Remember Kenneth Miller, the Mennonite pastor who became a hero to anti-gay religious extremists for helping a self-proclaimed “ex-lesbian” smuggle her daughter out of the United States and into Central America in order to permanently separate the child from her other mother?
Miller was charged in federal court with aiding in the international kidnapping of Isabella Miller-Jenkins. Over the course of a three-day trial, prosecutors in Burlington, Vermont cited evidence that Miller meticulously planned the escape of Lisa Miller to Nicaragua via Ontario, Canada, and that he did so because he believed that in preventing Isabella from seeing her lesbian mother — Janet Jenkins, with whom Lisa Miller had been united in a Vermont civil union — he was doing God’s work. The New York Times reports:
In the trial, Mr. Miller’s lawyer, Joshua M. Autry, did not dispute the evidence that Mr. Miller had helped arrange for Ms. Miller and her daughter to fly from Canada to Nicaragua and obtain shelter from missionaries. But Mr. Miller, his lawyer argued, did not realize that Ms. Miller was defying any court orders at the time.
The prosecutors cited evidence that Mr. Miller tried to hide what Ms. Miller was doing, including by specifying that the flights should not touch down on American soil and giving the pair Mennonite garb to wear as a disguise. His case was also undermined by the reluctant testimony of a fellow pastor in Canada, who said he had refused to transport Ms. Miller and Isabella across the United States-Canada border because he feared they were breaking the law.
“The evidence shows the defendant helped Lisa Miller because he believed in her cause,” Paul Van de Graaf, an assistant United States attorney, told the jury.
Lisa Miller also enlisted the help of others in the abduction:
The prosecutors presented evidence that others had worked with Mr. Miller to help Ms. Miller flee. Chief among those alleged to have taken part was a businessman in Virginia, Philip Zodhiates. Telephone records suggest that Mr. Zodhiates was in touch with Ms. Miller for months and drove her and her daughter to the Canadian border for their escape.
Jerry Falwell’s fundamentalist Christian law school was also implicated in the case.
Telephone records also indicated that as he drove home from the border, Mr. Zodhiates tried to call a cellphone number registered to Liberty Counsel, an evangelical legal group.
That cellphone number has sometimes been used by Mathew D. Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel, dean of the Liberty University Law School in Lynchburg, Va., and a leader of Ms. Miller’s defense team.
Janet Jenkins, Miller’s former partner, also gave brief but emotional testimony about the history of her relationship with Miller and the difficulties she encountered in visiting her daughter before the abduction.
It took a jury less than four hours to find Kenneth Miller guilty. He faces up to three years in prison but was allowed to remain free pending sentencing, which has not yet been scheduled. According to the Burlington Free Press, Jenkins, who has also filed a civil lawsuit in the matter, was not present in the courtroom when the verdict was announced. Her attorney, speaking on Jenkins’ behalf, said she is pleased that Kenneth Miller is being held accountable.
“She hopes that the verdict will send a message to those who continue to aid and abet Lisa Miller in Nicaragua,” lawyer Sarah Star said. “Her greatest hope is that the government’s efforts will lead to Isabella’s safe return to Vermont.”
The Free Press reports that a choir of more than 100 Mennonites gathered outside the federal building in downtown Burlington and showered Miller with “hymns of praise and perseverance” when he emerged from the courtroom. (Head over to their website for video.) They called him “our brother” and a good, caring man, and cast Miller as a victim in an epic battle against homosexuality, which they believe to be sinful. “The Satan rages. We will not be defeated,” they said.
I’m a third-generation, lifelong vocal musician raised by musician parents in a household where my brothers and I sang as soon as we were able to speak. Music weaves my family together. It has buoyed me during the highest points of my life and sustained me through the lowest, and the human voice speaks to my heart so profoundly that nothing else comes close. My degrees are even in music. So my stomach turned when I saw the choir of Mennonites standing earnestly on that sidewalk — dresses, bonnets, suspenders and all — serenading an anti-gay pastor who was just convicted of helping to rip a child away from her lesbian mother. The hymn they sang to bless and encourage him praised the virtues of “[doing] service for Jesus your King.” And all the while, Janet Jenkins waits and hopes that maybe, someday, she’ll be able to see her Isabella again.
Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.
Heavenly justification for the abduction of a child. My heart weeps.