A Mennonite pastor has been sentenced to 27 months in prison for helping a member of his congregation flee the country rather than turn her young daughter over to her one-time lesbian partner.
Last August, Pastor Kenneth Miller, of Stuarts Draft, Va., was convicted in a Vermont court on a charge of aiding in international parental kidnapping. He admitted that he helped Lisa Miller (no relation to the pastor) and her daughter, Isabella, leave the U.S. in 2009 at Lisa’s urging.
It is the latest twist in one of the most talked-about and consequential child custody cases of the modern era.
After childhood abuse led Lisa Miller into a dysfunctional life of addictions and homosexuality, she experienced a change of heart, converted to Christianity and left the homosexual lifestyle, in which she had lived as “spouse” to another lesbian woman, Janet Jenkins. During their same-sex “civil union,” Miller had given birth to a daughter, Isabella, conceived through artificial insemination.
As a new Christian, Lisa Miller’s all-consuming focus in life was to be a good mother to Isabella. However, after a Vermont judge demanded that Lisa allow her former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins, to have unsupervised visits with little Isabella, Lisa’s nightmare – which continues to this day – got its start.
According to the testimony of experts and eyewitnesses, the court-ordered visits were severely traumatizing the child, and Isabella’s court-appointed advocate said Jenkins was “turn[ing] her world upside down.” A clinical therapist testified Isabella appeared “traumatized” by her visits with Jenkins, and that “unsupervised visits … could cause permanent damage to normal development.” A social worker testified the little girl “suffers from sleep disturbance and nightmares, having difficulty sleeping through the night,” adding that “Isabella also talks about death, and has expressed fear that if her mother Lisa dies she will be at risk. Without prompting, Isabella has said she is afraid that Janet Jenkins may take her away from Lisa.”
Lisa Miller and her daughter, Isabella (photo courtesy Barbara Curtis)
Worse, Lisa Miller told the court her child had referred to being forced to bathe naked with Jenkins, had begun to touch herself sexually and appeared disturbed and unhappy following visits, according a report by LifeSiteNews, which links to four court affidavits by social workers, therapists and others.
For example, clinical therapist Sylvia Haydash in her affidavit testified as to Isabella’s “extremely regressive behaviors” after visiting with Jenkins, noting that:
… Isabella appears to have been traumatized by the limited visitation thus far [with Jenkins], a serious consequence, taking Isabella in a negative direction as compared to Isabella’s condition before the recent visitations where she was a child that was well-adjusted, flourishing, above-the-curve developmentally, verbally gifted, and readily able to separate from Lisa and meet with other people.
And Lisa Miller told the LifeSiteNews interviewer: “Last year, Isabella put a comb up to her neck and said she wanted to kill herself after one of the visits. She took a comb and pressed it into her neck and said, ‘I want to kill myself.’ … It was immediately after a visit. Other people have seen huge changes. She also started openly masturbating which is not something that my child has done.”
Regarding Isabella, Miller added:
She is six now but this started when she was five – after visits. The very first time that Janet ever saw Isabella after the two and a half years, her very first overnight visit – the court ordered it and I allowed it because it was in Virginia and she was supposed to have been supervised by her parents, Isabella came home and said, “Mommy, will you please tell Janet that I don’t have to take a bath anymore at her house.”
I asked her what happened. She said, “Janet took a bath with me.” I asked her if she [Janet] had a bathing suit on. “No, Mommy.” She had no clothes on and it totally scared Isabella. She had never seen this woman except once in two and a half years and she takes a bath with her.
Miller refused to allow any more visits. As her attorney, Liberty Counsel chairman Matthew Staver told WND at the time, regarding Isabella’s visitations with Jenkins: “She began having nightmares, bed-wetting, fears of leaving Lisa and even tried to physically harm herself after just a couple of visitations. After having seen that, Lisa just simply said, ‘I cannot put my child in that situation anymore.’”
In response, in 2009 a Vermont judge decided Lisa Miller must give up her legal and biological daughter to her former lesbian partner, who had no biological or adoptive connection to the child.
Enter Pastor Kenneth Miller. To protect her daughter, Lisa Miller begged her Amish-Mennonite pastor to help mother and daughter leave the country – and he did.
Last August, a federal jury in Vermont convicted Pastor Miller of helping Lisa flee the country with Isabella, rather than hand her daughter over to her one-time homosexual partner.
The sympathetic pastor knew he was facing as much as three years behind bars, but said he was “willing to accept the consequences” of his actions.
Jenkins meanwhile filed a RICO lawsuit not just against this same pastor, but against Liberty University Law School, Thomas Road Baptist Church and others she alleges helped Lisa Miller “kidnap” her own daughter.
Liberty Counsel, a legal team affiliated with Liberty University and that advocates for Christian and religious rights, represented Lisa Miller until she vanished in 2009.
As WND reported, Jenkins is suing Liberty because a student worker allegedly sought donations to help Miller. Jenkins makes similar claims about a member of Thomas Road Baptist Church.
“Outrageously frivolous” is how Staver, who also serves as dean of the university’s law school, characterized Jenkins’ lawsuit.
“I don’t know how a church with a 5,000-seat sanctuary can be responsible for the act of one person,” Staver said, calling Jenkins’ lawsuit a “press release filed in federal court.”
According to Jenkins’ RICO lawsuit, “Lisa Miller’s attorneys Mathew Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen also routinely instructed their Law School students that the correct course of action for a person in Lisa Miller’s situation would be to engage in ‘civil disobedience’ and defy court orders.” (Lindevaldsen, also a law prof at Liberty, has published a book about Miller, titled “Only One Mommy: A Woman’s Battle for Her Life, Her Daughter, and Her Freedom: The Lisa Miller Story.”)
In response, Staver said that when Lisa Miller vanished in 2009, she did so without confiding in her legal team: “She never gave anyone indication of her plans. She was counseled to obey the court orders.”
Since then, Miller reportedly first traveled to Canada, then Nicaragua, and may still be living there today with her now-10-year-old daughter.
In a four-page letter to the federal court judge who sentenced him, Pastor Kenneth Miller wrote: “If it is true that my actions flow out of my faith in Jesus, and from my deeply held moral beliefs, and I sincerely think they do, then it must follow that whatever judgment is being brought against me by the United States of America, is judgment on my faith and conscience and deeply held moral beliefs. … I was faced with a woman in distress who needed help to protect her daughter from what seemed to be an inhumane court decree.”
Miller wrote the letter from the jail where he had been incarcerated for refusing to tell a grand jury who else might have helped Lisa Miller leave the country with her daughter. Now that he has been sentenced to 27 months, Pastor Miller is free on appeal.