Anne Marie Miller, a survivor of childhood clergy sexual abuse, announced her book deal with LifeWay Christian Resources has come to an abrupt and unfortunate end. While Miller describes the parting of ways between herself and LifeWay as “amicable,” it’s hard not to see the situation as yet another case of a Christian organization protecting itself at the expense of an individual. In the case of Miller’s book, it could be at the expense of several individuals who have suffered abuse within the church.
“It does feel like the same song on repeat where well-established values aren’t reconsidered in light of how the church—and the SBC [Southern Baptist Convention]—is moving to understand sexual abuse and trauma,” Miller told ChurchLeaders.
LifeWay and Miller Couldn’t Agree on the Church’s Role in Helping Victims Heal
Miller is working on Healing Together: A Guide to Supporting Sexual Abuse Survivors, a book she wants to keep as free or as inexpensive as possible, that helps equip supporters of sexual abuse survivors. LifeWay, the resource arm of the SBC, reached out to Miller and offered to publish the book at a price point that would be lower than what Miller could procure using a print-on-demand service. However, during the editing process, LifeWay told Miller they could not publish the book due to its suggestion that supporters of survivors should not always encourage a trauma victim to return to church, as doing so may be retraumatizing to the survivor. Miller knows this traumatizing feeling all too well. Even driving by some churches causes her anxiety to swell. Miller says LifeWay “shared how their very mission was to equip the local church.” She also mentioned they have pulled other books “when authors…have stepped away from the local church or changed their beliefs in a way that wasn’t congruent with LifeWay’s values and bylaws.”
While Miller believes LifeWay thinks her book has an important message and that she herself is a trustworthy voice, they could not move forward with the project. Staff members working with Miller were “disappointed” and admitted they could have done a more thorough job checking to see if the two parties’ values aligned. ChurchLeaders did reach out to LifeWay, but they declined to comment on the situation.
Anne Marie Miller Is Speaking (and Writing) Now
In 2018, Miller filed a police report accusing former IMB missionary and SBC leader Mark Aderholt of sexual abuse. Aderholt was indicted for one count of sexual assault against a child under 17 and three counts of indecency with a child—sexual contact.
This wasn’t the first time Miller pursued reparations for the abuse she endured when she was 16 and Aderholt was 25 (in 1996 and 1997). In 2007, she went to the International Missions Board, which employed Aderholt as a missionary to central Europe at the time, and told them what happened. After an investigation that was “humiliating,” Miller didn’t feel she had the emotional capacity to report to police and endure another potentially traumatizing investigation. She says:
At the time, although it took me years to understand why, I was experiencing suicidal thinking, was having massive anxiety, and even told them at the end of the interview I was “scared to death” by what I remembered and how I was emotionally responding. If a seemingly trustworthy organization like the IMB traumatized me this much in their questioning, there was no way I could handle reporting [Aderholt] criminally.
In 2007, Aderholt didn’t face any severe repercussions that Miller is aware of. He was still able to serve in various leadership positions within the SBC, eventually making his way up the ranks to become the chief strategist of the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 2016. Miller found out in 2018 that Aderholt had not been terminated from the IMB like she was led to believe, but rather that he resigned. The revelation of the IMB’s deception caused a surge of angst in Miller.
It has been more difficult forgiving the IMB than it has Mr. Aderholt. I really believe their negligence and unwillingness to report Mr. Aderholt as well as notify future employers of their findings proved they were more interested in protecting their assets and image than they were caring for me. I don’t know why this feels more damaging, but it has been, and it’s a place of anger and injustice I still am trying to work on in my heart.
After filing the police report in 2018, Miller received an apology for how the IMB handled her case from David Platt, the President of the IMB at the time of Aderholt’s arrest.
Miller doesn’t want another sexual abuse victim to have to go through what she went through. This is precisely why she took on the project of Healing Together and why she wanted to make it as accessible and affordable as possible.
Anne Marie Miller is Hopeful the SBC Will (Eventually) Do the Right Thing
Despite the mixed reactions she has received from various organizations in the SBC, Miller remains hopeful that the country’s largest Protestant denomination can change. “Over time, I have seen SBC leaders open up the conversation and I’ve received nothing but support (and clarity when I have asked for it) from J.D. Greear’s office, the ERLC and the sex abuse study team,” Miller says. “These are early steps, and there is a lot of action that needs to follow.”