A case that sparked soul-searching and studies into how the Southern Baptist Convention—and specifically its International Missions Board—handles sexual abuse claims concluded in a Texas courtroom yesterday.
Former IMB missionary Mark Aderholt, 47, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, fined $4,000, and given 24 months deferred adjudication, a type of probation that allows for his record to be cleared if he complies with terms.
Anne Marie Miller’s Statement
In the courtroom, Anne Marie Miller, who accused Aderholt of sexually abusing her in 1996 and 1997, thanked supporters and read a moving victim-impact statement. “This is over because I have spoken the truth,” she told Aderholt. “It’s over because I have forgiven you.”
Mishandled Complaint Led to IMB Apology
In 2007, Anne Miller informed the IMB that Aderholt had sexually abused her 10 years earlier, when she was 16 and he was a 25-year-old seminary student. As a teenager new to Arlington, Texas, Miller sought help organizing a See You at the Pole event at her school. Aderholt responded, and that’s when she says the abuse began. “You took advantage of my vulnerability,” she told Aderholt at his sentencing. “I was the least likely person to tell anyone what you did.”
Although an IMB investigation in 2007 concluded that Aderholt “more likely than not” had an “inappropriate sexual relationship” with Miller, denominational officials didn’t contact police. Describing the IMB investigation as “humiliating,” Miller said she felt unable to cope with pursuing a criminal report.
That changed in 2018, however, when Miller discovered a possible cover-up: The IMB had let Aderholt resign in 2008, rather than terminate him. Aderholt, who’d served as a missionary in central Europe, was then hired by a Southern Baptist church in Arkansas, and by 2016 he was chief strategist for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. He resigned from that position last June and was arrested a month later, after Miller filed a police report. Aderholt was indicted for one count of sexual assault against a child under 17 and three counts of indecency with a child, sexual contact.
Miller wrote that the IMB’s “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.”
Soon after Aderholt’s arrest, SBC officials apologized to Miller about the handling of her initial complaint. David Platt, then president of the IMB, said, “I want to publicly apologize for the hurt and pain that Anne Miller has specifically suffered in this situation.” Platt thanked Miller for her courage and launched an independent investigation into IMB’s past handling of sexual assault claims and the organization’s present practices.
Miller’s Case Opens Floodgates—and Studies
The IMB study has continued under current president Paul Chitwood, who calls it “tremendously important work.” Preliminary findings were released in May, but debate has occurred about whether the entire report will be made public.
SBC president J.D. Greear also formed a Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group, which released its “Caring Well” report last month, ahead of the denomination’s annual meeting. Earlier this year, the Houston Chronicle conducted an extensive investigation into sexual abuse by SBC clergy.
#ChurchToo Movement Empowers Survivors
Miller’s experience is one of several high-profile cases within the #ChurchToo movement. As awareness of the problem spreads, denominations and congregations are exploring ways to prevent abuse and provide support for victims. “Churches should be a safe haven for the vulnerable,” says Greear, “so we need to do everything we can to make our churches safe for survivors and safe from abuse.”
In her victim-impact statement, Miller described the emotional, physical, financial, and spiritual toll of sexual abuse. “Beyond violating my body, you broke my spirit,” she told Aderholt in court. She says she was diagnosed with complex PTSD, considered suicide, and struggled with her faith.