A woman alleging sexual abuse by a Southern Baptist youth minister two decades ago says prevention measures being discussed amid new media reports about sexual predators in the Southern Baptist Convention are too little too late for hundreds of victims documented in a six-month investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.
Anne Marie Miller, one of the survivors interviewed for a three-part series published this week documenting nearly 400 allegations of sexual misconduct by Southern Baptist pastors, youth ministers and volunteers since 1998, said Feb. 13 on National Public Radio that ideas like better training for churches and resources for sharing information are “very realistic first steps,” but most comments by denominational leaders “are missing a very key component” in their responses.
“It’s great and it’s essential to protect future people from being harmed and prevent predators from moving from church to church, but what are you going to do about the survivors now?” Miller asked NPR Morning Edition host Rachel Martin.
“You’re not helping heal the damage,” she said. “There definitely needs to be something for victims. We need counseling. We need resources. Our families have been traumatized by this.”
Miller, who was 16 when her relationship with the 25-year-old youth pastor began in the 1990s, testified about her experience for two days in an internal investigation by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board in 2007 finding that a missionary named Mark Aderholt “more likely than not” had engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a teenager and “was not truthful” about it when asked.
Miller, now 38, says she didn’t learn until last year that IMB officials did not report their findings to civil authorities. Aderholt resigned before he could be fired and moved on to work at SBC churches before landing a job as associate executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 2016. At that point, Miller took it on herself to call the police.
“It is going to be a cold day in hell when I step back into a Baptist church.”
Aderholt resigned his position as the Baptist state convention’s senior strategist last June. He was arrested July 3 on a warrant issued in Texas and indicted in December on four felony counts of indecency with a child under 17 and sexual assault. According to the Houston Chronicle, the charges against Aderholt are pending.
Miller says an attorney representing the IMB advised her to “let it go” when she reported her abuse in 2007 and repeated last year that his “thoughts on forgiveness and reconciliation” with Aderholt “are still true today.”
Last July IMB President David Platt announced an independent review of the agency’s handling of the Aderholt case “and any similar situations” applying to its “zero-tolerance” policy toward sexual abuse and harassment.
Former Kentucky Baptist Convention executive Paul Chitwood, who replaced Platt as IMB president in November, pledged in December to continue the study, being conducted by Gray Plant Mooty, a Minneapolis law firm with specialty areas including the defense of white collar crime.
SBC President J.D. Greear offered his advice to abuse victims in a blog published Feb. 11.
“When you are ready, involve your current church in your recovery journey,” he counseled in part. “This assumes you are not in the same church where your abuser is in leadership. It is understandable if you do not take this step for a while. Don’t feel rushed.”
Miller said, speaking for herself and others like her, “it is going to be a cold day in hell when I step back into a Baptist church.”
“By keeping that within the church, you are going to miss a majority of the people who have been hurt by the church, because most of us that have been hurt by the church are no longer in the church.”
“By keeping that within the church, you are going to miss a majority of the people who have been hurt by the church, because most of us that have been hurt by the church are no longer in the church,” she said.
Miller said the question of whether she has managed to rebuild her Christian faith outside of the organized church is “a touchy subject for me.”
“I’ve gone through phases where I think I have, but then all this comes back around and I’m just not sure,” she told NPR. “I know there is a God, and I know there is Jesus. I believe in Jesus, but it breaks my heart to know that there are men and women who have destroyed other men and women and children under the name of Jesus, in God’s name and in God’s house. So I don’t know if I can see the church as a safe place again. I really don’t.”