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.]

Let Your No Be Your Yes

Keep Going.

Just because you may hear “no” a million times doesn’t mean that the biggest YES–the calling for you to change the world in whatever you way you are meant to change it–diminishes.

The “no” is water thrown next to the fire on the dirt.

It doesn’t touch the flame.

Keep going.

Trusting God’s Design

I didn’t know much about personality profiles growing up. What I did know is after about 2 hours at church, 2 hours at a party, 2 hours on a school trip, 2 hours at a sleepover…I was done.

I wasn’t angry. I didn’t dislike people. I wasn’t bored. I didn’t want to check out.

But something inside me hit a threshold of sorts and I knew I needed to spend at least a few minutes by myself and recharge. Otherwise, my mind would get spacey, I’d become easily distracted, my speech would begin to falter, I’d even become more clumsy.

Over time, I learned although this could cause me anxiety, it wasn’t the anxiety I wrestled with.

It was simply my design as an introvert (and a far-reaching one at that).

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I’m not too shy (usually). I love people. I love loving people. I adore hearing what journey they’re walking and what God’s doing in their lives. I’m good with people.

As someone who has been, for the most part, self-employed for the last seven or eight years, I find a lot of quiet time in my own routine with writing and speaking. Now, as Tim and I entered a new season of life, with him as a youth pastor at a growing church, I find my time alone growing shorter and shorter. I know God knows how I’m wired and I know He gives me strength for every situation, but I often battle the process.

It goes a little like this:

  1. YES! I am SUPER PUMPED about this youth retreat we’re having this weekend. Over thirty people are going! I love the girls we get to minister to and with. I LOVE seeing them learn and grow! Yay!
  2. Wait, how far do we have to drive?
  3. Hold up…lights out is how late?
  4. How much time will I have a chance to be by myself and recharge?
  5. My routine! My routine! Ack!
  6. Geez, Miller. That’s entirely selfish! You’re here to serve these students and your husband and these volunteers. SUCK IT UP. You’re not going to die from talking and listening to people for four days.
  7. Well, you’ll die a little bit. But it’s for Jesus.
  8. Really, Miller. SUCK IT UP. Good grief. You introverts are always overanalyzing and planning 78 of the conversations you think you’ll have and you actually won’t have…no wonder you’re exhausted already. This is NOT ABOUT YOU.
  9. (Hey, but God. You know you gave me a really empathetic and sensitive heart. You know this stuff is hard for me.)
  10. (Anne, I know. Just trust me.)

It seems like such a small thing to trust–God’s design. Knowing He fully created me, my fears, my flaws, and my strengths. In ministry, it’s been difficult to see being an introvert as a gift…I can see it as a curse. I want to wear shirts that say, “No, really. I LOVE YOU! Even if I don’t seem like I talk much.” Church events are usually social events. Loud. Talking. Games. Counseling. It’s a challenge for an introvert.

I’ve been looking forward to (and yet I’m still slightly anxious about) this weekend for a long time. It’s the first big event Tim and I get to lead (with the help of our wonderful volunteers!). I’m going to try and be EXTRA intentional about letting God fill in those places where I need Him to. I don’t want Him to change the way He created me, but I need to learn to trust the way He designed me in whatever season in which He calls me to minister.

(And, yeah. Feel free to pray for this retreat! We’d be VERY grateful!)

Why the American Church is Not Going to Hell in a Hand Basket

I know what the statistics say about the future of the evangelical American church.

Our buildings are bigger, our lights are brighter, our programs are sleeker, our preachers are teaching, our pastors are shepherding and yet people are leaving out of the church in droves–especially my age (almost 35) and younger.

  • Some are leaving for good. God, the Church, religion…it’s just not part of our core anymore.
  • Some leave and plant other churches. We’re more entrepreneurial than ever so when we see something, in our opinion, that needs to be improved on, we know how to run a church. We’ve spent enough time within our well-oiled machines that we’ve been groomed to do it ourselves–just better, we think. More or less intimate. More or less community. More or less programs. More or less topical. More or less exegetical. More or less flash. More or less candles.
  • Some leave and go to the church down the road. And then to the other church farther down the road. We commit just long enough to wonder why we haven’t found community only to start all over again.

And herein lies a problem: the categories of people I just defined are people who are already inside the church–whether it be a church building or a gathering in a living room or a coffee shop.

We study, we plan, we program, we find scenic, peaceful pictures and slap encouraging Bible verses on them in hip fonts to post across social media. We create devotionals, printouts, and have a board or two on our Pinterest pages for quotes and for Jesus.

Let me say there is nothing inherently wrong with studying, planning, programming or encouraging. I’m guilty of all those things, Pinterest boards included.

However, if we fly out to 30,000 feet and take a look at the landscape, what do we see?

I think we’ve become a little bit gluttonous in regard to our faith.

At first, that statement sounds pretty innocuous. We’re to learn scripture, memorize it, encourage each other, and be faithful with the time and resources we’ve been given, right?

I agree.

At what point are we spilling out to others–to those who haven’t heard the truth and the power and the saving grace of the Gospel of the cross?

Having grown up in the church, worked in the church, served in the church, and now, being married to a pastor, I hear all the time how, with each generation, society is becoming more and more post-Christian. If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “Just look at what happened in Europe!”…

I’m a logical person. I love research and I love statistics. I geek out over spreadsheets and trends. Quantifying and qualifying things are one of my favorite hobbies.

Yet, in spite of all the science and stats, I really don’t believe that the American church is going to hell in a hand basket, so to speak.

Why not?

I believe in the power of prayer.

I believe God desires a true reviving of His church all over the world, including America.

I believe truth always wins, even in an age where truth has been redefined and recategorized as relative and subjective and personal.

I believe that the children and students of today are hungry for truth. I see it every week as they ask good and thoughtful questions about the Scripture they read. I see their struggle, and it’s a good struggle. 

I believe the power of Christ that is in one person who’s faithful to worshipping, obeying, and joyfully sharing the saving grace of Christ is more powerful than 10,000 people who attend a church out of routine or tradition.

And lastly, I believe there are enough people who believe like me–quietly hoping, seeking, praying, pleading, trusting and living out the Gospel that the numbers and statistics don’t matter.

We will not lose to the self-fulfilling prophecy that the church in America is dying.

Yes, the future of the church looks grim at times.

But we understand it’s not that we need to (or can) fix what’s broken.

We need to pray our faces off and be obedient so that what has been broken in the church can be made whole, made new, and made alive again.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in us.

It’s time for us to take that power and let Him raise the dead through us.

Fight for Unity, or Don’t Fight at All: My Plea for Christians to Keep Your Opinions To Yourself

When I was sixteen, my dad left the ministry. He did nothing wrong, but it was an ugly church-wide meeting full of Southern obstinacy. I saw men in our small church yelling at each other, accusing each other, accusing my father, accusing my mother, accusing the youth pastor. Some claims were insidious, others plan incredulous.

I will never forget that Sunday in April. A fire rose inside me that rarely burns for much anymore. As shy as I am, as non-confrontational as I am, and – for that church – as female as I am, none of that mattered. I stood up, my whole body shaking and read verses upon verses out of the bible about unity. All those Bible drills came in handy. I flipped to Ephesians, to John, to Galatians.

What I was taught in church about loving each other and what I was shown by the church were diametrically opposed.

When I was through, I was met with cold stares telling me my input was not welcome. I rushed outside, up a fire escape, and wrote a letter to God I still have to this day.

Give me a way to bring unity to the church. Or else, I’m gone.

I didn’t hear an answer for a while, so I left. For five years, I went off on some dark roads which God has so graciously redeemed. I came back to His bride and found myself back in many situations where I would pray that same prayer (just without the “or else…”)

In recent years and more specifically, the recent month, everyone who has an Internet connection has been exposed to many an exposé on pastors and other church leaders. The scandals, the sins, the full-open-letters pasted for all the world to see. We are an age of opinionated school-yard bullies with platforms and reach and nobody is winning.

That fire is lit once more. I’m that sixteen year old girl again, shy and nervous of unwelcome stares, trembling with my Bible in hand…but I’m ready to fight.

Here’s the thing.

  • If you don’t know the person you’re dragging through the mud, you have no scriptural basis to bring what he or she is doing to a public forum where anyone can read.
  • If you do not have an accountable relationship with them, they are not accountable to you (or to your blog, or your Facebook rants).
  • That person isn’t going to read your blog, or your comments on a blog anyway.
  • If you find it humorous or rejoice when a man or woman of God has been removed from ministry or celebrate when they are publicly humiliated somehow, you should mourn. The Father is grieving. Even if what they did was both terrible and true, there is never a reason to celebrate. Never.

My bottom line request is this: If you’re not going to fight for unity, don’t fight at all. And don’t cause others to fight. Don’t bring people along with you in rejoicing (or making fun of, or condemning) for a fallen brother or sister. If you have a platform, use it to bring prayer for the church. Humble, pleading, grieving prayers. Don’t share the latest YouTube video of that person because “you just can’t believe it” and “it’s so wrong it’s ridiculous.” Move on. Sharing those things does not edify the body of Christ.

The same grace that covers you covers the worst of us.

Oh, and in that church service where my dad resigned? There was a girl there from my school who wasn’t a Christian. It was her second time visiting. As far as I know, she never returned. Heck, it took me five years for my faith in God and the church to recover from that situation.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:29-32

PS – I am turning comments off on this post. In the past, I have written similar posts on unity and have received comments that do not reflect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I don’t want this to be another one. If you truly need to comment on this, you can contact me privately using the contact form on my website.