27 June note: We have updated the article based on information from a source close to the church. Content removed is marked by
strikeout, while added content is underlined.
Those of us old enough to remember “Unsafe at Any Speed,” Ralph Nader’s expose of the automotive industry and its indifference to consumer safety may look with nostalgia on the notion that society must care for its members. And while consumer safety is hardly in vogue these days, the Presbyterian Church in America is looking like it needs a consumer advisory.
And so, Anglican Watch is making it official: The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is unsafe at any speed. Specifically, the denomination has a ongoing ethics problem and a burgeoning sexual abuse scandal.
And if those factors weren’t bad enough, the PCA just jumped headfirst into a cow patty, voting down four separate measures to address sexual abuse in the denomination.
In other words, the PCA is toxic.
Ethics-wise, we note a profound lack of integrity on several fronts within the denomination, including:
- Liam Goligher and Tenth Presbyterian’s perjury in attempting to shut down whistleblower Phil Snyder.
- Ongoing corruption at Covenant Presbyterian PCA in Nashville, which
sat for almost two years on the fact that Mike Huckleberry speechwriter John Perry sexually abused children. (When Covenant finally did disclose, the statute of limitations had run. No doubt a coincidence.)never has disclosed the sexual abuse of Mike Huckleberry speechwriter John Perry.
- Sources report that those close to the church have falsely stated that the statute of limitations has run on the Perry abuse allegations. We have not confirmed those allegations.
- Covenant’s efforts in court to conceal the details of the horrific shooting at its school. We recognize that parents may not want to know the details. But that is not the issue. The issue is the public’s First Amendment right to the free flow of information. The fact that the church is trying to hide this information suggests there is serious corruption within the organization.
- Covenant Nashville’s abuse of whistleblower Austin Davis and its refusal to own up to its misconduct.
On the sexual abuse front, we have the John Perry situation and numerous other incidents, including:
- Allegations of mishandled sex abuse allegations at Surfside Presbyterian in which an abuser was quietly pushed out of the church, with no reason given to church members.
- The appalling case of Daniel Herron, who was cleared of charges of wrongdoing after he sued two alleged victims of abuse for defamation.
- The Brad Waller case, which the PCA handled well. By taking allegations public and using outside resources, the church identified numerous prior incidents of abuse. The church posted its report publicly.
- Many other incidents that have come to our attention but not been publicized.
And now, we have sordid news from the PCA annual meeting, in which four anti-abuse measures, regarded as low-hanging fruit, were shot down:
- Two proposals that would have changed current church requirements that witnesses in church hearings believe in God, heaven, and hell.
- A suggestion that would have required criminal background checks for new and transferring clergy.
- An effort to facilitate the exchange of information within the denomination about potential abusers.
Now that we have climbed back into our chairs, let’s take a look at these issues.
- Are we really prepared to say that, if for example, a police officer documents an instance of child sexual abuse but she is an agnostic, the denomination is going to tell her to buzz off? If the answer is yes, the church is indifferent to the welfare of children. If the answer is no, then the church needs to be truthful and remove the clause. In other words, don’t play games.
- As to background checks, this is the most rudimentary level of protection out there. Only 3-4 percent of pedophiles have a criminal record, and child sexual abuse is vastly underreported. But it’s a start and if it snags even 2 or 3 offenders a years, this is a practice worth deploying. As for concerns about accuracy, spare us. The point is, if we come up with adverse information, we know to ask more questions.
- Information exchange is essential. Much like the Brad Waller case above, child sexual abuse is rarely an isolated incident.
And while we are still wading through the excellent 220-page report the denomination prepared on abuse, it appears all four of these were basic recommendaations.
As for the reasons officials voted against the proposals, the party line seems to be that they wanted tweaks to the language. But that is a fig leaf, as the discussion at the meeting made clear that many felt that the status quo was just fine.
To be clear, while the denomination has the structure to put measures in place, it has next to nothing churchwide to deal with sexual abuse. Leaders lack even basic training, and as we have seen in the Austin Davis and Phil Snyder cases, the church usually retaliates against whistleblowers.
So, in line with our policy of generally ignoring theological differences, we express no opinion on the PCA’s theology, complementarianism, or other specifics.
But until the PCA cleans up its ethics and its handling of sexual abuse, we are going on the record as saying that the denomination, taken as a whole, is toxic.