Film Fraud: A Phillips Family Tradition?Posted: December 28, 2006 Filed under: Brad Phillips, Doug Phillips, Persecution Project, Vision Forum 79 Comments
It would seem that Doug Phillips isn’t the only member of his family who has a penchant for perpetrating film frauds. I received an email from a very credible source. The content of that email is truly shocking, and I’ve confirmed from additional sources that the story is in fact true.
I’ve also been informed that no one to date has been willing to publicly tell the story, while also naming names, because of the likelihood of a lawsuit by the perpetrator. In fact, the perpetrator has already threatened litigation before about this, so the concerns appear to be well justified.
Ministry Watchman isn’t exactly thrilled over the prospect of being sued either. However, given the serious nature of the story we can’t in good conscience just ignore it.
Dear Mr. Barnes,
Thank you for agreeing to keep my name confidential. As I explained, you are free to use any of the contents of this email as a source for your own reporting, or you can just reproduce it as is without my name. I am interested that the truth be told, but at this stage in my life a lawsuit is more excitement than I need.
I have had friendships with several South African Reformed missionaries who have been active throughout Africa for many years. These men are highly respected. They have had a dramatic and positive impact in many African countries, often working behind the scenes in some of the most dangerous places that a missionary could ever expect to work in. In fact it’s rare that you’d ever find a missionary willing to go right into the middle of a war torn country.
I have supported the work of these brave missionaries and am personally familiar with some of the daring feats they have accomplished in difficult and hostile environments. One of the countries in which these missionaries have had a profound impact is Sudan, where millions of Christians have been murdered, enslaved, raped, starved to death, or had their limbs hacked off by Marxist Muslims.
The martyrdom of so many Sudanese Christians with so little outcry around the world is one of the great tragedies of modern times. I believe that God is especially pleased that these missionary friends have worked hard to help when so many have turned their backs. One of their greatest contributions is the tenacity with which they’ve worked to expose this Islamic genocide against millions of Christians and give it worldwide attention.
Much of this good work has been done through a ministry called Frontline Fellowship. The name itself is revealing. Frontline Fellowship and its missionaries have often put themselves literally on the very front lines of some the world’s hottest hot spots. The founder of Frontline Fellowship, Rev. Peter Hammond, has written several outstanding books, including Faith Under Fire In Sudan. Frontline Fellowship has also produced videos about missions work in some of the most challenging and dangerous nations in the world. I know Rev. Hammond to be a very courageous, yet exceedingly humble, man who does not seek glory or honor for himself but rather seeks to honor God alone.
Another book that Rev. Peter Hammond has written is Character Assassins (coauthored by Rev. Brian Abshire). In it Rev. Hammond recounts many instances of men who have come to the mission field seeking a name for themselves as much as, or more than, seeking to honor the name of Jesus Christ. According to Peter Hammond this is an all-too-common problem. However, Rev. Hammond is exceedingly gracious by not naming names in that book.
One significant story featured in Character Assassins is on pages 38-39. It bears repeating here because it will be of particular interest to your readers:
Africa’s Forgotten War
When I first started working in Sudan and writing and speaking about the persecution of Christians in Southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, there were very few Christian ministries involved there. Most Christians were not aware that the largest country in Africa was involved in the longest war still raging, with the oldest community of Christians in Africa suffering some of the worst persecution in the world today. Through hundreds of radio and TV programmes, scores of articles and the publication of the Faith Under Fire In Sudan book, the news blackout on the colossal conflict in Sudan started to be lifted.
As we exposed and publicised the Scorched Earth Tactics, systematic terror bombings of civilian targets and research of the slave trade in Sudan numerous ministries began to get interested in this neglected field. Some lifted whole articles and photographs from our mission and presented them to their supporters as their own. One individual even launched his own ministry based on a video documentary on Sudan which we had helped a Christian film ministry to produce. On his website he claimed to have led the mission trip, on which he was just a guest with no specific responsibilities. Even the tons of Bibles which we had organised for almost a year he claimed had been provided by his ministry which hadn’t even been in existence at that stage.
Even more serious than the false claims and plagiarism on his website, he obtained a copy of the broadcast master of the video before we had checked it, and began circulating and selling a version of the video which included numerous factual errors and serious security breaches. When I had agreed to take the film producer into Sudan, it was on the basis of a written agreement that I would have the opportunity to correct any factual errors or security breaches which could endanger the churches and mission bases — before the film was released.
In the wake of the premature release of this uncorrected version, every location of our mission activity in the South, identified in the video, was repeatedly bombed. This included the hospital, cathedral, school, mission base, and chaplains’ training centre. In fact, I was leading an Evangelism Explosion training team at just one of those locations when we were bombed on Sunday morning at the church.
The community which included the Frontline Fellowship mission base, high school and chapel was bombed ten times. The Samaritans Purse Hospital and the Cathedral at Lui was also bombed ten times. Yet, repeated attempts to persuade the individual to delete the security breaches from his version of the video were unsuccessful. Instead, he started to threaten legal action against both the film producer and ourselves for using what he now considered his video.
“God will bring every deed into judgement, including, every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:14
Rev. Hammond didn’t name names in this book. I wish he had, because the wicked deeds perpetrated against Frontline Fellowship were perpetrated by real men with real names. The name of the man who “obtained a copy of the broadcast master of the video” is Bradford L. Phillips. Rev. Hammond’s use of the word “obtained” is his only too gracious way of saying that Brad Phillips “stole” the video master.
Brad Phillips is the founder of The Persecution Project Foundation. Your readers might be interested in knowing that one of the founding board members of Persecution Project is Matthew Chancey. Your readers will be even more interested to know that Brad Phillips is the younger brother of Doug Phillips and the son of Howard Phillips.
I was reminded of Rev. Hammond’s book and its report of Brad Phillips’ actions when I read your intriguing story exposing Doug Phillips’ Raising the Allosaur video fraud. It appears that Brad Phillips isn’t the only member of the Phillips family to have some history of using other men’s work for his own claims of success, even where personally making relatively little contribution. Even worse is the fact that this is done in the name of “Christian ministry.”
Rev. Hammond was only too kind (and also concerned about being sued by Brad Phillips) to go into all the gory details in his book. The fact is that the situation with Brad Phillips was even worse than is indicated by Rev. Hammond’s abbreviated description, which itself is bad enough. I’m familiar with some of the details that Peter Hammond left out, and I’d like to share them with you. If Brad Phillips were to have ever repented publicly or even privately of what he did then exposing him would be unnecessary. But to my knowledge Brad Phillips and Persecution Project Foundation have never repented to anyone for their misdeeds.
In 1998 [HB’s note: this also happens to be about the same time Doug Phillips launched Vision Forum], Brad Phillips sought to form an alliance with Peter Hammond, and he requested to go with Hammond on one of his numerous mission trips to Sudan. By that point Hammond had already been in Sudan something like 35 times, whereas Brad Phillips had just only the year before formed his Persecution Project. Phillips was a young and ambitious new missionary with little practical experience who sought to gain some notoriety for himself and raise funds quickly.
Knowing of Brad Phillips’ lack of personal qualifications and lack of missionary field experience, the Frontline team warned him repeatedly that conditions in Sudan were some of the harshest in the world. Not only would they be going into war zones, but the risks of dying or being permanently injured just due to environmental issues are extremely high. The temperatures in Sudan are extreme, disease is rampant, and the bugs and parasites are like nothing any American has ever experienced.
While willing to foster a cooperative working relationship between Frontline Fellowship and Phillips’ newly formed Persecution Project Foundation, Rev. Hammond thought it ill advised for the young and inexperienced Brad Phillips to personally make the trip. Phillips would not be dissuaded, however, and insisted on coming.
The trip to Southern Sudan took place in November 1998. Brad Phillips accompanied Peter Hammond and several other Frontline Fellowship missionaries, along with Pat Matrisciana, the founder of Jeremiah Films and a close personal friend of Peter Hammond. The inspiration for the video came from Peter Hammond’s book Faith Under Fire In Sudan, as even Brad Phillips has freely admitted. According to all who were present, Brad Phillips did not hold up well at all under the harsh conditions, making the work of the trip considerably more difficult for everyone else.
Pat Matrisciana, however, held up well under the grueling conditions and personally shot virtually all of the hundreds of hours of video. After several weeks in the field, Matrisciana returned to his Hemet, California headquarters to begin the tedious work of editing down the video footage into a compelling one hour documentary video. As I understand it, Caryl Matrisciana, Pat’s wife, herself also a very accomplished video production person, also played a significant role in the editing, writing, and producing of Sudan, the Hidden Holocaust.
Brad Phillips, though lacking any video production skills, insisted on joining the Matriscianas at their Hemet video production facilities. Phillips had hardly been an asset in Sudan, so attempts were made to dissuade Brad Phillips from going to Jeremiah Films. However, once again Phillips would hear none of it. After a number of days of intense editing work by the Matriscianas and other Jeremiah Films staff, Brad Phillips was made aware that the video was “nearing completion.” What remained was to forward a copy to Rev. Hammond for his review and instructions for the last and final editing.
The reason Hammond needed to review the film was to ensure that none of the video footage could be used for intelligence purposes by the Islamic Sudanese government in their efforts to exterminate Christian opposition. Frontline Fellowship is well known to the Islamic Khartoum government, and Peter Hammond is especially hated by that government. He is, quite literally, a marked man. So Hammond regarded it as foregone conclusion that the Sudanese government would be one of the first to order a copy of the video as soon as it became available, and he wanted to ensure that purchase would be of no use to them.
Brad Phillips had been personally apprised of Hammond’s intelligence concerns while in the field, and he was told of it several times subsequently. Any footage that Matrisciana had shot of churches, hospitals, schools, and supply depots would have to be carefully edited so as to not make their location apparent and make them easy targets for the Islamic Khartoum government. Brad Phillips was well aware of the long history of the brutal Khartoum government, and the fact that for years they had engaged in a ruthless campaign of forced “Islamic conversion” and the imposition of Sharia through murder, rape, amputations, slavery and forced “relocations” to “peace camps” where they would be starved to death. Even crucifixions of numerous Christians have occurred. Millions of Sudanese have suffered genocide at the hands of the Muslims, so Hammond’s caution was well justified.
However, immediately prior to Matrisciana being able to forward a copy of the edited video to Hammond, a master of the video disappeared from Matrisciana’s Hemet ranch. Brad Phillips disappeared from the ranch at the very same time. Matrisciana and Hammond were subsequently able to track down Phillips and contact him by phone in his Virginia office. He acknowledged taking the video but made no apologies. He intended to begin selling it immediately without additional editing. By this point, Hammond had viewed a master of the video himself and knew that additional editing was required. He pleaded with Phillips to not release the video in its unfinished state. He explained that as soon as the video fell into the hands of the Sudanese government it would provide a wealth of intelligence. Hammond feared that a fresh round of bombing campaigns would result.
Matrisciana and Hammond were unable to persuade Phillips to return the film, even when they told him, “Please, you don’t have to steal the film. We’re even willing to just give you the film if that’s what it takes. But don’t put it into distribution. Lives are at stake.”
But Phillips refused to heed their warnings, and not long after they discovered that Phillips had a strong personal financial stake in selling the video immediately, despite their warnings. Phillips had brokered a major “deal” with a highly respected Reformed television evangelist, who had ordered thousands of copies of the video in advance and was expecting delivery. I do not know if this buyer would have permitted a delay in delivery or not, but either way, Phillips did not turn over the master for the final edits and proceeded to sell copies without those edits.
Unfortunately, Hammond’s fearful predictions came true. Not long after Phillips began selling his unedited version of the video, every single church, hospital, school and supply depot shown in the video came under heavy bombardment by artillery, helicopter gunships and bomber planes. In fact every single structure that was shown in the video was totally destroyed in a matter of weeks. It became only too apparent that the Khartoum government was working directly off “intelligence” acquired from Phillips’ stolen video.
But the destruction is actually far more horrific than just buildings. From all accounts, at a minimum hundreds of Christians died as a direct result of Brad Phillips’ theft and premature release of Sudan, the Hidden Holocaust. Brad Phillips managed to gain a name for himself in the U.S. among a number of big-name evangelicals as a so-called champion of the cause of the persecuted Sudanese Christians. Since then Persecution Project has grown into an actual supporter of the relief and evangelism work in Sudan. But it was done at a terribly high cost, and it was done by Brad Phillips taking credit for things he had little if any part in.
In Touch Mission, the U.S.-based sister organization to Frontline Fellowship, sells the final edited and “intelligence-safe” version of Sudan, The Hidden Holocaust. Jeremiah Films likewise offers the safe version of Sudan, the Hidden Holocaust. Interestingly enough though, Persecution Project no longer sells its stolen version of the video (sounds a lot like the disappearance of Raising The Allosaur, doesn’t it?). But the horrendous damage and loss of life has already been done, so it makes little difference at this point that Brad Phillips no longer sells it, other than maybe Phillips is hoping that by taking it off the shelf it will lessen the likelihood of his public exposure.
For Peter Hammond and Pat Matrisciana the issue was never about the money, and the many hundreds of thousands of dollars that Brad Phillips made off his stolen video. Their concern was for the safety of the Sudanese people. Needless to say, however, the many hundreds of thousands of dollars that Brad Phillips acquired through theft and sale of the pre-release version of the video could have been put to good use by the men who actually deserved the credit; and who deserves the credit is very obvious from the film itself. While Hammond and his Frontline Fellowship missionaries appear in many scenes in the difficult Sudan field conditions, the only scene that Brad Phillips appears in is a very brief view of him talking from behind the desk of his air conditioned office in Virginia.
Brad Phillips built his “ministry” and gained a name for himself on the backs of honorable men that he ripped off. Reading your expose about Doug Phillips and his own video fraud was like a deja vu experience. It appears as if film fraud is a Phillips family tradition. But Doug Phillips at least comes out looking not quite as bad as his little brother in that hundreds of Christians haven’t died because of his video fraud.
I hope that you will use what I have written above for a story and that Ministry Watchman will publicize it. Certainly, Ministry Watchman has shown more courage than any other Christian news site I have seen in doing the hard but vital work of, as you put it, “exposing the evil deeds of darkness.” It’s unfortunate that there even has to be a Ministry Watchman at all and that there are such dark deeds to expose in Christian ministries. But that is the world we live in, and I appreciate your work to take off our rose-colored glasses.
I also hope that the publicity of a story will move Brad Phillips’ conscience to repentance. He cannot now undo what was done. He can’t bring back from the grave the hundreds of Christians who died. But public confession and repentance would be good for him and for the church. Until such time, however, those who would support Christians in Sudan should consider working through other organizations besides Persecution Project.
After receiving the above email, I contacted Persecution Project Foundation and asked to speak with Brad Phillips about these allegations. I was told that Mr. Phillips was unavailable. However, the man that I spoke with (he refused to identify himself by name) said that he was very familiar with the allegations and had heard them before. He said, “It’s all just a big misunderstanding.”
I asked how I could contact Brad Phillips to clarify the “misunderstanding,” and he replied, “Mr. Phillips is out of the country and will be unavailable for some time.” He would not provide me with an email address or any other means of contacting Phillips directly. I asked why the video was no longer being sold by Persecution Project Foundation. The Persecution Project staff member replied that, “The war in Sudan is over. They’ve signed a peace treaty. The video doesn’t serve a purpose anymore.”
“Doesn’t serve a purpose?” I asked. “Your own web site still talks about the video and says, ‘This shocking documentary reveals the unknown struggle of the African Christian tribes of central and southern Sudan who are presently engaged in a life-and-death battle against radical Moslem invaders from the north. Africa’s longest war has enslaved and killed millions of Sudanese Christians, specifically targeted because of their faith.’ Even if Christians weren’t still be persecuted in Sudan, and I think you know that’s not true, that video would still serve an important purpose by informing people of one of the greatest holocausts of the 20th and 21st centuries. How can you say it serves no useful purpose?”
The man wouldn’t respond, so I continued.
“So you’re telling me that because there’s a peace treaty that means that the Christians in Sudan aren’t being persecuted anymore? Anyone who’s been following what’s been going on in Sudan knows that’s completely untrue. Peace treaties in Sudan aren’t any more meaningful than peace treaties between the Israelis and Palestinians. I don’t understand how you can say something like this. I thought your organization cared about what was going on in Sudan. None of this sounds right. Please, just tell me the real reason you don’t offer the Sudan video anymore. Is it because the allegations that Brad Phillips stole the video master is true?”
The man said he couldn’t answer that question, but he suggested that I write a letter expressing my concerns to Brad Phillips.
Well, Mr. Phillips, since you have evaded for seven years making any public statement to explain these serious allegations against you, and since you’re engaged in an obvious cover up, and worse yet since you’ve allegedly threatened to sue anyone who has openly challenged you for your alleged theft, and since you are using your Persecution Project Foundation staff members to brush this all aside as just a little “misunderstanding,” and since you’re apparently instructing your staff to refuse to supply direct contact information for you, please consider this article to be the equivalent of my writing you a letter. I make it public because you made your version of the Sudan video public, and I would welcome a public reply.
Congratulations Ligonier Ministries!Posted: December 26, 2006 Filed under: Ligonier Ministries, RC Sproul 86 Comments
RC Sproul, Tim Dick, and Ligonier Ministries Make the Reformation: 2006 Hall of Fame and Shame
FreeGoodNews.com has published their second annual Hall of Financial Fame and Shame for major media ministries.
Ligonier Ministries takes number five out of six for the nation’s “top scandalous ministries.”
Needless to say I’m not surprised. RC Sproul and Tim Dick have worked hard to earn it, and Tim has fired many good Ligonier employees in order to make room for his own family members (nepotism) and improve his own standard of living.
As I’ve said many times before (and this has yet to be denied by anyone at Ligonier Ministries), the Sproul and Dick families combined Ligonier salaries are over a million dollars a year.
Congratulations on the award Ligonier Ministries! You definitely deserve it.
Who’s Behind the Binoculars?Posted: December 20, 2006 Filed under: Doug Phillips, Vision Forum 48 Comments
Conspiracy Theories, Cheap Parlor Tricks, and the Folly of Defending a Man who Hides Behind Internet Assassins
“The 21st century world of the internet, instant global communication, and theological pandemonium provide dishonorable men with numerous opportunities to skirt biblical requirements for conflict resolution, to cover their tracks—or simply, to vent.” Doug Phillips, Vision Forum Ministries, Honor As a Defining Principle of Life, High-Tech Dishonor
Douglas W. Phillips, President of Vision Forum Inc. and Vision Forum Ministries, has for months condemned sites like this one as purveying “slander and gossip.” As an attorney and long-time [unordained] church elder, Doug Phillips is well aware of the proper definitions of these words. He’s just hoping that most other people won’t perceive the falseness of his accusations. Even those who merely comment after articles that others post have been dubbed “internet assassins” by Doug Phillips or his followers, and he sternly warns his followers that it is a sin even to look at public criticism of him by internet “terrorists.” What is our collective sin, according to Doug Phillips? Our efforts to obey the Biblical command to “expose the evil deeds of darkness.”
The truth is that Doug Phillips and his faithful followers are far more guilty of the “high tech dishonor” that he accuses us of. Doug Phillips’ closest friends and most devout disciples (including some of his “former interns”) have engaged in relentless public and private smear campaigns against Ministry Watchman. They’ve also engaged in behind-the-scenes efforts to sabotage relationships and intimidate into silence those who have offered public support or commentary on our reporting. That’s not a complaint (we’re big boys and very capable of standing up to the attacks). However, we do think it appropriate to point out that Doug Phillips and his followers are some of the biggest hypocrites we’ve ever seen.
Doug Phillips makes a lucrative living peddling “honor,” but what we’ve been witnessing for the last few weeks by Doug Phillips’ friends is dishonorable in the extreme and absolutely disgraceful. Rather than in any credible way defending Phillips (apparently there is no credible defense) his friends have just launched a ruthless and vicious ad hom attack against the Epsteins. Doug Phillips may believe that he’s got some plausible deniability in all this, but he doesn’t. He’s done nothing to stop these vicious attacks on the Epsteins, and he hasn’t gone on the record to condemn the dispicable actions of his closest friends and “former interns.” Doug Phillips’ interns are handpicked specifically because they are naive hero worshippers, willing to do for Phillips what Phillips cannot openly do for himself.
Our primary concern is not for ourselves but for the Epstein family. Regardless of the alleged sins of the Epsteins, the vicious underhanded attacks by Doug Phillips’ supporters can in no way be justified. Even more indicative of how vicious these men are, they have even stooped to attacking the Epstein’s teenage daughter, Natasha, who was never under church discipline, and should have been left out of Doug Phillips’ personal vendetta against Natasha’s parents. The Epstein family has already suffered incalculable damage, and now the Phillips cadre seems bound and determined to destroy the Epstein family altogether.
What is clearly at work here is the politics of personal destruction. The Epsteins have dared to be willing to publicly expose the tyrannies and hypocrisies of a Christian celebrity who profits handsomely from selling “honor” and “faithfulness,” for not upholding those virtues himself, and so they “will pay for this.” The Epsteins have already paid once, having their community relations destroyed by an unbiblical, unjust and tyrannical excommunication. Exposing Doug Phillips as a rogue will mean that the Epsteins will have to pay all over again.
I admire the Epsteins’ courage, and I’ve grown to appreciate why they’ve been willing to lay it all on the line. The Phillips cadre have alleged that the Epsteins have a vendetta, that they’ve got an ax to grind, that they’re bitter and unforgiving. But I can attest that’s not the case at all. I’ve seen evidence that supports just the opposite, that all they’ve attempted to do is to seek reconciliation. But Phillips would have none of it. If anyone is bitter, vindictive and pursuing a personal vendetta it’s Doug Phillips. Mark and Jen Epstein are in no way motivated by bitterness or a vendetta. Their motivation is to merely expose Doug Phillips to the broader church, so that others can be warned about Doug Phillips’ cultish practices at Boerne Christian Assembly.
If there were any church body that the Epsteins could have gone to to make an appeal — a church body that Doug Phillips would have recognized and submitted himself to — they would have done so. The fact of the matter is the Epsteins did just that. They appealed to a sister church, but Doug Phillips refused to permit the Epstein’s case to be reviewed, or for the Epsteins to have any right of appeal, or to hold himself accountable. Doug Phillips’ only response was further retaliation (that’s another story for another day).
The Epsteins are even willing to risk the threat of being sued. Doug Phillips knew the day might come when the Epsteins would publicly tell their story, and he fired a shot across their bow some time ago, just to let them know his opinion on 1 Corinthians 6 and the prohibition against Christian suing Christian. The message he sent the Epsteins, when in October he very deliberately and specifically mentioned “the non-applicability of 1 Corinthians 6 to excommunicants,” was loud and clear: You’ve been excommunicated. I no longer consider you to be Christians. You’re fair game for a lawsuit. I posted this article about the $11.3 million judgment against a blogger just to let you know how happy I am to be seeing bloggers getting sued, and I won’t hesitate to sue you myself. Moreover, even if I hadn’t already excommunicated you there’s no biblical protection for a slanderer (and I get to decide for myself if and when you slander me, just like I got to decide your excommunication).
The evil means employed by Phillips’ supporters to try and destroy the Epsteins include breaking pastoral confidentiality, and gleefully parading in public even those sins which were committed years before the Epsteins became Christians. Those sins were long ago confessed and repented of. Christ long ago forgave them, but not Doug Phillips. He used those past sins as a pretext to excommunicate the Epsteins, and he’s certainly not above dragging them out all over again. How could Phillips’ “former interns” have come to have known such sins, some of which were committed as much as twenty years ago? Only because Doug Phillips gossiped about a family history that was shared with him in confidence by the Epsteins in the course of his so-called “marriage counseling” sessions with them. But Doug Phillips is far too cagey to blog about it himself. So he gossips to his “former interns” knowing that they will serve as his proxy “internet assassins.” Doug Phillips is the last person in the word who has a right to accuse anyone of “gossip and slander,” for he is the chief of sinners.
Doug Phillips’ supporters have been so determined to destroy the Epsteins that they have resorted to petty and bizarre speculations. One site just put up by a Phillips confidant and pal devotes pages of “what if” speculation, and to the notion that Jen Epstein is “Mrs. Binoculars.” Not only is this meant in a figurative sense, in that he alleges Jen Epstein is responsible for organizing and operating Ministry Watchman (itself a laughable proposition), but also that Jen Epstein is quite literally the person behind the binoculars in the image at the top of the Ministry Watchman homepage.
The unhealthy obsession of a young naive Doug-worshipper with identifying the person behind the picture drove him — or so he claims — to even retain the assistance of facial recognition experts to expose the “real” identity of “Mrs. Binoculars.”
“I have consulted with a number of people who know more than a little about face recognition analysis. The consensus is this: It is not a 100% sure thing. But whoever the person is holding the binoculars seems to have the same hair style, the same nose and face shape as Jennifer Epstein. Prima Facie (no pun intended) — Mrs. Binoculars appears to be Jennifer Epstein.”
I sure hope that he didn’t actually pay those facial recognition experts anything for their “analysis.” If he did he needs to demand his money back. Or put a quick stop payment on his check.
We’ve had quite a few laughs ever since that site appeared. Not only is his Photoshop overlay of binocular person hilarious, and a rather low-tech equivalent of a cheap parlor trick, but so is his conclusion that he sees a perfect match between the nose on the binocular person and Jen Epstein’s nose. Apparently, he thinks drawing a glowing outline around the two superimposed noses will somehow enable the rest of us to see the match too.
So just who is the real binocular person? Sorry to have to rain on the conspiracy theorists’ parade, but bino person is just some guy in an online photo album (and yes, Ministry Watchman did obtain permission to use the image). In short, Jen Epstein is not binocular dude, notwithstanding facial recognition experts and the “thorough” investigation.
According to our young conspiracy theorist, however, the unmasking of binocular girl is a devastating blow to the credibility of Ministry Watchman, Jen Epstein, me, and even Frank Vance:
Just How Bad is This Revelation?
It’s really, really bad for the rest of the team at Ministry Watchman (namely Frank Vance), but it is even worse for Jennifer Epstein.
Sorry, conspiracy theorists, but you couldn’t be more wrong, more presumptuous and more foolish. There’s only one person that this is really, really bad for, and it’s not Jen Epstein, or Ministry Watchman, or Frank Vance, or me.
For the record, does Jen Epstein have any formal relationship with Ministry Watchman? No, she does not. Is she Charles Fisher? No, she is not. Did I collaborate with Mark and Jen Epstein on their story? Of course. I couldn’t have told their story without spending a great deal of time in dialogue and in reviewing their documents, including Mark and Jen’s written account of their experience. Lastly, to preempt any further conspiracy theories, do I have any current or former personal relations with Doug Phillps? No, I don’t.
In the final analysis, why does any of this even matter? I don’t know. As far as I can tell, it’s a non-issue. Even if Jen Epstein were binogirl I don’t know why it would make any difference, since it would not alter the truth of her story or my reporting of it one iota. But apparently images and shadows are very important to some people, more important than the written word, and more important than the truth, particularly when the only real agenda is to “shoot the messenger.” The fact that Doug’s disciples are resorting to shoot the messenger, and that they’re resorting to such desperate measures so soon, only tends to highlight their lack of any credible defense.
So what should the rest of us conclude about the “Mrs. Binoculars” hoax? First, that the influence of suggestion is powerful and the human mind is capable of seeing what it wants to believe. People who believe in Doug Phillips, such as our young naive hero worshipper, may choose to see “evidence” that isn’t there, no matter how false and farfetched, that Doug Phillips is an innocent victim of “high tech dishonor.” Therefore, every piece of real evidence that comes out will be reinterpreted in the light of the false evidence, and all credible evidence will just be ignored. They’re not just ignorant, they’re willfully ignorant.
The power of suggestion is particularly great when someone is already predisposed to believing fantasies, and Doug Phillips himself is a master of creating imagary. The image actually becomes more important than the substance — images of honor, faithfulness, duty, courage, integrity, chivalry — all good things. There’s just one problem — there’s no substance to it — it’s all just a fantasy. I won’t fault Doug Phillips for being a compelling and convincing speaker. He’s very polished. However, the more that I analyze the situation the more I realize that Doug Phillips is little more than a silver-tongued motivational speaker. For the Phillips true-believers what really matters isn’t so much whether or not Doug Phillips actually practices any of those things himself. All that matters is that he preaches the image. and that he preaches it convincingly.
Those who are prone to put image above real substance may resort to extreme measures in defending the image, including fabrication of conspiracy theories. In the case of the young naive conspiracy theorist Doug-worshipper, he became so obsessed by his own conspiracy theory that he went out and registered an internet domain name and paid for a web site, all on the misguided fantasy that Jen Epstein is the person behind the binoculars. All the while, the true believer will ignore evidence to the contrary that’s as obvious as the nose on their face. Such people are also just the kind to continue believing that Raising the Allosaur wasn’t a total Phillps fraud, in spite of over a hundred pounds of evidence.
A second conclusion that we can draw is that Doug Phillips’ disciples are growing increasingly desperate, apparently reflecting Phillips’ own increasing desperation. The binocular girl conspiracy site is the fourth such effort by Doug Phillips’ supporters to discredit Ministry Watchman and the Epsteins, and it has proven to be just as fatally flawed as the first three.
A final conclusion to draw is that, given the track record of Doug Phillips’ supporters so far, observers can expect that future speculations, allegations, and conspiracy theories against Ministry Watchman, the Epsteins, and even innocent observers, could prove as much as or even more far-fetched and fantastic than this latest one.
In closing, here’s another version of the binocular girl conspiracy theory photo, taken directly from the binocular girl site. Now that everyone can see both faces without the noses being obscured by an outline, what do the “facial recognition experts” have to say for themselves?
Doug Phillips’ Raising The AllosaurPosted: December 11, 2006 Filed under: Allosaur, Doug Phillips, San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, Vision Forum 151 Comments
A Review of Vision Forum Film Flim Flam
Doug Phillips has ambitions to create a Christian film industry to compete with and supplant the evils that Hollywood spews on the public. To that end he has launched the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival (SAICFF). In just three years the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival has become Vision Forum’s largest program. Doug Phillips has even produced his own film, The League of Grateful Sons. More films are planned, with the goal of Doug Phillips becoming one of the top Christian film producers in the world.
Along the way, however, Phillips’ first production mysteriously disappeared. At the time it launched, it graced the cover of Vision Forum’s catalog. It was the most profitable Vision Forum product of the year. Then it disappeared without explanation, just as, all of the production costs having been recovered, it should have remained a steady source of income, with margins approaching 80%. What is this first Doug Phillips production, and why would he abandon it just when most profitable?
The mysterious disappearing Vision forum production was a 2002 documentary video entitled, Raising the Allosaur: The True Story of a Rare Dinosaur and the Home Schoolers Who Found It . The reason it disappeared from Vision Forum’s website and catalog is that it’s not a “true story” but rather a highly exaggerated account of some home school kids and their parents who tagged along, as part of nothing more than a tour group, on someone else’s dinosaur dig.
When I first watched this documentary something about it just didn’t smell right. I’m no paleontologist, but even from what little I’ve learned from reading National Geographic and visiting a few dinosaur and archeological museums I knew there was something seriously untrue about Doug Phillips’ true story. Even with what little I know about paleontology I know enough to know that no group of untrained parents and their kids (home schoolers or not) could possibly go out in the field, and the very first time out, and in the course of just a few days in the field, “make the biggest dinosaur discovery of the year.”
Indeed, after doing just a very little digging of my own I didn’t have to dig too deep to unearth a real stinkeroo of a story. Doug Phillips himself figured out awhile back that he’d been caught in his lies, which is why he no longer sells Raising the Allosaur. This review will expose some of those lies.
Here’s what the back of the video jacket of Raising the Allosaur says:
Q: What happens when a group of home school boys and girls travel to the badlands of Colorado with their parents in search of adventure and the hope of finding ancient treasures buried in rock?
A: They make the biggest dinosaur discovery of the year. There, buried in the rock, they excavate three amazing creatures: a many-plated Stegosaur; a 120-foot Brachiosaur. Most importantly, they raise from the ground what appears to be the most complete Allosaur (similar to a T. Rex) ever found in the history of paleontology, including the monster’s giant skull complete with rows and rows of once-razor sharp teeth…
This Q and A reflects exactly what this documentary attempts to portray–that home schoolers were directly responsible for discovering and excavating some very significant and very rare dinosaur bones. “They [the home schoolers] make the biggest dinosaur discovery of the year.” Left completely out of the story are those who were actually responsible for the finds–skilled professional paleontologists with many years of field and laboratory experience.
Taking all the credit, and grossly misrepresenting the facts (i.e. telling a pack of lies) for “the biggest dinosaur discovery of the year” is Doug Phillips and his team of home school families, who also shares some of the credit with Pete DeRosa and his two sons. Yet “Mr. Honor” Doug Phillips fails to give credit where credit is due. He doesn’t mention any of the men who were responsible for discovering and excavating the Allosaur.
For this investigative review I interviewed Joe Taylor, founder of the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum. Mr. Taylor is a professing Christian (Primitive Baptist), a creationist, and paleontologist. Joe has over 25 years of field and laboratory experience as a paleontologist. Joe’s Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum is the largest creationist fossil museum in the world. Joe is highly respected by many paleontologists around the world, as well as by numerous creationists, including Ken Hamm and Carl Baugh.
I asked Joe to share his story. The big challenge was that there’s just so much to cover that it was hard to condense it. Here’s Joe’s Reader’s Digest version of what really happened with Raising the Allosaur, and why Doug Phillips was forced to pull a highly profitable video from Vision Forum’s catalog:
On the cover of Vision Forum’s video Raising The Allosaur Doug Phillips claims that his group of home school kids found and raised from the ground the Allosaur. But that is not true. The home school kids and their parents did not raise even one bone from the ground. And they certainly did not also excavate a stegosaur and a 120-ft. long sauropod all in four days. It is nonsense. I told Peter that what he thought was a Stegosaur was just another sauropod. Dana had also found it in 2000, long before any of us were there. Doug boasts that a Dr. Bruce Belamy “found” the Allosaur skull. That is a lie. It was actually found by Mt. Blanco team member Jordan Hall three days after Belamy left.
By late 2002 Doug Phillips had made the DeRosa boys famous through his web page and through aggressive promotion of them as prodigies and professionals since the ages of five and seven. This got the DeRosas speaking engagements on the East coast and else where. At a meeting of home schoolers in New York State, the DeRosas claimed that Mark discovered the Allosaur and that Peter was the one who determined that they had an Allosaur. They were lying. They did not find the Allosaur at all. It was I who identified it as an Allosaur in May 2001. At the same time, Pete DeRosas told the meeting that their boys were so great that NASA had come out to make a film of “their” work. Another complete lie.
Doug gave my credentials to the DeRosa boys and exaggerated that. I personally know dozens of genuine paleontologists all over the world. The DeRosas do not.Yet, Phillips told the world that the teen age DeRosa boys were seasoned, highly trained professionals, with a dozen years experience each with hundreds of digs to their credit. I have personally done dozens and dozens of fossil digs over the last 25 years. It’s virtually impossible for even an active digger like myself to have done hundreds even in a lifetime. But Doug gave those credits to the DeRosas who were only 17 and 18 at the time and who in reality had only been to two dinosaur digs, both of which were my digs and they participated as my trainees.
There was another film made about raising that Allosaur titled The Truth About Raising The Allosaur. It included all of the actual footage and stills of the real excavation from start to finish. It shows that Dana Forbes, the property owner of the land where the Allosaur was discovered, actually found and even excavated on the Allosaur with a college paleontology student a year and a half before Doug Phillips and his home schoolers were ever on Dana’s ranch. It shows that the DeRosa boys were merely my trainees and that this was only the second dinosaur dig they had ever been to.
The other was at another of my digs for Carl Baugh. Doug pretends the DeRosas are knowledgeable paleontologists. He claims that this Allosaur is the largest. The truth is that they knew better. The other film shows the DeRosa boys and I standing under a cast of the world’s largest Allosaur, Saurophaganax, in Boise, Oklahoma. The man who restored it is a friend of mine and verified its size. It is 11 inches longer than the one we excavated.
The Truth About Raising The Allosaur was never released because Doug Phillips demanded it not be as part of a mediation settlement between the DeRosas and me. Doug was supposed to have come to the mediation, but sent his lawyer instead. That mediation left me in financial ruin.
Doug Phillips is a Pharisee. He puts on a good show in the flesh. The things he says sound fair and good. But my personal experience with him is that he is a very unethical man who will destroy someone who holds him accountable.
He pulled the very successful video Raising The Allosaur off the market because he had gotten a lot of heat from all of us who knew it was a big lie. But it was pulled at the same time that he issued a statement that he was parting ways with the DeRosas because of “ethical” problems. The “ethical” problems were never disclosed. I believe that the real reason was because the DeRosas were unhappy with and critical of Doug. I don’t think Doug will be telling on the DeRosas because he doesn’t want them telling on him.
Shame on all of them for taking the Lord’s name in vain. They are preaching Christ for filthy lucre’s sake. Doug Phillips succeeded in turning more than a dozen of my friends against me and against each other in order to cover his lies and fraud in getting the Allosaur away from its rightful owners. I am glad to say though that through a lot of hard work the friendships that Doug Phillips succeeded in wrecking have all been restored. I have publicly marked Doug Phillips as a divider of the brethren.
What Doug has done to me has ruined my business and wasted the better part of the last four years of my life. It has been the most grievous situation I have ever endured.
People ought to demand their money back for a film that is listed as a documentary but is just a lie.
Joe Taylor’s accusations against Doug Phillips are very strong. But they deserve to be taken seriously. No businessman in his right mind would give up the kind of profits possible from a video product, the production expenses of which having already been fully recovered. If it were possible for Phillips to edit the Raising the Allosaur video to eliminate a few problem areas, he would no doubt do so. The fact that he has not, instead quietly pretending as if the Raising the Allosaur video had never existed, speaks volumes that the content was so far from reality that no amount of editing could fix it.
As Doug Phillips continues to pursue his ambitions of personal domination of a new Christian film industry, spearheaded through his Vision Forum and San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, he would do well to recall that the Ten Commandments of Christian Filmmaking which he established specifically for the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, includes a Ninth Commandment:
“Truth is essential to Christian films… Film is an especially powerful medium for communication and should be handled with integrity.”
Keeping the Ten Commandments is a far wiser approach to starting a new Christian film industry than creating entirely new film genres and categories in conflict with those commandments. As it stands, however, Raising the Allosaur deserves at least honorable mention in what appears to be Doug Phillips’ innovative new film category known as “Fictional Documentary.”
Update: see “Doug Phillips: Villainy Behind the Mask of Virtue?; More Than Two Years After News Release Many Allegations Still Go Unanswered“
New Blogs Expose Doug Phillips’ TyranniesPosted: December 11, 2006 Filed under: Doug Phillips, Vision Forum Comments Off on New Blogs Expose Doug Phillips’ Tyrannies
Mark and Jen Epstein have set up new blogs for the exclusive purpose of telling their story of ecclesiastical abuses against them by Doug Phillips. An explanation is found at New Blog For Exposing Tyranny. Their blogs are at:
In retrospect probably that is the way it should’ve been done from the beginning. However, the Epsteins saw safety in having their story told by Charles Fisher as “Jared and Mary Jackson.” We agreed because of the damage that had already been done to their family, and the malicious attacks they knew they would face if told first-person by the Epsteins. The fact that they were maliciously attacked anyway, including for sins committed years before they became Christians, sins for which they had many years ago repented of, this only confirms to us the vindictiveness of those who surround and guard Doug Phillips.
Charles Fisher will from time to time write additional articles about this sordid affair. However, his role will be different and shift from telling the Epsteins’ story for them to merely being a reporter. I concur with Jen Epstein’s own explanation and so no further commentary is necessary on my part.
Doug Phillips Makes Family ‘Pay’ — Excommunicates Without Due ProcessPosted: December 5, 2006 Filed under: Doug Phillips, Vision Forum 143 Comments
“Since publication last week of the widely read first installment of Charles Fisher’s reporting of the ecclessiastical tyranny we suffered at the hands of Doug Phillips, anonymous defenders of Doug Phillips have slandered Charles by accusing him of deliberate falsehood and deception in his reporting. Although Ministry Watchman has from the beginning worked hard to shield us from threatened retaliation by encouraging our use of pseudonyms and taking the brunt of most attacks, in the interest of the fullest possible disclosure, we have decided it is now time to allow our real names to be used for the remainder of the story. We think this step is important even if it increases the likelihood that Doug Phillips will carry out his repeated threats to sue us. Now we will no longer be “Jared and Mary Jackson,” but “Mark and Jen Epstein.”Thank you for your understanding, for your continued prayers for our family, and for your kind emails as the rest of our story is told. — M&JE
An Electoral Test
It was Thursday, October 28, a few days before the 2004 elections. The extremely close contest between George Bush and John Kerry had occasioned a highly flammable political atmosphere, and Doug Phillips lit a match in that atmosphere by posting two articles on his Vision Forum blog: “Biblical Qualifications for Civil Magistrates,” by William Einwechter; and an unsigned article called “Take the Test: Biblical Ethics and Incrementalism,” a values-clarification scenario of two thinly disguised “candidates” running for a political office “in the land of Baal.” Read together in the context of the run-up to the 2004 elections, the two articles were clearly designed to teach that a vote for either Kerry or Bush would be a pragmatic and sinful compromise.
That Doug Phillips had posted two such controversial entries on his blog was not a surprise. Because he does not accept any comments to his blog posts, however, Jen Epstein was very surprised to see at the end of the “Take the Test” article an open invitation for readers to write him to offer their responses to his scenario.
Having heard weeks of preaching at Boerne Christian Assembly making it clear that a vote for the Constitution Party presidential candidate was the Christian’s responsibility to avoid sin in the ballot box, Jen was intrigued that unordained Boerne Christian Assembly “elder” Doug Phillips had issued an open invitation for readers to express their own viewpoints, and she decided to submit a response. Fully aware of Doug Phillips’ view that women should not vote at all or even hold political opinions apart from their husbands, however, Jen made certain her husband, Mark, reviewed and approved her email before sending it to Doug Phillips.
Noting that Doug Phillips often preaches against others who use logical fallacies, Jen Epstein tried to carefully point out in her email seven fallacies she saw in the scenario on the blog, and she also supplied a point-by-point refutation of Bill Einwechter’s article that attempted to show a vote for Bush would be a sin. Not wanting to spread her criticism of Doug Phillips’ blog post to others, she emailed her comments directly to him rather than by sending the email via his personal assistant, on Friday, October 29. Shortly afterwards, Doug Phillips added the following to the end of his blog scenario: “(By the way, to be crystal clear, the above example is definitely not meant to be a comparison of President Bush and Senator John Kerry, Michael Peroutka, Ralph Nader or any specific candidates or elections — it is a principled evaluation of an individual’s theory of voting ethics.)”
Two days later, on Sunday, October 31, Doug spoke with Jen briefly at the start of the Boerne Christian Assembly (BCA) church service. He asked her if she was going to apologize for writing the email. Jen replied that she didn’t see anything to apologize for. She reports that, upon hearing her reply, Doug Phillips lowered his voice and, glaring at her, stated, “You’re going to pay for this.”
Doug Phillips then proceeded to respond to Jen’s email publicly by preaching a two-hour, point-by-point sermon against it to the members of BCA. Although he made other criticisms of Jen’s email, Doug Phillips emphasized that the email was wrong simply because a woman shouldn’t write to her elder like that. Mark and Jen both recall that Doug Phillips’ primary point in this regard was that it would have been a different matter altogether had a man written the same email to his elder.
Mark and Jen believe this incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back, for not long afterward, both were “excommunicated” at a congregational meeting they were not permitted to attend.
Before detailing the excommunication, however, we must explain what led up to it. In the first article in this series, posted last week, I reported on how the Epstein family arrived at Boerne Christian Assembly with a marriage that was basically sound, although not perfect. Things soon took a turn for the worse, however, as Mark was inspired by the hyper-patriarchy teachings and practices he observed at Boerne Christian Assembly to begin lording it over Jen. Although Doug Phillips and others at Boerne Christian Assembly clearly observed Mark’s resulting outbursts, rage, threatening comments and other evidences of his sin, they responded to Jen’s efforts to seek help by blaming her for not trying hard enough to be submissive. Mark’s misbehavior was further inflamed by Doug Phillips’ questioning if Jen was a “nag” and a “dripping faucet” and suggesting she was “churlish, disrespectful, unsubmissive, and rebellious” — descriptives that Mark seized on to justify his growing sin. The first article culminated with a Kangaroo court at which the judgment had been written in advance, Jen was accused of being a liar, and she was attacked as a “whore” and a “Jezebel” by Doug Phillips for sins she had committed and repented of over a decade earlier, before she became a Christian. Mark and Jen were also suspended indefinitely from taking the Lord’s Supper.
Although Boerne Christian Assembly has issued a statement that attacks Ministry Watchman and the Epsteins for reporting their story, while also urging the public to ignore it, neither Boerne Christian Assembly nor Doug Phillips has denied any of the essential facts of the narrative as summarized above. Futhermore, Doug Phillips has declined Ministry Watchman’s invitation, extended over a week ago, to supply corrective information if needed, as well as supporting documentation. So we continue our narrative today, while emphasizing that we continue to welcome input from Doug Phillips if he sees the need for any corrections to this or future articles.
Naive Jen tries to obey Matthew 18 twice, without success
Jen Epstein was troubled by the false accusations and name calling by Doug and Beall Phillips in their first meeting of October, 2002, but she didn’t know what to do about it. She considered overlooking the offense, but she was concerned that others who might be counseled by Doug and Beall Phillips might be treated the same way, so she naively thought she might speak to them about softening their counseling techniques. She decided to wait for a good opportunity.
Unfortunately, that opportunity did not arrive until eight months later, in June 2003, when Beall Phillips wrote to Jen asking if she had ever done anything to offend her. Believing this was an opportunity from the Lord, Jen replied that there was something and that she would like to speak with Beall Phillips about it in person. However, Beall Phillips refused to meet in person, saying that she was “afraid” of Jen, but offering no explanation as to why. Doug Phillips then demanded that both couples meet together. Feeling that the situation was quickly being blown out of proportion, Jen agreed to meet with Doug and Beall Phillips after church one Sunday, even though that presented a hardship with Jen’s disabled daughter needing to be in the meeting as well.
“One Sunday” did not happen until six to eight weeks later, as Doug Phillips said that he was just too busy to meet earlier. Jen reports that one of her first questions to Beall Phillips was why she had continued taking communion every week during the last six to eight weeks, knowing that Beall had offended Jen. Beall did not answer. Doug Phillips then invited Jen to present all she wanted to say to him and to Beall. Jen responded by summarizing what had happened at the previous meeting and requesting that shepherds be gentler with the sheep.
Jen states that Doug and Beall Phillips initially reacted quite vehemently to this request and categorically denied everything. Then Doug Phillips calmed down and, after a lengthy conversation, they agreed to disagree and part on friendly terms. Although Jen states that Doug Phillips’ occasional greetings to Jen did not change after this meeting, she reports that Beall did not speak to her at all for the next 13 months, except in the most perfunctory manner, even though Beall had been designated as Jen’s counselor at the first kangaroo court, discussed in the first story.
With no contact from Beall Phillips regarding her marriage for eight months and then no contact at all to speak of following Jen’s effort to reconcile with Beall according to the principles in Matthew 18, Jen wondered how long she would have to go without communion. She had no clue as to how she was to demonstrate that she was fulfilling her part of the agreement. She also had no real access to Doug Phillips to talk with him, even though Boerne Christian Assembly was just over 100 members at this point. Furthermore, she could not turn to the other elder and deacon who had been present at the initial meeting, because they no longer attended Boerne Christian Assembly, leaving Doug Phillips as the sole elder. So, week after week, she waited and watched as everyone else took communion.
It was not until the fall of 2003, a little more than one year after Mark and Jen were suspended from the Lord’s Supper, that Mark came home and announced to Jen that they could take communion again. That was it. No meeting. No questions. No demonstrations of her true submission and respect, however that was defined by Boerne Christian Assembly. In fact, things were really no better at home, but the weather was beautiful that day and Mark said he and Doug Phillips had had a good, long conversation after church. So, “communion restored.”
In the following year, things progressed from bad to worse for the Epsteins, with Mark’s outbursts of anger at Jen’s shortcomings and his violent threats becoming much more severe and frequent such that Jen and the children lived in constant fear. With no support from any of the “leadership” at church, Jen finally decided to approach Mark by herself in the spirit of Matthew 18. She did so in March of 2004. Reconciliation was not accomplished by this meeting, so, when things continued to grow worse, Jen turned to Richard and Reba Short (whose whole family works at Vision Forum and are very close to Doug Phillips) to be witnesses for step two, which took place in May, 2004.
Jen reports that Reba called her the next morning and pressed her for about an hour, trying to get her to admit that everything was really her own fault. Reba told Jen that she must be unsubmissive and disrespectful, since it is almost always the woman’s fault when there are problems in a marriage. Richard did start discipling Mark weekly, but things only grew worse.
By August 2004, Mark had moved into the spare bedroom and didn’t come to church one Sunday. Apparently sensing something was wrong, the two deacons at Boerne Christian Assembly approached Jen and asked to speak to her privately to ask what was going on. After receiving an update on the severity of Mark’s actions, Bob Sarratt, one of the deacons, asked Jen if she thought Mark was bi-polar. Jen mentioned that she had asked the other deacon, Mo, a medical doctor, whether or not that definition was Scriptural a couple of years previously, but he had not been able to answer her. Jen then told both deacons that she didn’t know whether Mark’s extreme anger was mental illness, as Bob Sarratt suggested, demonic, or just plain sin, and she didn’t know how to tell the difference.
The Boerne Christian Assembly deacons then suggested another meeting with Doug Phillips. Still recalling vividly what had happened the first time she met with Doug Phillips, Jen was not eager to repeat that experience and said she’d rather not. After the deacons insisted, Jen agreed to meet with Doug Phillips and Mark, and with other witnesses, as long as Beall Phillips wasn’t there. Jen emphasizes that she was very clear on making her request that Beall Phillips NOT be present at the meeting. Mark confirms that, when asked himself to meet, he also agreed on the condition that Beall not be present.
“Mark is an angry man, and that is wicked; but you, Jen, you are very wicked, you are rebellious, and you are a Jezebel.” — Doug Phillips
It was several more weeks, on October 7, 2004, before Doug Phillips made time for the Epsteins in his ever-busy schedule. By this point, the Epsteins had been at Boerne Christian Assembly for over four years, and with their marriage teetering on the verge of divorce for most of that time. Yet this was only the second meeting that Doug Phillips, as the sole elder of Boerne Christian Assembly, had permitted during those four years.
The meeting with Doug Phillips was scheduled at the offices of Vision Forum. Mark and Jen report that they arrived, greeted the two other men in attendance, and entered Doug Phillips’ office, only to find Beall Phillips sitting there as well. After the initial greetings were over, Doug Phillips asked where they should start, so Jen politely asked why Beall Phillips was present. Doug Phillips replied that she was there to help Jen. Beall Phillips also assured Jen that she was only there to help, and Jen agreed for Beall to remain. As a gesture of peace, Doug Phillips asked Beall to leave anyway.
Jen was invited to speak at the beginning of the meeting, and she did her best to make a clear case for both physical and emotional abuse. Jen gave detailed and specific examples — such as how Mark had nearly killed his whole family almost two weeks prior, how he talked constantly of killing people, even showing an email he had written with specifics of how he was fantasizing of killing someone in a particular group, how he talked of killing in general on a daily basis, and how he taught the children specific methods for killing certain people. Jen also related how he would shove her and the children out of his way, especially when they tried to greet him when he came home from work, as Doug Phillips so strongly encouraged families to do. Doug listened, but did not respond.
Jen also related how she had already followed steps one and two of Matthew 18 in confronting her husband for his anger and lovelessness toward his family, and that she was asking the church to intercede now as in step number three. This was also completely brushed off. After Jen made what she thought was her opening statement, Doug Phillips started a conversation with Mark that Jen was not permitted to participate in. For example, Doug Phillips asked Mark several times why he thought there were problems in the marriage, but Jen was not permitted to offer her own explanation. Instead, Doug Phillips said to Jen, “Mark is an angry man, and that is wicked; but you, Jen, you are very wicked, you are rebellious, and you are a Jezebel.”
The meeting ending without any conclusion, leaving Jen again with no hope. Although Doug knew full well that Mark was an unrepentant, angry man, a trained soldier, a veteran of conflict, and fully capable of killing, neither Doug Phillips nor any of the other “leadership” offered any assistance or protection to Jen or the children. Instead, Jen was once again blamed as the fundamental problem in the marriage.
Today looking back, Jen realized she should not have been surprised at what happened in the second meeting with Doug, as nothing had changed since Doug Phillips had called her a “whore” and a “Jezebel” the first time Jen had sought out Doug Phillips’ help two years previously. In fact, the only follow-up she received from Doug was an email the following Monday, signed by unordained “elder” Doug Phillips and Deacons Mo Gill and Bob Sarratt, directing Jen to undertake mandatory counseling sessions with Reba Short and Beall Phillips, who were to counsel Jen about a list of specfic sins, mostly directed toward her husband, at the offices of Vision Forum.
Despite misgivings, Jen submits to “formal request” for counseling with Beall Phillips to avoid threatened church discipline
Although the email described the directive as “a formal request,” it also emphasized that the terms for the meeting, as well as those who would be there were “not subject to debate.” Jennifer was also warned that if she was unwilling to heed the “formal request” that the leadership would be “required to take measures to address this matter with the flock.”
Jen felt trapped. She knew that failure to agree to the “formal request” would lead to church discipline, but she did not trust either of the women who had been appointed to “counsel” her. Jen decided that if she would not be permitted to change any of the terms as they applied to her then, hopefully, she could at least take a silent witness along. Beall Phillips immediately interpreted Jen’s request to take a friend to mean that Jen was “formally refusing to follow the direction of the church leadership.” She denied Jen’s request.
When Jen arrived at the first meeting, she was given two documents: a memo written by Doug Phillips that Beall Phillips was directed to read aloud to Jen before the meeting could begin, and guidelines for how to be a submissive wife. It was immediately apparent that the theme of these three counseling sessions was that since it was always the wife’s fault when there were problems in the marriage, it must, therefore, be Jen’s fault that Mark was so angry.
Another issue arose during the first two-hour session — a doctrinal difference between Beall Phillips and Jen. Jen stated that she fully believed in verses that talk about keeping God’s commandments if we love Him, and that God wouldn’t tell us to do something He didn’t really expect us to do. Beall Phillips then stated that the doctrine of total depravity meant that we couldn’t help but sin all the time, and that Beall herself sinned at least every half hour, if not more often. Jen stated that she believed that sin no longer had any power over her, that she was no longer a slave to sin. In other words, a Christian is capable of sinning, but never has to give in to that sin; provision is made for victory of the new nature over the old nature through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. When the first session was over, Beall Phillips expressed fear for Jen’s soul, and Jen wondered why she was being counseled for “sinning” if she couldn’t help but sin all the time anyway.
After the first meeting, Beall Phillips wrote Jen an e-mail in which she summarized their time together from Beall’s perspective. Jen saw in Beall’s email what she felt to be numerous errors and distortion of her position. She tried to discuss her concerns with Beall Phillips, but after talking about the first two or three points, Beall said she had heard enough and didn’t want to hear anymore about it. To give a flavor of how Beall Phillips treated Jen during these meetings, here is a quote from Beall’s summary of the meeting with Jen:
“You said that this new belief in sinlessness might change. I pray that it does. If it does, will you still emphatically assert that you have not sinned recently in your marriage and that you did not sin in the meeting with the men last week? You must realize the implications of the beliefs you espouse. If your doctrine changes, will you start to sin again? Will you then realize that you did sin during the time you held to this doctrine of perfectionism? Or will you have stopped sinning only while you held to this doctrine?”
From her perspective, Jen believed that she had never claimed sinlessness or perfection, but was not able to persuade Beall, who continually haranged Jen for her “heretical” beliefs. By the third meeting, tired of what she felt was Beall Phillips’ harsh and critical attitude, Jen finally read her the verse that says, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” Beall continued to challenge Jen about her sin, but without supplying specifics, and Jen continued to maintain that she did not sin more in marriage than in life generally.
Jen stressed to Beall that since Mark was already so angry, she did everything she could to keep the peace, and not invite more anger. She merely tried very hard NOT to sin in her marriage, by the Holy Spirit’s power. Jen reports that she really did not understand Beall’s persistence in this line of questioning in light of Beall Phillips’ own admission that she sins at least every 30 minutes in her own marriage. She began to wonder if maybe Beall Phillips was the one who needed marriage counseling.
Even so, Jen tried her best to submit to the counseling ordered by the church leadership. By the end of the third meeting, they also covered in detail how Jen had attempted to fulfill the 14 guidelines for being a submissive wife to Mark. First, Jen had taken this list to her children and asked them to honestly evaluate her according to this list. She asked for specific examples of either how she was already doing these things or how she was unsubmissive according to this list. Her children agreed that Jen was already doing what was on that list, except that Jen did not have the conviction that women were not allowed to talk to men about spiritual issues. Jen felt that it wasn’t hard to follow the spirit of these guidelines since they were mostly a part of her life anyway.
The three counseling sessions ended with no further guidance, and Jen continued to go about daily life with no help regarding the now volatile situation with Mark. It was the second time she had been blamed when she tried earnestly to follow Matthew 18.
“You’re going to pay for this”
About the same time, Jen had been speaking about abused wives with a woman named Kathleen, a Boerne Christian Assembly member who said she had met many women like this through her work for Vision Forum. Hearing Kathleen’s comments, Jen recommended a book on topic that she thought Kathleen might want to read. Kathleen responded that she felt the women at BCA were so blessed because if anything ever happened to them, Doug Phillips would take care of it.
Given her own experience, Jen was taken aback at Kathleen’s remark, and she didn’t want to get into it. But she was also unwilling to lie by agreeing with Kathleen, so she awkwardly answered that she didn’t really agree. It was Kathleen ‘s turn to be taken aback, and she pushed Jen for an explanation. Jen finally told her what she felt was the minimum she could about how Doug Phillips had treated her when she asked for help in her marriage. Kathleen immediately responded that she was going to tell Doug Phillips, which she then did. Doug Phillips told Beall Phillips, who then told Jen to apologize for gossiping.
Jen states that, although she didn’t really feel what she had said was gossip, she agreed to apologize anyway, to keep the peace. At church that Sunday, Doug Phillips arrived after the service had already started. Jen immediately went up to him and asked if she could speak to him before they took communion, as she believed the Bible commanded one to resolve differences if possible before partaking. Doug Phillips initially refused to speak with Jen, but when she stood her ground, he saw that the service could be disrupted and finally agreed to go outside for a minute. Jen then apologized for “gossiping” about Doug Phillips and asked if he would forgive her. Doug Phillips responded by asking Jen if she would also apologize for writing her voting email. Jen didn’t see that she had sinned by responding to Doug’s invitation to comment on his blog post, so she said she didn’t see anything she needed to apologize for.
Jen reports that Doug Phillips then replied, “No, I will not forgive you then” (for gossiping), threatening her: “You’re going to pay for this.”
Doug Phillips preaches against Jen Epstein for the second time from the pulpit
Jen Epstein was sick at home on Sunday, December 19, when Doug Phillips chose to preach about unsubmissive women. He started to describe a certain woman in the church that was under church discipline for being unsubmissive, stating that there would be consequences for her, but that her husband was repentant. Natasha, the Epstein’s 17-year-old daughter, became distraught over the complete reversal of the facts from the pulpit (her father was the one who would not repent), that she finally got up and left in the middle of the service. When Jen heard what happened, she wrote to Doug Phillips and asked him if he was talking about her.
Doug Phillips replied, “The Bible says that if any woman has a question about the preaching of the Word she is to ask her husband at home.” He also said he already told Mark that answer, but Mark denied hearing that from Doug at all. Jen then asked for a copy of the sermon tape from that Sunday and was told that everyone at Boerne Christian Assembly would get it in the mail. It did not come, so Jen called and asked again for a copy. Although she asked several times, the Epsteins were never given a copy of that sermon from that day.
In surprise disciplinary action, BCA leadership skips trial, rushes to judgment, and perverts covenant theology by lumping in the alleged sins of Mark and Jen together.
Having heard nothing for the three months after the counseling sessions and Doug Phillips’ threat to make Jen pay, Mark and Jen were surprised to receive a request for a private meeting before church on January 23, 2005 with Doug Phillips, the sole self-ordained elder, Bob Sarratt, a deacon, Mo Gill, a deacon, Rick Huber, and Richard Short, a brand-new member. Because three days before this meeting, Mark had approached Rick Huber about joint marriage counseling, and he had agreed, Mark and Jen were quite surprised to be read a statement called “Disciplinary Action of BCA for Mark and Jennifer Epstein,” detailing everything Mark and Jen were to be disciplined for — even though neither Mark nor Jen had been given an opportunity to hear the charges in advance or offer any response in advance.
When Mark and Jen saw the charges that had been made against them without due process, they both noticed that for much of the document they were addressed as a couple in many areas where they should have been addressed individually.
For example, Section B of the statement reads that Mark and Jen “collectively received hundreds of hours of counsel from leaders and brethren,” when in reality, Jen received six hours of “counsel” from Beall Phillips and Reba Short and four hours of being told how wicked she was from Doug Phillips — in all her five years of attendance at Boerne Christian Assembly. Mark, on the other hand, at his own initiative, had been in a personal accountability relationship the previous year with Richard, and he also received one hour of counseling weekly from Bob Welch the first year they attended Boerne Christian Assembly. You will see as you look at the document that there are many such instances in which Mark and Jen are lumped together, although the facts should have applied to one or the other.
Furthermore, Section C of the Statement addresses sin in Jen’s life from 1989, from before she was a Christian, and from which she fully repented in 1990, when she came to know the Lord. This was the sin that Doug Phillips had been so interested in hearing more about in that initial meeting and from which he suggested that Jen hadn’t fully repented. Jen finally asked a friend for help in “proving” this repentance, and after some sound biblical advice, decided to write Mark a letter of repentance in February, 2003. This letter contained nothing new in it, but having it all written down encouraged Mark, and he showed it to both Doug and Beall Phillips. Mark reports that Doug and Beall Phillips were so moved by this letter of repentance that they both had tears streaming down their face. They also both assured Mark that this was evidence of Jen’s true and full repentance. Despite this interaction, Doug Phillips still chose to include Jen’s pre-Christian sin in the disciplinary statement.
Section C of the disciplinary statement also rebukes Jen for “broad charges about Mark’s propensity to harm his family … and refus[ing] to cease and desist from such behavior even when doing it in the presence of BCA elders who have confronted you for such.” Of course, at the time, there was only one BCA elder, so the statement could not have been true. But even if there had been two elders, it would still be a case in which Jen was disciplined for refusing to cease and desist from asking her elder for help when she felt her family was in imminent danger.
Although the Statement includes a laundry list of charges of sin against Jen such as “lack of love,” it did not include any specific examples of the alleged sins. Jen immediately asked, “Can you give me even one example of any of these broad charges? How can I change if I don’t know what it is I am doing wrong?” There was no answer.
Discipline and Due Process the Doug Phillips way
Mark and Jen were informed that the “discipline” that would be imposed on them equally included all membership privileges being suspended, the reading of the discipline document in its entirety to the whole congregation, excluding young children, that Mark and Jen would be publicly admonished, that they would again be prevented from taking the Lord’s Supper, that they could not attend the weekly “pot-providence” meals and fellowship time for several hours afterward, and that the “focus of any interaction of [their] brothers and sisters in Christ at BCA must be confrontational encouragement to repent…”
In other words, Mark and Jen were allowed to attend the worship service, but could not talk to anyone, and had to leave immediately afterwards.
After the judgment was announced to the Epsteins, Doug Phillips then asked if either Mark or Jen wanted to “appeal” this discipline. Recognizing that many of the charges made against him were in fact valid, Mark stated that he just wished to confess his sins before the congregation, but Jen said that she would definitely “appeal.” Then she found out the the “appeal” Doug had in mind was a brief opportunity to speak to the whole congregation immediately after the service, which was going to start within five minutes from that point in the conversation.
It turned out that the five men present at that meeting, Doug Phillips who was the sole elder, the two deacons, and two other men, had been planning this discipline for a long time and had taken a great deal of time to prepare the document. When they found out that Mark wanted to have marriage counseling, they still plowed forward with the “discipline.” And, although their prosecutors had had weeks to prepare their prosecution, Mark and Jen were given literally only a few minutes notice to prepare their “defense.”
Doug Phillips’ Kangaroo Court
Immediately following the service, the discipline document was read to the whole congregation present, including the parts about Jen’s sins from which she fully repented in 1990, and which Mark begged Doug Phillips not to read. Mark was given a chance to speak next and he confessed to his part in the whole deal. He then went on to fully exonerate Jen from all wrong doing, saying that the accusations he had railed against her were false and deceitful. Mark was very broken and asked for forgiveness from the congregation.
Jen was then given a turn to “appeal,” although she had no time to prepare. She decided to just tell her story, much like it is here. Then Doug Phillips called some “witnesses,” all of whom came with prepared statements:
Bob Sarratt stood up and read something that said that Jen was the one who called Mark mentally ill, when it was Bob Sarratt himself who first suggested it.
Richard and Reba Short stood up and described how they would come over to the Epsteins’ home nearly every week for dinner and that they would always pray before they came over that Jen would ask Reba about how to be a submissive wife. Feeling that Reba had made it clear she believed that all problems in a marriage were the woman’s fault, Jen had had absolutely no interest in receiving counseling from her on how to be a doormat and had never asked for such counseling. This was now held against her.
Beall Phillips read all the notes she had taken from the six hours of “counsel” she provided Jen, including all the points she had refused to permit Jen to discuss with her.
Kathleen told her version of the story of Jen telling her about Doug Phillips not being willing to help Jen as an abused wife. The story was essentially the same as Jen’s, but it was presented as though Jen had jumped at the opportunity to be a gossip.
Doug Phillips denied that he called Jen “wicked,” but rather said that her actions were “wicked.” Doug Phillips did not deny calling Jen a whore, churlish, unsubmissive, disrespectful, a liar, and a Jezebel. He did not deny the other accusations Jen made against him, which are covered in her statement.
Jen was not given a chance to “cross-examine” any “witnesses,” to have any “representation,” to even prepare a “defense.” In fact, Jen was not even supplied with any specific charges, but was instead accused of rather broad allegations, repentance for would be nearly impossible to demonstrate.
After the witnesses for the prosecution completed their testimony and Jen was prevented from cross-exmaining them, the men of the congregation were given an opportunity to speak. A few said that they had had no idea, that they had many pleasant memories of Jen Epstein. One even questioned if they were doing the right thing; he wanted to know if maybe Jen was right, since no one provided evidence of any specific sin. Doug Phillips immediately challenged him and asked if he was in agreement with Doug or not. This man, who was then being considered for eldership, became silent; he remained with Doug.
After the discipline session, Beall Phillips approached Jen. Beall admitted that she had not fulfilled her responsibility in helping Jen from the beginning. Jen forgave her. Beall Phillips then suggested that Jen write down her “defense” and send it to the men in the discipline meeting. Naively taking Beall’s advice, Jen wrote down her story and sent it to the five men who were present at the discipline meeting.
The Epsteins Excommunicated by Secret Star Chamber
Someone apparently decided the measures taken at the disciplinary meeting had been too mild, for the following Sunday another disciplinary meeting was held. It was for all church members except the Epsteins. The Epsteins soon discovered the outcome of the meeting, however, as they were taking care of a few personal things before leaving church. Jen tried to give a baby shower gift to a friend who had recently had a baby, but that “friend” refused the gift and turned her back on Jen. Then Jen went into the annex to get her daughter and as she walked toward the building, everyone turned their backs as she approached. As Jen searched for her daughter through the bulding, she saw everyone she encountered back away from her and turn their backs.
Seeing what kind of behavior the letter to the five men produced, Mark and Jen decided to send the letter of “defense” to the rest of the covenanting members as well. They received it in the mail on Saturday, February 5, 2005, and Doug Phillips immediately called an “emergency” meeting of all covenanting members of Boerne Christian Assembly and invited Bob Welch, the elder who had left over two years earlier, to attend. At this meeting, the men of the church voted unamiously to “excommunicate” the Epsteins immediately without giving them an opportunity to state their case or explain that Jen had written the letter of defense at the recommendation of Beall Phillips.
The Epsteins were notified of their “excommunication” on Sunday, February 6, 2005, at 8:15 a.m., by email. Because the Epsteins, like most BCA members, do not read email before going to church on Sunday morning, they think it highly likely that the timing was deliberate and that Doug Phillips was hoping that the Epsteins would show up at Boerne Christian Assembly that Sunday anyway and so suffer further public embarassment.
In God’s providence, however, the Epsteins decided that they would visit a sister church that Sunday. They showed up early and, in the interest of full disclosure, approached one of the four elders there (that church actually practiced what it preached with respect to a plurality of elders) and told him briefly that they were under church discipline, although they had no clue that they were actually excommunicated yet, and asked if they would be able to attend that other church that Sunday. He agreed and willingly took them in.
When Jen checked her email late that night, she discovered the excommunication email and saw that the pretext for the excommunication had been their sending the letter of “defense” that Beall had recommended to them. The excommunication email further stated:
“Since [the discipline statement two weeks earlier], you have comprehensively defied the discipline of the local church, and you have both promised to continue to do so. You have both actively waged a campaign of division among your body. You have both born false witnesses and disseminated slanders horrible and numerous. You have tolerated and even encouraged similar unruly behavior from your eldest daughter. You have both railed against your local church, and again violated God’s Holy Word which prohibits you from bringing accusations against your church leadership without two or three witnesses to substantiate your claims. You have made implied legal threats and raised false criminal charges against your local church. In short you have despised the chastening of the Lord and His love as demonstrated through the counsel and discipline of the local church.”
Mark and Jen were then informed that they were to be treated as “heathens and publicans.” Because Doug Phillips was the sole elder of Boerne Christian Assembly and accountable to no one, Mark and Jen had no opportunity to appeal and never would: Doug Phillips soon refused all contact with them. Every Boerne Christian Assembly member was instructed to do the same, and even the Epsteins’ children were shunned.
The next installment of this story will go into more detail about what it means to be treated as heathens and publicans as well as Mark and Jen’s fruitless two-year effort to be reconciled with Doug Phillips and Boerne Christian Assembly. You will also learn the truth about Mark and Jen’s “excommunication” and why Mark and Jen ultimately concluded that their next step included the coverage of their story on this site. If we have time, we will report on their preliminary thoughts about some of the implications of their experience for the theological doctrines taught by autonomous Doug Phillips: If the fruit is bad, what does that suggest about the root?
Take the Test: Biblical Ethics and Incrementalism (Vision Forum)
The Great Debate Over Voting Ethics
Jennifer Epstein Voting Comments
Jennifer Epstein Submission Guidelines