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.]

Statement on Abuse in the Church

I only break my social media silence for very important things. With the spotlight on the SBC and abuses of all kinds, I can’t stay silent. People within the church and within the SBC have sexually and emotionally abused me and many I love. The cover-ups by the church and the SBC specifically further perpetuate this abuse.

If you have been abused by anyone, report it to authorities in law enforcement. Do NOT go to your church to report abuse in an effort to “keep the peace.” Go to the authorities. It is not the church’s job to investigate and penalize criminals. It is not man’s duty to protect the church. God can do that just fine on his own. He has his work cut out for him and it could only take God to bring good out of the egocentric tarnishing that continues to happen as people use his name for their own advances and to cover up their fears of being found out for what we all are—human—and for what some are—criminal. Being human is not a mistake.

Being a criminal is and criminals need to be held accountable for their crimes.

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Your Anxiety is Not a Sin

The Texas Rangers just walked the bases. It wasn’t that exciting of a baseball game. I was doing my Algebra II homework with the TV playing in the background.

I’ve never been good at math, but this particular assignment was tough. While trying to assign some numerical value to letters (a concept as a writer I will never understand: letters are for words. Numbers are for nerds. Just kidding. If it weren’t for the numbers people in my life, I’d be in jail.), my heart started palpitating.

I placed my hand on my chest and could feel each beat through the muscles under my collarbone. What was happening? Was I going to have a heart attack? I was only 14. This can’t be happening.

I didn’t realize it, but my breathing became fast and shallow. I got lightheaded. My muscles tensed. Not wanting to alarm my parents, I quickly went out the front door unnoticed. I climbed on the top of my mother’s car where there was nothing to trap me; I could simply look out into a big, west Texas sky full of stars.

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But my heart kept pounding and my head kept spinning and I wondered what they’d say the next day at school about the freshman who died on top of her mom’s car last night.

My dad came out a few minutes later and asked what was wrong. I sat up on the car’s top and gave him my symptoms, interrupted by punctuation marks of tears and sobs. He put his hand on my dangling knee and told me he felt this “irrational fear” before and it would soon go away.

It did.

For a little while, anyway.

But for the last twenty years, it’s stayed. It hasn’t been just a season, though sometimes I find relief in weeks or months. Anxiety is the weakness that can either boast Christ’s strength or it can break relationships. It’s either managed or I let it run wild. I’m almost certain it’s here to stay, and with spiritual help, counseling, support from friends and Tim, and even medication, I’m usually okay. I’m functional and happy and it lays dormant in the chemicals and synapses in my mind, hushed by medication that knows when it starts getting too loud.

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I went to speak about sex one time at a college. I’m fairly certain my parents are uncomfortable every time I say that, but hey, it’s one of the things I get to do with my time. Normally after that talk, I get a few girls and maybe a guy or two say how they now feel like they can talk about something they’ve wrestled with sexually.

At this one school, I learned from the Dean that most trips to the counseling center have to do with anxiety. Interesting. In my talk, I mentioned anxiety in a sentence or two, not really going off track. Afterward in the chapel lobby, multiple students came up to me – not because of their questions about sex or pornography – but because they felt so free when I talked about my anxiety.

Really? I thought. I didn’t think there was such a stigma about it anymore. I guess I’m wrong. Noted.

Two weeks later, I logged into my blog and there were two comments from someone I’ve never met, or even heard of online. A google search revealed little. I’ll save you the lengthy comment, but one thing stood out:

You are a false teacher.

Your anxiety is a sin.

Wow.

My anxiety is a sin?

I get it. I’ve heard the lectures on worry as a sin, and trust me, it’s something I lean into my God for every day. And I believe that not trusting God consistently or even rejecting the desire to trust Him, yes, is sin.

But, Mr. Commenter…and those who think like him, let me clearly say to you my anxiety is not a sin.

And here’s the thing. If I speak to 800 college students and ten of them tell me they’re wrestling with true, clinical anxiety, I’m sure there are a hundred that didn’t say a word who are also living in that shaky, unescapable landscape. Statistics tell me that there are a lot of you who struggle, too.

Anxiety presents in a lot of ways: panic, physical symptoms like a rapid heart rate and shallow breathing or lightheadedness, upset stomachs, tense muscles, and insomnia. It can also have emotional and relational symptoms too: anger, isolation, and irritability.

Wondering why you get headaches all the time? It may be anxiety. Notice you’re lashing out with some built up anger at someone you love? It may be anxiety.

You may have heard the reason you have anxiety is because you’re living in some secret sin, or maybe you’ve even been told the anxiousness in and of itself is sin. The first may be true, and if it is, you know it.

But if you’re certain you’re right with God and others, your anxiety is not sin.

I’m not a doctor or a counselor, in any official sense anyway. However, I’d like to share a few things that have helped me manage my anxiety.

  • Routines: Morning and evening routines help start my day off right and help put me in the right place to sleep soundly.
  • Bible study and prayer: A constant one-sentence prayer I pray in moments of panic is “He keeps in perfect peace whose mind stays on Him.”
  • Talking about it: I have my husband and a group of friends I know I can reach out to in my “craziness” and I know they don’t see me as crazy. They pray for me and offer truth and help me refocus my thoughts.
  • Counseling: It’s expensive, but I’d rather have it than cable, a smart phone, or food at times.
  • Healthy Stuff: Eating right and exercising work wonders for anxiety. They really do.
  • Medication: Yes, I believe we are over-medicated but I also believe if you need it, you need it. It took me probably six or seven tries to get the right medication and even now, I have to adjust the dose depending on the season of life and stress I’m in. Some people need SSRIs or SNRIs and some need benzodiazepines (which is what works best for me). There are always risks, but work with a doctor and find the best balance for you.

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Anxiety sucks. There’s really no other way to say it. In the church world, let’s speak freely about it and help others in their journeys by owning up to our own. And if someone says your anxiety is sin, shake your head and walk away confidently, knowing God made you in His image and that you can let your greatest weaknesses show His strength.

Recommended Reading: The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good?