."

According to The Times, Woodson went public with her story after a lack of a response from Savage via email.

MORE | Publisher cancels book by Tennessee pastor accused of sexual assault

Monday, Christina publisher Bethany House announced they canceled the publication of Savage's book, The Ridiculously Good Marriage. The publisher said copies "may remain on various retail web sites for a short time until those sites update."

The book was set to release on July 3.

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