International Mission Board President David Platt pledged Wednesday to commence an independent review of the Southern Baptist Convention agency’s handling of a former missionary now facing criminal charges of sexually abusing a minor.
Platt, just back from traveling overseas, declined to comment specifically on the July 3 arrest of 46-year-old Mark Aderholt, until recently associate executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, but said he found aspects of an internal investigation of the allegations by IMB officials in 2007 “extremely disturbing.”
During the past two weeks media outlets including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Baptist News Global ran stories saying the IMB investigation found evidence that Aderholt more likely than not sexually abused a 16-year-old girl while he was a 25-year-old youth pastor, but did not report him to the police.
Platt apologized to Anne Marie Miller, the alleged victim, who says she assumed after two-days of gut-wrenching interviews with the IMB assessment team that the matter had been adequately addressed 11 years ago. After learning that Aderholt went on to work at two SBC churches before landing a job in denominational work and inquiring how that could happen, she only recently turned to authorities in Texas, who investigated and ultimately obtained a warrant for Aderholt’s arrest.
In addition to the review of the Aderholt case “and any similar situations,” Platt announced a separate, independent review into IMB policies and practices to ensure compliance with the agency’s “zero tolerance” approach to sexual assault and/or harassment.
Platt said the nation’s second-largest faith group “must do better” to protect and support abuse victims.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Miller, an author and former blogger and conference speaker, said on Twitter she is “unspeakably grateful” to those whose supported her effort to get the mission board and convention “to do the right thing.”
She said she has spoken by phone with Platt and with Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and received support from SBC president J.D. Greear by e-mail.
Sponsors of Justice for Anne – a website promoting both a letter-writing campaign to the IMB and establishment of denomination-wide system for reporting, tracking and information sharing about suspected clergy sex abuse – tweeted that they were “heartened” by Platt’s statement and “expectantly wait” for him to follow through on his commitment.
Aderholt, free from jail on $10,000 bond, is scheduled to make his initial court appearance Aug. 9 to face a charge of sexual assault of a child under 17, a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
The IMB review follows on the heels of the firing in May of “conservative resurgence” co-founder Paige Patterson after allegations that he mishandled rape reports during his time as president of two different SBC seminaries.
The controversy prompted a #MeToo-style backlash covered by national media including the Washington Post and a June SBC resolution voicing contrition for past missteps involving allegations of sexual abuse and domestic violence.