Anglican Watch

Time for Tenth Presbyterian to close its doors

Tenth Presbyterian

We’re reluctant to recommend that any church close. That’s the case, particularly when a specific church holds beliefs or comes from a faith tradition different from our own. That’s because it’s far too easy to conflate differences with corruption.

That said, there comes a time when all we can do is throw up our hands in disgust and recommend that a church close its doors. That means selling off the real estate and winding down operations. Or it may mean closing the doors, waiting six months, and then starting anew, with new clergy, new staff, new leadership, external help developing healthy family systems, and a promise to pull the plug altogether if old habits spring back to life.

Why close the doors on a perfectly good church?

Many will respond, “Why take such drastic measures? Yes, like all churches, Tenth has its issues, but they can be fixed.”

The challenge is that the place has become a narcissistic system in which it cannot see its own problems. Or, when it does, people can’t bring themselves to address the issues.

Meanwhile, churches like Tenth grind out victim after victim. Sometimes, the abuse is spiritual. Other times, the abuse involves sexual misconduct. Sometimes, it’s even legal, as when Tenth perjured itself in its efforts to abuse Phil Snyder

In every instance, the common denominator is boundary violations. The consistent result is lives ruined, faith destroyed, and permanent harm to the Body of Christ.

To be clear, although these toxic churches are destructive, they often make great first impressions. That’s true for most narcissists, whether individuals or organizations. They are all about appearances, especially as they pull you into their orbit of lies, gaslighting, and manipulation. 

As a result, criticize these churches, and people will say, “But everyone is so nice.” Or, “I can’t believe he’d say that–I’ve been there and it’s wonderful.”

Meanwhile, these ostensible slices of stained glass paradise often are triumphalist, bragging to themselves about how there’s no other church quite like them.  And they’re unintentionally correct — no one is quite as abusive as they are, nor on so many levels.

The common denominator in these cases is that these churches turn the world upside down. Leaders are chosen not because of their abilities as leaders but rather on the basis of their loyalty. Customary practices of healthy churches — accountability, transparency, respect — are replaced by denial, obfuscation, lying, cover-up, gaslighting, and abuse.

In short, these churches, much like Tenth today, become the Biblical wolves in sheep’s clothing, even as they seek to devour the unwitting and destroy others. 

Meanwhile, Christians are called to bring light to the darkness, to oppose evil and hate, and to warn others about possible issues at churches like Tenth.

In doing so, there’s one sure-fire giveaway that tells outsiders they are on the right track: The more vehemently churches resist scrutiny, the more reason there is to provide just that. Specific examples include:

  • Tenth Pres and its perjury about how Phil Snyder threatened people.
  • Episcopal priest Will Bouvel and his courtroom fabrications about conservative David Duggan.
  • Grace Episcopal, with its mendacious claims that Anglican Watch editor Eric Bonetti is a “domestic terrorist” who harasses parishioners by blogging (oh the horror of it all!).

So, we have reached a point where we are prepared to say that Tenth has joined a small and none-too-illustrious group of churches and faith communities that are hardwired for abuse. In short, to borrow a phrase from consumer advocate Ralph Nader, these churches are unsafe at any speed.

Why can’t we fix things?

Many will ask why the church can’t dig in and fix things. The answer is, “That’s already been tried.”

Specifically, Anglican Watch, Tim Bayly, Phil Snyder, The Wartburg Watch, and many others have directly or implicitly asked the church to clean up its act. We’ve posted, pestered, protested, and more, and still churches like Tenth ignore the urgent need to clean up their act.

Instead, we get denials from those involved, swarms of flying monkeys screeching, “Coulda, woulda, shoulda,” letters from corrupt lawyers, and apologists playing the deflect-and-fuzz game.

So, with George McFarland and his legion of corrupt minions still in power, even as the newer members of the inner circle try to brush things off with, “that happened before I got here,” we say, “Stop.” “No mas.” “I want off this crazy ride.”

Folks, this is a church where folks lie, even to the people in the pews and to each other. Or, as one person here likes to put it, “They wouldn’t know Jesus if he ran them over in a pickup truck.” 

Nor is this a case of one-and-done. Tenth has a long history of covering up abuse, lying to church members, and otherwise engaging in corruption.

Need proof? Instead of welcoming a heads-up about misconduct, Tenth and other toxic churches treat the news as a betrayal.

But the reality is that telling the truth about corrupt systems is doing the church a favor—even as the clueless get their knickers all in knots about disclosure. Thus, the fact Tenth is all up in arms about disclosure of the GRACE report tells us all we need to know about the church’s real motives. Simply put, a church with nothing to hide should welcome disclosure.

To be clear, we have very few churches and other entities for which we have concluded closure is the only viable option. But in every case, they share similar characteristics, including a glittering veneer on the surface, deep wells of corruption underneath, and moral compasses so broken they believe the end justifies the means, including repeatedly lying to survive. And in every instance, these entities either refuse to address the underlying problems, wait for someone else to fix them, or apply band-aid solutions to specific cases of egregious misconduct while ignoring the forest for the trees. 

Meanwhile, the victims of abuse pile up, even as those involved try to convince us there’s nothing to see.

These churches and faith communities include:

And now, Tenth Presbyterian joins the list.

What next?

So what should happen next? We recommend that the Tenth Session resign en masse, along with all staff and other so-called leaders. Suspend Sunday services and freeze financial accounts. And get over the notion that, because a church is involved, by definition it needs to continue.

Then, working with the Presbytery and the national church, Tenth needs to assess whether it is viable or not. If not, the church should be closed per the Book of Church Order and PCA polity. Simple as that.

If it is viable, then leaders need to start from scratch. A new Session needs to be elected, new staff hired, and outside experts brought in to work with the church to ensure that what follows isn’t worse than what Tenth is now.

Of course, it is sad when things come to this. But the sordid mess that is Tenth goes all the way back to Phil Ryken, and things have gone on for far too long. We’ve reached the point where Tenth’s only real goal is to survive as an organization, and that’s not what the kingdom of God is all about.

So, the collective task that confronts all involved is to neither ignore the situation nor wring our hands and do nothing, nor give money to help perpetuate the sordid mess that is Tenth Presbyterian. Our job is to call for light in the darkness, accountability in a toxic system, and justice for victims.

But it all starts with Tenth Presbyterian closing its doors.

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