Doug Phillips, Vision Forum Family Man Sabotages MarriagePosted: November 27, 2006 Filed under: Doug Phillips, Ecclesiastical Tyrrany, Vision Forum 257 Comments
In a day of intense public scrutiny and criticism of nearly all things Christian, Doug Phillips may be the most influential under-the-radar Christian leader that you need to know more about. Best known for his Vision Forum catalog — a colorful collection of apparently innocuous family friendly products mailed to more than a million people each autumn — Doug Phillips uses the wealth generated by his for-profit sales, as well as donations from the public, to promote his vision on controversial issues including education (home education is the only Biblical method), birth control (wrong in all circumstances), politics (a vote for either Kerry or Bush was a sin), and the roles of husbands and wives (hyper-Patriarchy at home and at church). Doug Phillips first came to the attention of those of us at Ministry Watchman when he publicly defended his buddy, R.C. Sproul, Jr., who was defrocked after confessing to ecclesiastical tyranny and the theft and illegal use of a church denomination’s tax-ID number. Our curiosity was further piqued when we learned of Doug Phillips’ behind-the-scenes counsel of Ligonier Ministries in its unbiblical lawsuit against Christian blogger, Frank Vance. These two incidents inspired a Ministry Watchman investigation of Doug Phillips and Vision Forum. Our investigation is still ongoing (please email us with any relevant information), but it has already produced enough information for several compelling articles that you won’t want to miss. The first, an exposé of how Doug Phillips’ family practices have not matched his family preaching, begins below. — MW
Officially, not-for-profit Vision Forum Ministries exists “to encourage and equip the biblical family and to train and facilitate fathers leading their families….” Doug Phillips’ focus on fathers is not an accident; he is perhaps the most prominent leader in the Patriarchy movement, a growing trend of returning to the biblical role models for men leading their families and submissive women helping their husbands or fathers. Although the inspiration for this movement is understandable — a reaction to the all-too-common problem today of men abdicating their leadership over their families in deference to a radical feminist movement that has pervaded even the church — the danger of reaction is that it can be a pendulum that swings too far to the opposite extreme. While much of Doug Phillips’ teachings on the biblical roles of men and women seems to be sound, some of the applications of those teachings have proven to be very troubling.
Doug Phillips is a “big picture” kind of preacher; he always desires to impart a “vision” for God’s truths, but very rarely delves into the nitty-gritty of day to day application. For example, Doug Phillips promotes a vision of fathers and husbands leading family worship, but many men have difficulty translating that vision into specific action. Similarly, Doug Phillips often talks about the importance of men spending substantial time with their wives and children, but living a typical American lifestyle or having grown up in a pervasive feminist atmosphere, many men don’t even know where to begin. Some men try to lead their families the way Doug Phillips advocates, but if the first attempt doesn’t seem to “work” (and it often doesn’t) they may give up. This can be incredibly frustrating and disillusioning and lead a man who catches this Patriarchy “vision,” but doesn’t comprehend the practical details for living it out, to be swayed to the extreme of the movement. This happened in the case of one family whose marriage and lives were nearly destroyed after they joined Doug Phillips’ home church, Boerne Christian Assembly.
This family agreed to tell their story — which included their “excommunication” by Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips without biblical due process — to Ministry Watchman after working diligently, but fruitlessly, for reconciliation with Doug for nearly two years. They are coming forward to testify to what Doug Phillips has done as an appeal to the church following their public shaming and shunning as a result of his unbiblical and uncharitable “discipline.” They also hope that other families will be warned by their experience and hopefully avoid repeating it. Given the kind of abuse this family has already suffered — including Doug Phillips threatening twice to sue them — I’ve changed their names to reduce the likelihood of retaliation. Furthermore, because the story is sad, and sordid, and long, this installment will only cover their first encounter with Doug Phillips and the suspension from the Lord’s Table. Future articles will detail the unbiblical excommunication and Doug Phillips’ refusal of all attempts at reconciliation.
Submission and the Role of Women at Doug Phillips’ Boerne Christian Assembly
Jared and Mary Jackson and their children arrived at Boerne Christian Assembly with a marriage that was fairly sound, although certainly not perfect. They both agreed they had worked out their respective roles acceptably between them and were functioning well as a family. Mary believed in submission to her husband and taught other women to obey their husbands in a way that she felt was balanced and honored both God-ordained roles. Nevertheless, the Jacksons knew they had more to learn, and they report that, when they first started attending Boerne Christian Assembly, they had been asking God to reveal any and all sin in their lives and in their family. As a result, they were both excited when God used Doug Phillips to teach them many things they simply had not seen in God’s Word before. They were especially grateful for Doug Phillips’ early teaching on seeking the whole counsel of God, using ALL of Scripture to define and direct life, and not trying to use one “pet” verse as proof for what you want to do.
One of these areas that was new to the Jacksons was the teaching on distinctives of the husband’s role in marriage. Doug Phillips was very dedicated to expounding on the roles of men and women, as it related to patriarchy. A common theme of his teaching in this area was that the wimpiness of men and assertiveness of women in the feminist movement are both abominations in God’s sight. Much of the preaching and teaching on men’s and women’s roles may have been biblically accurate at the big picture, macro level, but the lack of proper real life application led to a perversion of the teaching being lived out in the lives of this family and, from all reports, the lives of other families as well.
An example of this is the Bible’s teaching on women speaking at church. In I Corinthians, the Bible says that women are to be silent in church. The historic understanding has been that this restriction refers to speaking as part of the worship service, but hyper-Patriarchy as practiced at Boerne Christian Assembly when the Jacksons were members prohibits women even to introduce guests during the announcement period. Naturally, such wooden literalism causes some awkward situations. For example, when Mary’s father came to visit while Jared was away on business, Mary couldn’t introduce him to others at church. Because Mary’s father was wearing a kilt, one of the deacons took it upon himself to introduce the man as one of the Scottish Covenanters, not realizing he actually was an agnostic who came just to be with his daughter.
In the interest of keeping literally silent at all times in church, women are also not permitted to share prayer requests at Boerne Christian Assembly. If a woman’s husband or father is not present, or she doesn’t have one, a son of any age may speak or a woman can write her request down and give it to a man to read, who sometimes misunderstands and departs from the original intent. Reportedly, such misunderstandings, sometimes embarassing, led some women to avoid sharing prayer requests at all rather than feeling humiliated or having their heartfelt prayer request possibly distorted.
Another example of keeping women within Doug Phillips’ exceptionally narrow version of biblically defined roles is when the Lord’s Supper is served at Boerne Christian Assembly. It is the father’s responsibility to go up front and get enough to serve his whole family, which works well when the father is present. For the unaccompanied woman, however, she may have her young son serve her, even if he himself isn’t old enough to take communion, or she may have another man in the congregation serve her. This demeaning approach toward women, resulting from legalistic interpretations of Scripture, is another consequence of Doug Phillips’ extreme Patriarchy vision and teaching.
On one occasion when the ladies were having some difficulties in their weekly Sunday afternoon ladies’ meetings, Doug Phillips held a meeting after the service for all the covenanting men and women of Boerne Christian Assembly in order for the men to “solve” the ladies’ meetings’ problems. As you may have already guessed, the women were not allowed to speak during this particular meeting — even though it was about them — and they had to reverently sit next to their husbands as their husbands and the other men of the assembly discussed them as though they were not even in the room. On this occasion, when Doug Phillips saw Mary write a note to Jared to clarify the issues for her husband, Doug Phillips severely chastised Jared for permitting Mary’s note. Doug Phillips’ arrogance was such that he thought he could solve all the ladies’ problems by just having the men “lead” with no input from the women. This attitude of the men always knowing what’s best and the women always being submissive to the point of having no opinion is pervasive at Boerne Christian Assembly.
Each Sunday, during the weekly ladies’ meetings, the women are supposed to sign up to bring meals to those who needed them that week. Since most women aren’t allowed to sign up without asking their husband’s permission first, this was often a futile task, resulting in the women running to ask their husbands after the meeting each week if they could take a meal to sister so-and-so. I think you can begin to see from such examples how valued women are at Boerne Christian Assembly.
In the personal homes of some of the members, it was no different. In an effort to follow Doug Phillips’ teaching faithfully, some men started dictating how their wives would spend every minute of their day or ordering them what food to fix for each meal. Doug Phillips’ wife, Beall, carries her cell phone around with her at home in case Doug Phillips calls from the next room and wants a cup of coffee. Although she is often invited to visit other congregation wives in their homes, she turns down nearly all such invitations because she is not sure if her husband might need her for something. Or if one were to ask any of the single young ladies at Boerne Christian Assembly what they do with their time, their answer will always be the same, “I serve my father.” This degree of literally single-minded personal service of daughters to their fathers is taught at Boerne Christian Assembly as practice for such service to future husbands.
Seeds of Sabotage
Given the pervasive nature of this extreme and misogynist form of Patriarchy practiced at Boerne Christian Assembly, it was natural that the Jackson family would be harmed by it. As Jared received a steady diet of Doug Phillips’ version of patriarchal preaching and as he saw the models of its application by other men at Boerne, he became more and more prone to fits of anger, emotional abuse, and even threats of divorce directed at Mary, who never seemed to be submissive enough. Mary became discouraged by Jared’s behavior, and she approached Beall Phillips on three occasions to ask her advice in how to be a godly, submissive wife to such an angry husband. Beall initially seemed sympathetic and offered the typical advice about a gentle answer turning away wrath and that husbands can be won without a word. Although Mary continued to labor diligently to sustain a gentle and quiet spirit at home, things only got worse.
The breaking point was reached one day in the Jackson home when Jared, who had retired from the military, announced that he was leaving the family the next day to take a new job in another state. Having done all she could to solve matters privately with her husband to no avail, Mary prayerfully approached Doug Phillips at church that Sunday to ask for his help. This was the first occasion they had ever spoken, except in passing, so Mary was taken aback when the first thing Doug Phillips asked her was if she had a gentle and quiet spirit and was fulfilling all of I Peter 3 in her behavior and attitude toward her husband. She assured him that she was doing so in every way she knew how to, so Doug Phillips ran after her husband, as he saw him getting into his car to leave.
Catching up with Jared, Doug Phillips proceeded to ask him if Mary was a nag and a dripping faucet. Doug Phillips then suggested that Mary must be “churlish, disrespectful, unsubmissive, and rebellious,” even though he barely knew her. Although he should have seen that Jared was exhibiting anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness toward Mary, Doug Phillips suggested to him that maybe she hadn’t fully repented from her past sins. Up to this point and afterwards, Doug Phillips never once confronted Jared about his own, very visible angry behavior nor his intentions to abandon his family. Instead of helping to resolve the Jacksons’ marital problems, Doug Phillips used the occasion of Mary’s appeal for help to fuel the fire by planting seeds in Jared’s mind of charges against Mary.
Today looking back, the Jacksons agree that the charges made by Doug Phillips had not been problems in their marriage before joining Boerne Christian Assembly, but Jared seized on the charges anyway because he had been looking for a good excuse to justify his own sin. Doug Phillips then persuaded Jared to stay for a few more days so Doug could help the Jacksons work things out. Although this occurred in the early years of both Boerne Christian Assembly and Vision Forum — long before Doug Phillips was as busy as he is now — he still did not make time to meet with the Jackson family for six more weeks, even though he knew full well that abandonment and divorce were imminent.
“Jezebel” at the Kangaroo Court
Unaware of the substance of Jared’s conversation with Doug Phillips, and hopeful that help might at last be at hand, Mary went eagerly to the Jacksons’ first meeting with Doug and Beall Phillips. One other elder and his wife and one deacon were there also, but mostly as figureheads; Doug Phillips ran the show, or as it turned out, “the Kangaroo Court.” Although Doug Phillips permitted the others with him to each say something at the beginning, the focus of the meeting was on the list of questions he proceeded to ask and on what he said. Even though Jared was demonstrably angry to all present (something he readily admits in shame today), and often yelled at and about Mary throughout the meeting, Doug Phillips barely paid any attention to Jared’s less-than-Christlike behavior, choosing instead to focus on a number of questions concerning sins Mary had committed thirteen years earlier, before her salvation, and for which she had repented twelve years earlier. Doug Phillips seemed very interested in the sinful details and kept stressing that Mary hadn’t repented and that the Jacksons’ marital problems stemmed from her sins.
Beall Phillips supported her husband by pronouncing that Mary had been “disrespectful and unsubmissive” the three occasions Mary had approached her for help. Even though he had only met her once briefly when Mary pleaded for help in her marriage, Doug Phillips called her “churlish, a whore, a Jezebel, and wicked.” As if his less-than-honorable behavior was not enough (as typified by this instance of calling an older woman such disrespectful and demeaning names), Doug Phillips then pulled out a fully prepared written statement. Acting as the prosecutor, judge, and jury, Doug Phillips had already determined Mary’s guilt and subsequent discipline. Not knowing anything personally about her, and not bothering to find out, she was presented with a “Guidelines for Accountability” paper that said the following:
Mary may not:
- Ever question, contradict, criticize, correct or end-run any communication or decision by Jared to Jared or to anyone else.
- Speak ill of her husband or family matters to third parties.
- Speak critically of Jared to the children.
- Agree to submit to the guidelines for accountability of the leadership of the local church with a full heart as unto the Lord, recognizing their goal is to facilitate obedience to the Lord and help rescue a marriage.
- Demonstrate genuine reverence and submission to her husband in all things as unto the Lord.
- Examine herself for unconfessed, or inadequately confessed, sins against her husband from any time during their marriage.
- Not take communion until love is once again restored in the family, or on an individual basis, until the spirit and letter of the above is followed, and deemed such by the leadership of the local church. (Minor excommunication)
- Forgive and love one another.
In the case of violations of the “may not” guidelines listed above, Mary will be willing to submit to reasonable accountability reporting guidelines to be determined.
Jared could call Doug Phillips on his personal cell phone 24 hours a day to “tell” on his wife if she ever did anything he felt to fall in the “may not” category. But Doug Phillips never answered. Jared could call a deacon as well, which he did several times. Mary could call Beall Phillips if Jared violated any part of his agreement (which was similar to Mary’s).
To emphasize the gravity of Doug Phillips’ violation of Mary’s due process, all of the accountability guidelines were in writing before the meeting, despite the fact that Doug Phillips knew next to nothing about Mary. In what was apparently an expedient “quick fix” for the overly committed Doug Phillips, he decided ahead of time not only what the issues were but also what the outcome of the meeting would be. During that meeting, Mary was accused of unrepentance for sins which she had committed over thirteen years earlier, before her confession of faith in Christ, and from which she had fully repented the following year. Mary was accused and unjustly convicted of being disrespectful and unsubmissive, even though none of the people present knew her, nor could any of those present testify to even one specific example of her alleged disrespectful or unsubmissive behavior.
Doug Phillips also said that Mary had lied to him three times. The first “lie” was that she said that no one was holding her husband accountable (no one was); the second “lie” was that the other elder was not counseling her (he was counseling her husband, but not Mary). Mary can no longer remember the third “lie” that she was accused of by Doug Phillips, but she does clearly remember calling her a liar, even though she had told him the truth at all times. Doug and Beall Phillips specifically called Mary “wicked, rebellious, and churlish” (because she asked Doug Phillips for help in keeping her marriage from divorce), and “a whore,” and “a Jezebel.”
The outcome of the Kangaroo Court was that Mary and her husband were to be banned from communion indefinitely and Beall Phillips was assigned to help Mary with her marital problems by being available when Mary needed to tattle on her husband. Not allowing her children to tattle on one another, Mary never felt it was right to do so with her husband either, so she never called Beall. Furthermore, Mary was keenly aware that, in all likelihood, anything that she took to Beall as a complaint against her husband would just be used as evidence against Mary that she was an unsubmissive and churlish wife. Mary was in a no-win position. Mary reports that Beall Phillips never once spoke to her about her marriage for the next two years, never asked her how things were going, and never even asked why Mary hadn’t called her about anything yet.
The High Price of Hyper-Patriarchy
Jared and Mary Jackson came to Boerne Christian Assembly with a marriage that wasn’t perfect, but it also wasn’t on the verge of divorce either. What they really needed was some loving and biblically-based pastoral help, but instead they had a “one size fits all” legalistic Patriarchy worldview forced upon them. This can be quite harmful to families where the man tends toward being abusive already. There is no denying that some men will use the Patriarchy movement’s teaching to justify their own anger, personal pride, and personal insecurity as a launching pad for further spousal abuse. That being so, it was particularly damaging to the Jacksons for Doug Phillips to turn a blind eye to these tendencies in Jared and deliberately refuse to confront him for his dishonorable behavior and failure to be a true servant-leader.
In Doug Phillips’ legalistic framework, if Jared was angry at his wife, the problem wasn’t Jared’s unloving spirit. No, Mary must have done something to provoke Jared’s anger — even if that something had been repented of 12 years previously. Is this how a real pastor shepherds his flock? Or is this a mark of a cult? The end result is that rather than helping this couple, Doug Phillips, known for his family values and family-centered teachings, effectively sabotaged their marriage. It’s only by the grace of God that the Jacksons are still married today. They’ve had major family struggles in putting the pieces back together again.
One of the lessons of this story is that hyper-Patriarchy is no less extreme and unbiblical than radical feminism and wimpy men. We should also realize that true shepherds will protect their flocks from both extremes rather than choose one to escape the other. We can be assured that God does call Christian leaders to account for their behavior as leaders or, as demonstrated in this case, Doug Phillips’ lack of a shepherd’s heart and apparently misogynist view of women as indicated by his inaction with Jared and his dishonorable actions against Mary.
May Doug Phillips repent of his sins against the Jacksons and the shame those sins have brought on the church. And may he redirect Vision Forum to teach a more accurate and complete view of the Biblical roles of men and women. Meanwhile, as the next installment of this story reveals, the plight of the Jacksons gets worse before it gets better.