Christian publishing company Bethany House said it canceled the July publication of megachurch pastor Andy Savage's book The Ridiculously Good Marriage after he confessed to sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl while he was her youth pastor some 20 years ago.
"Bethany House and Baker Publishing Group have cancelled publication of the Andy Savage book The Ridiculously Good Marriage. It may remain on various retail web sites for a short time until those sites update," the company said in a statement on Twitter Monday afternoon that has since been widely applauded online.
Savage, teaching pastor at the popular Highpoint Church Memphis in Tennessee, admitted Friday that he "regretfully had a sexual incident with a female high school senior in the church."
"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. 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, 42, said in a statement about the incident that took place while he served at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church, now known as StoneBridge Church.
Jules Woodson, the high school senior from the "incident," described in graphic detail to The Wartburg Watch how Savage coerced her into performing oral sex on him on a dark Texas dirt road when he should have taken her straight home to her mother's house.
"He turned onto a dirt road and continued to drive. There were trees all around. I could not see the main road anymore, from which he turned. I asked what was back here. He told me they were building a church. I thought, maybe that's what this was about, maybe he has some secret to tell me, like perhaps he was moving to another church. We reached a dead end and he turned the truck around before putting it in park. We were stopped, and he turned the headlights off," Jules wrote. That was when he asked her to perform oral sex on him.
After about five minutes, Savage reacted in shock at what he had done.
"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 said.
On Sunday, Savage, repeated his statement before his congregation, noting that what happened between himself and Woodson was a one-time affair and he had done nothing remotely similar before or after that incident.
"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," he said, adding that he never sought to cover up what he did.
He explained that he was advised by officials at the then Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church on what to do and he obeyed their counsel.
Savage, who is now married and a father of five boys, said he apologized to Woodson and her family for his actions and shared his past with his wife Amanda before they were engaged. He also disclosed the incident to Highpoint Church Memphis Lead Pastor Chris Conlee and other key leaders prior to joining the staff at the church.
"In hindsight, I see that more could have been done for Jules. I am truly sorry that more was not done," he said, noting that he was unaware he had unfinished business concerning the incident.
Woodson insisted to WMC Action News 5, however ,that Savage is lying about how he handled the incident.
"His apology isn't enough because number one, he's lying about how he handled it. 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," she explained. She said she filed a report with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She also told The New York Times that she reported the assault to the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department in Texas.
The legal age of consent in Texas is 17. But Texas Law also identifies as assault an encounter that involves "a clergyman who causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person's emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman's professional character as spiritual adviser."
There is no statute of limitation for prosecution of sexual assault under this circumstance. Under Texas law, a sexual assault is typically a second degree felony. It carries a sentence of two to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Woodson said if nothing else comes from her story, "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."
The Commercial Appeal reported Monday that The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, placed Pastor Larry Cotton on leave due to his connection with allegations made by Woodson against Savage.
"We grieve for what happened to Jules Woodson," the church said in a statement. "... No person should ever be subject to sexual sin from any church leader."
Conlee said in a statement Friday that in light of everything that had been done by Savage to make amends for his action, officials at Highpoint Memphis are standing by their embattled colleague.
"On behalf of the elders, pastors, staff, and Trustees of Highpoint, I want to affirm that we are 100% committed to Andy, Amanda, and their family and his continued ministry at Highpoint Church. We ask for your prayers and support for all involved," he said.