[See update in the next post.]
I have been wanting to say something about Philip Zodhiates for some time, because he is still in federal prison, a true prisoner of conscience, and because I now have more readers of my work who are probably completely unaware of the case. People are often shocked when I describe it.
Check out the tag, here, for more posts. But briefly, here is a summary:
More than eighteen years ago, Lisa Miller entered into a civil union with Janet Jenkins in Vermont. (Please remember this story next time someone advocates civil unions as not as "bad" from a conservative p.o.v. as gay "marriage." They're legally identical.)
During this civil union, Miller conceived and bore a child by using a sperm donor. The little girl, Isabella, was only eighteen months old when Miller left the relationship and formally broke it up legally. Miller converted to Christianity, left the homosexual lifestyle behind her, and fled to Virginia to keep her child away from Jenkins, who represented all that she had repented of and was now leaving behind. Jenkins, let us bear in mind, is not in any way related to Isabella and has not lived with her since she was eighteen months old.
Vermont courts, to whom the custody decision was ultimately given, treated the unrelated lesbian Jenkins as Isabella's "other mother" and insisted on unsupervised visitation, even though Jenkins was, from Isabella's perspective, a stranger. Isabella made some of these visits but was so upset by them (and alleged that Jenkins had bathed with her naked) that Miller refused to allow any more such visits with Jenkins, who had neither any natural claim on Isabella whatsoever nor any relationship with her. Miller became so concerned by Isabella's statements and by her bizarre behaviors at such a young age (including the sudden onset of open masturbation and saying she wanted to kill herself) that she eventually refused to allow unsupervised visits. The Vermont judge and Jenkins refused to compromise (e.g., to limit Jenkins only to supervised, non-overnight visits). Miller exhausted all her legal options. Eventually the judge was poised to order full custoy to Jenkins to punish Miller for denying Jenkins unsupervised "parental" visits (even though she was not in any sense at all the child's parent).
At that point, Miller fled the country with her little girl. (My understanding is that at the time of her flight she still had official legal custody of Isabella.) She apparently fled successfully to Nicaragua. In doing so she had help to drive across state lines from Philip Zodhiates and help with arranging her flight from Mennonite Pastor Kenneth Miller (no relation). Mennonite missionary Timothy Miller (also no relation) helped her in Nicaragua.
Many years have passed now. Isabella has recently turned eighteen, wherever she is. Lisa is still technically a fugitive from "justice." You see, the U.S. federal government declared this an international kidnapping, and it set out to punish Lisa and everyone who had helped her.
Kenneth Miller has served a several-year federal prison sentence. Philip Zodhiates is currently serving a three-year prison sentence. Timothy Miller was extradited from Nicaragua (even though Nicaragua technically has no extradition agreement with the U.S.) and before being shipped back was literally kept in a Nicaraguan dungeon in very rough conditions. He has since had his sentence commuted to probation but must stay in the U.S. and as far as I know is still in that situation.
Nor will these men's ordeal be over after they are done serving prison time. Not only is Zodhiates at least (and possibly Kenneth Miller?) many thousands of dollars in debt for legal fees, but Janet Jenkins, like some bizarre Inspector Javert, is attempting to ruin them yet furtehr and anyone who was Lisa's lawyer back at the time via a civil lawsuit for depriving her of Isabella's company. That lawsuit is moving at the speed of molasses, which I suppose is a good thing in a way, but it is supposed to gear back up this spring some time.
Zodhiates sought a compassionate release as a non-violent prisoner during Covid (that did happen for various people even in federal prison), but since "international kidnapping" is deemed a violent crime by definition, he was denied. Naturally, when The Orange One was issuing pardons and clemencies all over the place in his last days, these folks were not among those pardoned. This could also have been done earlier in his term. In fairness, it's possible that no one had his ear to bring the cases before him.
Philip Zodhiates keeps his spirits up via his faith in God. He and all of these men, to my mind, exemplify to an astonishing extent the injunction to be "blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (Philippians 2:15).
Zodhiates has a prison blog that is mostly musings about Scripture and faith. It's found here. For a long time it wasn't being updated, even though (via an e-mail list) I knew that he was writing entries. I made some inquiries, and since then a few of his entries since August, 2020, have been posted. Here is the crowdfunding site for him. Here was Pastor Ken Miller's blog during his imprisonment, which has stopped being updated since he was released. I find that one is likely to get e-mail updates if one joins the crowdfunding effort for Zodhiates.
It is interesting to me that things are getting so much worse now in America, in terms of censorship. (Focus on the Family was just bumped from Twitter for saying that a man cannot turn into a woman. Hate speech, y'know.) And yet this case goes back ten years!
I find that many people are shocked to learn that men have served and one is still serving time in federal prison for the "crime" of helping an ex-lesbian who repented escape with her daughter so that her young daughter would not be turned over to her former lesbian lover. The case is not much talked about or known, even among those who continue to be conservative or remotely sane on these issues.
I am grateful that it seems that these men have been protected physically in prison. Pray for Philip Zodhiates and also for the others who will be targeted by the civil lawsuit. Also, pray that Zodhiates will be able to find new lawyers. His previous lawyers were apparently offended when he made an appeal for his sentence to be vacated on the grounds that his lawyers refused at his trial to bring up the concerns that he had about sexual abuse which were a part of his motivation for driving Lisa to New York as part of her escape. So now he needs new lawyers, not to mention needing money to hire them. I have a feeling he's going to find a lot of his fellow Christians shockingly weak-willed when he gets out of prison, having been through the fire and having been involved in prison ministry from the inside.