Church leader connected to sexual assault accusation against Andy Savage placed on leave

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A church leader connected to sexual assault accusations against Highpoint Church pastor Andy Savage has been suspended.

On Friday, a woman named Jules Woodson came forward with allegations against Savage. The accusations stemmed from an alleged sexual assault in 1998, when Savage was a college student on staff at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in Texas.

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Jules, who was 17 at the time, said Savage sexually assaulted her after offering to give her a ride home from the church. She claims Savage passed on the turn to her house, instead driving down a dark road before parking. That is where the alleged assault took place.

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According to the blog, Savage apologized immediately and asked for forgiveness from the victim.

In her blog, Jules said she talked to Larry Cotton, who was the Associate Pastor of Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church. After their conversation, she alleges Cotton told her he would talk to fellow church leadership, along with Andy Savage, and she should "not mention anything that had happened to anyone else."

Larry Cotton now works as the Director of Internship and Residency at The Austin Stone Community Church. As a result of Jules' accusations, the church has put Cotton on a leave of absence while an investigation is conducted by a third-party.

The church released the following statement:

We grieve for what happened to Jules Woodson. It was wrong and unjust; we cannot overly express our sadness for what this woman experienced in God’s church. No person should ever be subject to sexual sin from any church leader. Every church should be a safe place for the vulnerable. The trust afforded to any church must be used to care for God’s people, never to harm them. 

At the Austin Stone Community Church, we take our responsibility to care for and protect our children and students very seriously. This especially includes protection from any kind of sexual abuse or misconduct. 

In response to this, we plan to continue doing everything in our power to ensure the safety and security of all of God’s children in our care. We want The Austin Stone Community Church to be a place where the voiceless have a voice and the powerless are protected. 

In light of the seriousness of these accusations against Larry Cotton, we feel that due diligence is appropriate to ensure Larry’s qualification for his current role of leadership. In order to remove our potential bias from the situation, we have placed Larry 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.

Our church body was informed of this situation on January 6th.

Andy Savage, who helped found Highpoint Church in Memphis, is still on the church staff.

The lead pastor of Highpoint, Chris Conlee, also released a statement saying the church did know about the incident in 1997 and the church is "100% committed" to Savage and his family.

You can read Highpoint's full response here.

FOX13 will continue to update this story as it develops.