Doug Phillips: His Power and Control Using “Godly” Patriarchy

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Doug Phillips was a powerful man.  He used “godly” power and control to silence, to man the ship of his business, ministry, church, home, women, employees, and everything around him.

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As we slowly watch the demise of the Doug Phillips empire, it’s important to ask the tough questions:

Who put Doug Phillips on his throne?  What is the driving force behind all of this?  How could he stay on his throne for so long if he’s had this “lengthy” affair?  Why was he out speaking at a father’s conference in September if he had stepped down from his pastoral role at Boerne Christian Assembly?  Why did he publish a blog post on repentance in August and then issue a public statement late October?  What’s with all the flip-flop business?  Why didn’t the board shut down Vision Forum Ministries at the same time the public statement came out?  What were they waiting for?  Why was Doug Phillips listed at one time as the President AND treasurer of the board?  Does that sound right to you?

I’ve been watching some interesting dynamics.  I posted a comment at the Wartburg Watch blog as I was thinking how Phillips seems to have always been in a position of authority:

1. President AND treasurer at Vision Forum Mininistries
2. Owner of Vision Forum
3. Founder of San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival
4. Founder of The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) and was on board until recently
5. Was pastor at Boerne Christian Assembly (one of two teaching elders until he allegedly stepped down or was forced out in February)
6. Patriarch of his home.

Ok, that was just off the top of my head. Has Phillips ever been “under” anyone? Wait a minute – – he did work for HSLDA as an attorney, and interestingly, I recently saw a public comment by Mike Farris (head of HSLDA) about Phillips which surprised me:

“Phillips was NOT the architect of the HR 6 fight in 1994. He was a foot soldier. I know he has been telling this story for years but it is just another example of his tendency to exaggerate his role in everything.”

Maybe things didn’t work out so well for him being “under” Farris at HSLDA?
The pattern we see here is that Phillips is a man who is very used to being in control of everything.

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I think Farris’ comment is revealing considering he is founding president of both HSLDA and Patrick Henry College.

I’ve been waiting for key people within Phillips’ close circle to come out and say something publicly.  Kevin Swanson aired a podcast on his radio show, Scandal Among Christians in which he mentions the Phillips situation.  As I listened to this podcast, it’s interesting how it seemed like the relationship between Swanson and Phillips was minimized.  I took notes and I was struck by this quote, “I know these people.”  He then said he was sad and concerned for Phillips and the family, that God would bring repentance and restoration, would protect, save, and preserve the family.  That was about it.  It seemed as if Swanson was minimizing their many years of working side by side in many venues promoting the same Homeschool Movement agenda.   I found myself saying, “Really, Swanson, that’s all you can say about your BFF, Mr. Phillips?”

And then last Sunday, there were some strong words in a sermon by Scott Brown, director of NCFIC.  Keep in mind, NCFIC branched out from Vision Forum.  Doug Phillips has been highly influential in Brown’s life and Brown was on the board of Vision Forum Ministries at the time the Phillips’ statement was released and also when the announcement came yesterday about the organization shutting down entirely.  Here is an excerpt from Brown’s sermon, The Smell of Apostasy (special thanks to commenter T.W. Eston for transcribing this):

39:37 — “One of my dear friends has fallen into a great sin. And there are many people that say, ‘Oh, that could have been me.’ But the truth is I hope not, because one falls into that kind of sin after many, many small compromises long before. No one just immediately falls into that sin. They fall because they have been falling. My friend Paul Washer says, ‘You don’t fall into sin. You slide into it.’ Because every public sin is a private sin beforehand. I was telling our interns the other day that I could take everything I’ve done over forty years and destroy it in one second. All I would have to do is kiss a girl and in one second it would all be over. Everything. It would all be burnt to the ground. But let me just make this point. You do not kiss a girl without doing many other things beforehand. You do not fall into sin. You slide. You make one compromise after another. Every public sin is a private sin for a very long time before… Brothers, mortify, expunge, every vestige of lust that would inflame it… But you would not do it [immorality] if you did not cultivate it. So do not cultivate it… Please do not burn everything to the ground. Please do not destroy everything that you’ve worked for your entire life. Everything you’ve ever done will be compromised and everything you’ve ever done will be burned to the ground.”

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Do you get the idea that there has been a struggle of power going on with Phillips when looking at the sequence of events and how events have played out recently?  If Phillips is over all of these entities (church, VF ministry, VF business, etc), who has the authority to challenge him, to remove him from those positions?  Who can question him?  This is Patriarchy at its core.  You do not get to question or challenge Patriarchs, period.

And that leads to another important point.  We can gather from Phillips’ own words and also the implied words of Brown that the relationship with the woman was lengthy, romantic, and ongoing.  The phrase that continued throughout Brown’s sermon was that every public sin is a private sin for a long, long time before it is finally exposed.  Multiple sources have told me (and I have read several places) that this affair had been going on for 6 years.  Six years in silence?  Ok, now look at the fact that he no longer had his pastoral position at Boerne Christian Assembly allegedly in February (whether he was forced out or voluntarily resigned remains unanswered).  Voddie Baucham somehow found out he was no longer pastoring, but only discussed this publicly after Phillips’ public statement.  How in the world does something like this stay under wraps for 9 months?

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Fra havneområdet i Antalya

Sinking Ship

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I will tell you how:  the no-talk rule.  Patriarchy is about control.  To keep this silent, there must be a captain tightly controlling that ship.  In high-controlling spiritually abusive churches/cults, you simply do not talk negatively about your leaders.  This is called gossip.  It is a sin to gossip.  Furthermore, in this Patriarchal environment, women do not have the freedom to challenge men, to question their authority.  They must remain silent, check their heart attitudes, and learn to submit in all things.  If there is a problem, they must ask God to change their husband’s hearts.

Since most of Phillips’ life/work/ministry was around Christians, it’s highly probable that this woman whom he did not biblically know, but was romantically involved with was part of the Patriarchal system.  She would be a nobody.  She had no voice.  If she were to cry out to another woman, who would believe her?  Where would she go?  No man would believe her. The system of Patriarchy puts all problems back onto the woman and usually spiritualizes it. It wasn’t her place to speak out. She might hear these words:

  • where was your heart?
  • did you gaze at him suggestively?
  • did you walk seductively?
  • did you dress provocatively?
  • how could you tempt someone of his stature?
  • why were you alone with him?
  • why would you want to compromise God’s work by tempting him?
  • you must repent
  • you must forgive him in your heart
  • pray for his soul
  • pray for your soul

I also want to point out that in Phillips’ doctrinal world, God is Sovereign.  He knew this was going to happen, so in this theology, the woman is taught:  who is she to question what God has ordained?  She needs to suck it up.

So . . . . she remains silent  . . . . and if she tells someone, they likely remain silent, too.  This can last for years.  And that is one possible explanation for the silence and how it might be difficult for a woman to speak out in that environment.

While trying to make sense of this scandal,  it’s important to identify patterns we see in spiritually abusive churches.   What have we seen so far?

  • no-talk rule
  • cannot question authority or challenge authority
  • pastor has little to no accountability
  • extra-biblical rules/legalism
  • damage control and image control  - always giving the appearance that everything is fine
  • elitism – - they do things the godly/biblical way and others don’t

Can you identify any others I haven’t listed?

As this story unfolds, please be mindful that this is not just a person that has sinned, this is a corrupt and harmful system.  This system protects the leaders/patriarchs.  This might explain why we have seen leaders within this movement distancing themselves from the situation.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch at the Vision Forum for-profit store, things seem pretty normal.  The “deal of the day” is:  “Building a Godly Home Collection, 2 Books:”

Learn what the Bible has to say about marriage, love, the relationship between parents and children, Christ’s bond with His people, and much more. The truths you find in these handy hardback editions of Gouge’s Puritan classic may very well change your vision of family life.

50% off for the sale price of $18.  I don’t know – - it seems to have lost some of its mojo, huh?

photo credit: jechstra via photopin cc

38 comments on “Doug Phillips: His Power and Control Using “Godly” Patriarchy

  1. I’ve been praying for everyone involved in this. A long time ago I eard someone say the things we preach against the most are the things we struggle with the most. So it seems that while purity and patriarchy have been pounded into the minds of those who follow this man, these may have been his biggest struggles. Also, if what you have heard about this going on for 6 yrs…how in the world did no one know of this before hand? Something very bad must have developed and there was no way of hiding it anymore.

  2. “The “deal of the day” is: ”Building a Godly Home Collection, 2 Books:”

    Learn what the Bible has to say about marriage, love, the relationship between parents and children, Christ’s bond with His people, and much more. The truths you find in these handy hardback editions of Gouge’s Puritan classic may very well change your vision of family life.

    50% off for the sale price of $18. I don’t know – – it seems to have lost some of its mojo, huh?”

    I would have to agree. Honestly…. are the VF powers that be that amazingly clueless as to the hilarity/hypocrisy/inappropriateness of posting a book like this as the “deal of the day” in light of everything that has happened to the OWNER of VF inc.?

  3. I would argue that the teachings on submission and the lower (not even secondary) status of women in the patriarchal economy are a toxic combination and could lead to this result. If you’re raised in that environment, and you’ve been told since very young you have to revere male leaders, and you’ve been told, maybe overtly, maybe not, that because of the Fall you’re not as spiritually worthy…well, that can lead to a young woman being dragged into something that she’s been told is wrong. But someone she’s been told is a leader is telling her to do these things, she’s been told that she can’t trust her own judgment because she’s a weak female, and she has nowhere to turn.

    This is making me sick. In its own way, it’s rather like the FLDS we have here in Arizona.

  4. The Christian Post has quoted my blog saying Phillips left his church in February. In my post above, it says “allegedly.” In another post on the topic, one commenter said he left in February, but the commenter did not identify themselves. Voddie Baucham publicly stated that he left months ago. Other people have quoted February, but no one official. I just want to make it clear that I do not positively know if he left or was forced out in February, but it’s very likely, hence, the word “allegedly.”

    http://www.christianpost.com/news/vision-forum-to-close-down-following-doug-phillips-admission-of-inappropriate-relationship-108623/

  5. @SouthwesternDiscomfort It’s exactly like the FLDS, right down to the man being the “priesthood head” of his wife/family, the only thing Doug is missing is polygamy – and really, maybe he’s had it all along.

  6. forgedimagination: You’re right. It could be living hell if she stays in that community. If she ventures out, she can find love and grace and acceptance.

  7. @Katy:

    @SouthwesternDiscomfort It’s exactly like the FLDS, right down to the man being the “priesthood head” of his wife/family, the only thing Doug is missing is polygamy – and really, maybe he’s had it all along.

    Well, Joseph Smith justified Plural Marriage(TM) by using the Biblical Patriarchs as examples…

  8. I’m curious if anyone knows the age of the “other woman” ? Was she a peer or is there a possibility of sexual assualt of a minor being kept hush?

    No angle, just wondering if there’s more to the story….

  9. I’m curious if anyone knows the age of the “other woman” ? Was she a peer or is there a possibility of sexual assualt of a minor being kept hush?

    Well, Big Dogs showing their age usually go for As Young As Possible for their harems. Lets the Big Dog convince himself that he’s still Young, Virile, Young, possessing much Precious Bodily Fluids, and Young.
    “I DESERVE BETTER!!!!!” — Steve Taylor, “Cash Cow”

    Now, since said Young woman’s identity is still unknown, I propose we refer to her by a pseudonym. Not “Jane Doe”, but one much more appropriate to the situation and Godly culture:
    “Ofdoug.”

  10. While trying to make sense of this scandal, it’s important to identify patterns we see in spiritually abusive churches.

    Some of these patterns seem to line up with Robert Lifton’s criteria of thought reform.

    - no-talk rule (Milieu Control)
    - cannot question authority or challenge authority (Sacred Science)
    - pastor has little to no accountability (Sacred Science)
    - extra-biblical rules/legalism (Demand for Purity)
    - elitism – – they do things the godly/biblical way and others don’t (Dispensing of Existence)

    Does not speak well of “biblical”™ patriarchy.

  11. Serving Kids – - You have Robert Lifton’s criteria down well! You are right – - all of those are present and it’s time we put some of these guys and their “practices” under the scope of Lifton’s work to see what is really going on.

  12. For readers interested in more details about Robert Jay Lifton’s eight criteria of “totalism” (authoritarian “thought reform”/”mind control”), there’s a lot available online. Here’s a link to part of a series I did on the subject, in which I used his framework to analyze *The Hunger Games* and various forms of toxic social structures.

    http://futuristguy.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/the-hunger-games-trilogy-5a/

    5. How Do We Discern Dystopian Dynamics and Totalitarian Tactics? POST SUMMARY: This post introduces and overviews Robert Jay Lifton’s eight criteria for totalitarian thought reform (“brainwashing”) systems. It also gives some learning exercises for two groups: survivors of spiritual abuse and their personal network, and organizational designers/leaders who want to develop healthy and sustainable ministries. Note: I have split this material into three parts so readers can receive the best benefit from it.

    Part 5A prepares our thinking with a review of previous points in the series for discerning an abusive/dystopian system, thoughts on totalitarian tactics from The Hunger Games trilogy, and the “before” part of the learning exercise.

    Part 5B summarizes Dr. Lifton’s system for identifying “cults” and how the various elements work together. It then explores the first four of his eight criteria, dealing with: communications, motivations, absolutism, and confession.

    Part 5C explores the final four of Dr. Lifton’s eight criteria: ultimate vision, language, ideological conformity, and ostracism. It also gives the “after” part of the learning exercise, and draws out three key issues for putting “brainwashing” into perspective.

  13. Wow, Brad. This statement from your article perfectly describes my own experience with a church having the same Patriarchal authority structure as VFM:
    “For bullies and over-classes to elevate themselves, they must also actively devalue, dehumanize, and overlord others.”

    This is exactly why these type of hierarchies never prove to be benign.

  14. My main concern is this woman. If she is in fact a minor, the authorities must be notified as it’s a serious criminal matter. She needs to be removed from her current environment and be protected. If she has reached the age of majority then she may still need help getting free from the cult like atmosphere. Resources are available and can be raised to aid her break out. If anyone finds out exactly what the situation is and what help is needed, count me it. Please let us know by posting here and I’m sure some of my business contacts and christian friends will join me in writing a check. It’s our responsibility as believers to help her if needed. While we await more information I’m hitting my knees praying about the situation. God has used this mess to greatly reduce the effluence of an evil, ego driven lier who really believes that the ends justifies the means. He has been walking over people for years, that walk just ended. He is done.

    Vision Forum for profit division has from the start been propelled by the products created by the non-profit (events held and turned into products) and SOLD by the for profit. With these events being a thing of the past, eventually the current offerings will get stale and be insufficient to maintain the current overhead structure. With the exposure of this magnitude many people that were long time customers will no longer buy from VF. I give it three years until the entire company collapses unless they just continue holding events through the for profit division and continue cranking out new products. New products are the life blood of any information products company. No new info to sell and boom you are done.

  15. Scott, I will absolutely let people know if there is a way we can help. Thank you for showing compassion and love where it needs to be focused, on the true victim, the woman.

    Since this person has not been identified, I can only surmise by what we know of this group, that women in this environment, regardless of their age, do not have a voice, PERIOD. A woman would not be able to tell a man NO. Even if she says it was mutual consent, I still wouldn’t buy it. Why?? Because Phillips is (was) a man in authority: authority at church, authority in ministry, authority in business, authority at home. She (if she came from Phillips’ church or ministry community) would have been subordinate and so any relationship with a subordinate would have wrong on his part. Not only that, if she happened to have been raised in this environment, regardless of her age, she is most likely emotionally repressed. If women in this environment have no voice, they have spent a lifetime of denying their feelings/desires/wishes.

  16. BeenThereDoneThat — November 13, 2013 @ 9:46 AM — said: Wow, Brad. This statement from your article perfectly describes my own experience with a church having the same Patriarchal authority structure as VFM: “For bullies and over-classes to elevate themselves, they must also actively devalue, dehumanize, and overlord others.” This is exactly why these type of hierarchies never prove to be benign.

    To which I would add, this is why we need to do a detailed study of distinctions we find in the Bible about differences between *sin* and *evil*. Some thoughts on that:

    Sin often has to do with issues of personal morality, evil with communal ethics in society.

    Sin often has to do with specific actions that bring harm and offend God’s character. Evil often has to do with ongoing attitudes and actions that institutionalize damage to others and are antagonistic to Christ’s Kingdom culture of how we should treat others.

    Probably one of the best attempts I’ve ever heard to look at some of the differences came from a five-year-old in the pre-school Sunday School class. When asked what *evil* is, she [yes, SHE!] said, “Evil is when you’re doin’ something that looks good, but you’re thinkin’ something bad.”

  17. P.S. It’s very common for people in Western societies to compartmentalize. Perhaps part of the reason for exceptionally messy situations like the current one with Mr. Phillips and Vision Forum Ministries/Inc. is that theological “conservatives” tend to focus on purity and morality issues, and theological “liberals” focus on ethics and social infrastructure issues. To oversimplify, the former tends to promote a moral message that damages society, the latter promotes a social message that downsizes morality. Go figure, neither one is fully biblical, and neither can be fixed just by gluing the two pieces back together. We need a paradoxical intellectual framework that holds both/and together in dynamic tension instead always going with a Western philosophical framework that emphasizes either/or thinking that is hell-bent on separating things apart.

  18. @BTDT:

    Wow, Brad. This statement from your article perfectly describes my own experience with a church having the same Patriarchal authority structure as VFM:
    “For bullies and over-classes to elevate themselves, they must also actively devalue, dehumanize, and overlord others.”

    The Zero-Sum Game.
    Where the only way for Me to Win is to MAKE YOU LOSE.
    Where the only way I can be raised up is if I CRUSH YOU DOWN.

  19. Perhaps part of the reason for exceptionally messy situations like the current one with Mr. Phillips and Vision Forum Ministries/Inc. is that theological “conservatives” tend to focus on purity and morality issues, and theological “liberals” focus on ethics and social infrastructure issues. To oversimplify, the former tends to promote a moral message that damages society, the latter promotes a social message that downsizes morality.

    One is a Gospel without Personal Salvation.
    The other is a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

  20. Hi Julie Anne! Thanks for speaking out about Doug Phillips’ years of ecclesiastical abuse and tyranny. You have described him perfectly in this article, and pointing out the hypocrisy of his “sale of the day” item today was just icing on the cake!

    I can confirm that Doug did indeed resign in February.

    Yes, control is Doug’s middle name; it is what he does best. He is doing his very best to control whatever aspects of this whole situation he CAN control. At this point, it is all still very well orchestrated.

  21. Hi Jen,

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comment and confirming his resignation in February.

    Authority and control in the wrong hands = a very scary thing!

  22. I was watching tv and there was a quote by Edmund Burke- “The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.” What is going on in churches today puts the Pharisees to shame.

  23. Loved the sinking ship photo, by the way. Who knew that Phillips’ Titanic tea parties last year would be so prescient?

  24. Welcome Dom Walk!

    You got it, Dom – - yup, the sinking ship. I was thinking about how he focused so much on women and children first on the sinking Titanic.

    What exactly did he focus on so much that caused his ship to sink?

  25. I don’t think the Michael Farris quote is legit. The only place on the internet I can find it is on the Homeschoolers Anonymous Facebook page. Farris’ actual Facebook profile picture does not match the profile picture that pops up at Homeschooler Anonymous for Farris,

  26. Pingback: Supporting Survivors After Doug Phillips’ Apostasy | Spiritual Sounding Board

  27. Pingback: A Closer Look at Doug Phillips’ Clarification Statement | Spiritual Sounding Board

  28. Pingback: Supporting Survivors of Doug Phillips Apostasy, Part 2 | Spiritual Sounding Board

  29. One thing that I have observed over the last several years coming from DP and VF/VFM is the swerve away from family to the strong emphasis on intense Calvinism/predestination and post millennialism. Too many people I know have been personally swayed by him in this regard. These doctrines are horrid. They are self-defeating and practically depressing. They lend themselves to a very uncaring superiority type of attitude in my view. So in light of his doctrine, is DP not really one of the elect ( if such a doctrine were true) ? Was this all predestined to happen and out of his control? (not) I pray that this event will break the mind hold that he had over some dear folks that I know.

  30. So in light of his doctrine, is DP not really one of the elect ( if such a doctrine were true) ? Was this all predestined to happen and out of his control? (not) I pray that this event will break the mind hold that he had over some dear folks that I know.

    Very interesting comment, A B Lever. When I listened to Scott Brown’s sermon in which he discussed his good friend who had fallen in sin, I got the distinct impression that he was implying that DP was unregenerate.

  31. Yes A B Lever, I think you’re correct in noting a superiority complex among total Calvinists. Sometimes they have an elitest posture, and they seem to revel in knowing what others don’t and in being rescued while others remain lost. More often, they feel they know far more than other Christians and are better teachers because of their perceived calvinist insights. As a group, egotism can be more prevalent.

  32. Don’t forget cutting off all ties to family and friends who do not subscribe to same beliefs.
    It seemed the only way to justify their righteousness was to label all others as wrong!
    With VF’s very black and white world, it is very easy to not have to think for yourself.

  33. 2busymom, I agree they don’t seem to want to think for themselves, or perhaps they already think that way. They may all share a black-and-white pattern. I’ve seen this with church groups and far more broadly with cultures, believe it or not. Don’t argue with people like that. Just avoid them.

  34. Pingback: Doug Phillips: The Patriarch and His Personal Failure | Spiritual Sounding Board

  35. What a joke of an article. Your “description” of how patriarchal men treat women is ridiculous, inaccurate and insulting to anyone with intelligence. Stop choosing to define other people’s beliefs with your malicious intent.

    Women have a voice in patriarchy, men have accountability in patriarchy. If those things aren’t happening, then it isn’t patriarchy.

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