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Attempting to Set the Doug Phillips Record Straight: The Puzzle, Types of Control by Church Leaders, Vision Forum, Boerne Christian Assembly, and a Characterization of Phillips
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BEFORE WE BEGIN: In this series of articles on Doug Phillips and Vision Forum, I will talk about my “Source.” Although I have been conferring with just one person who knows the people and situations involved first-hand, that person in turn checked the perspectives with a number of other first-hand witnesses in order to confirm things. So while I refer to Source in the singular, please be very aware that my Source has conferred with other primary sources. So, there actually is responsible confirmation by multiple witnesses going on to help get to the most accurate account.
Well, this has been quite an interesting experience, trying to compile an account of Doug Phillips as told to me by a key Source who was close to the goings on of Doug Phillips. Three days ago, I had typed the bulk of an article, but something wasn’t sitting right with me and I wanted to confer with Source to make sure everything was accurate according to Source’s perspective. It was not. I had put Doug Phillips into a box – into a pattern of abuse that was familiar to me, but not accurate. How did this happen?
My previous conversations with Source were primarily discussing the timeline of events to help me understand the key people/details. But what was missing from that discussion was an understanding of what Phillips was like on a day-to-day basis at church, at home, at Vision Forum. I had based that original article on information from second-hand sources and articles on other blogs – not from people connected, day in and day out, with Phillips.
This has been a very valuable lesson to me – I initially interpreted all I was learning about Doug Phillips and the demise of Vision Forum from what’s become my default pattern of what spiritual abuse looks like. Those who have followed my blog know that I am really into patterns of abuse that leaders use. I was able to identify my pastor/church when reading other survivors’ stories of abuse. When reading some of their stories, I felt like they were writing my story: That’s ME!!! That’s exactly what happened to me!!!! It was like a lightbulb went off and I had an instant connection with someone else who understood. I was not alone. The pattern of abuse matched what I experienced and was a turning point for me.
Many people who read these stories and identify with them may for the first time realize they have been in an abusive church situation and will finally have the strength to leave. These lightbulb moments can change the course of entire families, bringing them emotional and spiritual freedom. I will never minimize the importance of this and it is always my prayer that the personal stories shared here lead others from spiritual bondage to freedom.
But the new lesson I’ve learned the last few days has been disturbing. It was a different kind of lightbulb “ah-ha moment” to realize that I, along with countless others, may have believed things about the Doug Phillips/Vision Forum situation that were grounded in partial or second-hand information and speculative conclusions. This has most likely led to some wrong conclusions. I want to be clear. I am not invalidating the conclusion that Doug Phillips was an abuser, but the route I took to get to that conclusion was inaccurate and I hope to clear up some of why that happened.
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Three different types of control that are abusive.
After my phone call with Source, I called my friend, Brad/futuristguy, who has spent years studying and writing on the topic of systems of abuse, especially in faith communities. After I explained to Brad where I had gone off in my wrong interpretation of Doug Phillips, I shared the new information to see if he could provide some feedback for me. He sure did and I think the information he gave me might help others. Brad identified three ways in which church leaders can exert their control, and by that, their abuse:
- Control by Compliance: The leader sets up a rigid system full of rules and regulations, “correct” theology, legalistic treatment of people, punitive (punishing) treatment for those who fall short, being very black/white in thinking. All this helps some people feel safe, secure, and competent because they supposedly know they are believing the right things and acting the right ways. But others feel locked in, blocked off, stifled.
- Control by Chaos: When there are no clear rules/boundaries, it can lead to a chaotic environment. This may amp up a supposed creativity factor, but can also make people feel unsettled, insecure, and self-doubting because they don’t know what is going to happen next. So they get spiritually chained to the leader and expect him or her to take charge. But there is little consistency because the leader is always chasing the next new idea. You will also find little-to-no accountability or follow-through by someone who controls by chaos.
- Control by Charisma: This leader thrives on being in the public spotlight, and easily attracts an audience by the way they look, their eloquent speaking, their passionate emoting, their awe-inspiring vision. There is something magnetic there, and people following this charismatic leader get enamored by their vision or success. He represents something new and exciting and they want to be a part of that success.
Brad talked about how in any of these different systems, people put their hope in a leader or a system, and no longer directly in Jesus. So, if something happens to show the leader or system to be fake or flawed, it can pull the spiritual rug out from underneath these followers. (But that actually can be a saving grace as a puffed up person or system implodes, because it can force us to see what we chose to chain ourselves to, and maybe will start us on a pathway to peace and freedom.)
Ok, so here’s the main take-away for this situation. Before talking with Source, I had Phillips placed mostly in the Control by Compliance category. Although I had always considered Phillips to be showy and wanting public attention for himself, I was not considering that his charisma was a method of control, or that maybe he used chaos inside Vision Forum or Boerne Christian Assembly (BCA) to control. Now, after this new information from Source, it is my opinion that Phillips’ primary methods of control were by chaos and charisma. (Methods of control can and often do overlap.)
We will soon see how these different methods of control played out. Please be patient. They may not all seem to fit right now, but I think you might see eventually that they do fit and that they form a different picture about the forms of abuse perpetrated.
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Ok, first off, I want to discuss one of the key questions I have read about Doug Phillips and Vision Forum (meaning both VF Ministries and VF Inc. business) in comments on news and blog articles:
Who knew what was going on
and why didn’t they do anything about it?
I asked my Source this question and the response rang true to me. It will be easier for me to explain this in a personal story.
When I left my church and friends heard what had gone on while we were there, they asked why it took so long for us to leave. It was because I had bits of information, but not a full enough picture yet. After a friend was fired, a large group of people left the church. Slowly over time, we got together and compared stories/notes. It was like we were all individual pieces of a large puzzle. We were shocked to find that each of us had part of the complete picture, each had information, some significant, some not so significant, that connected with information from others.
I think that is what happened with the Vision Forum situation. Had everybody been together at one time to discuss their individual pieces, the abuse story could have been put together earlier. But it is common in controlling systems that circumstances, whether intentional or not, prevent puzzle pieces from coming together in a timely fashion in order to put a stop to the abuse. In this case, as you will soon see, once key people did finally get their puzzle pieces joined together to see the big picture, they did in fact act upon it.
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I think what I’d like to do now is clear up some common misinformation – information that I’ve read numerous places (which was also what led me to wrongly categorize Phillips’ control methods). The information I am clearing up came from Source, but which is now written in my own words. This is Source’s interpretation. The bolded sentences below are bits of misinformation I have read, with corrections coming from Source given beneath. Again, a reminder that when I say “Source,” it is not an individual, but multiple individuals who have conferred and agreed that this account is accurate.
Who are Doug Phillips, BCA, and VF actually,
and how is that different from what’s been presented?
There has been discussion of Doug Phillips as a very controlling and legalistic elder with rigid rules, who interfered with personal lives at church.
Although Doug Philips was one of two teaching elders at Boerne Christian Assembly, he was gone more than he was there. He didn’t have time to act like a pope or to be highly controlling. He was very wrapped up in his Vision Forum efforts, speaking engagements, travels. He also did not have time to devote to being a good shepherd or care for his flock the way a full-time pastor could and should. He was unable to do much counseling of families in crises. Being gone so much prevented Phillips from being able to enforce rigid rules.
I have read that Doug Phillips controlled the flow of information by enforcing “no-talk” rules, that people were not allowed to criticize or question his authority.
This, too, was said to be false. Phillips was not around enough to enforce a no-talk rule which is commonly used by tyrannical spiritual abusers. Source relayed to me several accounts of people challenging Phillips on church- and business-related matters with no repercussions whatsoever. In fact, Phillips would often solicit the opinion of others, including his wife, on matters. Leaders who control by compliance most likely would not seek advice on church/ministry-related issues.
Boerne Christian Assembly was represented online as a legalistic, elder-controlled church in which women could not talk or even introduce guests, and only heads of households distributed communion to their families.
The people at BCA were diverse, but were common and ordinary Christians. They came to BCA to hear hymns and a Biblical message. Some wives wore headcoverings, others did not. There was no formal position on head coverings at BCA. While the women wore dresses on Sunday, some ladies/daughters chose to wear pants at home. It is true that after the sermon, women were not permitted to talk (based on the passage in Scripture where women are not to talk); however, during announcements, it was fine for women to participate, ask questions, or introduce their guests.
BCA was described to me as dysfunctional. BCA elder Bob Sarratt was described as a bit more fundamentalist and black/white in his thinking, while Doug Phillips was not. People came to BCA because they liked the church and perhaps the image that Doug Phillips presented and wanted to be a part of that vision. But they also knew what they were getting into, in that Phillips was gone so much.
Doug Phillips led a strict and upright Christian lifestyle that we would expect from a Patriarchal Homeschool leader – no drinking, etc.
While it is true that BCA elder Bob Sarratt was more strict in his behaviors – doesn’t dance, drink, etc. – that is not the case for Doug Phillips. In fact, Doug Phillips occasionally drank, danced, and went to movies. Doug Phillips’ wife, Beall was more liberated than we would envision of a typical mother in the Homeschool Movement. She took care of herself by going to get her hair done, her nails done, etc.
The Vision Forum employees as well as BCA church members were a diverse group. It was estimated that maybe half of the staff at Vision Forum drank recreationally. Some at BCA and Vision Forum truly embraced their religious beliefs in appearance and behavior, both at church and at home. While others donned the religious image at church, and then relaxed the rules at home. It really was a mixed bag of practices.
Ok, back to my own thoughts and conclusions again: Much of what has been presented online portrays Doug Phillips as leading by compliance and legalism. From details given by Sources, I can see how it was actually more by charisma and chaos for Phillips, though others around him could be more control by compliance. And again, this does not let Doug Phillips off the hook for the spiritual abuse he inflicted. It just means it came about in different ways than we’ve mostly been led to believe. So we need to see it for what it was so we can deal more truthfully with who it affected and how.
So below is the picture I have of Doug Phillips now, after readjusting my puzzle to some new ways of characterizing his patterns of abuse. It’s different from the legalistic ruler I used to have in mind, but it’s more clear and accurate than the characterization I had before.
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Doug Phillips – A Characterization
Based on my understanding of Source’s interpretation of Doug Phillips, Mr. Toad, one of the main characters in the novel, The Wind in the Willows, seems to best characterize Doug Phillips. I like Wikipedia’s description of the song that Mr. Toad performed:
During the course of his adventures Toad alternates between deep remorse for his arrogance and having relapses of it. An example of his arrogance is seen in his self-centred ditty, Toad’s Last Little Song, a song he performs to an enthusiastic audience which exists, of course, only in his mind;
Here is a brief portion of that song:
When the Toad-came home!
Bang! go the drums!
The trumpeters are tooting and the soldiers are saluting,
And the cannon they are shooting and the motor-cars are hooting,
As the- Hero- comes!
And let each one of the crowd try and shout it very loud,
In honour of an animal of whom you’re justly proud,
For it’s Toad’s- great- day!
This description at Wikipedia also rang out to me:
Toad is intelligent, creative and resourceful however he is also narcissistic, self-centred almost to the point of sociopathy, and completely lacking in even the most basic common sense.
In the system that Doug Phillips created, he had a certain persona and image to maintain. His primary focus was that image and his team at Vision Forum aided him by doing behind-the-scenes work to free Phillips to be in the spotlight, speak, and travel. He had an expectation to be praised, even by employees.
When Phillips was present, he could suck the breath right out of a room. He wanted to be the center of attention and his mere presence dominated a room.
Essentially, Doug Phillips has been the prominent figurehead for the Patriarchy Movement. Few can match his charm and charisma and capture an audience the way he could. His words were compelling. He made you want to join forces with him. And he relished that attention.
He drew people into his orbit. Now he must deal with the destruction as gravity retakes hold.
Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
67 thoughts on “Attempting to Set the Doug Phillips Record Straight: Part 1 – The Puzzle of Control”
Very interesting and not what I expected!
Thanks for validating exactly what I felt after talking to Source, Marsha.
Not having been sucked into the homeschooling culture of Vision Forum, I find this all very interesting. I’m amazed at the amount of work you’re putting into this!
Thank you J.A. for all the time you are putting in to make sure the truth comes out and we see an accurate picture of this situation.
Thank you for all your hard work!
Your overview of the situation and Doug Phillips fits much better with other reported events than if he were a legalistic leader. That’s what made some stories seem strange – Phillips’ hidden sexual misconduct and the older woman in the church who attempted to entice the young men into sexual relationships never fit with a controlling leader. But they do fit with the chaos/charisma type. You’ve done a beautiful job and explained the silence of other leaders (portrayed elsewhere as deliberate), making them seem more real and mostly just confused, not willfully negligent. I couldn’t figure out how people could be so heartless and self serving. Really they’re normal, just sad.
Toad — what a helpful image, Julie Anne! 🙂 Thank you so much and I’m looking forward to more in this series. You and Brad/Futurist Guy are doing a great service to the Christian community.
May we republish this post on ACFJ? I think the three kinds of control would be very relevant to our readers who are dealing with domestic abuse and the abuse from church leaders who become allies of the abusive spouse.
So much food for thought in this post!
Jackie: I have been very upset about the “older woman” scenario. That never should have been published. UGH!
Barbara: Feel free to crosspost. Thank you in advance for including links back here – and Brad’s link (which is in the post). He really deserves so much credit.
I have found that some of the people who are most knowledgable about spiritual abuse are ones who have experienced it personally. Brad is a survivor and the survivor community is blessed to have him and his great work.
This is the first accurate portrayal of this man I have read on the web. Totally nails the depiction.
This was well written and offers great insight. I saw DP one time online with one of his Manly adventures. My tooldar went off about three minutes into the video. He one of the latest in a long line of tools in the evangelical camp. I dont get it, these folks are as deep as a puddle, the same with Gothard, Lar$on, and all the rest. They trash lives for profit and power and smile all the way to the bank. Granted Phillips is a bit more complex but is he any worse than say a Fred Phelps? Phelps was more honest in a psychotic kind of way.
I agree, Brian. At least with Phelps, what you see is what you get. With Phillips, you are being entertained along the way and so it “feels” good and you may not know what ride you’ve been on until it’s too late.
I didn’t include this in the article (good grief, it was long enough already), but here’s my family’s history with Phillips/Vision Forum/Homeschool Movement:
I went to 2 or 3 HEAV conventions when we lived in Virginia, probably 1998-2000 in which we became acquainted with Phillips. I don’t remember if he was the keynote speaker, but we definitely heard him speak. I bought my husband a series of CDs there. At that time, I was a regular on the Titus2.com forums, had gone to 2 Gothard seminars and was having babies. I was definitely drinking the Homeschool Movement koolaid with those strong influencers – especially at the Titus2 site.
I thought Phillips was a great speaker and thought that if my husband led the home like that, everything would be rosy. Aside from that initial introduction to Phillips, I was mostly connected online with people in the Homeschool Movement. I really didn’t follow Phillips much. I could not get his obsession with American History, the Titanic (really, was he teaching a new history that hadn’t already been discovered?) costumes, GA Henty books, etc. Somehow, a few years later, we got on a Vision Forum mailing list. My kids loved the catalog and my eldest son bought a few boy toys for his brothers from the catalog. Oh, I also purchased Jonathan Park CDs – almost forgot about that Vision Forum connection – and a CD by the Botkin sisters, Visionary Daughters or something like that. There is indeed a Homeschool Movement bandwagon and I was certainly on it. “Was” is the keyword in that last sentence.
I agree so much with the Charisma aspect. Woman and mothers were drawn to Doug and wanted their husbands to be like him. He is a brilliant speaker and a man that people are drawn to, especially woman. That is why I don’t think Doug’s shoes can be so easily filled. Either he makes a comeback or the VF movement dies. Doug is/was Vision Forum. He is/was the poster boy. I don’t believe he can be replaced which is why it is so crucial he doesn’t make a comeback!
The article suggests that narcissism may the organizing, driving, factor in the personalities of both control-by-compliance and control-by-chaos-and-charisma types. Maybe in the case of the former narcissism is expressed and fed through obsessive compulsive (i.e. legalistic) tendencies, while with the latter the narcissism is expressed and fed through more sociopathic drives to have one’s own unrestricted, but unpredictable, way with other people. The obsessive compulsive and sociopathic personalities both seek control. It’s just that the obsessive compulsive personality does so defensively, to avoid criticism and other forms of perceived attack, while the charismatic sociopath goes on offense, seeking whatever perceived satisfactions come from having one’s own god-like way with others. Either way, the narcissist is driven by a deep seated, if unconscious, sense of inferiority and shame–inferiority and shame that must be hidden from even oneself through the projection of a grandiose persona, with the grandiosity being fed, built up and supported by the habitual putting down of others.
My recommendation if one finds themselves feeling put down diminished by a supposed pastor: Run. Run today. Do not, do not, wait until tomorrow. Do not suppose anything will change with time. Narcissists are famous for being impervious to rehabilitation.
Julie Anne, I wonder if this is why I (and some of my friends) didn’t see the problems with the patriarchy movement in the homeschool movement. It seems to me that this way is more subtle. I have felt prodding in my spirit about some of this stuff in the past (right there with you on the Titus 2 stuff, too, and have read MOTH several times but just couldn’t get it to work for our family of 3), but they didn’t seem tooooo judgmental on those if us who didn’t agree 100%. Good thing I have a sensible husband who values a strong education in ALL of his children, especially his daughter. And good thing I’m a type-a personality and more likely to do things my way and adjust if things don’t seem to be working the way they say they should.
For me, I think if someone was to give me the whole Homeschool Movement package (Patriarchy, courtship, modesty/purity teachings, full-quiver, etc), I would have rejected it.
I got into it because I was looking for like-minded people who believe that homeschooling is a great way to educate children. However, if the ONLY homeschool convention is the “Christian Homeschool” conventions, you slowly start questioning some of these ideas – – sort of slowly warm up to some of them because, after all, you are like-minded on the homeschooling aspect. Next thing you know, you are grabbing onto more of the ideology. And then . . . . you’ve become one of them.
They should not be called Christian Homeschool conferences. That is misleading. They are essentially an introduction into the cult-like culture of the Homeschool and Patriarchy Movements (not to be confused with general homeschooling – – as in educating your children at home).
This isn’t what I expected either. I tended to view VF and Doug Phillips like the controlling cult I came out of.
Thank you JA and Brad for pulling this info together to give a better understanding on how these systems work.
Isn’t that the norm for charismatic personality cults?
After the cult founder/leader goes, everything just falls apart?
Isn’t that called “slow boiling frog” syndrome?
And didn’t Screwtape tell Wormwood that the best (for him) road to Hell is the slow gradual one, one step at a time, never seeming out-of-place? Until one day you wake up in Hell with the door shut behind you?
Thank you JA for your thorough research! Personally I believe your balanced approach shows your readers how far you have come with your own healing. After experiencing abuse, it is very difficult to not view situations from a very narrow and triggering lens. Your ability to recognize and correct any personal bias in this post is both an example of successful healing and hope for those who have been traumatized. It points us all to the possibility of eventually regaining our own internal locus of control! Thank you for this great example! Ann
—Also, now I better understand one of JA’s former posts about another blogger. Thanks for the clarification.:-) Ann
As I start putting together the rest of the remaining articles, I just want to reiterate that there won’t be sensationalism here.
The primary purpose of the next articles will be to clear up misinformation and provide an accurate timeline from real sources. There’s nothing earth shattering here.
Thanks Julie Anne! This helps explain some of the inconsistencies I’ve heard in other accounts about Phillips. I look forward to further posts on this topic.
“So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”
“The Art of War”, Sun Tzu
JA, This is awesome! Thanks so much for digging into this. I have NO experience with Doug Phillip’s movement and only ran across problems with that movement about 8 years ago.
The reason why this article is so important is because spiritual abuse is not black and white. It is not cut a dried. Many times there is no smoking gun to point to and say, this is what they did to me. For many people they never really know what happened.
I would love to hear from Brad on this but I wanted to add that when you combine the “control by chaos” with a Charismatic pr well loved leader (because most followers never get that close) there are often unwritten rules you would never imagine are in effect. In fact, the unwritten rules can change often depending on circumstances you know nothing about.
And these leaders often have “commanding officers” (1st tier leaders) who make up arbitrary rules based upon their own interpretation of what the charismatic leaders wants but changes quite often. They are often more rigid than their leader. They are like this secure their positions.
In one mega church I was involved in, the big leader did not want to know what was going on. He was busy traveling all over becoming well known. Not only that but getting involved in any conflict meant he had to take sides or make real decisions. Something he did not want to do because he was known as a real nice guy and very humble. He wasn’t. So a lot of evil went down on his watch but he was like Stalin in that many lower level staffers said, if our great father knew what was going on he would stop it. I mean the guy wore a teflon suit! Nothing stuck to him ever all the while being the great beloved leader. Best of both worlds, I suppose.
And many times these control by chaos insitutions will have large turnover of middle and lower level staff.
Just remember, most movements have to chase the latest new idea within their paradigm or they die off. And trying to maintain their system, movement, etc brings chaos because they have to keep bringing new bodies in the front door or they won’t be able to maintain the ridiculously high salaries and such.
The most important thing we can learn are the red flags. There is no one size fits all but the themes are there. Hiearchy, wanna be celebrity leader, etc.
Thank you for diving into this. We all must think through these things carefully to protect ourselves from getting sucked in again. And the last thing we should want to do is enable evil or chaos.
“So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”
“The Art of War”, Sun Tzu
TIA, The irony is that most people who have a favorite guru or even pastor do not really know them well at all. BUT, they think that 5 min convo they had with them at some conference or at church is enough to prove what great guys they are. I call this the Hollywood Celebrity effect. They like that person’s “persona”. And they buy into the image that person is trying to build in the minds of people.
The truth is the cult of personality is alive and well in Christendom. It is such a shame. It totally negates any understanding of the priesthood of believer.
So did BCA actually practice head-of-household communion distribution? I know Jen Epstein reported that they did, and that it really is practiced in some FIC churches because Voddie Baucham and his elders felt the need to respond to it on Grace Family Baptist’s website. I reported on Voddie’s response at my blog here and flipped out about the practice in general here (based on Jen’s info).
“The truth is the cult of personality is alive and well in Christendom. It is such a shame. It totally negates any understanding of the priesthood of believer.”
Amen. Sad, but true.
Yes, Hester, I specifically asked this question. Heads of households giving communion to their families is nothing new to family-integrated churches. We attended Household of Faith for about 6 months in Oregon and they held this practice as well (Gregg Harris, the father of Josh Harris of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” started this family of churches. Funny thing, I thought it was “sweet.” Now I know better.
Why is this a problem? Because it puts the husband/father in the position of judging the faith and spiritual state of someone spiritually. It puts the father/husband as mediator and there is only one mediator, Christ.
Imagine how this practice could be used to control a wife. The husband may deem a wife unworthy based on her “behavior” and withhold communion from her. This is his interpretation of their marital conflict. The wife may be responding appropriately to her husband, but the husband is a controlling tyrant.
This then becomes a spiritually abusive situation. The wife is trapped because she has wrongly believed that her husband is her spiritual head. She can get the idea that she will never measure up spiritually and it can be a downward spiral of spiritual and emotional chaos.
Who does she go to to complain that her husband is behaving like a spiritual tyrant. In this environment, if a husband says to elders that his wife is misbehaving, out of line, unsubmissive, who do you think the elders will believe? The husband or the wife? Remember, they strongly believe that women want to rule over husbands (Genesis) and so they default to that way of thinking and would most likely defend husband first.
Some translations say the the wife’s desire is to control the husband.
@ Julie Anne:
Okay, thanks. I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t accidentally spread incorrect info.
Husbands being allowed, basically, to excommunicate their wives, is just wrong on so many levels.
I’ve only been following the patriarchal home school movement for a short time, with my interest having been piqued by The Duggar family and my proximity to Bill Gothard’s HQ. I have no first hand experience with this kind of abuse and am not a Christian. Please don’t take offense at this, but anyone who’s perused the former VF website or heard Doug Phillips speak publicly would know that charismatic control was key to his success. For goodness sake, the man spent a good portion of his adult life parading around in costumes!
I think the untold part of this story that I’m still waiting to hear is what has become of DP? Is there an ongoing criminal investigation? IRS trouble? Will he be held accountable? It’s disappointing to me that the DP and Bill Gothard scandals haven’t received more mainstream press attention. Every time you turn around the Duggars are being interviewed on GMA or Today show with the hosts tossing the same softball questions at them. I’m sure they’re nice people, but as the poster family for the patriarchal home school movement, it’s high time reporters began pressing them on their connections to these dangerous cult leaders.
Going along with the topic of family-integrated churches, like BCA – I think it’s important to note that Doug served as “teaching elder,” which is another word for pastor. This is a common phrase used among family-integrated churches. There are other denominations that use this model as well (i.e., Plymouth Brethren believes in plurality of elders rather than having one pastor).
We attended a church with 5 teaching elders after our cult church and actually it felt very safe for me. At least at that time, I was very leery of having ONE man ruling over me like my previous church. Having 5 men equally sharing the responsibility of shepherding seemed safe – and there is a biblical model for this.
At Gregg Harris’ family of churches and other family-integrated churches, elders were not seminary trained – – they were ordinary men/fathers. This was also the same at my former church which really was quite healthy.
There is a lot of discussion about IFB churches with one pastor in charge, no one above him to hold him accountable. Even in the elder-led situation, this can be the case in which they claim each elder is equal in authority. One elder may assume a primary elder position. He may not be presented to the church as lead elder, but because of his controlling personality, it is commonly understood by the elders who is in charge. The congregation may or may not be aware of this.
For example, in my former church, the elders were supposed to be on the same level as pastor. However, we quickly learned that the elders had merely served as “yes men,” to the pastor and overlooked bad behavior, differences, etc.
Hester, I don’t know that I’d use the word “excommunicate,” but they have the opportunity to withhold communion. I’m pretty sure excommunication would require more than just one person’s word, anyway. Usually it would require all of the elders in agreement. And in some cases, the church votes on this.
Welcome to the blog. You raise some important questions – questions that many of us share.
You are right about the Duggars and their media attention – they are the poster family for Patriarchy. They seem to be happy and loving. It also seems like there is a genuine mutual love and respect between JimBob towards Michelle. Even though they believe in the Patriarchal gender roles of husband ruling over wife, he seems to not abuse that – – and Michelle seems to be okay with the ideology.
What the media misses is the entire culture of Patriarchy – – how this works at church, at home with a man who has a need to be in control and uses it inappropriately.
I am encouraged that media has been linking to stories online and bloggers who cover these stories. SSB was linked in The Christian Post, Huffington Post, etc, on different occasions, so I think what some of us do in the blogging world is helping with awareness. Let’s hope so. I’m especially encouraged that both Gothard and Phillips were exposed within a short period of time and have the common denominator of Patriarchy. That might be helping people to connect the dots.
A few thoughts on Lydia’s comment at 11:24 am. Sorry to have to be relatively brief on complex questions, but I am on deadline to finish some writing assignments. (Granted, this still means a big chunk of words to get complete-enough thoughts out, but that’s just how it works for me.)
Anyway, key thing is that I’m trying to look at a *systems* approach to how spiritual abuse gets perpetrated and perpetuated. So, it’s important to try to identify as many different overall styles of abusive leaders as possible. The trio of compliance/legalism – chaos/license – charisma/please like me! makes for a good framework on the overall processes involved. I have another whole framework that I haven’t published anything much on yet that uses movies to look at a wide range of “personality temperatures” for different kinds of abusers of power — everything from the cold, cruel, seductive Borg Queen in *Star Trek: First Contact* to the almost bipolar hot/cold Mrs. Coulter in *The Golden Compass* to the initially neither-hot-nor-cold Robert the Bruce in *Braveheart* etc. All these characters have a certain kind of charisma, but again, it’s not a formula. We may not have experienced all of them ourselves, but as a group of survivors, we have, and can learn from each other.
Back to chaos/compliance/charisma. In my experiences, those leaders whose usual operational style results in either chaos or compliance actually have some level of charisma. Maybe it’s the magnetism of personal looks, speaking ability, seeming graciousness, feigned humility, etc. But it’s a façade, a mask that covers their self-serving interests.
Also, you can have very similar surface behaviors/outcomes but have them stem from different standard operating procedures. Lydia mentioned the charismatic pastor who avoided getting involved in conflict because it meant taking sides and making real decisions. I saw something very similar in one pastor who ruled by compliance, which typically has a very strict hierarchy of leadership. So, to avoid having to deal with relational fallout consequences from his controlling decisions, he ordered the next person downline in the leadership pyramid to carry out the decision and/or deliver the bad news. Similar results perhaps, different M.O.
It’s not a formula, cuz we’re dealing with people and people are complex. So, it helps to have frameworks of general patterns so we can compare and contrast and see what helps us interpret what happened so we can, as Lydia said, “think through these things carefully to protect ourselves from getting sucked in again. And the last thing we should want to do is enable evil or chaos.”
More in another comment soon about that …
A few thoughts on that last quote from Lydia at 11:24 a.m. on “think through these things carefully to protect ourselves from getting sucked in again. And the last thing we should want to do is enable evil or chaos.”
In a systems perspective, we need to look at all the people and processes involved, to see how they mesh together. If we want to break apart a toxic system to salvage whatever (and whomever) we can, then we need to stand back and look at the big picture instead of just focus on the details of what happened to us.
[WARNING: Please read the following paragraphs carefully so you don’t freak out about something you *think* I’m saying but I’m really not. I am NOT “blaming the victim.” I’m advocating learning to discern so we don’t get sucked in again.]
So, in the system, we need to consider our *role* in what happened. That does NOT mean we were *responsible* for being spiritually abuse. It means we played a role, whether we wanted to or not. As best I understand how things generally go down in spiritually abusive systems, there are at least seven usual roles that we can identify:
Three are on the abuser/perpetrator side of things – (1) spiritually abusive perpetrators/leaders, (2) his/her active underlings who carry out the abusive leader’s dictates and/or block people from getting close to the abuser, and (3) his/her passive enablers who see the abuse and are silent or otherwise endorse the abuser and his/her system.
Three are on the victim/survivor side – (4) the spiritual abuse survivor, (5) his/her public advocates who seek to help in a more overt way, maybe through blogging or running interference to keep abusers away, etc., and (6) his/her relational supporters who help more on the personal level to process what happened.
One other is (7) the pool of other people who aren’t so directly involved, but are still affected by being in the system. They might end up in any of the other roles sometime in the future. (Like aquatic life in an aquarium where the water is never changed, they’re taking in toxins by osmosis. Will they survive? Mutate? Die?)
We as victims were part of a spiritually abusive system. We played a role in it, but that doesn’t make us responsible for it. Anyone who got in the way of the abuser and his/her henchmen could end up playing that same role, couldn’t they? It just happened to be us who was available, and perhaps even groomed and conditioned to play the role. As a college friend of mine said, “Manipulators and martyrs go together in matched pairs.” But the key to survivorship is: What are we going to do about those roles right now and in the future?
One of the best questions I was asked by my spiritual director after a truly horrific church planting experience was this: What was in you that may have made you susceptible to getting taken in by this guy? I realize that this malignant minister recognized my desire to help people make a difference for the Kingdom. So, he used that as leverage to lure me into his orbit. (And, as with tetherball, whatever you orbit is what you’re chained to.) With other people, this guy leveraged their interest in having a supposedly fresh vision for what churches in the postmodern era could be like. With others, their interest in community. All of these, he could talk a great line about, but couldn’t carry out. It wasn’t who he was. That’s part of how he got found out as a phony.
So, anyway, if we want to avoid being victimized again, we’d do well to reflect on how we got pimped in the first place.
Brad – your 1:53 comment reminds me very much of what Ken (was in a very bad abusive church for 12 years) described to me. Ken is another one who really understands systems of abuse. He was describing to me the system of a narcissist. At the top ones who feed the narcissist: the build his ego, encourage him, shower him with praises and he in turn gives them preferential treatment, others may be pew sitters who don’t rock the boat. They are still part of the system in that the narcissist needs them – – as part of the bigger group – adds to numbers (also feeds ego), but these folks may overlook problems, or maybe don’t care – they want to be part of a group. Then there are those who do question authority and are labeled as trouble makers (um, that would be me with my former pastor). A narcissist will always be after those who challenge/question his authority and he will go after them ruthlessly.
But regardless of how a church member responded in the system, by default, they were automatically placed in a system for the narcissist’s benefit and keep that narcissist on a forward track. There is no way to avoid it except by leaving (and in some cases, narcissists pursue those who leave). Anyway, what you make sense and it definitely is not blaming the victim, but just acknowledging our role in a system that many of us got by default. (I’m sure Ken would elaborate much more and I probably left stuff out, but that’s the general idea.)
Wow, “Control by Chaos” sounds so much like my father. You can never feel safe around him because things are constantly changing, there are no boundaries, and from one conversation to the next you don’t know if he’ll be saying loving things or giving you a verbal beatdown. It was a rough way to grow up! Thankfully I’ve been able to form stable adult friendships in which I feel very secure, and am slowly learning how to be free.
“So, anyway, if we want to avoid being victimized again, we’d do well to reflect on how we got pimped in the first place.”
Amen. I learned a lot about this from Cindy K. Like you, I was involved with leadership so what was it? In all honesty, I let down my typical “corporate guard” because a plastic fish was slapped on it. And how could all those thousands of people be wrong? (DUH–think Sportsplatz) These people were “Christians” and could be trusted.
I basically had a target on my back. But no for long once my eyes were opened. I was very angry with myself for a long time for being such a chump. But the thing that surprised me the most were those who were taken in, used and still longed to be near the throne. I think some of them would have driven a mac truck over their grandmothers to be back in the inner ring.
“Anyway, what you make sense and it definitely is not blaming the victim, but just acknowledging our role in a system that many of us got by default. ”
It is very healthy to acknowledge our role in all of it. It is the only way to keep from getting sucked in again. It breaks my heart to see so many of the spritually abused spending their lives looking for “good leaders” to follow. They have missed the whole point.
We are the ones who should be interviewing prospective churches to see if we want to accept them. :o)
@ Julie Anne:
Here’s the “official” line from the Catholic Encyclopedia on who can excommunicate. The bolded part is mine.
So yes, you’re right, a normal excommunication (in the Catholic church, at least) does require hierarchical involvement – notice regular parish priests can’t do it but have to go higher up the chain. Nevertheless what BCA allows is still pretty darn close to a “functional” excommunication, because it amounts to withholdding/denying the sacrament for bad behavior. If it’s not technically excommunication, it’s about a hairsbreadth away.
The info from the Catholic Encyclopedia actually makes BCA’s practice even worse, because it shows that the FIC really have removed all the checks and balances and basically handed the power to deny the sacrament to any random guy who claims to be Christian and happens to be married.
It seems to me that within the patriarchy movement there is a wide range. I have friends that the couple is loving and supportive of each other, their daughters (their oldest children) will at a minimum get associates degrees so they can “support themselves should the worst happen” (their mom’s words), and they let their children participate in AWANA. Then I know others where the father is more dictatorial over the homeschool curriculum that they use, but the mom can wear pants and the kids will definitely be going to college. And others where the father has a tight reign on everything. It seems like it is very hard to pin down and see people live it out 100% in their lives and the reality of the 21st century. But, I do see it in the speakers and materials in the homeschool movement.
(On a side note, my dilemma over whether or not to go to our homeschool conference has been resolved (again God working out the details beyond my control): my daughter has a dance recital on the Saturday of the conference – both a matinee performance and evening performance. Her performances are more important.)
WRNS: Oh, boy, you are absolutely right. I think the diversity mentioned in the article about BCA is a good indication of how diverse Christian homeschooling is. Some will adopt one or two of the ideologies, others will follow the whole enchilada.
Very interesting, Hester. Thanks for that information. I am greatly disturbed by this practice of fathers/husbands administering communion to their wives/children.
I second that, Ann. Julie Anne’s clearly not seeing this just though some narrow lens triggered only by her own experience.
1 Corinthians has a lot to say about the cult of personality in the church. Paul denounces it severely.
Brad, you may already have looked at the literature on typologies of domestic abusers, if so forgive me for telling you what you already know. There is a reasonable amount of literature on different types of domestic abusers. Lundy Bancroft in his book “Why Does He DO That?” has a chapter on the different types. A couple of other authors have studied male abusers and seen some patterns which they think show different types: they dubbed their types ‘cobras’ and ‘pitbulls’. There are other schema too. And not all the experts agree, of course. But it may be interesting material for you too look at to help you confirm or elaborate the ideas you are working on.
The dynamics of domestic abuse are similar to the dynamics of cults.
See this post I wrote a while ago:
I very much agree with your comment Brad/FG on 17 March 1.53 pm.
[I’m not sure whether that time is the same as it reads for you Yankees, since I’m in Oz and my WP account may show me the Australian times. . . ?].
Understanding the elements of why and how we got sucked in is very helpful and I would say almost essential in our journey of recovery and becoming advocates.
For me, for example, in my first marriage one of the reasons I married him and stayed so long with him was that I had had bulimia badly for years prior to that marriage and I was desperate to find a man and once I was with him I was afraid that if I left the marriage the bulimia would come back with a vengeance. That’s only one factor among many, I give it just as a little example. It does not imply for one moment though that I sought out unconsciously or consciously an abusive man to marry, or that I masochistically enjoyed being abused. Being abused was just plain awful.
PS I like your use of the word ‘pimped’ Brad.
Isn’t that the truth?! I think across the board that the dynamics of abuse are very similar. Not only domestic violence, but abuse in church/church institutions, abuse by employers, teachers, police, coaches. I’m seeing the patterns everywhere.
Thanks for the leads, Barbara. Typologies can be very helpful and I’ll look forward to exploring these … once this, uhh, pesky project is completed!
There is a large Bible church in northern Virginia that has the husband help baptize the wife. And the husband is not the pastor. In fact in the one case I saw on Vimeo, the husband himself was baptized moments before the wife. Christianity has gone crazy.
I actually don’t see a problem with that. I see Baptism as publicly declaring oneself as a new believer. I do not see that as a job primarily or solely for pastors. We as Christians are to go and make disciples, baptizing them . . .
Re: baptism by husband
I also don’t have a problem with a husband baptizing his wife (or children). Actually, I think there’s something really nice about that. The issue is if that is made a rule that is has to be that way. How do they handle cases where the husband/father isn’t even a believer or doesn’t want to do the baptizing? There aren’t any biblical qualifications for who does the baptizing, although presumably it wouldn’t be someone who is known to be an unbeliever (no doubt there have been many cases where an unbeliever has done the baptizing, but that doesn’t really matter).
The discussion of communion practices has pulled me out of lurkdom…I attended a church where the fathers served their family the Lord’s Supper, as we called it, but without any associated language of misogyny or authoritarianism. Female heads of households or women who were attending without family were specifically invited to participate. There was no talk of the dads passing judgment on their family’s spiritual state, only of individual accountability, with the exception that heads of households (male or female) were considered equipped to evaluate whether their young children understood the importance of communion and were mature enough to participate.
I think that’s actually where the practice arose: since in that church’s tradition only those who had made a profession of faith were to participate, it gave the parent the responsibility for making that determination with regards to their children (and that truly meant children, not grown-up SAHDs, for example) rather than a deacon or pastor trying to remember on the fly if little Jane or Johnnie had in fact made a profession of faith.
I will certainly be thinking about this approach differently now, newly aware of how it could be used to oppress. But in my experience it wasn’t inherently oppressive. In fact, ‘serving’ the elements was used to emphasize the ‘service’ of the husband/father to their household.
L.J. – -I greatly appreciate your comment. When I was attending Household of Faith – -that’s how I saw it, too. I saw it as a neat/intimate way for families to connect with the Lord’s Supper.
Now, after studying abuse – especially within Patriarchy, I can see how those who are prone to abuse (not all are), could easily take this and run with it in an oppressive way. That’s what we need to be mindful of.
I want to reiterate: not all within Patriarchy will be abusive – – many husbands are wonderful to their wives, love them as Christ loves the church, do not lord over them, and there is a common understanding of how this role is played out and the wives choose this relationship. She does not view it negatively, wants to submit to her husband in this way, and that is her choice.
When a woman loses her choice, I see problems. When husbands exert their authority/control over women, I see problems.
I think a woman will naturally want to build up her husband when he is loving her as Christ loves the church.
I for one have to say that I think I know where Godith was coming from. I think in the majority of churches today, baptism is something that’s almost always carried out by the pastor of the church, who of course is a person in a position of spiritual authority over others. Yet some churches appear to be taking patriarchy so ridiculously far that they see Christian husbands, even those who are the newest of converts, as somehow having as much Biblical authority — specifically over their wives — as even the most spiritually mature pastors do over their congregations. Men who really are only babes in Christ are given as much if not even more authority over some of the people in their lives — namely women — than a mature believer who’s walked with the Lord for decades, simply because of their gender. That’s what I THINK, anyway, that Godith was getting at. I don’t think he/she meant that it was necessarily wrong for a Christian to help with the baptism of a family member or a spouse, but that some churches really do put babes in Christ in the same type of spiritual position of authority as someone who’s a much more mature believer, just because of the fact that they have a Y-chromosome. And if that was what Godith was getting at, then he/she’s right — Christianity really has gone nuts! Worship of maleness in the church really does seem to have reached purely NAUSEATING levels! I think all the domestic abuse we see going on in Christianity today can and does attest to that.
I read L.J.’s comment, and thought, “now there is the difference”! Someone somewhere got so hung up on assigning tasks to others based on gender, that he (& I mean “he” as masculine) grabbed a sensible practice & turned it into an oppressive one.
Because, of course, an abuser is an abuser: they all seem to have read from the same poisonous handbook.
I reject the idea that a pastor has spiritual authority “of course” — NO. We are all to be priests and have spiritual authority over ourselves, empowered by the Holy Spirit to rule in out own lives. Our ONLY spiritual authority is Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
The very idea that another human being has spiritual authority over you is to reject the great gift of grace that came about when the temple curtain was destroyed. We each directly have access to God and need to human to intervene for us. Do not put another human being between you and God.
correction, “need NO human”
I know the thread is a bit old, but I do want to speak to one thing. When we attended BCA in 2005-2006 women were most definitely not allowed to introduce their guests, ask for prayer, ask questions regarding the sermon, or in any other way “speak” in church. It was the biggest thing that drove us out.
I spent the better part of two decades in the Patriarchy movement in these churches, including having attended BCA a couple of times.
I appreciate JA’s attempt to be accurate. However, I think that you are attributing a lot of things to Patriarchy and VF that they simply don’t believe or practice.
For example, I’ve been in two different churches that practiced head of household carrying the communion elements back to their family. But in neither of the churches did I ever observe the HOH ever tell a family member not to take it. The logic behind it is simple – we eat together as a family at home. It actually is a fairly efficient way of getting the communion elements to the people – and it is an inclusive practice not an exclusive one. The purpose is not for the father to act as the fence.
Another mistake I read here is the idea that Patriarchy does not allow subordinate family members to have their own opinion or identity or make their own decisions.
This makes these articles confusing to me. When you bash Patriarchy I’m not sure exactly which beliefs and practices you are referring to. Because some of the ones that people seem to assume are opposed by BCA and similar people in that movement.
In short, I think there is a tendency here to exaggerate what Patriarchy is, or what VF actually believes and teaches. This results in you whacking away at a straw man instead of the real movement and beliefs that you are trying to address.
It might be helpful if you could write an article breaking down Patriarchy into its elements, and which groups follow which elements. This would really help me to evaluate what you are saying.