A disturbing scandal comes out of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Board (IMB). Its the story of Anne Marie Miller and Mark Aderholt. Aderholt was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who groomed and sexually abused Anne, Anne in time realized the severity of the situation and the IMB was notified. They did an investigation but did not report Aderholt’s alleged abuse to law enforcement. As a result of the #MeToo situation Anne had the courage to file a report to Arlington Police in Texas. Today’s The Wondering Eagle looks at this disturbing story.
“To those who abuse: the sin is yours, the crime is yours, and the shame is yours. To those who protect the perpetrators: blaming the victims only masks the evil within, making you as guilty as those who abuse. Stand up for the innocent or go down with the rest.”
“The biggest abuses in society happen when people are not able to communicate and not able to connect.”
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!
Matthew 18:5-7 NLT
Anne Marie Miller (courtesy of Facebook)
Anne Marie Miller speaking.
We are going to look at an issue inside the SBC that has implications for McLean Bible here in Washington, D.C. I plan on doing three posts this week in regards to the situation with Anne Marie Miller. This is the first one of three. There is a lot of ground to cover. I spent a lot of time reading, and researching the situation today. But before we continue let’s look at both Anne Marie Miller and Mark Aderholt.
A Look at Anne Marie Miller and Mark Aderholt
Anne Marie Miller grew up as a Southern Baptist’s preacher’s daughter. She moved around West Texas frequently. He father taught mainly at smaller SBC churches. However, after a theological disagreement he resigned from one church and moved to Arlington, Texas in 1996. In high school Anne had a faith crisis and considered herself to be agnostic. At this time she decided not to pursue a college education and slowly climbed up the career ladder. Her focus was in corporate communications and working in many technology firms in Dallas, Texas. However, she was not satisfied with where her life was going and moved to Kansas City, Missouri and worked for communication and business development for not for profit organizations in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. She later found her faith and started writing a blog. She published her first book under her name Anne Jackson. In 2013 she married Tim Miller and in time pursued a nursing degree. She has published a number of books to include, “Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic“,”Lean On Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable, and Consistent Community“,”Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace“,”Beating Burnout: A 30 Day Guide to Hope and Health“,”5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know about Their Kids and Sex” and “Surviving Christmas: Advent Devotions for the Hard and Holy Holidays.” Anne Marie Miller speaks at a number of church conferences, events and more around the United States. This blog interacted with Anne Marie Miller in 2015. I am going to write about that in a separate post. Before this scandal broke she briefly talked about how upset she was that her sexual abuser was still working in a church.
Mark Aderholt it appears is from Pampa, Texas. Pampa is a small town of 18,000 residents. The nearest city to Pampa is Amarillo. Mark went to college at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas. Later on he went to Southwest Baptist Theology Seminary and graduated in 2000. He then in time served temporarily at Lakeside Fellowship in Roanoke, Texas. Lakeside changed its name to Freedom Fellowship in the course of time. Mark Aderholt then worked with the International Missions Board in March of 2000. He worked for the Regional Strategy Associate for the Central Europe Field. The Central Europe Field extends from the Baltic states and Russia through Central and Eastern Europe all the way down to Greece on the Mediterranean. Mark worked in Hungary with church planting. You can read this post about him in this post from Wayland, and then you can read a post Mark wrote for a blog that deals with his activities in Hungary. In 2006 Three Rivers Baptist Church in Shorewood, Illinois participated in a conference about the evangelical church in Slovakia. Mark Aderholt explained the goals for Slovakia, which you can read at this church blog post here. In 2007 he was recalled due to sexual abuse allegations which I will detail below. During the investigation he served at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas from 2009 until 2016. If my memory is correct I believe this is where Bill Clinton was a member. If i am wrong please correct me. In time Aderholt then went and worked for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. You can read his comments about Billy Graham’s death here. He worked there in the Associate Executive Director/Chief Strategy Position until he was arrested on July 3, 2018 in South Carolina.
Being Groomed and then Sexually Abused by Mark Aderholt and Realizing it Years Later
This story was broken by Sarah Smith of the Star-Telegram in Texas. I am going to lean heavily on this story, and the affidavit that they quote from. The original story was published on July 13, 2018 and is called, “Southern Baptist officials knew of sexual abuse allegations 11 years before leader’s arrest.” As stated, Mark Arderholt was arrested in South Carolina on July 3, 2018. Here is an account of what happened between Mark Aderholt and Anne Marie Miller.
At the end of 1996 Anne Marie Miller, then Anne Jackson moved to Arlington, Texas. At the time she was 16 years old. She was attending Bowie High School and couldn’t find any Bible study groups. Their family was disillusioned with church after what happened to her father at the previous Southern Baptist Church. Anne wanted to start a See You at The Pole event at Bowie High School. She found Mark Aderholt on AOL and messaged him. Mark Aderholt offered to meet her. Their first public meeting was at a McDonalds in September of 1996. That McDonalds is inside a Walmart today. Aderholt was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mark was pursuing a Masters of Divinity at the time. Aderholt briefly met Miller’s mother in the department store. He gave Anne some material for See You at the Pole. They parted ways. Here is how Anne described meeting Mark Aderholt at the time. “I felt that I could talk to him pretty openly about the kind of faith crisis I was starting to experience,” Miller said. “And just some of those fears of being a new girl and just not feeling like I fit in anywhere, had a place to fit in. I felt like he listened to me. I felt heard. I didn’t get any weird vibes from him.” They started to email each other back and forth. Mark inquired as to how See You at the Pole went. In September of 1996 Mark actually invited her over to his apartment. When Miller arrived she saw pillows and blankets spread on the floor. According to the Star Telegram Miller said that Aderholt had claimed that the couch was uncomfortable. The lights were dimmed, and pizza was ordered. And then the Southwestern Baptist Theology student put his arm around her. Miller felt like she was special. She felt like someone loved and cared for her. Here is how she described it in the newspaper. “To have this older guy interested in me, I felt like I was worth something,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this man of God who is stable, who is moving forward in ministry, and who cares about others and wants to serve God, is interested in me. Wow.’ ”They started to kiss and Aderholt inquired if she was a virgin. Anne said yes, while Aderholt claimed he lost his when he was 13. Aderholt moved the contact beyond kissing to sexual contact above and below the waist. Anne thought she was in a boyfriend and girlfriend relationship. But their relaitonship was in secret it appears. They almost never went out in public together. Some of the places they went to include a Kroger grocery store, Razzoos restaurant in downtown Fort Worth, and a park in Fort Worth. Anne had tried to even dress to please Mark Aderholt. She did that by wearing Girbaud jeans which are Aderholt’s favorite. At one point in the relationship Aderholt confessed that what he was doing is wrong. He also claimed that, “I have kids in my youth group that are older than you.”
During the relationship Anne who was 16 didn’t tell her parents about the situation. Her parents didn’t know that she was seeing Mark Aderholt. To the StarTelegram Anne’s mother, Beverly said, “I just thought he’s going to help her meet some of the youth of the church where he was and they would be — she would be with the group, the youth group, which was fine. I met him that one time. I didn’t have any concerns about him helping her.” In April of 1997 Mark Aderholt ended seeing Anne Marie Miller. He informed her that he was getting engaged to the woman who would become his wife. Miller was devastated. Going forward she thought the relationship had gone bad. And for a while that was where things ended.
In 2005 Miller had relocated to Kansas and was the communications director at Westside Family Church of the Kansas City suburb Lenexa. When one of the male staff members turned 25 and was sitting next to a 16-year old girl Anne had a revelation. That was the same age difference between her and Mark Aderholt. It was the first time Anne realized the situation was wrong. Shortly after that experience she watched an episode of Oprah that dealt with pedophiles. When Anne heard about what happened she realized that is what Mark Aderholt did to her. She was groomed for abuse. She was selected because she was vulnerable. And Mark Aderholt took advantage of her and used her. Anne realized that she was a victim of sexual abuse and the next day she told her friend at church Crystal Renaud. Miller looked up Aderholt and discovered that he was a missionary with the Southern Baptist’s International Missions Board. In late 2006 Anne moved back to Texas and took a position at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwell doing design. While there she wrote an article about forgiveness. One of the pastor’s daughters saw it and asked what happened. Anne told her that she was sexually abused by Mark Aderholt. The daughter told Rod Vestal who upon hearing this story asked her for permission to contact the International Missions Board. Anne said yes.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Board Gets Involved and Allegedly Covers it Up
The International Missions Board (IMB) conducted a two month investigation. Mark Aderholt was in Hungary as a missionary, where he was recalled. During the investigation Anne shut down. She was afraid of the situation, afraid she wouldn’t remember details and that no one would believe her. “I started spinning in my head. It was just a time of real chaos and anxiety and stress.” At the time the IMB John D. Floyd was the chairman and Jerry A Rankin served as the president. The IMB review took place October 22 and 23, 2007. A 300 page transcript was developed. The IMB reached out to friends and family of the Millers and questioned them. Those questioned included her mother and her ex-boyfriend. The IMB asked if Anne Miller was dressed appropriately. Over the span of two days at Lake Pointe Church in Grapevine, Texas Anne Miller sat with Derek Gaubatz who was the general counsel for the IMB. He has been at the IMB as the general counsel for eleven years. Prior to that Derek worked for Beckets Fund for Religious Liberty. The political news magazine here in Washington, D.C. called Politico refereed to Beckets as “God’s Rottweilers.” I guess religious liberty for Derek Gaubatz is the right to cover up child sex abuse. Moving on, also present were two members of the IMB, a member of a SBC church, and a court reporter. Miller explained what Alderholt did and at Gaubatz request she explained to the board her faith in Christ and her religious journey. Gaubatz asked for graphic detail of the abuse. And he also questioned her about her sexual relationships beforehand and afterward. “Was it less physical, more physical with [your boyfriend after Aderholt]?” In late November Gaubatz emailed Miller her findings and results. Miller learned that Aderholt left. The investigation came to three conclusions. It was “more likely than not” that Aderholt had engaged in inappropriate sexual relationship with Anne Miller. Also that she was affected by it and that Aderholt was not truthful with the IMB about the situation. With Aderholt facing disciplinary action he resigned in January of 2008. During the interview Gaubatz asked if she was going to press charges. Anne Miller who was scared and dealing with the stress of the situation said no. Anne described it like this, “I told myself, if I can’t handle this informal internal interview, there is no way I can face this man in court. There is no way I can do this on a larger scale,” she said. “I will not survive if I do that. I was terrified. I was far too terrified to do it because I honestly thought I could not survive it. I don’t mean that dramatically. I mean that quite literally.” Miller then asked the IMB general counsel if Aderholt had confessed to doing anything. Gaubetz responded by telling her to “let it go” This is what he said to Anne in an email. “At this point, I would advise you to let it go,” Gaubatz wrote in a Dec. 3, 2007, email. “Forgiveness is up to you alone — it involves a decision by you to forgive the other person of the wrongs done to you, just as Christ has forgiven you.” Two years later Anne learned that Arderholt was working with children and she emailed Gaubatz again inquiring about it. “How can Mark still pastor inside SBC churches like he is?” she wrote. “Isn’t there some checks and balances with something as serious as what he was terminated for?” Anne struggled with what to do, it bothered her that Mark was still pastoring and had access to children. But she was afraid of these charges affecting the family as well. Over the next few years Miller spoke, wrote and did the evangelical circuit. And through it all Anne struggled with it. When the #MeToo movement took of inside evangelicalism with the #chruchtoo movement Anne decided it was time to speak out. It was February of 2018 and Anne was now a mother and had thought of her child. She contacted Scott Fredricks an attorney at Catney Hanger. She was encouraged to go to the Arlington Police where she reported the situation. In Texas there is no statute of limitations and she was free to do so. At her blog on June 6, 2018 Anne wrote the following post, “Finding True Justice and True Grace in a #MeToo #ChurchToo Culture.”
Mark Aderholt is Arrested and David Platt’s IMB Responds to the Situation
Anne Miller filed her reported with the Arlington Police. Mark Aderholt was arrested in South Carolina on July 3, 2018. He was transported back to Texas and booked in Tarrant County Jail on July 9, 2018. Later on Aderholt was charged Her story broke at the Star-Telegram on July 13. Meanwhile on that same day Anne Marie wrote a long post about the IMB covering up her sexual assault. The post is titled, “Anne Marie Miller’s Statement on Her Sexual Abuse Story and the International Mission Board Cover Up.” This is part of what she said:
If there was one statement I could delete from human language in regard to sexual abuse reporting, it would be, “Why did he/she wait so long to report? Why now?” and I would like to address that in this post.
- First and foremost, sexual trauma is brutal. The pain, shame, and confusion that happens when someone is violated on a physically intimate and in my case, a spiritual level destroys a person. It is more common than not that people do not immediately recognize or report sexual trauma. There are evidence-based studies that confirm this. To expect an abuse survivor to head over to the police soon after he or she was violated is insensitive, ill-informed, and without compassion.
- For me, I did not recognize my abuse as abuse until I was my abuser’s age in 2005. When I was serving in student ministry at the age of 25, one night at a coworker’s 25th birthday party, I had a realization of how inappropriate a sexual relationship between a 25-year-old and a 16-year-old is. Serendipitously the following day, I saw a television program on the grooming process most predators use and it mirrored my experience. I was forever changed. The next day, I went to a counselor in my church to discuss it. I still didn’t realize what occurred was an actual crime. She was not well versed in mandatory reporting and did not know she needed to report this either.
- Two years later in 2007, in my process of healing, I continued to realize the gravity of what happened. My abuser was a missionary overseas with the IMB and when a friend who was a pastor learned of my abuse, he immediately went to the IMB to report it. The IMB conducted an internal investigation after the abuser denied it, and they unanimously determined the abuse happened. They asked me if I wanted to report it to law enforcement. I said I didn’t think I could emotionally handle it. In my mind, if a criminal investigation was anything like the IMB investigation, I knew I couldn’t handle it. They inappropriately crossed boundaries with their questions that had nothing to do with why we all were there, which was humiliating, and while they respected my request, they also broke the law by not reporting it. The correct answer is “We’re sorry you don’t feel like you can report it. We have to, regardless. Let us walk you through this and help you with any psychological trauma that may result.” This team was not trauma-informed and the pain that was caused directly and significantly affected my physical and emotional health over the past ten years. After opening my deepest wound, they left me with no care plan or any offer of any help for my activated emotional state. I had one, off-the-record conversation with the IMB psychologist who reassured me it was normal for me to not remember every detail of my abuse—a common trauma response that disturbed me greatly. That was the only tangible psychological care I was offered or received. The financial cost for both physical and mental health treatment has always been a struggle too, and there is no way to seek any relief nor has any financial assistance been offered at any point in time despite knowing of my various hospitalizations. This is contrary to their policy to provide compassionate care to abuse survivors.
- In my former career as an author and speaker in the evangelical world (2008-2016), I spoke generically but freely about my abuse. It’s mentioned in old blogs, each of my books (though when it was written or spoken about, I changed minor details to protect my abuser’s and the IMB’s identity, at the IMB’s request (link), and because general publishing rules require it).
Anne went on and explained what she hoped would come out from it.
My hope in sharing my story is four-fold:
- It is my hope that by coming forward publicly, those with similar stories who have felt unheard or who have not felt safe enough to report their abuse can and will come forward and find freedom. It is a freedom that is painful and terrifying to walk into, but it is freedom nonetheless. If you are a survivor of abuse and do not know your next steps, please email me. I could not have walked down this road without support from others who know the law and who have walked down this road in their own life. It’s time for me to pass this on. You are not alone. Please. Email me.
- It is my hope that by coming forward publicly, the SBC will see that there is a systemic problem and there are intentional efforts to cover up sexual abuse within not only its churches but within its peripheral entities and finally, once and for all, change this. The idol of autonomy within the SBC hurts people and protects the people who hurt them. This cannot happen anymore and because of the well-documented inaction in my case, to argue otherwise is impossible.
- It is my hope that by coming forward publicly, I am letting the SBC formally know I am personally willing and passionately interested in helping develop systems to create change and am open to that conversation. I am a woman who is gifted in communication, system development, and I possess a deep understanding of and empathy for abuse survivors. I am hopeful about this, SBC. Reach out to me. Please let me and other people help you. You can no longer hide under autonomous systems (or lack thereof) that have been proven over time to be inefficient and/or non-existent. You must take responsibility for changing this and the time to do so is now.
- Finally, it is my hope that by coming forward publicly, whether you are a survivor, an abuser, the loved one of a survivor or abuser, or simply a bystander to all this, that we all will know the hope, love, freedom, and joy that is found through a saving relationship in Christ. It is through this relationship that I have the hope, love, freedom, and joy that I have and these things fuel each and every imperfect step I take.
Alderholt was bailed out of jail on July 10. He is charged with sexual assault with a child under the age of 17. It is punishable by up to 20 years of prison and a $10,000 fine. The IMB which is led by David Platt learned of the situation through the story in the Star Telegram. They released a statement through Baptist Press on July 10. Then Anne Miller released a statement expressing disappointment and shock over how the IMB responded. This was done through her blog on July 13. You can read her blog post called, “The International Mission Board’s Response to Anne Marie Miller’s Sexual Assault.” These are some of the questions Anne asked about how the IMB handled the situation.
- Why did the IMB not immediately report this to law enforcement?
- Why did they choose to conduct an internal investigation?
- Why did they not encourage me to report this to law enforcement?
- Why did the IMB not provide any counseling assistance or offers of tangible support?
- Why did the IMB use the word’s “inappropriate sexual relationship” instead of “sexual abuse?” Did they consider this a moral failing and not a crime?
- Why did the IMB insinuate Mark was terminated and allow me to believe this even when I directly asked?
- Did Mark sign a “release” that allowed the IMB to discuss his employment with others?
- Mark’s wife was invited to speak at an IMB women’s event overseas in 2016. How was this possible given what they knew?
- Did any of Mark’s future employers ask the IMB for a reference and if so, what did they report?
- Did the IMB conduct a third-party investigation into the ministry Mark had overseas when he worked directly with sex-trafficking victims and in other vulnerable people groups?
- What did the IMB do with their findings?
- The IMB is protected under civil rights acts to not share anything about any of their employees conduct as a reference. They have no legal obligation to do so. But, as an organization charged with caring for others in the name of Christ, do they not have a moral and spiritual obligation to do so?
- The education system across America has faced similar issues (sans the spiritual obligation). Laws have been passed in the last decade that require some states to disclose credible accusations to future employers. Why can’t our religious organizations follow suit? This needs to be seriously explored.
Sometime after that David Platt released a statement from the IMB. David Platt became the pastor of McLean Bible and will be transitioning to that position full time. This is what David issued through the IMB.
I just returned from the last couple of weeks in sub-Saharan Africa, and after meeting immediately with IMB trustee leaders, I want to speak clearly about recent news concerning an internal IMB investigation in 2007 of alleged sexual abuse by a former youth pastor who had become an IMB missionary and then went on to serve in other ministry leadership positions. In order to fully guard the integrity of an ongoing criminal investigation (with which IMB is committed to full cooperation), I believe it is wise, for the sake of everyone involved, for me to refrain from commenting on specific details in this case.
However, I do want to say that many facets of this situation are extremely disturbing. For this reason, I am commencing a thorough, outside, independent examination of IMB’s handling of past actions—including this case and any other similar situations. In addition, I am commencing a thorough, outside, independent examination of IMB’s present policies and practices to ensure that our current commitment to zero tolerance for child abuse, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment is completely and consistently enforced across IMB today. Further, I am presently in conversations with leaders of other churches and ministries, particularly within the SBC, to establish practical ways we can and must prevent situations like this in the future. Any attempts to minimize, ignore, cover up, or overlook child abuse, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment are absolutely intolerable, and we must take action together now to ensure safety and support for every person employed or affected by a church or ministry.
Moreover, I want to publicly apologize for the hurt and pain that Anne Miller has specifically suffered in this situation. I will not presume to know the variety of other emotions and challenges that she, those around her, and others who have walked through similar situations have experienced. Further, I want to apologize for various ways we in the IMB have contributed to such hurt and pain through our response to this point. In addition, I want to publicly thank Anne Miller for the courage she showed in approaching IMB in 2007, and the courage she is showing now. I realize the actions I have outlined above cannot remove her hurt and pain, or the hurt and pain of others who have experienced similar situations. But I am committed to doing all that I can so that her courage, and the courage of others like her, will prevent hurt and pain among others in the future.
In conclusion, we must do better. In the IMB. In the SBC. In any church and any ministry, we must do everything we can to protect children and adults from abuse and harassment, and we must do everything we can to hold anyone who is guilty of these things fully accountable.
David Platt is President of the International Mission Board.
My Analysis of the Situation
This situation raises a lot of concerns about the health of the SBC in my opinion. First of all let me state that how David Platt reacts to this situation will have implications not just for the IMB but also McLean Bible. I want to explore that in a second post. Let me state that its also important to be fair as David Platt was not at the helm in 2007 when the investigation took place. Now if David Platt learned about the situation with Mark Aderholt than that is a very different situation. What troubles me about this situation is that the IMB didn’t report Mark Aderholt to law enforcement. Mark by nature of his position in Hungary had access to a lot of people. How do when know that sexual abuse wasn’t committed over in Hungary? Another aspect that troubles me is how inside the SBC someone like Mark Aderholt can go from church to church without any red flags or problems being caught. But why didn’t the IMB contact other churches and let them know what happened? Why not go to law enforcement? The IMB put other people needlessly at risk in this situation. And to be honest I do not know why they did that, except perhaps they were more concerned about their reputation. This also shows why the SBC needs a database to track people with incidents. Also what about other denominations as well? For example I write about the EFCA here at this blog. Does this have lessons for them? I want to be careful because we are talking about the SBC here, but its a question worth asking. As I look at the situation the IMB is busy doing damage control. They are more concerned with their image than doing the right thing. From 2007 onward to 2018 they could have done the right thing. But the fact of the matter is that they didn’t. For me I find this hard to believe that this is an isolated incident. Has the IMB failed to report other individuals who have done sexual misdeeds? Have there been other cases where the IMB found out about a situation and just let the person go? Are there documented cases where people have been fired for misconduct? And being fired doesn’t mean that law enforcement will be brought into the picture. Has the IMB reported someone to law enforcement? Since Mark Aderholt in 2007 have their been other cases where people were let go? In my opinion I am not very optimistic. This expresses my concern about this organization and the issues that it continues to struggle with. The Wondering Eagle will be paying attention to this situation. To Anne Marie Miller you have my respect. You are brave and doing the right thing. I commend your courage and ask you to plow ahead. This blog respects you.