Less than a year after losing founding Pastor Chris Conlee and Teaching Pastor Andy Savage in the wake of a sex abuse scandal, Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee, fended off allegations Thursday that Conlee’s resignation was triggered by a physical attack on a female staffer who quit her job at the church around the same time Conlee departed.
“Recent false statements on Twitter, other social media, and on at least one related blog site are attempting to introduce new, unsubstantiated accusations against Chris Conlee, as well as describe in disturbing detail a physical attack against a Highpoint staff member. These statements are unsubstantiated and false. To our knowledge there has never been any physical abuse on the part of Mr. Conlee toward Highpoint staff,” Jim Pritchard, Highpoint’s administrative pastor told The Christian Post in a statement.
A “local, trusted source” cited in a blog post by Amy Smith, a sexual abuse survivor advocate, alleged that Highpoint fired Conlee for assaulting the female staffer and “instead of reporting the assault to the police, church leaders paid Conlee and another disgraced, sexually abusive pastor, Andy Savage, a portion of about $700,000 in severance pay.”
Further investigation by CP identified the former staffer who was allegedly assaulted by Conlee but she did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Pritchard in his statement to CP also slapped down suggestions that Conlee and Savage were paid “excessive sums” when they resigned from Highpoint.
“In addition, the same poster grossly distorted financial information to imply that excessive sums were paid to Mr. Conlee and Andy Savage, suggesting malfeasance on the part of Highpoint; for the record, the line-items referenced by the poster refer to the total severance obligations fairly and reasonably extended to multiple employees who left Highpoint due to the events of 2018,” Pritchard said.
When asked to state what portion of the nearly $700,000 was paid to Conlee and Savage, Pritchard did not immediately respond.
Highpoint Church, announced Conlee’s resignation last summer in a joint statement from Conlee and the trustees of the church explaining the move was a bid to help the church move forward from the sexual abuse scandal involving Savage.
"The Trustees and Chris have mutually agreed that the time is now right for Chris to pass the baton. This will enable us to recalibrate our search for a new Teaching Pastor into the search for a Senior Pastor. By creating this new role, we will be able to attract a stronger pool of candidates to lead the next phase of Highpoint's ministry. To enable this, Chris will resign from Highpoint Church and pursue God's heart for the expansion of his ministry as a visionary leader," the statement said in part.
The abuse scandal erupted at Highpoint last winter when Jules Woodson told The Wartburg Watch that Savage, while he was her youth pastor 20 years ago, coerced her into performing oral sex on him on a dark Texas dirt road.
Savage initially argued that he believed the sex between him and the teenage Woodson was consensual. After an investigation that led to his resignation in March, the church admitted they handled the situation poorly.
Conlee expressed unwavering support for Savage during the investigation, and defended him against critics, expressing "total confidence in the redemptive process Andy went through" following the assault.
He currently works as a life coach.