UPDATE: Former Baptist leader charged with sexual assault

by David Roach, posted Monday, July 16, 2018 (29 days ago)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated July 16. The 11th paragraph was edited July 19 to add another church where Aderholt served.

Mark Aderholt
Tarrant County Sheriff's Office photo
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- Mark Aderholt, a former employee of the South Carolina Baptist Convention and International Mission Board missionary, has been charged in Texas with sexually assaulting a teenager 21 years ago.

Aderholt, 46, was arrested July 3 in South Carolina and booked into the Tarrant County, Texas, jail July 9 on charges of sexual assault of a child under 17, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. He was released July 10 on bond.

The IMB told Baptist Press today (July 16) it learned in 2007 of allegations Aderholt had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old in 1996-97 while he was a 25-year-old student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served with the board from 2000-08.

The IMB conducted an internal investigation in 2007, and the matter was set to go before the board of trustees, "which, at that time, was the only group with the authority to terminate a member of our missionary personnel," IMB spokesperson Julie McGowan said in written comments. But Aderholt resigned on his own "before the Board could vote on the recommendation from the investigative team that included both men and women,

The IMB has since changed its policies to allow a missionary to be terminated by "staff senior leadership," McGowan said.

The IMB's 2007 investigation, including two days of interviews with the alleged victim, led an IMB team to conclude at the time that Aderholt "engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship" with a teen in 1996-1997, that the victim "suffered as a result" and that Aderholt "was not truthful" with the IMB "about the full extent of the relationship," according to correspondence to Miller from IMB general counsel Derek Gaubatz published July 13 by the Star-Telegram.

The IMB did not report the incident to law enforcement at the time, McGowan said, because the victim -- who has identified herself in a blog post and other forums as author and speaker Anne Marie Miller -- said on multiple occasions that she did not want to make a report to police.

Miller "was a grown adult at that time, and we followed her lead," McGowan said. "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 wrote in a July 13 blog post that she didn't know until recently the IMB didn't report Aderholt to local authorities in 2007.

The Star-Telegram said Texas' mandatory reporting law for suspected child abuse is not clear regarding cases "involving childhood victims who are now adults." The paper cited a University of Texas law professor who said he has never heard of someone being prosecuted in Texas for failing to report the child abuse of someone who is now an adult.

In McGowan's written comments, she posed the question, "Why did IMB not notify Mr. Aderholt's future employers" of the allegations against him? She answered that to report the allegations to Aderholt's future employers -- including Central Baptist Church in North Little Rock, Ark.; Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.; and the South Carolina convention -- would have exposed the IMB "to lawsuits."

"The Southern Baptist Convention is comprised of autonomous churches and organizations, not a single unified church under one legal structure like other religious organizations (such as the Catholic Church)," McGowan said. "This makes sharing information from one organization or church to the next very difficult without receiving a signed waiver from the person seeking employment."

Aderholt's offense allegedly occurred in Arlington, Texas, in 1997, according to the Star-Telegram, and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. An Arlington police spokeswoman told the Star-Telegram she could not release additional information about the case.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary confirmed to BP that Aderholt was a student at the seminary when the crime allegedly was committed. He graduated in 2000 with a master of divinity degree.

The South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) released a statement June 19 announcing Aderholt had resigned after a year and a half as the convention's associate executive director and chief strategist and that SCBC executive director Gary Hollingsworth received the resignation with "a heavy heart." The initial statement did not, however, give a reason for the resignation.

After the Star-Telegram reported Aderholt's arrest, Hollingsworth said in a statement released to BP July 10, "In light of recent news related to Mr. Aderholt, our hearts are grieved and our prayers are with everyone involved." Hollingsworth told South Carolina's Baptist Courier newsjournal, "Our hearts are grieved, but we are trusting the authorities."

The IMB learned about the charges against Aderholt from the Star-Telegram's July 9 report, McGowan said July 10, adding, "It is our policy to cooperate with criminal investigations." She clarified July 16 that her statement about learning from the Star-Telegram referred only to the fact charges were filed, not to the fact an inappropriate relationship occurred.

In 2000, BP reported Aderholt and his wife Kristie had been appointed as new missionaries to the Central and Eastern Europe region.

McGowan said in written comments July 10, and underscored July 16, that "IMB has a zero-tolerance policy against sexual misconduct that is shared with all personnel. If anyone has knowledge of a case involving sexual misconduct, we strongly encourage them to come forward, and we provide multiple avenues for them to report. When we are informed of possible cases of sexual misconduct of any kind, we investigate those situations immediately and, if warranted, take the appropriate action to report it to local authorities and remove individuals from IMB employment.

"IMB has a process by which any church, SBC entity or other employer can request information on former personnel they're looking to hire by contacting us at references@imb.org," McGowan said. "Details of how we seek to cooperate with our partners in this resource can be found at (URL=https://www.imb.org/for-churches/abuse-harassment/]imb.org/for-churches/abuse-harassment/[/URL]), along with IMB's statement on our zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment and abuse. We actively encourage all churches -- and any potential employers of former IMB personnel -- to utilize this resource."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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