Mark Aderholt. Several of you may recognize the name; his story was noted by SharperIron in 20181, as was the ensuing scandal as the Southern Baptist Convention’s IMB struggled to deal with the public outrage once the specific details of his crimes became more widely known, due in large part to Anne’s own bravery in disclosing her abuse and the ensuing public fallout.
With all of the turmoil in our churches regarding abuse, and the very public controversy that has swirled around the SBC, ABWE, and other Baptist entities, many men I know look at the issue and feel confident that they have the right procedures and policies in place to prevent abuse from happening within their sphere.
But what do you do when God brings a survivor or a wounded sheep to your fold? Then what? Most seminaries don’t provide in depth counseling training for men in their M.A./M.Div. programs, as other subjects like Greek, Systematic Theology, and Ministry Practicum courses fight for attention and resources. That is exactly why Anne Marie Miller’s book is so immediately helpful and practical for anyone, particularly ministry leaders. I would highly recommend it to any and believe that it serves as an excellent companion to the valuable “What Is A Girl Worth” by Rachael Denhollander (which I reviewed earlier this year). If you think of this book as “what to do when an abuse survivor is in your church,” you’re already a long way towards understanding the book’s value, potency and necessity in our day. It is an excellent primer on the subject and well worth the time invested in reading it.
Anne Marie Miller’s eminently valuable book is NOT a feel-good story of how God is making all things new and how abuse victims will eventually be made whole again, although she touches on those themes. If that’s the kind of story that you are looking for, look elsewhere because it is not in here. This book is designed for those who, for whatever reason, are being forced to grapple with the realities of shepherding people who are the victims of abuse and trauma. Her book is designed for supporting “sexual abuse survivors”, but along the way she touches on the many different types of abuse (spiritual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, digital abuse, neglect, and stalking). The next chapter gets into what a typical abuser looks like and includes an absolutely chilling interview by Dr. Anna Salter with a pedophile who was serving as a church leader. The interview goes into the specifics of how he met and groomed the families and the victims that he preyed upon and is quite frightening. Fortunately, in this case, the perpertrator was caught but there are still hundreds of people like him out there, many in places you might not think to look. It is well established that abusers particularly target churches for their evil actions because they can often get away with it.
The fourth chapter gets into the difference between the terms “victim” and “survivor,” and launches into an excellent explanation of the various reasons why someone would wait to disclose their abuse. The fifth chapter segues into a discussion of the reasons support from others is critical to healing, followed by a poignant discussion of the links between sexual and spiritual abuse, and the severe damage caused by both forms of abuse. That chapter alone is well worth the price of the book, as many who have been abused by a Christian leader will consider walking out of the doors of a church or perhaps leave the faith entirely. They are unable to reconcile the fact that someone who should have been ministering to their needs as a servant/shepherd instead made themselves fat off of their unwitting charges. That may strike us as an difficult concept to grasp, but it is included within the pages of Scripture. Take, for example, the anger of God as described in Ezekiel 34:
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep…Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.2
One could also point to other biblical injunctions in the New Testament as well, such as John 15:12-13, Philippians 2:3, Galatians 6:2, and more. The last two chapters of the book are where the proverbial rubber meets the road, as Anne gets into practical steps that Christians can take when encountering survivors of abuse and as well as steps to set up some safeguards against those who would harm our fellow believers, teenagers and children. Anyone who is charged with ministry within the church or a Christian organization will give account to God for how they led wounded people, and woe to the man or woman who adds insult to injury by providing faulty or inadequate spiritual care to those who are already reeling from any form of abuse.
Anne also goes to great pains to educate us on the specific terminology and phrasing that are used by medical professionals and the criminal justice system in the appendices. She helps us to understand the crucial differences between “Aggravated Sexual Assault” and “Rape” (pp. 195 and 197); the reasons some survivors may appear to “blank out” and turn unresponsive when questioned for specifics about their attack (pg. 166-167, under the heading of “Disassociation”); and the reasons survivors may struggle with guilt/shame/blame for the rest of their lives for something they may not have been able to stop on their own (what some refer to as survivor’s guilt, p. 168). Because of this sense of shame and guilt, it is so incredibly damaging to say or imply that a survivor is in some way culpable or that the abuse really wasn’t rape because (fill in the blank).
Anne is currently working to achieve certification either as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) or a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), in a field that is ripe for Christians to make a difference. It is imperative that we know and understand the proper legal and medical terms that are used so that we can converse intelligently with those who are responsible for bringing God’s wrath to bear on evildoers or the medical professionals we may need to interact with as a result of those crimes and sins.
I want to close with one additional note of interest. Anne has not written this book with the expressed intention of making money off of it and has worked with the publisher to set a low price. She has also, like Rachael Denhollander, had to expose herself in this book in intensely personal ways that many of us could never fathom doing. Anne readily admits that she struggles with other spiritual issues, and that her faith in God is somewhat of a work in progress. Her frankness and transparency is commendable, as we so often want to apply quick fixes and throw Bible verses at difficult issues in order to move on to subjects that we may feel more prepared to grapple with. Don’t make the mistake of setting the book aside because of that. Do yourself and the people around you a favor, purchase a copy, read it, and think hard about how you can apply it.
1 See “Southern Baptist Officials Knew of Sexual Abuse Allegations 11 Years Before Leader’s Arrest,” published July 16, 2018; and “Former Southern Baptist Official Indicted On Sexual Charges With Minor,” published Dec. 23, 2018, both accessed 10/02/19.
2 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ezek. 34:7–10, emphasis added.
Jay Camp holds a MA and a BA in Pastoral Studies from Bob Jones University and Northland Baptist Bible College (later Northland International University). He serves at Fishkill Baptist Church in Fishkill, NY in many different capacities and is married to his wife of fifteen years.