Sexual Abuse Survivor Update: Mark Aderholt, International Mission Board & Southern Baptist Convention

It has been over four months since Mark Aderholt, the man who sexually abused me in 1996 and 1997, when I was 16 years old, was arrested and charged with three felonies: two counts of Indecency with a Child–Sexual Contact and one count of Sexual Assault of a Child under the age of 17.

This arrest made headlines because the Southern Baptist Convention’s mission arm, the International Mission Board, knew about the abuse, found it to be credible after an internal investigation in 2007, and did not report it to authorities or within the SBC, citing they could potentially face legal issues if they had let Aderholt’s future employers know that he sexually abused a teenager when he was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. That’s why he was able to get a job pastoring in an SBC church two months after he resigned from the IMB, and climbed the ranks into a state convention executive position.

Even after his arrest, the IMB held defensive ground until their then-president, David Platt, returned from remote Africa and found out about the “extremely disturbing” situation. He and Dr. Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC), called to apologize and asked what I wanted them to do. I said I wanted them to open up my case and others to make sure any sexual abuse or misconduct that was criminal was reported to authorities and to make sure there were no other victims during Aderholt’s tenure overseas. Platt went over his public statement to make sure it addressed everything I wished and that night, released it. The following day, SBC president J.D. Greear, who was also aware of the incident, announced the SBC was launching a sexual abuse study group which was funded $250,000 in September.

I wanted to issue this update to address questions I’ve received since all this happened.

  • Mr. Aderholt will be facing the Tarrant County grand jury very soon–within the next few weeks from what I understand. I am meeting with the ADA and prosecutor for this case this week. If he is indicted, he will have the chance to enter his plea (guilty/not guilty/etc.)
  • I emailed the IMB to get an update and received a reply from the current interim president, Clyde Meador. Mr. Meador was aware of my abuse in 2007 and was one of the people I spoke to from the IMB about it back then. He said I should expect to hear from the third party investigators (I do not know who this group is) in fall. I have yet to hear from them.
  • I have not been contacted by anybody in the SBC about the sexual abuse study group and from what I have been able to see in my brief glances on social media, it appears relatively obscure as far as any actionable details.
  • There have been a few public panels put on by the ERLC and other SBC entities, but unfortunately, I have not seen any true action taking place that is any different than before.
  • I do not see anything new that helps prevent abuse, that is looking into past credible abuse, or that is offering support to known survivors of abuse within the SBC. At a minimum, I absolutely think there should be a fund to help survivors receive trauma-informed therapeutic help.
  • I’ve decided I need to do what I can to help other survivors. I’m writing and self-publishing a book called Healing Together: A Guide for Helping Sexual Abuse Survivors that will be out as soon as I can get it done. I am hoping by the end of the year at the latest. Following me on social media is probably the best way to find out about it if you’re interested. (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)

It may appear the SBC has a mountain of a task to climb and in many ways it does; that’s what happens when you allow crime and sin to dirty up under your rugs for so long.

At the same time, it’s really not that difficult.

How? They could be in contact with survivors to by writing a short email or a dialing up a quick phone call. Any words of, “How are you? How can we pray? How is your family?” from the powers-that-be who have made promises to reconcile these wounds would actually make a huge difference, at least to me.

I have communicated my personal wishes and clearly stated that hearing nothing from the SBC would be painful. In a majority of the places where I stated this, those requests have gone unanswered. And as I predicted, the silence is painful. They know and yet they do not act.

I was hopeful this summer when these big statements were made. That hope, however, has been tempered by silence and relative inaction. In my case, instead of closing the gap of mistrust caused by the SBC, it continues to widen…maybe a bit more slowly now, but the stitches are being torn apart and the wound is still raw and open.

Lest you think I’m sitting in a puddle of tears, not all is in despair: I am most encouraged and supported by local authorities and law and order. Constant contact, support, sincere inquiries into wellbeing, victim support services, face-to-face meetings, “we want to make this right for you and here is how we are doing it,” and people keeping promises make the criminal side of this ordeal a bit more bearable. Also, a HUGE amount of support from online–other survivors, pastors I don’t know, and people I have met along the way–has also been a great source of encouragement.

Nursing school is going well and we are excited to be in our new home for the holidays, ending what seems to be a constant stream of moving and rentals. Charlotte is 2 1/2 and it’s a fun and crazy age that has us laughing and crying and sometimes visits to urgent care for big bumps on heads. Tim’s work has been incredibly supportive in giving him time off to even financially assisting with some medical bills. Even a VPs Tim’s company of 10K+ employees pulled me aside once to ask how this case is going and how we are doing—he saw it in the local paper here. I was amazed he put the awkwardness away and asked, “how are you?” and it spoke life into my heart.

That’s all I have for now. Don’t give up asking for what is owed. Don’t hesitate to report your abuse. Ask for help. And don’t give up hope, but at the same time, learn not to expect it from the places you think it should come from, like the church.

That’s what I’m learning (again) anyway.

 

[edit: Need to add this to my post: there are 2 leaders who’ve been constant & supportive of me in this situation: Ed Stetzer and Dr. Russell Moore. I understand many people have many different feelings about lots of issues surrounding them, but they have both been very supportive. Worth noting. I also know they hosted 2 of the panels I have mentioned that I’m happy for, but don’t think they (the panels) do much. However, I want to give credit where credit is due and we have been grateful for their prayers and support on many occasion.]

Finding True Justice and True Grace in a #MeToo #ChurchToo Culture

As we enter into this new climate of finding freedom from abuse that happened to us, let us not use this freedom as an opportunity to cause harm to others in the name of seeking justice.

Several times over the last ten years, I found myself in the city where the man who sexually abused me as a child lived. Most of the time I was terrified to accidentally run into him. Sometimes I became full of rage and fantasized seeing him at a gas station and attacking him. And other times I would get caught off guard by my grief and sit in my car weeping outside the hotel where I was staying.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, the myriad of emotions I experienced changed as naturally as the Texas sky in springtime. Sometimes I’d feel guilty about the complexity. Other times I wouldn’t.

I learned that each emotion had its place.

In March of this year, when I found out the man who abused me was never reported to law enforcement, a strong desire for justice gave me the extra courage I needed to walk forward. I felt validated knowing the criminal justice system would handle what the Southern Baptist Convention would not–and could not–handle. I felt a sweeping loss as my mental health suffered. I burned with indignation as this man, who already has taken so much of my life by his actions, consumed more: I lost sleep, I lost time with my daughter and my husband, and lost the easy joy I generally danced in.

There were parts of me that wanted to destroy him. There were parts of me that wanted to destroy myself.

And again, each emotion had its place.

As I worked with law enforcement, my detective encouraged me to not share the name of the man who abused me publicly until they had everything in order for the criminal case they’re working on. They understood this man’s current role and his access to vulnerable people, including children. Yet the benefits of not coming out with his name publicly outweighed the risks in regard to the integrity of the criminal investigation. I respected their wishes then and I respect them now.

Somehow this felt right and good and okay. Even though the only thing that remained between me exposing the man who did this to me was a “publish” button, I have yet to have peace about sharing my story in such a public way, most likely because of the condition of my heart. Some people have gone public and done it in a way that glorifies God while respecting the criminal process. I would have shared out of a place of vengeance.

I’m glad I had a little extra space to reconsider going public because, for me, it was not the right choice to make at the time.

have courage and be kind

Since I’ve been offline for most of the last two years, I guess I forgot how ruthless the voices on social media are…myself included. In the last month, since I shared my story online (without identifying my abuser), I’ve clicked on enough hashtags and read enough fodder to lose a little bit of faith in the world (and in myself).

Don’t mishear: there are some pretty awful people who have done some pretty awful things. Many well-respected men and women, especially within the SBC, have had their skeletons come out and be displayed for all the world to see.

In the court of public opinion, most are starting to pay a hefty price for their sins and for their crimes. I want to reiterate that the people who commit these horrid acts–and the ones who cover them up–are ultimately responsible for whatever consequences come their way.

But in all of this, there is something I just can’t get my spirit to shake off:

This court of public opinion–social media, newspapers, blogs–is not and should not be the final destination of justice. However, it seems as if most of us treat it as the highest court of all, damning those who have lied, cheated, stolen, raped, abused, and covered up to a man-made hell of Twitter firestorms, petty insults, unnecessary commentary, and misplaced desires to have the final word.

I understand as survivors of abuse we feel like we have no voice and now we can say whatever we want, when we want, to whomever we want. There is power in rediscovering our voice.

We cannot neglect our responsibility to be like Christ and we cannot evade the call to exercise wisdom with how we discuss these things, especially in public forums.

Justice and grace are not mutually exclusive.

Does the man who abused me, who stole so much of my life from me as a sixteen-year-old and over the last 22 years deserve the justice coming his way? Yes.

Does he deserve grace? No.

But here’s the thing: I don’t deserve that grace either.

I don’t write this in a self-deprecating manner.

I don’t intend to minimize what has happened to me or to the countless number of women and men, boys and girls, who have been abused in the worst possible ways, and in the name of Jesus.

The humbling reality we are faced with in this and in every part of our life is the very basic tenet of the Gospel: God so loved the world that He gave his only son to die for my sins, for your sins, and for the sins of the man who abused me.

This includes his sin of abusing me.

It is a grace none of us deserve but all of us can freely receive.

I’m afraid that the beauty of this grace is being buried alive by the permission we now have to speak freely. Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and in our attempt to bring the light into darkness, we are inadvertently suffocating out the Life the world needs to survive.

As we enter into this new climate of finding freedom from abuse that happened to us, let us not use this freedom as an opportunity to cause harm to others in the name of seeking justice.

Let us recognize the same God who sought us out and asked us, “Where are you?” seeks out all of us, even the criminals hanging on the cross.

When reconciliation plays out here on earth, may we remember the love of God that has reconciled us is also available to those who have hurt us.

May we give thanks that all of our brokenness is healed through the same holy man on the same holy cross. This man is near to us when we are brokenhearted and he is near to those who have hurt us when they are brokenhearted. He grieves for us when we are far from Him and he grieves for the world when they are far from him.

As justice begins to shine like the noon-day sun, may our hearts also shine with hope and grace for ourselves, for others, and for the world to come.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

May It Be Light and Only Light

It has been three months since I said farewell to social media, sans a quick break to introduce our daughter to you.

Those three months-they have been enough. They have been enough to show me that I need more, which by writing you in simple words sounds selfish.

We want God to speak to us, so we become quiet. We wait until we hear whatever words we are supposed to hear. Sometimes those words are revealed quickly; often, they are shown to us letter by letter. And other times, the thing we hear is that we are to remain listening.

I returned to one of my favorite reads recently, Echoing Silence, by Merton. In this collection of letters and pages from his journals and books (collected and published posthumously), he walks through the tension of writing, his spirituality, suffering, ego, and vocation. Two passages in particular struck me:

“If the inspiration is helpless without a correspondingly effective technique, technique is barren without inspiration.” (October 24, 1958)

…and

“The best thing for me is a lucid silence that does not even imagine it speaks to anybody. A silence which I see no interlocutor, frame no message for anyone, formulate no word either for man or paper. There will still be plenty to say when the time comes to write, and what is written will be simpler and more fruitful.” (December 14, 1949)

I am grateful for Merton’s removing himself from distractions and entering into a time of soul-silence. I doubt he knew or even wished that within his silence, he was communicating a message stronger than the power any written word could possibly create: an example.

(To note: most of his writings about entering into silence were in autumn and winter; perhaps it is designed in our warm blood to hibernate for a while.)

A scattered few friends of mine are taking brief vows of Internet silence. For some, it is the first time. For many, it won’t be the last. I have debated if these seasons of silence are a giving into self-indulgent isolation. After time and examination, please believe me that is not the case.

During his time at the monastery in Kentucky, Merton wrote letters to friends and spiritual counselors, politicians, and artists near and far. He went to Mass, he worked alongside fellow monks, took Eucharist, and kept mostly to the hours.

In the same manner, I tend to my private world of family and friends and community. Letters are shared between kindred spirits, encouraging one another in good works and glory. My days disappear into nights–and back again to dawn…to dusk…and so on–as I feel the grit in my spirit searching for an unfamiliar worship in the quotidian mysteries that occupy my time as of late.

It is hard. It is good.

I will not renounce ever returning to this space, just as Merton “refused and had practically ceased to desire” writing again, God “gave [him] back the vocation that [he] had half-consciously given up, and He opened to [him] again the doors that had fallen shut.” (1976)

But for now, may the only message I give you be one that I cannot speak or write.

May it be light, and only light.

Silentium coelorum sit mihi lex: et vita mea imago luminis.
(Let the silence of heaven be my law: and my life an image of light. – Merton, 1952)

Seasons

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 7.47.54 AM
Pregnancy has been one of the most beautiful, difficult, spiritually growing, ego-shrinking seasons. With only three weeks left, give or take, I’ve been caught in the tension of grief – missing the secret kicks and rolls – and of anticipation, waiting to meet this baby and put it to my chest, to see Tim hold this fatty blob of wrinkles and cries. I’m also looking forward to being able to get out of bed without the effort of a crane helping me.

All this to say, in the recent quiet moments of introspection, my heart needs rest and reconnection to my own Father. It’s been too easy for me to spend insomnia-filled nights on digital rabbit trails and now, like eating too many cupcakes, I am stuffed with emotions my own insecurities let in and thinking, “Oh, no. That was way too much,” Slightly regretful yet with the knowledge that it’s temporary and I need to put the cupcakes down.

This year, I took a speaking hiatus for most of the time, and now the quiet, small voice has been telling me to leave much of the Internet alone for a bit. I don’t know how long, and we will post when our child enters this glorious world because he or she is a part of your prayers and we are ever-so-thankful that you have walked the roads of loss and celebration with us. Until then, and probably after then, too, I will be off of social media and writing online. Just in case you wonder.


Until next time, much love~
Anne

A Free Advent Devotional for the Hard and Holy Holidays

Growing up, I didn’t know much about Advent.

Christmas cantatas, yes.

Live nativity scenes, yes.

Advent…not so much.

A few years ago, after I began attending St. Bartholomew’s in Nashville, Advent really took a hold on my heart: a time to prepare and reflect upon the coming Christ, his birth, death and resurrection, the narrative of Mary and Joseph, angels, dirt, mundane, pain, rejoicing.

Over time, I’ve written a few blog posts inspired by the season or on Christmas in general. Because as mystical and ponderous Advent is, the holiday season is hard for many people–myself included.

Family and travel and money and parties and finals and bad weather and schedules and so…many…things that distract and hurt and delight and remind us of a broken world, not a healed one.

We yearn for hope.

Last year, I compiled a month-full of Advent writings and made a little eBook.

It’s free. 

Just head over to Noisetrade and download it. 

Please share it with your friends, your family.

Study it by yourself or with a group of people.

Print off a million copies of it and give it to anyone you think could find it helpful.

It’s yours.

It’s my prayer that by taking just a couple of minutes each day as we approach Christmas to stop and breathe and pray and hope and to know we aren’t alone in this hard and holy season, we can live vulnerably in the dualities of joy and sadness and pain and peace.

Those tensions have been lived and wrestled in since the beginning of time but in this season we know the most beautiful moment is in our rest.

And we can rest and know we are loved and can love, we can rest in knowing hope and holiness, and we can rest knowing our Savior has come (and is here, now).

O’ come let us adore Him!