A former Southern Baptist leader has been arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a teenager in Texas ― more than 10 years after his accuser says she reported the abuse to the denomination’s missionary board.
Mark Aderholt, a prominent figure within the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBS), was arrested on July 3 in South Carolina on a warrant issued in Tarrant County, Texas, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. The 46-year-old was booked into the Tarrant County Jail on Monday and released the next day on bond.
Jail records show that Aderholt was charged with the sexual assault of a child under the age of 17. The second-degree felony could carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Aderholt’s lawyer, Justin Sparks, did not return HuffPost’s request for comment.
Aderholt’s accuser is Anne Marie Miller, a writer and speaker from Texas. She identified herself to the Star-Telegram and has written about the abuse on her blog.
The alleged abuse began in Arlington, Texas, in 1996, Miller told the Star-Telegram. Miller was new to the area, felt out of place at her high school, and was looking for a Christian mentor, she said.
She found Aderholt online and later began meeting him in person, she said. He was 25 at the time. The abuse reportedly began with kissing in the fall of 1996, according to the Star-Telegram, and progressed to other sexual contact. Aderholt reportedly broke things off in April 1997.
A representative for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary confirmed to HuffPost that Aderholt was a student at the Fort Worth institution during those months. He graduated in 2000 with a master’s degree in divinity. The representative declined to comment on whether seminary leaders were aware of the alleged crime while Aderholt was a student, and whether they took any steps to address it.
On her blog, Miller wrote that she did not realize what happened to her was abuse until she was 25 years old herself.
“I did not recognize my abuse as abuse until I was my abuser’s age in 2005. When I was serving in student ministry at the age of 25, one night at a coworker’s 25th birthday party, I had a realization of how inappropriate a sexual relationship between a 25-year-old and a 16-year-old is,” she said. “Serendipitously the following day, I saw a television program on the grooming process most predators use and it mirrored my experience. I was forever changed.”
Miller said she reported the abuse to the IMB in 2007, and that the organization conducted an internal investigation. She posted an email she claims to have received from an IMB leader that details conclusions from that investigation. The email suggests that the IMB determined the abuse did in fact occur. (HuffPost has not yet verified the authenticity of the letter.)
Julie McGowan, the IMB’s public relations manager, confirmed that the organization learned of the allegations in 2007 and conducted an investigation that lasted approximately two months. McGowan said that Aderholt resigned before the IMB’s board of trustees could take any action against him.
Miller said the IMB had asked her in 2007 if she’d like to report the abuse to law enforcement. She said she declined because she “didn’t think I could emotionally handle it.”
Now, Miller says that she feels the IMB had a duty to ultimately report the abuse to police, regardless of her response.
“The correct answer is ‘We’re sorry you don’t feel like you can report it. We have to, regardless. Let us walk you through this and help you with any psychological trauma that may result,’” Miller wrote on her blog.
The IMB told HuffPost that the organization had been “more than willing” to support Miller if she decided to file charges in 2007, but wanted to follow her lead. McGowan pointed out that Miller’s parents, partner, counselors, and other friends also did not report the abuse to police.
“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,” she said. “We fully support her taking this step now, and we are cooperating with authorities.”
Asked whether the IMB notified other church entities about the investigation and alleged abuse, McGowan stated that this is just not how the Southern Baptist denomination works. As a network of autonomous churches and organizations, the convention is not set up like a “single, unified church under one legal structure,” like the Catholic Church.
“This makes sharing information from one church to the next very difficult without receiving a signed waiver from the person seeking employment,” McGowan said.
After his resignation from the IMB, Aderholt continued working in Southern Baptist circles. He became the assistant pastor of a church in Arkansas before eventually getting a job with the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 2016.
The state convention is composed of over 2,000 churches, with a membership of close to 570,000 people, according to its last annual report.
Aderholt worked as associate executive director and chief strategist for the SCBC for one and a half years. He earned a salary of $120,000, according to the SCBC’s employment law attorney Stephen Savitz.
Aderholt resigned from the SCBC, according to a June 19 statement reported in its official news magazine, The Baptist Courier.
Gary Hollingsworth, the SCBC’s executive director-treasurer, told the Baptist Press that “our hearts are grieved and our prayers are with everyone involved.”
The SCBC is part of the 15 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination. The denomination has been reckoning with the Me Too movement after allegations of leaders’ misconduct emerged earlier this year.
In March, Frank Page, the former president and chief executive of the SBC’s executive committee, resigned over a “morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.”
Months later, in May, Paige Patterson, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was fired over his alleged mishandling of a seminary student’s rape allegation. Hundreds of Southern Baptist women also criticized Patterson over inappropriate statements he made about domestic violence and women’s bodies.
In her blog, Miller wrote that she went public with her story to encourage other survivors of abuse to come forward. She also said she hopes her story will help create change within the Southern Baptist Convention.
“It is my hope that by coming forward publicly, the SBC will see that there is a systemic problem and there are intentional efforts to cover up sexual abuse within not only its churches but within its peripheral entities and finally, once and for all, change this,” she wrote.
“You must take responsibility for changing this and the time to do so is now.”
This story has been updated throughout, including with additional information from Anne Marie Miller and the IMB.