“I am sickened by the thought that young adult or teenage girls are expected to be glorified erotic actresses playing the script of their sex hungry boyfriends.” Andy Savage
Several weeks ago I received an email from Jules Woodson and a phone call from Kenny Stubblefield and Brooks Hansen. Amy Smith of Watch Keep was contacted as well. Jules had reached out to Kenny and Brooks due to a story posted at The Wartburg Watch link and link. It is important to note that both Amy and I have had previous contact with HIghpoint Church Memphis due to those posts.
We all conferenced together via phone, along with Darcy, a friend of Jules who is an important reason that this story is being told. Our subsequent conversations profoundly affected me over the Christmas season when I found myself waking up at all hours of the night, contemplating the pain that Jules has suffered both during the molestation and the many years following that wretched night. Meanwhile, the pastors involved in this story have gone on to success within the Christian world.
The name of the victim is Jules Woodson which is her maiden name. She wishes her name to be known. Darcy is her friend’s actual first name and we have permission to use that name as well.
Amy Smith and I are joint posting this story but we may tell it slightly differently. (Update:1/5/17 10:28 AM) Here is Amy Smith’s post:
Silent no more: a survivor of sexual assault by prominent Memphis pastor Andy Savage shares her story #metoo #churchtoo #silenceisnotspiritual
After our stories are published, I will be contacting the involved pastors and their churches for comment. Amy will be handling the media. There is little doubt in our minds this story is true, as you will see from the narrative.
Trigger Warning: The sexual assault will be described in some detail for just one paragraph, which will be clearly labeled.
A challenge to readers
This is a #metoo #churchtoo story. Many Christian women claim that they want to stand against the sexual abuse of women: #SilenceIsNotSpiritual. This is a story that should attract their support and their attention. However, will the support be offered when it involves a pastor that they like or a church that they attend?
For regular readers, I offer a challenge. See if you can spot predatory grooming tactics in the story and point them out in your comments. Jules hopes that her willingness to tell her story will help others avoid the pain that she has experienced. She also desires that her story might encourage other women and men in the church to come forward to tell their stories of abuse.
The list of involved pastors, churches and organizations
- Andy Savage: former youth pastor of Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church, now known as StoneBridge Church. He is now co-pastor and teaching pastor of the successful Highpoint Church Memphis
- Larry Cotton: former assistant (associate?) pastor of Woodland Parkway Baptist Church, now known as StoneBridge Church. He is now Director of Internship and Residency of Austin Stone Church.
- Steve Bradley: Senior pastor of Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church/StoneBridge Church.
- Andy Savage.com: Savage’s website
- The Ridiculously Good Marriage: Savage’s book which is available for preorder and published by Bethany House.
- KLove Cruises: Savage is a 2018 speaker.
Here is Andy Savage’s bio taken directly from his website.
The unanswered email that Jules Woodson sent to Andy Savage on December 1, 2017
Jules saw the following tweet by Andy Savage.
Here is the email that Jules sent to Andy Savage, Teaching Pastor of Highpoint Memphis.
——– Original message ——–
From: Jules Woodson
Date: 12/1/17 9:21 AM (GMT-07:00)
Subject: Do you remember?
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?
Do you remember how you acted like you loved me and cared about me in order for me to cooperate in such acts, only to run out of the vehicle later and fall to your knees begging for forgiveness and for me not to tell anyone what had just happened?
Well, I REMEMBER.
She received NO response. What prompted this email? Let’s go back in time to the end of 2016.
Darcy reached out to Jules to ask her “What actually happened to you?” We need more women like Darcy in this world.
Darcy had not seen Jules since she left the church to attend college. However, when the Donald Trump infamous tape became public, she began to think back to when she was a member of the high school youth group at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in Texas. It is now known as StoneBridge Church with the same senior pastor, Steve Bradley, as two decades ago.
An incident happened that stuck in her mind. The church never announced that he was being fired. Instead, they had Savage go before the church and say he made a mistake and that was time for him to move on.The rumor was that he had kissed a girl.
People were upset that Savage was let go because he was really well liked. A number of people blamed Jules for him leaving because there was no specific reason given by the pastors for why he left. Rumors were allowed to flourish. This, along with the shaming/blame game, caused her to stop regularly attending church.
In our group conversation, Darcy described Jules as both the most popular and the prettiest girl in the youth group. She remembered Andy Savage paying lots of attention to her. Darcy said all the girls were jealous of the attention that Savage paid to her because he was quite attractive.
Darcy was not close friends with her at the time because she was not part of the *popular* group and was a year ahead of Jules, but she always remembered her and wondered about what had actually happened. She sensed something really bad occurred and felt that the church members were not given the whole story. She was right.
So with great sensitivity, Darcy tracked down Jules and asked her about it. Jules, having kept this bottled up inside of herself for years, opened up and told her the whole story. Darcy’s act of kindness helped Jules to understand that she was the victim in this story and that she finally wanted to deal with it. We need more women like Darcy who bravely seek out the truth.
Some background leading up to the molestation.
Jules was a popular student in the youth group and Savage was well-loved by the students and their parents. A number of the kids would go over to the church after school just to hang out with him. Jules was part of that group.
Over time, Jules began to confide in him. She was going through some difficult trials. Her parents had recently gone through a divorce. Also, she once attended a party and became the subject of unwanted forced sexual activity. It so disturbed her that she confided in Andy because she trusted him as her pastor.
Savage had behavior rules put in place by the church that he was supposed to follow. He was NEVER to be alone with anyone, especially a girl. However, he was a rule breaker. Savage lived with one of the families in the church and had students, including Jules, over to this home. One evening he took Jules to his bedroom, alone, and was tickling her. One of the other adults came to the room and told them they needed to go back and join the group because they should not be alone in a room together.
Jules’s story of molestation and the aftermath told in her own words.
“One evening, in the early Spring of 1998, I was hanging out with my youth minister, Andy Savage, at my church, Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church located at 10801 Falconwing Drive. I was 17 years old at the time and a senior at The Woodlands High School. There had been multiple kids there at the church after school, but as the night got later I was the only student left, alone in the church with Andy. I did not have a vehicle at the church, so Andy offered to take me home to my Mom’s house.
It was dark outside. As he was driving me towards my home, he passed the turn he should have made to go to my house. I asked him where he was going. I don’t remember his exact response, but it was something along the lines of ‘you’ll see’ or ‘it’s a surprise.’ I know for sure he did not tell me where he was taking me. I remember feeling special and excited, as in my mind, he obviously wanted to spend more time with me before taking me home. I assumed we were going to get ice cream.”
Trigger warning: Graphic description of sexual activity. Also, pay particular attention to where this took place. It is important.
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. Suddenly, Andy unzipped his jeans and pulled out his penis. He asked me to suck it. I was scared and embarrassed, but I did it. I remember feeling that this must mean that Andy loved me. He then asked me to unbutton my shirt. I did. He started touching me over my bra and then lifted my bra up and began touching my breasts.
After what I believe to have been about 5 minutes of this going on, he suddenly stopped, got out of the truck and ran around the back and to my side before falling to his knees. I quickly buttoned my shirt back up and got out of the truck. Now I was terrified and ashamed. 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. My fear and shame quickly turned to anger. I had just been manipulated and used. I swore to him I wouldn’t tell anyone just to get him to stop. We both got back in the truck. As he drove me home, I don’t remember there being any conversation. I was in shock.
End of graphic description.
“As soon as I got home, I went straight to bed. I couldn’t fall asleep fast enough. “Please God, let this all be a bad dream,” I thought. Yet the hurt I was beginning to feel soon snapped me back into reality. This was no bad dream, this was a living nightmare. The secret quickly began to eat away at my soul. I couldn’t concentrate at school. I couldn’t think about anything else. The fear, shame, anger and hurt consumed me. As embarrassing as it would be for me to tell all the ‘dirty’ details of this horrible secret, I had no other choice. What happened to me was not right nor had it been my fault. I had to report this. Little did I know, the very people I was about to entrust to protect me and help me would not only victimize me all over again but would also engage in a cover up to protect my abuser and the image of the church.”
She reported the incident to Pastor Larry Cotton. She began to blame herself.
“Larry Cotton was the Associate Pastor of Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church at the time. Steve Bradley was the head pastor. I mustered up the courage to go tell them what happened. For some reason, Steve wasn’t available, so I only spoke with Larry. I remember asking him if I could speak privately with him and he said yes. I started out by saying something awful had happened to me. I was already crying. Somehow, I felt brave enough to tell Larry every detail of what had happened with Andy. I was mortified but I thought I was doing the right thing as both Larry and Steve were over Andy in the church and I was way too embarrassed and scared to tell anyone else, especially my own parents.
Just as I had finished telling my story, Larry immediately spoke up and asked me to clarify. He said something to the effect of, ‘So you’re telling me you participated?’ I remember feeling like my heart had just sunk to the floor. What was he asking? More importantly, what was he trying to imply? This wave of shame came over me, greater than I had ever felt before. I had just gotten done telling him everything that Andy, my youth pastor, asked me to do. I didn’t say that I screamed no, jumped out of the car and ran into the dark forest because I hadn’t. I told him that Andy had asked me to perform oral sex and unbutton my shirt and I did. Every ounce of courage I had gathered to walk in there and tell Larry the truth about what had happened to me left in an instant. Not only did I suddenly feel this immense guilt for doing what Andy had asked me to do but I also started to feel that this was my fault somehow because I didn’t stop him.”
Larry Cotton told her he would tell the head pastor, Steve Bradley, about it and that the church would handle it.
“As you might imagine, I was beyond overwhelmed at the myriad of emotions I was feeling. I remember Larry telling me that he would have to share with Steve all that I had told him. I asked what was going to happen next and he said that him and Steve would be talking to Andy and that the church would be handling the situation. He told me not to speak with Andy and said that he would be telling Andy not to speak with me as well. Through the tears, I told him that I was too embarrassed to tell my Mom what had happened. He said not to worry, that they would talk to my Mother as well. He then told me not mention anything that had happened to anyone else. It was very clear to me that I was not to say a word to anyone.”
Andy continued in his position and even taught *True Love Waits.”
“As days passed I remember feeling more and more hopeless. I was confused as it seemed that Andy got to go about his day to day life, within the church and outside of it, as though nothing had ever happened. In fact, he led a 2-day event at the church, known as True Love Waits, promoting sexual purity not only in abstinence from intercourse before marriage but also abstinence in any physical contact, actions and thoughts which might lead to sexual arousal. The irony had not been lost on me. Yet, here I was sinking deeper and deeper into this pit of depression. I had no where to go, no one to talk to. After all, I was given one job by the person I had sought help from (Larry,) and that was to keep my mouth shut.”
Jules confided some information in her female discipleship group.
“Not long after, I was meeting at the church with my all female discipleship group. I hadn’t had much interest in even being at church since everything that had happened but, deep down, I think I was just seeking some sort of solace in my faith for all the pain and hurt I was going through. Something came over me that night. I remember feeling disgusted and frustrated. What happened to me was not right! Why were my pastors not listening?! As if a final breath of courage filled my lungs, I opened my mouth and began to share some of what had happened to me. Looking back now, I know without a doubt, it was a cry for help. Tears ran down my cheeks. I remember feeling a slight sense of relief as this was no longer just a secret between myself, Andy, Larry and Steve. However, I too remember feeling as though I had just played my last card. I knew I had broken the rules of silence and that there would be consequences to my actions.”
Andy left the church.
“Word got back to Larry and Steve, almost immediately, that I had shared some things with my discipleship group. Now they had to do something. The youth group had a ski trip coming up and they announced to the families that Andy would not be going. Rumors were starting to spread that something had happened between myself and Andy. People thought/assumed that we had exchanged an ‘innocent’ kiss. The church, however, never came out with an official statement addressing what had happened and/or what was being done about it. Instead, they held a going away reception for Andy at the church in which he was allowed to simply say that he had made a poor decision and that it was time for him to move on from our church. Many people came to love on him, support him and say their goodbyes. There were hugs shared and tears shed. No one truly knew why he was leaving except myself, Andy, Larry and Steve. The gossip amongst my church family only continued to flourish. No one could imagine Andy doing anything bad or immoral, much less illegal, and so, it somehow became my fault that Andy was leaving.”
She later learned that her parents never truly learned the full story of what had happened.
“I couldn’t have been more grateful that it was the spring of my senior year as all I wanted to do was to leave town and get away from everything and everyone. I had basically shut down. I felt so alone. It wasn’t until much later that I would realize that no matter how far away I moved nor how much I tried to move on with my life, that I could never truly escape what had happened to me. For example, when I found out that the church had contacted my parents, years later, and asked their permission to bring Andy back on staff, it brought back a whirlwind of emotions. Of course, my parents said NO, but even learning of this was traumatizing. I am a grown woman now and although it’s been almost 20 years since everything happened, it still affects me to this day. There are triggers that take me back to that night, there are nightmares that haunt my dreams.”
Jules’ hope for those who read her story.
“My hope in finally coming forward with my story is not only that I can begin to get closure and healing for all that has happened to me, but more so, that my story might have a positive impact on others and effect positive change in how these types of situations are handled within the church.
To anyone who has suffered from sexual abuse in the church and the subsequent cover up and pressure to remain silent, I want you to know that it is not your fault. Most importantly, I want you to know that you are not alone.”
The subsequent years: The church wanted to bring Savage back on staff!
Jules struggled with anxiety and depression in the following years. She has sought professional counseling to help her make sense of what had happened to her. Meanwhile, Andy Savage, Larry Cotton, and Steve Bradley have gone on to become successful pastors. We asked Jules if any of them had reached out to her to see how she was doing. She has not heard from any of them.
The pastors and the deacons of StoneBridge Church later approached Jules’ parents, asking if they could bring Savage back on staff. The parents said “Absolutely not!” The pastors did not take the opportunity to reach out to Jules and apologize to her. Can you imagine that the pastors still did not get the seriousness of what had happened to Jules? They had been told the details. How could they be so callous?
My concerns about the molestation:
- Jules had received permission from her mother for Savage to take her to her home from the church that evening. He deliberately ignored her mother wishes, leading me to question whether or not this could be considered an abduction.
- She asked him where they were going but he did not directly answer her hence her assumption that he was bringing her for ice cream. (This makes me cry every time I think about it.)
- Jules did not give Andy permission to engage her in sexual activities. Even if she had, she was a minor and he was a member of the clergy, abusing his clergy privilege.
- Jules was well aware that Savage brought her to a dark, isolated area with no one around who could have heard her scream for help. He is a larger man who could have easily subdued her. There is no question in my mind that fear was a component here. By Jules complying with Andy’s desire, she may have prevented an even worse scenario.
- It is hard for me to believe that he found such a perfect place to molest Jules at the spur of the moment. It appears to me that he may have planned this in advance.
- Savage’s order to *take it to her grave* could be perceived as a threat.
- The pastor, Larry Cotton, appeared to lay some of the blame on her by making her believe that she consented to the act because she participated. Given the particular circumstances of Jules’ trauma, his response could be seen by some as abusive.
- From what we know, the police were not notified by the pastors of the church.
- According to his bio (of which we have taken screen shots) Savage went on to be the Pastor of College Students and Young Singles at Germantown Baptist Church. Was Germantown Baptist Church notified of Savage’s behavior?
- Could there be other victims?
A police report has been submitted by Jules Woodson.
Here are some relevant sections of Texas law.
Chapter 22. Assaultive Offenses.
Sec. 22.011. Sexual assault.
(b) A sexual assault […] is without the consent of the other person if: […] 10) the actor is 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 …
-I will be contacting all of the pastors involved in this story as well as their churches. We will print their responses, if any. I will plan a follow up post on Monday.
-We will be watching the comments closely. All comments attempting to victim blame will be deleted and the commenter will be placed on our permanently banned list.
-Finally, special thanks go out to Brooks Hansen and Kenny Stubblefield for getting us all together and helping us in our research. Last year, I remember telling them that someday their story would help another victim. Here is the proof that I was right.
You are a brave woman who has endured much pain. I have been blessed by our conversations. I have cried a lot, both with and for you. Your story will help many other people. Ask Kenny and Brooks about it. One day, when they are older and can understand, your children will come to know what an awesome mom they have.