Jules Woodson pushes Southern Baptists to police sexual abuse

The Gazette

June 22, 2019

By David Ramsey

Jules Woodson worships most Sundays at Grace Lutheran Church. She sings hymns. She listens to sermons delivered by Pastor Michael Tassler. She reflects on the storms of her life.

And she praises God.

In her teens, she suffered through a sexual ordeal at her church in the suburbs of Houston. For decades, she struggled with depression and anxiety.

But, she says, God never left her side, and remains with her as she crusades to cleanse America’s troubled Protestant movement.

Woodson has resided at the center of the #churchtoo movement since she revealed in a Jan. 5, 2018, blog a 20-year-old sexual assault involving her youth minister, Andy Savage. She was 17, and he was 22 when she got into his car for a ride home after a Southern Baptist church event .

But Savage did not drive her home. He drove her to a lonely dark road.

“He turned the headlights off,” Woodson wrote in an abuse survivors’ blog. Then he asked her to perform oral sex. “I was scared and embarrassed, but I did it. I remember feeling that this must mean that Andy loved me.”

Church leaders did not inform police of Savage’s crime or tell congregation members specifics about the assault. Savage was told to depart the church, but the incident did not hinder his career.

On Jan. 5, 2018, he was serving as a pastor at Highpoint, a megachurch in Memphis, Tenn. He was raising five children with his wife. He had just delivered a book, “The Ridiculously Good Marriage,” to a publisher.

After Woodson’s blog post, Savage read a statement at Highpoint’s Sunday morning service. He expressed regret, in his way. “A so-called apology,” Woodson says.

Congregants reacted to his confession with a standing ovation. Highpoint leaders had been told about the assault on the dark road and hired him anyway. When Woodson watched video of Savage’s surreal confession/performance, she wept.

But Savage could not halt the tidal wave of scorn. He resigned four months later.

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