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Pro-Family Christians Support Child Kidnapping, Redux

In 2011, I wrote “Pro-Family Christians Support Child Kidnapping“, one of the more despicable stories of how the religious right despises and mistreats GLBT people (and that’s really saying something). There have been more developments in that case, so here’s an update.

The story up till now: Lisa Miller, a Vermont woman in a same-sex partnership, converted to Christianity and claimed to have become heterosexual. When a court ordered her to share custody rights with her former partner for their daughter, she moved to Virginia, where civil unions are illegal, and tried to get the custody order overturned. When that failed, she fled the country, taking the girl with her. Some months later, the FBI arrested a Tennessee pastor, Timothy David Miller, and charged him with assisting in her flight. Those charges were later dropped when he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. But since then, another pastor, confusingly named Kenneth Miller, was arrested and charged with abetting a kidnapping, and he was convicted yesterday by a federal jury.

Even beyond its obvious outrageous aspects, this case is important because of the possibility that powerful figures within the religious right conspired to help Lisa Miller flee the country. While fighting the court, she was defended by Liberty Counsel, a religious-right legal group affiliated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Phone records indicate that before her flight, she repeatedly spoke with Philip Zodhiates, a Christian businessman, who in turn called phone numbers registered to Liberty Counsel. Court documents allege that Zodhiates (who was not charged with anything) gave her access to a house he owned in Nicaragua, where she may or may not still be. Mat Staver, head of Liberty Counsel, claimed to have no knowledge of these calls. Janet Jenkins, Lisa Miller’s ex-partner, has filed a RICO lawsuit against Liberty University and other plaintiffs, so this story will almost certainly have further developments.

I was gladdened to see the conviction, but I fear it may not do much good. Lisa Miller and her daughter are still missing, after all. Wherever that girl is right now, she must be going through a Handmaid’s Tale-esque brainwashing in an attempt to fill her with hate for her rightful mother, in ways that no court or justice system can later undo. For her own sake, I profoundly hope that she resists.

But the most despicable part of this is the Christians who cheer the abduction of children from their rightful, legal parents and convince themselves that they’re the moral ones – like the incredibly evil Bryan Fischer, who applauded the idea of an international child-smuggling ring to kidnap the children of gay parents. They claim to be in favor of “families”, when actually they’re only willing to permit the existence of families that fit their narrow, patriarchal vision of how society should operate. They’re willing, even eager, to tear apart and wreck all the real, loving families that don’t conform to their ideal – to retroactively dissolve same-sex partnerships, to pull children away from adoptive parents, to kidnap them to foreign countries and deny them the childhood they should have had.

Just as I observed in my recent post on the Boy Scouts, if there’s one cause that truly brings Christians of all denominations together, it’s hating on gay people. Lisa Miller’s defenders at Liberty Counsel are fundamentalist Baptists; Kenneth Miller, the convicted minister, is from an Amish sect. (That particular sect, the Beachy Amish Mennonites, has a presence in Nicaragua, and it’s a good bet that they’re helping to hide Miller and her daughter. Also, how did he get involved in her case in the first place? Who was the go-between?)

There’s still hope that the abducted girl will be found and returned to her rightful mother, and I’ll post an update if that happens. But if there’s any glimmer of light in this dark story, it’s that all the Christian churches in the world can’t stop the advance of change. They can commit outrages like this – and they’ll probably do so more and more often as the ground slips further under their feet and they grow increasingly desperate – but the future is approaching and they can’t hold it back for much longer. If they choose to make this their hill to die on; if they continue to insist that hating gay people and wanting to destroy gay families is essential to being a Christian; then I hope future generations take them at their word, and as the world becomes more tolerant, their numbers will dwindle and their ugly and bigoted beliefs will be trampled into the dust.

Image credit: Don Amaro, released under CC BY 2.0 license

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