RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A prominent Southern Baptist leader has been charged with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in Texas back in the late1990s.
But 8News has uncovered the ‘missionary arm’ of the Richmond-based Southern Baptist Convention knew about the abuse for more than a decade and never reported it to police.
Former youth pastor Mark Aderholt was arrested on July 3 and charged with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in Texas in the late 1990s.
His accuser, Anne Miller, said she was a teen who became vulnerable when her youth leader, someone she looked up to, showed interest in her.
“The more vulnerable, lonely part of me saw that as oh, wow, there’s this man of God that is interested in me,” Miller recalled. “I felt honored.”
The problem is, Miller had just turned 16. Aderholt was 25 and a youth pastor as well as a student at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Miler wanted help starting a bible study at her school, so she did a search online, which led her to Aderholt. Their relationship quickly grew to beyond bible study.
“Mark asked me over to his apartment, which was in North Arlington, and we met there just to watch a movie and hang out,” Miller explained. “I was excited because I felt like I had a friend.”
According to Miller and the arrest warrant, Aderholt “became sexually intimate” with the teen between 1996 and 1997.
“Our relationship continued and became more physical as time went on,” Miller said.
But Miller says it wasn’t until years later when she began mentoring teens herself that she realized that relationship was inappropriate.
“And went to a counselor and said, ‘I think I could have been sexually abused.'”
Miller decided it was time to speak up and reported the alleged abuse to the International Mission Board located in Richmond.
By then, Aderholt was a prominent leader with IMB, which works with Southern Baptist Convention to preach all over the world.
“The IMB decided to conduct an internal investigation of those alleged charges.”
Transcripts of the investigation, interviews and an email shared with 8News from IMB’s general counsel at the time, Derek Gaubatz — who is now an elder at West End Baptist Church in Henrico — shows IMB found, “it was more likely than not that Aderholt engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with Miller.”
They also found that she had, “suffered as a result of the sexual relationship.”
As for Aderholt, IMB’s assessment team found “he was not truthful” about the “full extent of the relationship.”
However, IMB never reported the incident to police and Aderholt was allowed to resign in good graces.
“It was April of this year that I found out he resigned,” Miller explained.
Miller was under the impression Aderholt had been terminated.
“My heart just dropped,” Miller said. “I was like, ‘I had been misled by the IMB.'”
After resigning, Aderholt went on to serve as pastor at another Baptist church and became a rising star with the Southern Baptist Convention without anyone knowing about the alleged abuse.
“When I learned Mark was not reported to authorities and given an opportunity to resign, I knew I had to do something,” Miller said.
That’s when Miller went to police. Earlier this month, Aderholt was arrested and charged in Tarrant County, Texas with two felonies -indecency with a child and sexual contact with a child under the age of 17.
“As an organization, a private religious organization, they do not have the authority to conduct these investigations internally, they should have immediately taken it to law enforcement and allow law enforcement to do their job,” Miller suggested.
8News went to IMB to ask why they never reported the alleged sexual abuse of a child to police. We also called and stopped by Gaubatz’s church, but both refused to do go on camera.
IMB did, however, send us a statement which reads, in part:
“In 2007, IMB specifically inquired if Ms. Miller intended to file charges, and she said on multiple occasions: No! Ms. Miller was a grown adult at that time, and we followed her lead.”
You can read the entire statement at the bottom of this report.
Miller, however, disputes IMB’s claim.
“That statement is not true,” Miller said. “I assure you I did not say ‘multiple times’ that I did not want to report the abuse to law enforcement.”
Miller admits that she made the comment one time following what she characterized as an emotionally stressful and inappropriate line of questioning from the IMB during its 2007 investigation. She tells us she faults IMB for not encouraging her to file a report or offering to help her psychologically deal with their investigation.
IMB’s President David Platt issued a statement regarding the missionary groups handling of child sex abuse allegations, where he offers an apology to Miller and announces an independent investigation of the organization’s past.
“Moreover, I want to publicly apologize for the hurt and pain that Anne Miller has specifically suffered in this situation,” Platt’s states.
Platt’s statement continues:
“For this reason, I am commencing a thorough, outside, independent examination of IMB’s handling of past actions — including this case and any other similar situations. In addition, I am commencing a thorough, outside, independent examination of IMB’s present policies and practices to ensure that our current commitment to zero tolerance for child abuse, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment is completely and consistently enforced across IMB today.”
There are mandatory reporting laws in Virginia and 8News to know if IMB could face legal action. So, we shared the case documents with local attorney Bill Shields.
“If it was an ongoing matter involving a child, then there is a duty to report,” Shields said.
Shields, however, says this is a gray area since the abuse ended and the accuser is now an adult. But he believes they could face civil liability as Aderholt continued working within the Southern Baptist Convention, potentially putting other children in danger.
“So if you hire him at a new church, there may be other 16-year-old girls who are subjected to this kind of a problem, so it is a duty to protect them that we are talking about here primarily,” Shields added.
IMB added in its statement, “We know of no organization that actively follows a former employee from job to job, or actively promotes that they have been accused of wrongdoing of any form,” while adding that “Southern Baptist Convention is comprised of autonomous churches.”
But Miller only sees it one way, which is why she’s speaking out.
“There is a moral obligation to protect to children, to protect the vulnerable.”
8News reached out to Aderholt’s attorney, but we were told, “no comment.”
On Tuesday, IMB in Richmond posted its position of the handling of Pastor Aderholt’s sex abuse case.