Baptist leader’s arrest sparks responses
BR Staff
July 23, 2018

Baptist leader’s arrest sparks responses

Baptist leader’s arrest sparks responses
BR Staff
July 23, 2018

Mark Aderholt, a Southern Baptist leader who formerly worked for the International Mission Board (IMB) and the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC), was arrested July 3 on charges of sexual assault against a minor in the late 1990s, according to news reports.

Mark Aderholt

He resigned his position as SCBC associate executive director and chief strategist June 15, according to the state convention.

Gary Hollingsworth, SCBC executive director-treasurer, said in a June 19 statement that he accepted the resignation “with a heavy heart” but did not release details about why Aderholt left.

SCBC executive board chair Tommy Kelly and SCBC president Marshall Blalock published an open letter July 18 that said convention leaders learned “the nature and seriousness of the charges” when details about allegations against Aderholt were made known in reports by the Star-Telegram, a news outlet in Fort-Worth, Texas.

The alleged crimes took place in Arlington, Texas, in 1997, according to the Star-Telegram.

Aderholt was taken into custody in South Carolina. News reports said he was booked into the Tarrant County, Texas, jail on July 9 and later released on $10,000 bond. Texas law sets no statute of limitations on sexual assault or indecency with a child. Aderholt denies the allegations, according to Kelly and Blalock.

Kelly and Blalock thanked Hollingsworth in their letter for his “effective leadership” in the time leading up to Aderholt’s departure. According to them, Hollingsworth conducted a “comprehensive background investigation” when he hired Aderholt in 2016, including a criminal history check and employment references, which were described as “impeccable.”

Aderholt had resigned from the IMB in 2008 after serving eight years as a missionary.

That resignation followed an internal investigation by the IMB that was prompted by the same allegations for which he is currently facing criminal charges – that he had sexual contact with a minor while on staff at a Texas church and enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Anne Marie Miller told the Star-Telegram that in the 1990s he pursued a romantic relationship with her in a predatory manner – commonly called grooming – which led to sexual activity. She was 16 years old at the time; Aderholt was 25.

The IMB told Baptist Press (BP) it learned of allegations against Aderholt in 2007.

An IMB team concluded after its investigation that Aderholt had “engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship” with Miller in 1996-1997 and that she “suffered as a result.”

They scheduled a report of their findings at the organization’s next trustee meeting. He resigned before the meeting took place.

The trustee board had sole authority to fire missionaries at the time, the IMB recently told BP, but the policy has since been revised to include senior leaders.

After resigning from the IMB, Aderholt went on to work at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., before joining the SCBC executive team in 2016.

IMB leaders did not report the allegations to law enforcement in 2007, a spokesperson told BP, because Miller was an adult when she came forward [in her 20s] and she said on “multiple occasions” that she did not want to alert authorities.

Miller told the Star-Telegram that she felt anxious and stressed during the interviews with IMB, even experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts.

“I told myself, if I can’t handle this informal internal interview, there is no way I can face this man in court … I will not survive if I do that,” she said.

The IMB told BP, “We were more than willing to support such action at that time, but she stated that her desire was not to file charges.

“While some want to exclusively call out IMB for not reporting, keep in mind that neither her parents, her husband at the time, two trained clinical counselors or several other friends with intimate details of what happened reported the matter to police, including several individuals who actually live in Texas where the alleged events took place. We can only assume they approached this matter in the same fashion we did: that, as an adult, this was Ms. Miller’s story to share with local authorities when she was ready. We fully support her taking this step now, and we are cooperating with authorities.”

Miller disputed the IMB’s account in an email to BP. She said she did not decline “multiple times” to report the abuse and the IMB is not “supporting” her. In addition, the notion that others could have reported “does not let the IMB off the hook, especially with their in-depth knowledge of my abuse,” she wrote.

Miller told the Star-Telegram she decided to press charges after she was asked to speak at a church about sex abuse in early 2018. She had previously written about her experience without revealing names or detailed information.

“I realized I could no longer in good conscience say, ‘I can’t do anything’ because I can,” she told the Star-Telegram. “Now that I have a daughter of my own, I need to do something about this.”

The IMB said it is cooperating with an ongoing criminal investigation and does not plan to share information that could interfere with that investigation.

SCBC leaders also said they do not plan to release further information at this time.

(EDITOR'S NOTE – This story was updated July 24. An earlier version incorrectly stated that Miller was a member of the youth group Aderholt led in the 1990s.)