A former Southern Baptist missionary and denominational worker on Tuesday pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault 11 years after the denomination’s International Mission Board substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against him but did not report it the police.
Mark Aderholt, who resigned as associate executive director and chief strategist for the South Carolina Baptist Convention shortly before his arrest last July on charges of sexual assault of a minor, was ordered to spend 30 days in jail and pay a $4,000 fine.
After that, if he successfully completes 24 months of deferred adjudication, a form of probation, the conviction will not remain on his criminal record. Aderholt, 47, is currently in custody at the Tarrant County Correction Center.
Anne Marie Miller, the woman who told police that Aderholt sexually abused her when she was 16 and he was a 25-year-old student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1996-1997, said many people have expressed the opinion that he deserved a stiffer sentence, but she felt vindicated by hearing his admission of guilt.
“Over the last year, I have learned how unspeakably complicated the criminal justice system is,” Miller, an author of several books, said in a statement on her website. “So many variables go into each and every case.”
“While I think we all can agree that Mr. Aderholt is not facing the criminal penalty he should be, the DA’s office asked for my input and wishes during plea negotiations,” she said. “This included taking into consideration the emotionally charged prospect of a jury trial, facing a relentless and brutal cross-examination by his defense attorney, the impact of a trial on my family and a potential verdict of not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I fully trust the prosecuting attorney and the final outcome.”
In a victim’s impact statement she read to Aderholt in court, Miller said nine years ago she was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder because of what he did to her.
“You sexually abused me,” Miller said. Despite that, Miller said she has forgiven Aderholt and grieves over the pain his actions have caused his family.
“I used to believe that in order for this ordeal to be over, you needed to tell the truth and ask me to forgive you. I know now that’s not the case,” she said. “This is over because I have spoken the truth. It’s over because I have forgiven you. Your lies have no more power.”
“This is over, Mark. This is the end.”
Miller shared her story with the public last year in interviews with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She said she testified two days in 2007 in an internal investigation by the SBC International Mission Board into the then-decade-old allegations against Aderholt, who in 2000 was appointed as a foreign missionary after previously serving short-term as a journeyman 1994-1996.
The assessment team determined that Aderholt had “more likely than not” engaged in an “inappropriate sexual relationship” with Miller and was “not truthful” about the “full extent of the relationship.”
Miller thought that would be the end of the matter, believing Aderholt would be fired and reported to the police. She found out later he was allowed to resign as a missionary.
Aderholt went on to serve in Southern Baptist churches including the prestigious Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas – once the home church of President Bill Clinton – before landing an executive job at the South Carolina Baptist Convention, where he earned a salary reported in media as $120,000 a year.
Learning that there is no statute of limitation for serious sex crimes against children in Texas, Miller took her story to the Arlington Police Department in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area in 2018.
The Baptist Courier reported June 19, 2018, that Aderholt had resigned after a year-and-a-half at the South Carolina Baptist Convention but did not say why.
The following July 3 Aderholt was arrested on charges of sexual assault of a child under 17 and two counts of indecency with a child, felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison. He was booked into jail in Texas briefly before being released on a $10,000 bond. A grand jury indictment followed in December.
Publicity about the arrest and the IMB’s handling of the case years earlier prompted an outside review of the agency’s handling of past matters and current policies and practices pertaining to sexual abuse and harassment.
A recent report by the legal firm Gray Plant Mooty identified “a number of significant concerns” with the agency’s handling of past cases and said that even with improvements made over time the “IMB’s current policies and procedures fall short of contemporary best practice standards.”
In May the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News reported a “long trail of alleged cover-ups involving sexual misconduct or crimes committed abroad by a small number of Southern Baptist missionaries, all salaried employees of the mission board” in one installment of a six-part investigative series describing widespread abuse allegations in the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.
The newspapers found five men working for the IMB who were credibly accused or convicted of abusing about 24 people, mostly children, based on court records, documents and interviews.
Despite a promise in 2004 to “terminate and publicly expose” any future missionaries found guilty of abuse, the report said, the entity managing more than 3,600 missionaries and overseeing a budget of $158 million or more a year continues to keep misconduct reports inside the organization’s hierarchy.
IMB President Paul Chitwood told his board of trustees in May he is committed to reforms including creation of a full-time position to oversee prevention and response efforts related to child abuse and sexual harassment.
“I recognize that some people were harmed by the way IMB has responded to these situations throughout our 174-year history and for that, on behalf of the IMB, I apologize,” said Chitwood, former executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention elected IMB president last November. “I commit to you today that we will do better in the future.”
Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma, and a former IMB trustee, made a motion at the recent SBC annual meeting to make public the entire Gray Plant Mooty report – and not just the summary of findings and recommendations released in May – but the motion was ruled out of order.
Miller, who on top of everything else is recovering from severe facial injuries suffered in a freak accident during recreation while she was a patient in a trauma treatment facility after reporting her sexual abuse, estimates the costs of her mental health treatment over the years to total $380,000, three times what Aderholt reportedly earned in salary while working for South Carolina Baptists.
LifeWay Christian Resources offered in March to publish her forthcoming book, Healing Together, but the deal fell through during editing due to a company policy forbidding the publication of authors who are not active in a local church.
“I think going to church can be healing for some survivors but it can also be horrifically damaging to others,” Miller said in May. “I cannot, in good conscience, deem church involvement as an absolute.”
The book, available free of charge in electronic versions and $4.99 in paperback, is due out in October.