Earlier this year, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News published the first article resulting from a six-month-long investigation into Southern Baptist churches. They found that, over the past decade, more than 250 staffers or volunteers had been “charged with sex crimes” against more than 700 victims.
Unlike the Catholic Church, however, Southern Baptists have autonomous churches that act independently in many ways. It’s much harder to control what each one does. It’s especially hard to force them to report problematic staffers to some central office. Not only does that make predator pastors harder to track, it makes those churches magnets for predators who realize they’ll be able to get away with their crimes.
It took the reporters to create a database of bad actors since church leaders themselves would never do such a thing.
The latest article in the series takes a look at the International Mission Board, the SBC’s missionary arm with an annual budget of over $158 million (the result of tithe money from SBC member churches) and 3,600 members.
Reporters Lise Olsen and Sarah Smith say that several members of the IMB were credibly accused of abuse and several other members of the IMB helped cover it all up.
The Chronicle found a long trail of alleged cover-ups involving sexual misconduct or crimes committed abroad by a small number of Southern Baptist missionaries, all salaried employees of the mission board. Collectively, five men were credibly accused or convicted of abusing about 24 people, mostly children, court records, documents and interviews show.
The missionary cases followed a similar pattern: Leaders were informed of alleged abuse but made no public statement to immediately alert others and often delayed or took no action to remove an accused offender. In at least three of five cases, survivors allege that the board’s failure to act gave perpetrators the opportunity to harm more people, according to court records, correspondence and interviews.
We learned about one of those cases last July. Anne Marie Miller revealed that when she was 16, she was assaulted by then-25-year-old IMB member Mark Aderholt. That occurred in 1997. In 2005, when Miller realized how serious the crime was, she alerted the IMB… and they did nothing. They didn’t report Aderholt to authorities. They allowed him to resign on his own terms, which meant he could work with other SBC churches without raising any red flags.
His circumstances only changed after Miller told authorities herself. Aderholt now faces up to twenty years in prison. But had the IMB been left on its own, nothing would have happened. It wasn’t until April — two months ago — when the IMB finally asked people who knew Aderholt if they had any more information about his abuse. It only took them 12 years. And one courageous survivor who went public with her story.
Just as we’ve seen with the Catholic Church, members of an SBC church need to ask themselves: At what point do you admit that the problem isn’t a bad apple, but a rotten orchard? The money you give to your church is ultimately creating an environment where religious leaders can abuse people and get away with it.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Scott for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier.)