Southern Baptist officials knew of sexual abuse allegations 11 years before leader’s arrest

"The missionary arm of the Southern Baptist Convention knew about allegations against Southern Baptist leader Mark Aderholt more than 10 years before he was arrested July 3 on charges that he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl, according to police records, emails and an internal investigation from the organization. In 2007, the International Mission Board conducted an investigation into allegations that Aderholt had a sexual relationship with the girl while he was a 25-year-old student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. At the time of the investigation, Aderholt was one of the more prolific missionaries with the Mission Board, which has sent Southern Baptists around the globe for more than a century. The International Mission Board did not report the allegations to authorities." - Fort Worth Star Telegram

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Bert Perry's picture

....why it's important to report things to the police, and furthermore to keep record of bad actors, just imagine needing to be confronted by one of Aderholt's subsequent victims.  Even apart from the question of legal action, that would be horrible. 

And a clarification; he's only been arrested for a first offense, the 1997 accusation, but the evidence against him is not pretty.  IMB concluding that he was not honest with them in their report will leave a mark, as will multiple contemporary witnesses of the complainant's comment on it.  Hopefully there are not indeed further victims, but we need to keep in mind that statistically speaking, that is the pattern. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dmyers's picture

Tough to criticize the IMB for not reporting the abuse to the authorities given that (a) the victim was 25 when she reported it to IMB, (b) they specifically asked her if she wanted to report it to the police then but she declined because reporting it to IMB and participating in their investigation had been so traumatic for her, and (c) there was at the time no legal requirement that they report an adult's report of abuse 9-10 years after the fact.  Much more troubling is the lack of any action to supervise/limit/prevent the abuser's future ministry work, including with children/young people -- not even notifying the abuser's subsequent (church) employer.

Bert Perry's picture

The law is pretty simple, and it had been on the books for about a decade before the report was made.  If you hear allegations that amount to unlawful sexual contact with someone who was underage at the time, you report them to the police.  It's that simple. 

If you doubt this, look at the law.  There is NO PROVISION for the idea that just because the person has become an adult, that the obligation to report has ceased. NONE.  Whoever told you your claim (c) has the law exactly wrong.

I dare suggest that reporting is a good policy even for those who are not mandatory reporters(e.g. me).  Value the defenseless and justice?  Get the information to guys who can compel testimony and collect physical evidence if it exists.  Keep the magistrate in line, as Paul famously did after being whipped without trial, but like Paul, work with those authorities.

Worse than failing to tell future employers of the accused?  Well, I guess I can see it both ways--had they done their legal duty to report, it's entirely possible that any background check any future employer did on the gentleman would have given clear reason not to hire for ministry.  You might infer that you can either do things the easy way--handoff to the police--or the hard way--try to persuade people that your report is sufficient reason not to hire him.

For my part, I'm hoping that if/when I ever get the chance to make a report, I take the easy way out.  I've had a few cases where it was close, actually.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture


If you doubt this, look at the law.  There is NO PROVISION for the idea that just because the person has become an adult, that the obligation to report has ceased. NONE.  Whoever told you your claim (c) has the law exactly wrong.

If you look at the law, you will read the following:

In addition to the duty to make a report under Subsection (a) or (b), a person or professional shall make a report in the manner required by Subsection (a) or (b), as applicable, if the person or professional has cause to believe that an adult was a victim of abuse or neglect as a child and the person or professional determines in good faith that disclosure of the information is necessary to protect the health and safety of:

(1) another child; or

(2) an elderly person or person with a disability as defined by Section 48.002, Human Resources Code.

The link you gave makes clear that you are incorrect Bert. You apparently didn't even read your own link. I found it within about thirty seconds. The law specifies that if the adult was a victim as a child and disclosure is necessary to protect another or an elderly person or disabled person. The "and" requires both to be true. 

The Texas Attorney General confirmed this more than six years ago: "Accordingly, a professional is not required by (law) to report the abuse or neglect the professional believes occurred during an adult patient's childhood.

G. N. Barkman's picture

A number of years ago, an SBC church in our area discovered their pastor had been having an affair with the church secretary for seven years.  His actions did serious and lasting to the church which has not yet fully recovered.  What shocked many people, however, was that SBC officials whisked him off to another church about a hundred miles away, where he served as pastor for many years.  He even came back to our area occasionally to attend funerals (one that I conducted), without any evidence of shame or repentance.  But, he had been loyal to the SBC, and the SBC machinery took care of their own.  I don't see anything in this situation that could or should have been reported to civil authorities.  But far from alerting other churches to the situation, the SBC was more concerned to protect the fallen pastor than to protect other congregations.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

Larry, not at all.  Greg Abbott's opinion was from 2012, five years after the report, and it exempts only mental health care providers, not clergy and lawyers.  Hence it has no bearing on those at IMB. 

Moreover, process the part you highlighted in light of the fact that most perpetrators have multiple victims.  Hence anyone receiving such a complaint does indeed have good reason to believe others will be harmed if he does not report.  IMB dropped the ball on this, end of story.

Never mind that if the explanation of your actions sounds like it came from a New York lawyer, you're probably doing ethics wrong.

I can see allowing mental health providers noting that the accuser does not wish to proceed with prosecution, and also allowing them to note their professional opinion that doing so would injure the person they were trying to help.  However, given that police can use these reports to establish a pattern and start an investigation, I cannot see allowing mental health providers to skip the reports altogether.  

Greg Abbott got some clumsy wording in the law, but in my view, by missing the reality of multiple victims of most offenders, he really dropped the ball in that opinion.  He should have either clarified how the police would respond to accusations where the accusers didn't want to press charges, or kicked the ball back to the legislature.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

Sec. 261.101. PERSONS REQUIRED TO REPORT; TIME TO REPORT. (a) A person having cause to believe that a child's physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect by any person shall immediately make a report as provided by this subchapter.

(b) If a professional has cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected or may be abused or neglected, or that a child is a victim of an offense under Section 21.11, Penal Code, and the professional has cause to believe that the child has been abused as defined by Section 261.001, the professional shall make a report not later than the 48th hour after the hour the professional first suspects that the child has been or may be abused or neglected or is a victim of an offense under Section 21.11, Penal Code. A professional may not delegate to or rely on another person to make the report. In this subsection, "professional" means an individual who is licensed or certified by the state or who is an employee of a facility licensed, certified, or operated by the state and who, in the normal course of official duties or duties for which a license or certification is required, has direct contact with children. The term includes teachers, nurses, doctors, day-care employees, employees of a clinic or health care facility that provides reproductive services, juvenile probation officers, and juvenile detention or correctional officers.

(b-1) In addition to the duty to make a report under Subsection (a) or (b), a person or professional shall make a report in the manner required by Subsection (a) or (b), as applicable, if the person or professional has cause to believe that an adult was a victim of abuse or neglect as a child and the person or professional determines in good faith that disclosure of the information is necessary to protect the health and safety of:

(1) another child; or

(2) an elderly person or person with a disability as defined by Section 48.002, Human Resources Code.

(c) The requirement to report under this section applies without exception to an individual whose personal communications may otherwise be privileged, including an attorney, a member of the clergy, a medical practitioner, a social worker, a mental health professional, an employee or member of a board that licenses or certifies a professional, and an employee of a clinic or health care facility that provides reproductive services.

(d) Unless waived in writing by the person making the report, the identity of an individual making a report under this chapter is confidential and may be disclosed only:

(1) as provided by Section 261.201; or

(2) to a law enforcement officer for the purposes of conducting a criminal investigation of the report.

Added by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 20, Sec. 1, eff. April 20, 1995. Amended by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 751, Sec. 87, eff. Sept. 1, 1995; Acts 1997, 75th Leg., ch. 162, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1997; Acts 1997, 75th Leg., ch. 575, Sec. 11, eff. Sept. 1, 1997; Acts 1997, 75th Leg., ch. 1022, Sec. 65, eff. Sept. 1, 1997; Acts 1999, 76th Leg., ch. 62, Sec. 6.29, eff. Sept. 1, 1999; Acts 1999, 76th Leg., ch. 1150, Sec. 2, eff. Sept. 1, 1999; Acts 1999, 76th Leg., ch. 1390, Sec. 21, eff. Sept. 1, 1999; Acts 2001, 77th Leg., ch. 1420, Sec. 5.003, eff. Sept. 1, 2001.

Amended by:

Acts 2005, 79th Leg., Ch. 949 (H.B. 1575), Sec. 27, eff. September 1, 2005.

Acts 2013, 83rd Leg., R.S., Ch. 395 (S.B. 152), Sec. 4, eff. June 14, 2013.

Acts 2015, 84th Leg., R.S., Ch. 1 (S.B. 219), Sec. 1.122, eff. April 2, 2015.

Acts 2017, 85th Leg., R.S., Ch. 1136 (H.B. 249), Sec. 3, eff. September 1, 2017.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Larry's picture


Bert, The law does not say what you say it says and had you read your own link, you would have known that. Had you read your second link, it would become even more clear. The AG's comments were on the law as it stood. His comments did not change it. So it had always meant what he said it meat. Again, had you read the second link, you would know that. He is clear about that.

The idea that it exempts only mental health professionals and not clergy and lawyers seems obviously false. The letter addresses mental health professionals because that is where the question came from. The law itself treats all reporters the same and therefore, what is true of one class of reporter is true of all classes. 

The theory of multiple victims being a cause for reporting is not likely a reasonable cause of suspicion to require reporting. It is likely that the standard for "in danger" type of reporting is a concrete situation with a child in current contact. It is likely not "I am sure he has multiple victims even though I have no idea who they are."

Whether IMB should have reported it (though it probably would not have been received), is a different matter.

But we should at least be clear about what the law says. Your links tell us what the laws says. Unfortunately, it is not the same thing you say.

Bert Perry's picture

Wrong, Larry.  Again, the opinion is a direction for mental health providers, of which there were zero at IMB, and it's five years late.  

Regarding the law, the simple fact is that likelihood is indeed a legal argument.  If you doubt that, talk to bartenders whose establishments are sued when a patron stumbles out of the bar and gets himself and/or others killed by driving drunk.  To put things in perspective, in 2010, 1.4 million drivers were arrested for DUI, but only 10,000 drunken driving deaths.  So a <1% risk is enough to establish some legal liability.  Bartenders confiscate car keys and call cabs for a reason.  

In contrast, about 20% of convicted sex offenders reoffend, and overall, about 20% of those who offend once have ten or more victims.  The likelihood simply dwarfs that of a drunk killing someone while driving.  

Really, if a certainty of others being hurt was the criteria for reporting, the section you pointed out really has no legal force because you cannot expect the person hearing the accusation to have any idea of whether the accused will reoffend. You've got to do these things with likelihood.

Besides, even if you are correct on the law, let's be blunt here; can we defend IMB not reporting?  Seriously?  You know there's a strong chance of multiple victims--not just a theory--and you're OK with not getting the best chance of justice there?  Really?  

One other thought regarding Greg Abbott's mistake; there is a place in Texas called the Karolyi Ranch where one of the most prolific abusers yet discovered molested many of his victims.  Many of those victims report going to mental health professionals.  OK, let's ask the question; were any of them told who that abuser was, and did they make reports?  

Again, I can see discretion on how to proceed with the reports.  I cannot see not making them.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

This reference notes that 20% of offenders have ten to 40 victims, and 70% have between one and nine victims.  One would infer that 10% have 40 victims or more, and that unless that 70% is predominantly offenders with one victim, it's a clear majority.

Statistically, the expectation is that when you fail to make a report, the average result is going to be at least six more victims.  Again, that meets the requirements of the law unless lawmakers intended that section to be meaningless and without force.

And of course, beyond the law, are we willing to create that many more victims?  Hopefully not any more than we would defend a bartender who failed to do anything when a staggering man walked out with his car keys clearly visible!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dmyers's picture

Bert, I have looked at the law.  I also read the entire linked article, including the following:  “In 2007, IMB specifically inquired if Ms. Miller (who was 25 at that time) intended to file charges, and she said no. We were more than willing to support such action at that time. To our knowledge, neither her parents, her husband at the time, two counselors or several other friends 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 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.”  "While Texas does have a strong mandatory reporting law in place for suspected cases of child abuse — anyone who suspects a child is in danger is a mandatory reporter — it’s less clear with cases involving childhood victims who are now adults."  "F. Scott McCown, the director of the Children’s Rights Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, said he hasn’t heard of a situation in which someone had been prosecuted in Texas for failing to report alleged child abuse when the victim is now an adult."  "Scott Fredricks, a Fort Worth lawyer who’s worked child abuse cases, said the laws have changed over the years. He said they would have been looser in 2007 regarding reporting requirements, especially in the case of an adult. The statute in place now, he said, has language about disclosure if the information is necessary to protect another child, which could apply if the alleged perpetrator were still working with children."

Contrary to your insistence that the requirement to report an adult's abuse as a child "had been on the books for about a decade before the report was made," the news article is very clear that that particular requirement was added (sometime) after 2007.  No offense, but I'm inclined to believe that two Texas lawyers who specialize in child abuse cases know more about it.  

You may be misunderstanding the dates you're seeing in the statutory history that you linked.  The original version of Section 261.101 (the terms of which we don't have) was "[a]dded by Acts 1995, . . . eff. April 20, 1995."  However, 261.101 has been amended several times since then:  "Amended by:  Acts 2005, . . . eff. September 1, 2005. Acts 2013, . . . eff. June 14, 2013.  Acts 2015, . . . eff. April 2, 2015.  Acts 2017, . . . eff. September 1, 2017."  We're not told the specifics of the 2005, 2013, 2015, and 2017 amendments, but given the information from the Texas lawyers quoted in the article, the abused child-now-adult provision was in an amendment after 2007.

I've also read the article about the Texas AG's Opinion in 2012, and it's clear that you're misunderstanding that as well.  First, the AG's Opinion would have applied to all mandatory reporters, not just mental health professionals.  The issue in the opinion was whether the term "child" could also include an at-present adult who had been abused as a child or was limited to an at-present child.  The AG's conclusion, bolstered by a thorough analysis of the statute's definition of "child" and the statute's use of the term everywhere else in the statute, was that "child" meant an at-present child.  There's simply no way that, post-AG Opinion, "child" in 261.101 meant at-present child for mental health professionals but at-present child AND at-present adult for all other mandatory reporters.

Second, and more important for the present discussion, it's clear from the AG Opinion that the now-adult victim of child abuse provision was not in the statute at the time of the Opinion in 2012, but was instead added later, almost certainly as a reaction to the 2012 Opinion.  Subsection (b-1) [a clumsy numbering of the insertion] specifically addresses the reporting requirements regarding a now-adult victim of child abuse.  Yet the AG Opinion doesn't address that subsection at all.  Why?  Because it wasn't there then.

In short, the statute in effect in 2007 (when the IMB received Miller's complaint of abuse that occurred in 1996-1997) did not require IMB to report anything, or was at least ambiguous about their obligation to report.  That very ambiguity led some mental health professionals to ask the AG for clarification, which resulted in the 2012 Opinion that the statute unambiguously did not require reporting.  That Opinion in turn led to a clarifying amendment to the statute itself, so that, as of 2013 or 2015 or 2017, it is now clear that a report should be made regarding a now-adult's childhood abuse if the reporter "determines in good faith that disclosure of the information is necessary to protect the health and safety of another child" or an elderly or disabled person.  I won't get into an analysis of whether the current statute would have required a report by IMB if it had been in effect earlier; that's moot.

I appreciate your passion for the abused.  But we have to be fair regarding what the legal requirements actually are (or were at the time).  The accused abuser is entitled to due process in spite of possibly having committed horrific acts, in case he/she didn't actually do it (and sometimes they didn't).  The same is true of potential mandatory reporters, employers, subsequent employers, etc.  No good comes from being over-zealous in the rooting out of all alleged abuse, as we're seeing exemplified in the "#metoo movement."

Hopefully, we can put this legal discussion to rest.  Thanks.

Bert Perry's picture

Walking one thing back; it does turn out that the section on reporting for adults was added in 2013.  On the flip side, the opinion that IMB would have been working from came from 1997, when (page 4) the then-AG noted that there was such an affirmative responsibility.  That is precisely why the board of psychologists asked the question in 2012.  

So I don't know that IMB gets off the hook here; had it come to a trial, sure, something would have been clarified, but it's clear that, at least as the 1997 opinion and the view of the psychologists were concerned, that there was exactly such a responsibility.  

Moreover, the 2013 decision to make the adult reporting requirement official clarifies that Greg Abbott had not read their intent correctly from earlier laws, and the 15 year gap does raise the question of what people were doing in the meantime.  I am guessing they were selectively reporting.

And along those lines, I really don't see how insisting on reporting clear evidence of crimes qualifies as "excessive".  it is, rather, appealing to the right authority, and for that matter is the only way to preserve due process.  Those who do things like issue 300 page reports on an issue while refusing to go to those who can convene grand juries deserve to be shamed, in my view.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dmyers's picture

Bert, you say, "it's clear that, at least as the 1997 opinion and the view of the psychologists were concerned, that there was exactly such a responsibility."  But that misconstrues both the 1997 opinion (on a different issue) and the psychologists' 2012 request for an opinion (on the issue relevant to the IMB).

The 1997 Opinion (which you don't link; it can be found here: dealt with whether, "in the event a registered sex-offender-treatment provider obtains from a client dated or incomplete information suggesting that the client has abused a child, the treatment provider may use his or her 'good judgment' in determining whether to report the information" (p. 1).  The AG's answer was no (p. 4):  "Under Family Code section 261.101(a), a person who suspects that a child has been abused or neglected must report that suspicion immediately to the appropriate authorities. The Council on Sex Offender Treatment may not interpret section 261.101(a) to permit a registered sex-offender-treatment provider . . . to decide whether to report a suspicion where the suspicion is based on dated or incomplete information."

There was no discussion at all of how to handle reports of now-adult victims of child abuse (which is no doubt why the 2012 Opinion makes no reference to the 1997 Opinion -- they are not in conflict at all).  It is therefore misleading to tell people here who don't take the time to check the 1997 Opinion that "the then-AG noted that there was such an affirmative responsibility."  That's simply untrue.

The psychologists' request for the AG Opinion actually makes it clear that it was the 1997 Opinion that had created the confusion they were asking the (new) AG to resolve.

Similarly, you're misunderstanding the interplay of the AG's office and the Texas legislature when you say "the 2013 decision to make the adult reporting requirement official clarifies that Greg Abbott had not read their intent correctly from earlier laws."  As Abbott made perfectly clear in his 2012 Opinion, the statute by its terms did not impose any obligation to report a then-adult's claim to have been abused as a child; the statute clearly spoke only of a child's claim of abuse.  It's a primary tenet of statutory interpretation that you can't override the statute's unambiguous terms with speculation about the legislature's "intent" (about which, in this case, we have absolutely no evidence at all).  What was happening here is what happens in every state in response to state supreme court decisions and AG opinions that highlight a "gap" in the law -- if the current legislature wants to close the gap, which has existed since the statute was adopted, it does so.  It is absolutely not a matter of the AG incorrectly reading the earlier legislature's intent.  (Keep in mind that the 1995 legislature that adopted the basic statute would necessarily have been composed of completely different people than the 2013 legislature that amended the statute; it's nonsensical to talk of legislative intent as if it were the same in 2013 as it was 18 years earlier.)

It seems that you're filtering all of the records through your zeal to blame the IMB, even when others repeatedly demonstrate that you're misreading those records.  Let's put this part of the argument to bed, please.

Bert Perry's picture

IMB is getting religion on this one.  Note that David Platt admits IMB's contribution to the problem as well, which I would assume would include (a) doing enough investigation to do a 300 page report and (b) not reporting the matter to authorities.  They are doing an independent investigation to figure out where else they've failed.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

dmyers, I've been holding off on this one, but I'm going to be blunt here; the simple fact of the matter was that in 1995, 1997, and 2012, the evidence we have suggests that everybody in Texas who was informed about the matter assumed the broad interpretation of the law I posit.  Greg Abbott changed that, slightly, in that year, but the legislature reversed him for the most part in 2013.

That's a pattern that suggests that no, I am not the one trying to blame the IMB.  As the IMB's move today demonstrates, they didn't need any help from me looking bad because they did it all by themselves.   They simply had no authoritative legal opinion that would give them cover, and so they either were ignorant of the law, or were willfully in rebellion against it.  Since the investigation they did was led by a lawyer, it's at the very least a huge oversight on their part to do an investigation which was nearly as thorough as a DA's would have been without getting the DA involved.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dmyers's picture

Bert, I've laid it out as clearly as I can and you haven't rebutted any of the specifics I set out in my last response; the same is true for at least some specifics in my earlier responses.  You're simply wrong.  But let's do keep in mind that our whole discussion has been on the limited issue whether Texas law in 2007 required IMB to report to the authorities the then-25-year-old's report of abuse from 9-10 years earlier.  None of my arguments were aimed at defending IMB's failure as an employer to mark the abuser/liar for future employers, especially churches.  That is where I think they ought to be faulted, and I hope their review results in positive changes for future such situations.

One note about Platt's statement:  it's good to see him addressing the victim's suffering.  Too many church/denominational/school statements about such abuse fail to even acknowledge the damage to the victim(s).

Aaron Blumer's picture


As the old saying goes, people get to make up their own opinions; they do not get to make up their own facts.

It's instructive to look through this thread and see where most of the clear verifiable facts are vs. where most of the asserting-of-opinion-as-if-fact is.

As for Platt and IMB's decision to launch some independent investigations, etc., I hope for the sake of all involved that the investigators are swift, clear, apolitical, and fact-focused (vs. the kind of "investigation" that polls all sorts of people about how they feel about things!).

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

It's how they're interpreted.  One side here is assuming that all feedback to IMB ought to be through the lens of Greg Abbott's 2012 ruling; that makes sense if what you're doing is lining up IMB for prosecution.  A fairly authoritative reinterpretation of the law can be a buffer against prosecution.  But I conceded way back that prosecution is unlikely, so it's the wrong line of reasoning. 

Side note is that if prosecutors generally won't prosecute non-reporting, as appears to be the case, it raises the question of whether the law ought to be revised.   

The flip side is if you're seeing the matter as one of regulatory compliance, whether IMB is doing best practices, and in that light, reviewing their behavior in 2007 in light of a 2012 decision makes no more sense than reviewing ISO practices from 2010 in light of ISO:9001 from 2015.  In that light, what matters is what people knew at the time, which would be the broad interpretations of 1995 and 1997.   It doesn't matter that the specific question wasn't addressed then; it matters what the interpretations said, which is, again, a broad responsibility.  

It also matters in what we know about investigations; IMB has no subpoena power and no ability to collect physical evidence.  Therefore necessarily they would be conducting an inferior investigation that may well have exposed other women to being violated.  Since the coordination was done by a lawyer, this is an important oversight, and something that makes IMB look really, really bad.  

And I would be very, very surprised if the investigation does not emphasize points like this.  Really, the head of IMB has tipped his hand to this already; you don't commission an independent investigation if you're persuaded that everything is OK.  You do so if you're persuaded that you've got some problems to fix that need an outside look.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.