(RNS) — The pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church — an influential Presbyterian Church in America congregation — resigned after a past arrest for improper conduct along with another church leader was made public.
Liam Goligher, who had been pastor of Tenth since 2011, resigned on Dec. 1, according to a statement from the church. His resignation was first reported by Ministry Watch, a nonprofit evangelical watchdog group.
Goligher was arrested in 2014, along with a female church leader, and was cited for “personal conduct” in a public park in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The term “personal conduct,” Lancaster police told Ministry Watch, can refer to “lewd or sexual behavior.” The pastor’s arrest was made public recently by Anglican Watch, an abuse watchdog website.
Tenth Presbyterian confirmed Goligher’s resignation in a statement to Ministry Watch and said it had no details about the pastor’s arrest aside from what was found in public court documents.
“This has been difficult news for the Tenth community,” a church spokesman said in a statement. “The formal dissolution of the pastoral relationship will be conducted according to the polity of the Presbyterian Church in America.”
According to denominational rules, the congregation of Tenth Presbyterian has to vote on whether to accept Goligher’s resignation. Then the PCA’s Philadelphia Presbytery, which oversees pastoral conduct, will vote on ending his tenure at the church at the next presbytery meeting in January, said the Rev. Ryan Egli, pastor of City Line Church and moderator of the presbytery. The presbytery will also address reports of Goligher’s alleged misconduct at a meeting next week.
“The Presbytery is obligated under the denomination’s governing policies to follow up those reports with due diligence and great discretion,” Egli told Religion News Service in an email. “The Presbytery will be considering those matters in a special meeting called for next week. As such, no member of the Philadelphia Presbytery can comment on potential or current judicial cases against ministers in the Presbytery.”
A native of Scotland, Goligher was pastor of Duke Street Church in London before coming to Tenth Presbyterian in 2011. He previously led churches in Canada, Ireland and Scotland and had a television and radio ministry in the U.K., according to a bio prepared by the committee that recommended him as Tenth’s pastor.
“Tenth has a strategic role to play in serving the kingdom in the city, the nation and the world. Its strong pulpit ministry, its multiple ministries which have earned the respect of many, and the rich resource of its membership spread throughout the region give it a unique opportunity to get the gospel out in ways denied to other churches,” he told the congregation in a letter before coming to Tenth.
Goligher had ties to the Gospel Coalition, a Calvinist evangelical group, and was known for criticizing a popular doctrine called the “Eternal Subordination of the Son,” which claims that Jesus always submitted to the authority of God the Father, not just when he lived on earth. Goligher argued that the doctrine undermined the Trinity.
His resignation came as Tenth is dealing with the fallout from the arrest and conviction of former church elder Bruce Garner. Garner was sentenced this past summer to 21 to 48 months in prison after pleading guilty to taking more than 100 “upskirt” photos of girls while working as a school bus driver.
An investigation by GRACE, a nonprofit that helps Christian groups deal with abuse, found that church leaders immediately removed Garner from leadership after he informed the congregation of his arrest, and commissioned an investigation to see if there were victims at the church.
“These actions suggest a desire to care for and shepherd their flock, but sadly, were undercut by Tenth leaders’ public support of Bruce and requests for leniency,” the report, which was made public in November, concluded.
Goligher is the second influential PCA pastor to resign recently. Last month, author and speaker Scott Sauls resigned from a Nashville, Tennessee, megachurch after apologizing for creating an unhealthy leadership culture at the church.
The PCA, like other denominations, has struggled to deal with issues of abuse and misconduct involving powerful pastors, especially when that misconduct involves adults.