A pastor charged with helping a former lesbian and her daughter flee the country during a custody dispute with her ex-partner appeared in court Monday and was freed after posting bail.
Timothy David Miller, an Amish-Mennonite pastor from Crossville, Tenn., paid a $25,000 bond and is in the custody of a friend. Miller entered no plea in the lawsuit filed by the FBI for helping Lisa Miller (no relations), a former lesbian turned evangelical Christian, escape to Nicaragua with her 9-year-old daughter, Isabella Miller Jenkins, to avoid turning the child over to her former partner, Janet Jenkins.
Lisa Miller and Jenkins were legally joined in Vermont during a civil union in 2000. The couple split three years later, but Miller gave birth to Isabella during their time together. Miller filed to annul the civil union in 2004 and renounced her homosexuality after becoming a Christian. Since 2004, Miller and Jenkins have been in a custody battle over Isabella.
One of the complications in the case is that while Vermont recognizes civil unions, Virginia – where Miller had resided – does not. Virginia’s constitution bans same-sex marriage and civil unions. So the question that arose was if Virginia must enforce a custody order and visitation order from Vermont’s same-sex civil union.
During the custody battle, Miller repeatedly refused to turn over her daughter to her former partner, claiming that Isabella exhibited “violent reactions” after spending time with Jenkins and was once forced to bathe with her.
Miller has also argued that she was the one who gave birth to Isabella, through artificial insemination, and that Jenkins is practically a stranger to the girl. She also said that Jenkins disapproves of raising Isabella in a Christian home.
After repeatedly failing to turn over Isabella to Jenkins for visitations, Judge William Cohen of Vermont in November 2009 awarded Jenkins custody of the girl. Cohen said giving Jenkins custody was the only way to ensure equal access.
But both Miller and Isabella disappeared in September 2009 and there was no news of their whereabouts until recently.
After their disappearance, Cohen issued an arrest warrant for Lisa Miller and Isabella was listed in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to The Associated Press.
A Vermont judge charged Pastor Timothy Miller on Monday with helping in the “international parental kidnapping” of Isabella. The FBI believes Miller arranged flights for Lisa Miller and Isabella to Nicaragua and connected her to a Christian ministry there.
The FBI found emails of Miller corresponding with his friends and family about Lisa Miller’s flight to Nicaragua. Court documents also show that the pastor’s mother-in-law’s credit card was used to buy the plane tickets, according to ABC News.
About 20 fellow Mennonites sat in the courtroom on Monday to show support for Pastor Miller.
“We believe the Lord wants us to fear him and honor him in everything we do,” said Loyal Martin of Philadelphia, N.Y., who was part of the Amish group, to AP. “We believe Timothy was doing that. But we leave the results to the Lord.”
Another court hearing is scheduled for May 10.