Texas church leader placed on leave in connection with Memphis pastor sex scandal
By Ron Maxey
January 08, 2018
A Texas church has placed on leave a staff member who was on staff with Memphis pastor Andy Savage when Savage was involved in a sexual encounter with a 17-year-old.
The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, placed Larry Cotton on leave in connection with allegations made by Jules Woodson against Savage, whose title is now teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in East Memphis.
Monday's move by the Texas church is the latest twist in the story since the allegations against Savage came to light. Savage remains on staff at Highpoint, which has expressed support for him.
John Young, Austin Stone's director of communications, confirmed the action against Cotton on Monday by email.
"We grieve for what happened to Jules Woodson," the statement reads. "... No person should ever be subject to sexual sin from any church leader."
The statement said that in light of the seriousness of the accusations, Austin Stone felt it was "appropriate to ensure (Cotton's) qualifications for his current role of leadership. In order to remove our potential bias from the situation, we have placed (Cotton) on a leave of absence while an investigation by a third-party organization is undertaken. We will provide a full report to the church after its completion."
Cotton's biography page on the church website has been removed.
Young said church members were informed of the action Saturday.
Cotton is not alleged to have been involved in the 1998 assault, but he was associate pastor at Woodlands Parkway Baptist when it occurred.
Social media was talking about Cotton's status Monday, expressing approval that action had been taken.
Woodson says Savage assaulted her after driving her home from a church event in 1998.
Savage has made a statement on the Highpoint website, acknowledging that he was involved in a "sexual incident" with a female high school student while he was on a Texas 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," Savage said. "I apologized and sought forgiveness from her, her parents, her discipleship group, the church staff and the church leadership, who informed the congregation."
Savage said he resigned and moved back home to Memphis. He added that "there has never been another situation remotely similar in my life before or after that occurrence."
Chris Conlee, lead pastor at Highpoint, also posted a statement on the website, saying the revelations were not new to the church leadership. Conlee expressed full support for Savage.
"This information is not new to me or to our leadership," Conlee's statement says. "As one of my closest friends and partners in ministry, I can assure you that I have total confidence in the redemptive process Andy went through under his leadership in Texas."
Conlee concluded that the elders, pastors, staff and trustees of Highpoint "are 100 percent committed" to Savage and his family.
Woodson told Memphis TV station WMC over the weekend that Savage's apology was not enough and that she hopes her story will let other sexual abuse victims know they have a voice.
Jules has recently submitted a report to law enforcement regarding the incident, according to the blog Watch Keep, which reported Woodson's full story Friday.