* * *
Articles continue to be written about fallen pastor and Christian ministry leader and pastor, Doug Phillips, who resigned from the non-profit arm of Vision Forum Ministries and from his public speaking engagements. But what is next? What does repentance and restoration look like? Can or should he assume his former positions again?
* * *
While many are commenting on how beautiful and appropriate Doug Phillips’ public statement was, others are saying, “wait, not so fast.” I’d like to explore some thoughts by others on repentance and restoration.
* * *
Repentance, Restoration of a Fallen Leader and Pastor
Over at Pastor Doug Wilson’s blog post, I saw this excellent comment:
In truth, we don’t know that he has repented. Repentance in such cases takes time to discern as it must be proved (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). It is going to be harder to discern if he was caught in this affair versus coming forward and confessing of his own volition as the later case demonstrates repentance in a more immediate sense. If he was caught, it’s going to take some time to see if his confession is complete and that he isn’t doing damage control (which isn’t repentance). Hopefully his church will censure him for an appropriate period so that these matters can be reasonably discerned. In a similar vein, I must confess I find his resignation vague as to the nature of the relationship. “While we did not “know” each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate.” This seems to imply that the relationship was not physical but merely emotional. That’s how many people are taking it. However, upon closer inspection, he is not saying it was merely emotional. What he is saying is that intercourse was not involved but he leaves the door wide open for the potential discovery over other indiscretions. Should it be discovered that he was physically intimate in other ways, he can claim that he never denied it. My concern is that equivocal language is more indicative of damage control than it is of repentance. If there were a physical aspect to this relationship, I think it would have been better to simply call it an affair and leave it at that. Regardless, it is the duty of his elders and church to oversee this matter. We need to remember them in our prayers, that God grant them wisdom.
* * *
Commenter 1689er is saying what I and many others have been saying – it’s too early to see repentance. He also rightly suggested that we have no way of knowing if Phillips voluntarily issued the statement or was told to do so. That is important.
Some may think this is not our business. I disagree. It is our business. This man has been in a public position of leadership affecting scores of Christian families and their lives. Many have shaped their lives around this man’s teachings. I dare say that many families have heeded the words of this man more than the words of their very own pastor. You better believe his words and life are going to be put under a microscope.
* * *
* * *
Dr. Douglas Weiss, has written an article entitled, Restoring the Fallen. Dr. Douglas Weiss Ph.D., is the executive director of Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has been counseling pastors with infidelity, pornography, and other sexual sins for over 20 years. Weiss listed key patterns he saw for people who were able to be successfully restored. Here is a brief summary of the list.
Key patterns to look for in successfully restored leaders:
- this person voluntarily discloses the sin to his spouse an/or spiritual authority. This action is prompted by a desire for restoration and healing.
- he has a humble heart, truly remorseful, and broken by his sinful actions
- he is ready to accept 100% responsibility for his sin, not blaming anyone else for his sin
- he is willing to take direction and guidance from others and fully submits to those people placed over him
- he readily embraces accountability
- he voluntarily makes efforts to work on the restoration of his marriage
- he voluntarily seeks out professional counselors who can help discover why he did what he did
- he submits to regular polygraph tests (this helps in building trust for the spouse and others).
* * *
Also on the topic of forgiveness and restoration is a recent article by Heather Doney, “We All Sin:” A 15 Step Path To Forgiveness for Doug Phillips. This article is a pertinent read because she identifies specific patterns often found within this “movement” and offers her predictions based on her familiarity of how this movement typically responds.
I was very intrigued by the comment my friend Brad Sargent left at Doney’s blog:
Heather, thank you for posting this. I’ve been doing research on systems of spiritual abuse for over five years. I believe you’ve provided one of the best pieces of analysis I’ve read about a particular christianized authoritarian system. You’ve succinctly addressed the core theological, cultural, and personal dynamics involved here in a way that shows a depth of reflection, discernment, and compassion. As a survivor of spiritual abuse myself, I see these all as indicators that significant healing is happening for you, and I trust that will continue for you and thereby encourage the journeys to health of those you relate with.
I suspect your conclusion about Doug Phillips’ probable restoration to public ministry is correct, barring some revelations that make sidelining him long term absolutely unavoidable. This rush to restoration without rehabilitation seems to have become a hallmark of those held enthralled by their charismatic leader. Those so entrapped fail to see that, as you pointed out, the greater problem is Mr. Phillips’ entire paradigm and systems of control with their pervasive evil … not merely his personal sins and moral failures with their supposedly limited impact.
For those who insist on his restoration to ministry, I have my own opinion about an appropriate period of rehabilitation: I believe Mr. Phillips needs to spend seven years away from public speaking, leading, or ministry of any kind for every one year he was engaged in the self-proclaimed “lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman.” [And, since it appears that his business is viewed as resourcing ministry, he should step down from that as well.]
According to this formula, restitutionary repentance may indeed take the remainder of his lifetime. However, if there is true change of heart, mind, and behaviors, then that shouldn’t seem an undue hardship or inappropriate. In fact, that lengthy, appropriate time of reflection will hopefully give Mr. Phillips the substantial opportunity needed to consider the widespread and destructive impact of his paradigm, his theology, and his personal activities.
Actually Phillips’ own words on repentance are pretty compelling and could very well line up with some of Brad’s thoughts.
Here’s one additional comment/dialogue I found on Voddie Baucham’s Facebook page. I was especially interested to read his perspective because he is a friend of Doug Phillips.
* * *
- Dennis-(removed) How many times do we see this in Christian leadership? They come out explaining their mistake “sin” and then within a few months they are right back in the same leadership position again. They get to write a book and do interviews on the news about how they’ve overcome their past. Everyone just smiles and nods but nothing really changes. Creating a relationship with someone other than your wife is not a one time event. It takes time and effort and a lot of deceit. You have to live in the sin and cover your back over a long period of time to make this work. Foregiveness is one thing, trust to lead again is another.
- Voddie Baucham Ministries Dennis,You ask, “How many times do we see this in Christian leadership?” The answer may surprise you, but it is actually quite rare. There are hundreds of thousands of churches in America. We hear of these types of things on a national basis when they happen to high profile people. However, considering the number of people in Christian leadership, the numbers are quite small.As to your other point, most men who go through something like this never recover. Of course, there are exceptions. Moreover, there are some circles wherein things like this, and much worse, are merely swept under the rug. However, in circles where leadership is taken seriously, it is very difficult for a man to come back from things like this. People have long memories, and tend to be rather unforgiving.Of course, I’m on the outside looking in, so I don’t know the details. This could be a matter where people are involved and have a program of restoration in place (sometimes these things take place over a number of years).
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that failure is not final in the Christian life. Forgiveness is available. And even if one finds himself disqualified in the short run, there is always the possibility of future service in a legitimate capacity after proper restoration. As you said, “forgiveness is one thing, trust to lead again is another.” But praise God, they are both possible!
- Dennis-(removed) The question I ask is if Moses wasn’t allowed to lead the Israelites into the Promise Land because of his sin and if David wasn’t allowed to build the Temple because of his sin, then how do Christian leaders today feel they can sin and have no life-long repercussions? How can a person be above reproach if they are not? If so few are doing the wrong thing then it should be easy to replace them. (Source)* * *
Here are some of the questions mulling around in my head:
- Do you think Phillips can ever be restored to ministry?
- Can Phillips return to ministry because of the fact that he didn’t “Biblically know” the woman?
- Where does God’s grace fit in this aside from forgiveness?
- Are we cruel and heartless to not want him to go back into ministry?
- Is this really not our business?
- Have you ever seen anyone fall from ministry and have a glorious restoration and healing and assume old ministry positions? What was that like?
- Is it cold-hearted to keep someone out of ministry altogether after this kind of sin?
- Can you give Biblical examples of a fallen leader and end results?
- Doug Phillips resigns, but it’s probably not his fault (biblicalsex.wordpress.com)
- How Doug Phillips Wreaked Havoc on My Family (homeschoolersanonymous.wordpress.com)
- Are the women to blame for Doug Phillips’ resignation from Vision Forum Ministries? (http://awomansfreedominchrist.com)
- Doug Phillips: The Big Scandal You Didn’t Hear About and Why It Matters, Julie Ingersoll, Huffington Post Religion
* * *
Special thanks to crecmemes for permission to use image.