Thursday, April 5, 2018

Christian Author Robert D. Smith Seeks to Silence Alleged Child Sexual Abuse Survivor with Defamation Lawsuit




WSMV News 4


The News 4 I-Team's Lindsay Bramson uncovered the court records that show the brewing battle.
So how influential is Robert D. Smith, the man accused of sexual abuse? Among his 148,000 followers on Twitter, is former president Barack Obama and country star Luke Bryan.
He's a consultant, known for launching best-sellers and he's fighting for his reputation. The accuser, Jim Cochrun, now 51, lives in Texas and says Robert Smith sexually assaulted him when he was just 12 years old. Now, Smith is suing that accuser.
Smith who lives in Franklin serves as a private consultant to a number of bestselling authors, speakers and entertainers including best-selling author Andy Andrews who has cut ties with his former manager saying in a Facebook post from January, "I completely ended the relationship with my longtime manager, Robert D. Smith.  This severing of all ties, business and personal, is due to multiple allegations of child abuse with preadolescence males."
Press release:

HOUSTON (APRIL 3, 2018) – Christian author and personal branding expert Robert D. Smith sexually assaulted Jim Cochrun when he was only 12 years old.  At the time of the assault, Robert Smith told Jim to never tell anyone. Jim was bullied into keeping the child sexual assault secret.  Forty years later, Robert D. Smith is attempting to use the legal system to continue to silence this victim of child sexual assault by filing a defamation suit against Jim Cochrun.


For over 30 years, Robert D. Smith has managed the career of New York Times best-selling author and speaker Andy Andrews and has provided personal branding consultation to numerous other well-known figures in the Christian community. 

After unsuccessfully attempting to “make this go away” in direct conversations with his alleged victim, Smith filed a lawsuit against Cochrun in the Chancery Court of Williamson County, TN at Franklin as Case No. 46996.  In the suit, Smith seeks over $750,000 from his victim. The suit was removed to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on February 21, 2018. That case is styled as Case No. 3:18-cv-00225.  Recently, Jim Cochrun filed his answer in federal court challenging the lawsuit against him and also made a complaint with the Tulsa Police Department in Tulsa, OK (the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the incidents of sexual abuse committed by Robert Smith on Jim Cochrun).

Jim Cochrun made the difficult decision to share his story with the general public in the hope that any other victims will be emboldened to step forward and seek justice like he is.

“Being sued by your abuser is understandably shocking,” George Edwards said. “Jim has never sought money from his abuser. His motivation is that justice is done and that any other victims who may exist are empowered to come forward. The good news for Jim and other victims like him is that they will defend these allegations with the truth. Proving defamation is difficult. The statements must be false, which means Smith would have to prove that the sexual assault did not happen. Our client has no reason to lie.”

Brent Webster further states that “Jim’s willingness to come forward with the truth is the only way to keep perpetrators like this out of positions of influence.”

George Edwards, III, Murtaza Sutarwalla, and Brent Webster of Edwards Sutarwalla PLLC and John D. Kitch, of Counsel for Cornelius & Collins LLP, represent Jim Cochrun. 
###
About Edwards Sutarwalla PLLC
Edwards Sutarwalla PLLC (www.eslawpartners.com) is a full-service business law firm based in Houston and Austin, Texas practicing in the areas of civil litigation, commercial transactions and corporate law. Edwards Sutarwalla PLLC also represents survivors of child sexual assault and abuse throughout the country.






The narrative portion of the Tulsa police report (embedded above) states that the victim Jim Cochrun alleges that after the sexual assault, Robert D. Smith told him, "This is going to be our little secret. You can never tell ANYONE about this."




Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Jules Woodson responds to announcement of the resignation of Andy Savage from Highpoint Church Memphis

While yesterday's announcement is a step in the right direction, the conversation must not end here. Instead, this needs to be a wakeup call for everyone. There is a systemic problem within the institution of the church that props people up in places of power and gives them immunity based on cheap grace and a call for forgiveness. This has bred a culture ripe for abuse and cover-up. Repentance, accountability and justice should not be contrived. Unfortunately, my story is not unique. My hope in speaking out is that this opens up the conversation and empowers others.  We, as Christians, should be leading the way in recognizing, preventing and handling abuse. Genuine repentance is not demonstrated by one decision but by many decisions that, over a period of time and born out of humility, transform the culture of the church. As Jesus demonstrated, the church should be the safest and most affirming community for the vulnerable and the wounded. This announcement is one step forward and I am hopeful there are many more steps to follow.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Confession Amended: The New York Times video with Jules Woodson



I was assaulted. He was applauded.
Jules Woodson says she was 17 when her youth pastor, Andy Savage, sexually assaulted her. In late 2017, almost two decades later, Ms. Woodson, inspired by the #MeToo movement, emailed Mr. Savage asking whether he remembered what has haunted her for decades. When he didn’t reply, she told her story to a blog for victims of church abuse. Days later, Mr. Savage addressed his congregation at the Highpoint Church in Memphis, where he is a pastor, and the church streamed the service online as usual.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Former Highpoint Church minister, current church member, tweets threats of violence directed towards abuse victim advocates

Yesterday morning I was made aware of tweets by Jason Bendall. Jason is a former minister at Highpoint Church and current Highpoint Church member. According to his Facebook bio, he worked at Highpoint Church as the Recreation Director. He tweeted that he was on staff at the church for 10 years. After exposure yesterday, he deleted mention of Highpoint as his past employer, as well as his current employer, Old Dominion Freight Line.


I had never heard of Jason before yesterday when I discovered he had preemptively blocked me and many others who had been sharing Jules' story of sexual assault by her then youth pastor in TX, Andy Savage.

Below are screenshots of tweets by Jason Bendall. After exposure of his threats yesterday, he deleted these tweets.










Another Highpoint Church member has been defending Andy Savage's sexual assault of Jules as a "mistake." There also seems to be some confusion about Andy Savage's position at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church, now Stonebridge Church. Andy was a full time youth pastor, not a "college intern" as Paul Goode insists.








A few weeks ago I received an email from someone who stated that he attended Andy Savage's ordination at Germantown Baptist Church. Others have told me that they have received confirmation that this ordination took place in December of 1995.




Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Not My Mr. Royal

Last Saturday, I noticed a tweet discussing #notmymrroyal. My friend Dee Parsons and I support these brave young ladies and their parents for speaking out. Dee will be adding her post on this story tomorrow at The Wartburg Watch.



I was angry. I am angry. As an abuse survivor advocate, I am angry over the injustice being perpetuated by a tone-deaf response by the administration of Hamilton Southeastern Schools. The principal of HSE High School is Matt Kegley.


FISHERS, Ind. (WTHR) - The teenage victim of an alleged sexual assault is speaking out after the student accused of attacking her is honored by their high school.
Both students went to Hamilton Southeastern High School.
The boy was recently named Mr. Royal for winning a school-sponsored talent show.
The alleged victim says she was assaulted on a date back in September. She and her family filed a protective order against the boy and claim they alerted the school system, but say no action was taken.
“We have uprooted our lives and she is the victim and I have such a hard time understanding that why the victim and the attacker can continue to go on like nothing happened,” said the girl’s father.
They say they are touched by the support in the wake of the controversy. The alleged victim says she wants to share her story to help others.
“For four months I did not have a voice," she said Saturday. "For four months, nobody believed me, and I didn't really think that this case was really going anywhere and I was starting to give up on the idea that I was going to get justice,” she said. “Now I have a chance to have a voice and I know that there are so many girls that he has harassed, that he has assaulted, and they get a chance to get their justice too.”
Fishers Police and Noblesville Police are investigating, however at this time no charges have been filed in connection with the case.






WTHR:
On Monday, some HSE students showed support for the alleged victims, dressing in black in school hallways and in photos posted on social media.
They’re protesting a school talent show award, “Mr. Royal,” being given to a male student last Thursday even as the student is under investigation for sexual assault. 
“He sexually assaulted my daughter,” said the mother of an HSE student. “He forced her to do sexual activities that she was not comfortable with."
She is the second HSE parent Eyewitness News is aware of having made a complaint to police against the talent show winner. 
The first was last fall. A father alleges his daughter was raped. After the attack they got a stay away order against the same suspect. The order is still in force.
“I hear stories about him all the time,” says the mother of another victim who spoke with us Monday night.
“I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. And I saw congratulatory comments and I was blown away by that.” 
That female student’s mother says the Mr Royal award and protests that followed in school and online moved her to come forward and report her daughter’s case to the the school and police on Friday. 
“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I feel so helpless.”
She and the father of the victim we spoke with on Saturday said they felt the school district had not moved swiftly with their complaints. 
“I was starting to give up on the idea that I was going to get justice and now I have a chance to have a voice and I know that there are so many girls that he has harassed that he has assaulted and they get a chance to get their justice too,” a student allegedly attacked last year told us.






Monday, January 29, 2018

Connecting the dots: Andy Savage, from Tennessee to Texas and back again


*This is a working document that has been updated as new information has become available. 

What we know from Andy Savage and his admission of sexual assault of Jules Woodson as a 17 year-old minor in his care as a youth pastor in 1998 - these are the pastors who knew and failed to report the assault to police when they first learned about the "incident" and over the 20 years since: Steve Bradley, Larry Cotton, Chris Conlee

Other names mentioned in the graph show the connection to Germantown Baptist Church, Andy Savage and Chris Conlee. Germantown Baptist Church was Savage's home church when he left for Texas and came back to Tennessee again. 

The other men mentioned in the graphic, whose paths crossed with Andy's, are currently or were pastors on staff or volunteer leaders at the respective churches. 

In addition to Andy Savage, two other accused sex abusers are mentioned with connections to Highpoint Church, Andy Savage and Chris Conlee. Tim Heinz is a registered child sex offender in Tennessee. Chris Carwile was reported to police for child sex abuse and subsequently lost his job with the City of Memphis.

Convicted child sex offender John Langworthy is linked in the list of names at the end of this post.

In an earlier draft, Bart Lewis was mentioned. Bart is a pastor and "Global Digital Director" at Highpoint Church. On Linkedin he lists his first church work experience as "Germantown Church." What denomination is this? Is this the full name of the church? It is vague. Why not specify? A previous commenter stated that this was Germantown Methodist. In a search for "Germantown Church," there does not appear to be a church that simply identifies as Germantown Church. Why wouldn't a pastor want to be clear about his work experience? 


------

February 21 update: someone replied on Twitter with the link to the archived page listing Bart Lewis on staff as associate director of student ministries at Germantown Methodist. He was there from 2001-2003. Another archived link was found to show that Bart worked at a church planted by Germantown Baptist Church. He was the pastor to students and families at The Love of Christ Church in Memphis from 2003-2010.


In a series of tweets, Joseph Harrison discussed Bart Lewis and my post here. Joseph was adamant that Bart had no connection to Germantown Baptist Church. Before Joseph's tweets, I had already explained my post revision as evidenced above in the paragraph beginning with "in an earlier draft." 


How would Bart Lewis' connection to Germantown Baptist Church, now confirmed, "potentially alter" his life?

Highpoint Church appears to be a church plant of Germantown Baptist Church through Metro Bible Study, a bible study for college students and singles at GBC.

According to information found on Crosswave Radio about Christian recording artist Todd Agnew's career, Highpoint Church was started through the Metro ministry of Germantown Baptist Church.
So Agnew began traveling to Memphis to help with a city wide Bible study for college students and singles called Metro Bible study in the fall of 1999 at Germantown Baptist Church. During this time he began writing and introducing songs to the group which later became the songs on the record “Grace Like Rain.”  He eventually moved to Memphis to help plant a church, which developed through the Metro event called Highpoint Church
*Jules recalls Todd Agnew being at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church, now Stonebridge Church, when Andy Savage was there as youth pastor. After his time at Germantown Baptist and Highpoint Church in Memphis, Todd Agnew then moved to Austin, TX where he was at Austin Stone Church writing and recording songs with Austin Stone Worship. Austin Stone pastor Larry Cotton resigned last week. He was the associate pastor at Woodlands Parkway that Jules told about the assault by Andy. Larry blamed Jules, asking her, "So you're telling me you participated?" Austin Stone Church sent out the following message about Larry Cotton's resignation.

*Update 2/28/18: A comment on The Wartburg Watch about Todd Agnew and Andy Savage


Message from Larry Cotton:

Church family,


Over the last few weeks, after seeking much counsel and prayer, I want to be the first to let you know that on Thursday, February 15, I informed the elders at The Austin Stone Community Church of my decision to step down from my staff ministry leadership position. It has been my honor to be a part of what the Lord is doing here at The Austin Stone Community Church. I have been extremely privileged to serve with brothers and sisters whose ultimate goal is to see Jesus lifted high, and I will greatly miss working here. I know this is the beginning of a new season for me, and I have peace that God will use me for His glory.

Brokenness and sin have unraveled the fabric of our world, resulting in injustice, pain, and suffering. I am more convinced than ever that the only One able to mend the brokenness and unraveling of this fabric is Jesus Christ. To the best of my ability, with God’s power, I desire to be a man that He might use to mend this brokenness.

This is why I want to express again my deepest grief and sorrow for Jules Woodson and all those who were wounded by what happened in 1998. During my leave of absence, I have come to better understand the weight of my mistakes and my responsibilities as a church leader at that time. I wish I had known 20 years ago what I understand today. I now understand that I did not do enough to serve Jules and help her feel protected and cared for —I wish I had done more. I understand that I failed to report the sexual abuse —I wish I had reported to the proper authorities. Even though it’s impossible, I wish I could go back in time and correct these mistakes.

I contributed to the pain and suffering of Jules and others, and for this, I feel great sorrow. I can identify with the words of Paul in the scriptures that help me see--Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his perfect patience as an example for others who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Only Jesus can mend the unraveling caused by sin and weave in true justice, peace and healing.

I am praying for healing for Jules; that she might be comforted by the peace of Christ even in the midst of her pain. I hope for her forgiveness of me. I pray for The Austin Stone to continue to be a safe and Christ-honoring environment for men, women, students, and children to grow spiritually and flourish. And I thank you, my church family, for your continued love and prayers.

I love you all dearly.
Larry Cotton

//

Message from the Elders:

Church family,


As you recall from our communications to you beginning January 5th, an allegation was made against Larry Cotton regarding his response to the reported sexual assault of a young woman by a youth leader at the church where he was on staff in 1998. Given the seriousness of the allegations, we placed Larry on leave of absence, and engaged the attorneys at MinistrySafe to conduct a thorough investigation.

During this season, Larry has been prayerful in seeking after the Lord for wisdom and clarity as to how to honor the Lord and act in obedience to God’s word. As a result of much prayer and counsel, Larry has communicated to the elders on February 15th that he desires to step down from his staff ministry leadership position at the Austin Stone Community Church, effective immediately. In recognizing and grieving for his errors of the past, Larry is illustrating the kind of Christlike character we know and affirm in Larry today.

As a church, it is our desire to help him seek forgiveness from those who were hurt and foster any reconciliation that might be possible in the future. Even though he is no longer on staff, Larry does remain in good standing as a partner of our church. Through this process, we have affirmed our belief that Larry did not intend to cause harm, but we understand and support his decision in light of the consequences of his actions. We are heartbroken for Larry and we will deeply miss his presence on staff, as well we are committed to shepherding and caring for him and his family.

We invite you to join us in praying for compassion, wisdom, and discernment as we journey forward. We have also already begun the process of working with MinistrySafe to review our policies and update training for all of our staff and leaders on preventing and reporting abuse. We continue to remain committed to ensuring the safety of victims and advocacy for individuals who have suffered abuse.  We strongly urge you to report to Child Protective Services or appropriate criminal authorities if you suspect the sexual abuse of a minor.

If you have further questions or concerns, please contact your campus leadership. We would love to hear from you.

Grace and peace,
The Elders of The Austin Stone Community Church

end update

------ 



A Memphis megachurch pastor received a standing ovation during a church service on Sunday after he admitted that he had engaged in a “sexual incident” with a high school student 20 years ago in Texas.
The admission by the pastor, Andy Savage, came several days after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1998 when she was 17 and he was the youth minister at a suburban Houston church. One night, Mr. Savage offered to drive her home from church but first took her to a wooded area off a dirt road and had her perform oral sex on him, the woman, Jules Woodson, wrote in a blog post detailing her story. 
On Sunday, Mr. Savage did not tell the congregation at Highpoint Church what took place in 1998, but he said that he had sinned, taken responsibility for it and never kept it a secret from church leaders. He said that before Ms. Woodson took her story public, he believed that the episode had been “dealt with in Texas.”

Highpoint Memphis

Highpoint Collierville

Germantown Baptist Church (Was Andy Savage ordained at GBC before he went to TX?)

Stonebridge Church

Andy Savage

Chris Conlee

Sam Shaw

Bruce Jones

John Jackson

Tim Heinz

Chris Carwile

Scott Payne

Steve Bradley

Larry Cotton

Hal Kitchings

John Langworthy




Friday, January 26, 2018

Doug Wilson's Christ Church sends letter reprimanding a woman who revoked her church membership

I was contacted by a friend of this woman who shared this letter. I have been given permission to post.

A preface from the recipient of the letter from Christ Church:

Initially,  this letter was shared without consent from a secret Facebook group with out permission.  This was not a local group. I've since given permission , selectively,  to be shared while protecting my identity.  Here are some important clarifications:  I love my husband and he is not violent.  I am safe as are my children. I want to seek outside counseling to work on marital issues. 

I appreciate the concern from the Christ Church community, but I revoked my membership in October.  

I do not have an attorney.  I do not have a go fund me account. I do not have a Twitter account. I am not in control of what is shared or said on the internet.
  
I do feel this is an over reach of the church but I'm thankful for the time I've spent there and hope to keep friendships despite differences. 

Doug Wilson is the lead pastor of Christ Church. The letter was signed by Mike Lawyer, pastor of discipleship and counseling.






Spiritual Sounding Board: elders at Doug Wilson's Christ Church put woman in abusive marriage under church discipline

The Wartburg Watch archived posts on Doug Wilson