Tenth Presbyterian in philadelphia tries to bully whistleblower Phil Snyder into silence

By | September 23, 2019

Ed: Please consider donating to Phil’s GoFundMe effort.

Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of America, a conservative neo-Calvinist denomination, is again trying to silence a whistleblower. Specifically, church officials have filed suit against former member and deacon Phil Snyder, who has repeatedly spoken out about allegations of sexual misconduct involving the church.

Before we go further, let me offer an observation: The church’s actions appear to be straight out of the Grace Episcopal Alexandria playbook in its efforts to shut me down. Replete with references to active shooters, allegedly threatening behavior, and more, it doesn’t take a whole lot of intellect to realize that, right behind the scenes, the church’s real goal is to shut down criticism by infringing on Phil’s First Amendment rights.

That raises the question: If Phil is speaking out about allegations of abuse, why wouldn’t Tenth Presbyterian welcome his efforts? The answer, I believe, is that rector Liam Goligher and other church officials realize they’ve been caught with their hands in the cookie jar; they appear to have turned a blind eye to misconduct within the church.

To answer this question, let’s look at the history of the case.

History (With a H/T to The Wartburg Watch)

In 2001, the music minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, was alleged to have engaged in naked spankings/beatings of students.  The senior minister, Phil Ryken, now the president of Wheaton College, failed to call the police and covered the incident up, allowing the music minister to be in a position of power and influence over young men for another thirteen years.

In 2014, the music minister was finally fired.  However, the new senior minister, Liam Goligher, did not inform the congregation of this.  Instead, the congregation was told that the music minister was leaving to pursue new opportunities.  In fact, on his last Sunday, on 02/02/14, there was exceptional music, including the concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, David Kim.  The music minister received a standing ovation.  Also, there was a reception given in honor of the music minister.

On 03/16/14, deacon Phil Snyder (the author of this account) spoke out at a congregational meeting, which forced the elders to hold another congregational meeting on 03/30/14, where the congregation was finally told the real reason the music minister left.

In addition to the naked spanking incidents, there was an alleged sexual assault/false imprisonment that occured at a pastor’s house.  The police were not called.  Mr.  Snyder requested to meet with the elders with the victim, witnesses, and someone from the Special Victims Unit, but his request was denied.

On 01/13/13, a woman was allegedly sexually assualted in the catacombs (basement) of the church.  The police were not called and the congregation was not informed of the incident.  The senior minister, Liam Goligher, on 10/10/17, denied he had knowledge of the incident or when it occurred.

Beginning on 01/18/16, Mr. Snyder sent out letters to the congregation detailing these and other incidents.  The elders responded by saying the Mr. Snyder’s letters were “horrible slander” and “utterly false”.  The elders subsequently retracted these allegedly false statements.

On 10/23/16, the elders excommunicated Mr. Snyder, filed a no trespassing order against him, and threatened to arrest him within 1,000 feet of the church.  Because of this unlawful, allegedly criminal threat (per 18 USC 241 and 242), to arrest him within 1,000 feet of the church, Mr. Snyder filed a lawsuit against the senior minister, Liam Goligher, and the Clerk of Session, George McFarland.  This lawsuit was filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, case number 170102293.  The trial is scheduled for 02/19.

On 09/10/17, in response to the elders’ threat to sue him for libel, and in defiance of their threat to arrest him within 1,000 feet of the church, a violation of his constitutional right to free speech, Mr. Snyder went to Tenth Presbyterian Church and handed out letters from a public sidewalk.  The elders responded by filing an injunction against him to stop him from coming within 1,000 feet of the church or communicating with the congregation.  Unfortunately for them, Mr. Snyder was wearing a body camera which proved that their assertions that he was “harassing, threatening, and disruptive” were slanderous and false, i.e. they committed perjury.

Subsequently, Mr. Snyder filed a defamation case against the church. While represented by counsel, it does not appear that his attorney was particularly effective, as the legal discovery process went nowhere for Phil. Possibly as a result, Phil lost the case.

Phil continued to criticize the church by contacting members and by publicly demonstrating in front of the church.

The church responded with a civil action, seeking an injunction that would, inter alia, keep Phil from protesting in front of the church. I have personally examined the church’s pleadings, and while they lack the breathless, inflammatory tone of Jeff Chiow’s pleadings on behalf of Grace Episcopal Alexandria, they are equally laughable. Replete with references to frightening church members, ad hominem references to Mr. Snyder’s mental health and more, the pleadings are well drafted, but content-wise should be an embarrassment to anyone who claims to be a Christian.

When I last spoke with Phil, he was represented by legal counsel, and the case has been continued several times.

My observations

  • Churches love the whole, “Anyone who criticizes me is unbalanced,” routine. But if the church is really so concerned about Phil, why has it not done anything to care for him? And last I heard, the Bible doesn’t exactly encourage churches to sue their members.
  • Where there is smoke, there may not be fire, but there sure as heck is a problem, unless you’re into southern-style barbecue. Churches with nothing to fear are transparent and welcome criticism. The fact that Tenth Presbyterian is virtually foaming at the mouth over these issues tells me there’s more to this story.
  • Narcissists love to borrow a kernel of truth, then shade it in such a way that it ultimately becomes a lie. Phil may indeed frighten church leaders and members, but it’s not because he’s violent or threatening. It’s because he’s disrupting their little slice of stained glass paradise.
  • As I’ve said in other fora, the church is thoroughly lacking in social media and public relations savvy. The way to respond to such claims is either to ignore them altogether, or to chuckle and ask, “You mean you’re just now hearing those stories?” But going to court against your critics is akin to dousing your home in gasoline and lighting a match, then complaining that someone set fire to things.
  • Just like being a good manager requires understanding those you supervise and meeting their specific needs, so too do church leaders make a mistake when they assume the pews are filled with sheep that want to be herded. Every church has members who are the modern-day equivalent of John the Baptist. While they may be off-putting, irritating, and even frightening, they are going to speak their truth, even if they wind up with their head on a platter. The more you push them, the harder they fight. And like John the Baptist, history eventually proves them right.
  • The fact that Liam Goligher and other church “leaders” are willing to behave in this manner suggests to me that they are not by any means real Christians. Yes, Jesus had the power to impose his will by force, but he chose not to.
  • Much as my former church, Grace Episcopal in Alexandria VA, is lurching towards existential crisis as a result of deploying such tactics, so too will Tenth Presbyterian ultimately harm itself by behaving in this manner. If nothing else, churchgoers are notoriously conflict-adverse, and this is exactly the sort of high drama guaranteed to drive away members.
  • There’s a generational issue at play here. Twenty-somethings say behavior like that of Tenth Presbyterian is one of their primary reasons for disliking organized religion, yet the 50+ crowd in the church is plunging over the cliff, oblivious to the reputational damage they are causing for themselves among future generations.

If you’re interested in reading more about this conflict, visit The Wartburg Watch here. You can find Mr. Snyder’s website here.

In the meantime, for the attorneys out there, remember: These are all nothing but allegations.

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