Doug Phillips, High Priest

Like other homeschool leaders, I’ve done my share of postulating on what should be done with the Doug Phillips sex scandal (see Patriarchy Has Got to Go). But can I be personal with you? The discussion is disturbing me more than I like to admit. I’ve got a gut-level rage inside me that I haven’t felt for 27 years.

Depiction of the Fall of Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez.

Depiction of the Fall of Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez.

It hit me yesterday morning, Easter Morning, when I woke. I’m ashamed to say this: I had little enthusiasm for the Holy Day. My Facebook wall lit up with “He Is Risen!” posts, but I felt little urge to reply. My 12 children ran around my house and swept up hidden eggs, but I was trying to figure out why I felt so somber.

I mean, really. Doug Phillips isn’t the first spiritual leader who has nose-dived into scandalous immorality. I have been journeying away from his movement for over 10 years, so it’s not like he is my idol today. Okay, he cheated on his wife, assaulted his nanny, and is heading into a he-said/she-said civil court battle that will fill the tabloids for the next couple years.

What else is new? Why am I so disturbed?

I’ve got to go way back to 1986 to explain this feeling I’m having. At 16 years old, I began questioning my Catholic upbringing. I put my parents through hell with an unhealthy rebellion, my lack of faith being perhaps their biggest concern. I was miserable and angry, similar to how I feel now.

Disillusionment. That’s a lot of it. Up to that age I had put my faith in that which I was told was true. I wanted to believe it, but I just couldn’t pull myself to follow. I can dismiss a lot of my rage as just being a disturbed teenager, but at the time my feelings felt valid. I was finding more comfort in my immature atheism than I found in any doctrine my religious upbringing dished me.

So there I was, 16 years old and all ticked off at religion, worrying my mom to no end, thinking I was free from the restraints of silly ideas like God or Christianity. A year later, I encountered Christ and became a Christian.

I know this sounds fast, and you can write my personal experience off if you want, but I’m just being honest as to how I encountered Christ. Here’s the kicker. To this day this is the biggest irony of my life: It was at a Catholic retreat. I encountered Christ at the Together Encountering Christ Catholic retreat in 1987.*

Though I left Catholicism in college and consider myself non-denominational to this day, I have yet to witness a program that has the same love of Christ at the center of it. My TEC retreat remains my fondest spiritual awakening in my life.

Rising from the Dead

Yesterday was Easter, the day we are all encouraged to reflect on Christ’s resurrection. Instead, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own life and homeschool activism, the dysfunctional movement of Biblical Patriarchy in the community, and how God thought about all of this.

If you’re in the community of homeschoolers like I am, you know what I’m talking about. Doug Phillips’ fall is a big deal. Those closest to me keep telling me that I don’t need to feel too guilty — like I said, it has been a good 10 years since I was a fan of Vision Forum — but I still feel responsible for going with the flow too much.

Doug Phillips’ Patriarchy was one of many religious ideas I entertained since my conversion to Christianity, probably like most dedicated parents who attended pretty much any homeschool conference in the past 20 years.

Doug Phillips and his Vision Forum was everywhere. I was seduced into it, for a time, perhaps like you.

The families of the homeschool community stick together, and the Patriarchs seemed so perfect, so polished, so pious. Since my conversion to Christ, I was probably much like tens-of-thousands of dads on Vision Forum’s mailing list: I married, had lots of kids, and tried to raise them right.

So here I am, 44 years old and so angry at Doug Phillips I can barely stand it. And when other homeschoolers try to defend him, I get riled up even more. Especially other patriarchal leaders who seem more interested in distancing themselves from Doug’s signature theology of Patriarchy than fessing up and helping people make sense of the crap.

Once again, I’m 16. Like I was ticked off at my upbringing, I’m ticked off at the last 20+ years of dedication to the homeschool movement.

Yeah, I know, it was Easter. Pathetic, isn’t it? It was my anniversary, too. Wendy and I celebrated a couple weeks ago, so I guess I was off the hook there. Yesterday, of all days, was not the time to feel depressed about my life or Christianity, but I was. I was quite angry, too. Still am.

This Religious Mess

MailbuJesusThis is a picture of Jesus that was hanging in the room at my TEC retreat in 1987. I reflected and prayed yesterday morning — which is tough to do when you’re bitter — and this picture came to my mind. I prayed of my frustrations with Jesus, and I imagined him giving me this answer: “That’s how I felt when I entered Jerusalem.”

Think about this part of the Easter story with me for a bit. If you know your bible well, you’ll understand. Christ was on a roll, walking perfectly with the Spirit, calling down heaven on earth, working miracles and connecting with the persecuted people and even the oppressive Romans.

But the religious — the guys who should have been on his side — just didn’t get it. The “yeah but’s” of the Pharisees and the priests must have been disturbing to Jesus. He probably entered Jerusalem — the most religiously knotted place at the time — so ticked off at these guys that he turned their tables and called them thieves and robbers.

We know the rest of the story. These twisted haters were so enraged at Jesus’ message of love and redemption that they convinced the Romans to crucify him. They were threatened by him, they hated him, so they set out to kill him. The narrative spirals down from there. Jesus’ trusted friend Judas turns him over to these vagrants, Jesus is abandoned by all his friends, his closest buddy betrays him three times, and Jesus is left hanging to die the most brutal death.

In my religious, pious, holier-than-I-can-stand-myself attitude, I can turn this drama into a flannel board story that means nothing to me now. “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” as the Gospel of Luke recalls. You know, the Christ that had it all planned out and knew exactly how the universe was going to roll that weekend.

Today, I’m ticked off. More like the Gospel of Mark. Jesus looked up from his crucifixion saying, “God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Mark probably read this like, “What is up with this? Is this really the end?” Jesus’ life was coming to an end, the religious stronghold appeared to be winning, and it looked like it was the end of the story.

I see the same religious stronghold in the homeschool movement. They are the self-righteous Patriarchs. Their message has been filling families with legalistic, divisive, twisted religious piety, riling up the homeschool crowd to join them in putting the love of God in the grave.

This may enrage some who want to cling to Patriarchy, but I’m more resolved than ever: Patriarchy Has Got to Go.

Doug Phillips Ideology, too.

Last week was the real bomb-dropping news of the depth of Doug Phillips’ corruption. For months since his “confession,” he (and other patriarchy leaders) have been trying to downplay the drama. His accuser** is suing Doug for tens of millions, and she’s citing Patriarchy itself a major culprit to her accusation of being Doug’s “sex slave.”

I received this private note from homeschool advocate Treon Goossen, a friend and fellow homeschool leader here in Colorado. She gave me permission to reprint her frustration with Patriarchy:

“I have been fighting patriarchy for a number of years now. I have been under attack because I am a woman and do what I do. I am also in contact with families who have suffered because of this evil – incest, beating children (adult daughters included) and wives, etc. This “cult” as you so aptly described it is a breeding ground for the oppression and abuse of women. I choose to stand up to it and use my voice to silence it. Thanks so much Chris.”

Jerusalem is falling. If you were part of this mess called Patriarchy, it’s time to make sense of it and start healing. Doug Phillips’ accuser is just one victim of the knotted-up religion of Vision Forum.

* I apologize for being brief about my conversion experience. This is actually a great story that I’ll share with you sometime. My parents forced me to go after I totaled their car in a drunk driving accident. For now, just know that I didn’t want to go to this retreat, but I did anyway, and I met Jesus for real for the first time.

**The original wording “mistress” was changed to “accuser” after someone noted that a mistress implies a willing accomplice in a love affair, not a victim of sexual assault. The accurate term here would be “accuser.”

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Karen Burnett Hamer

    I love you and Wendy and your kids. It’s ok to be where you are XO

  • Great post thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings and an insight to your conversion. We also had a rough experience with our oldest son when he was 17. He wasn’t turning his life away from God, he was wanting to switch “religions”. He said the other one sounded better, more fun. When he asked us to sign the papers to allow him to be Baptized into that church, we refused. We told him as his parents, we did not agree with this. If when he turned 18 and felt so strongly about it…we couldn’t stop him. Right after he turned 18…he thanked us with tears in his eyes for not giving in to him because that would have been the biggest mistake of his life. He apologized for putting us through “torture”. Today at nearly 35, he has brought his wife into Christianity and has two beautiful daughters. All very active in their church. As a parent….I understand the struggles your parents went through. I am thankful you found your way back. And I am thankful your parents stuck to their guns and not let you wander away 🙂

  • Steven Birn

    Biblical patriarchy and what Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard were/are hawking are two different things. Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, perhaps believers would be better served reclaiming the term patriarchy.

    • Did you read the accusation Torres is making toward Phillips? She questions Biblical Patriarchy as a formula that insulated Phillips from being discovered for his abuse. I think the affidavit is convincing:

      • Steven Birn

        I understand what Torres has alleged and I agree that it appears credible on its face. What I’m suggesting is that there’s a difference between what Phillips and Gothard call patriarchy and what scripture actually teaches on the matter. Just because they use the term patriarchy doesn’t mean they’re using it correctly.

    • Random

      So you’re saying that “patriarchy” is Biblical? So you think that we should all become mini-kings moving around with massive families and flocks in tents like the “patriarchs” of the Old Testament? Some people seem to think that just because something appears in the Bible means that we must follow that example, and they slap the “Biblical” label on it to legitimize a horrible concept. Do you think that we should slap the “Biblical” label on Solomon’s hundreds of wives and concubines? It’s in the Bible, therefore we have to do it! Riiiight… Biblical child-sacrifices! Biblical genocides! Biblical dismemberment! It’s all right there in the Bible, folks—grab your swords and have at ’em! The Bible depicts so many things that are not a part of God’s character, and Doug Phillips statements ex cathedra cannot justify them.

      • Steven Birn

        The Bible has to be our starting point in settling all matters. If we refuse to look to scripture for our philosophy, then we really don’t have a basis for anything we believe. With regard to patriarchy (I prefer the term covenant headship) what Phillips and Gothard teach is not what scripture teaches. They’ve essentially redefined patriarchy in an unbiblical manner.

        • Erik

          Steve, please help me understand better “Biblical Patriarchy.”

          • RickStevens

            Erik – here are a couple of example scriptures for what Steven is talking about in the framework of Biblical Patriarchy:

            Ephesians 5:21-28
            21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

            22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

            25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

            Ephesians 6:4
            Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
            The concept of Biblical Patriarchy is that the husband/father is the head and that he leads through servant-leadership and love, just as Christ led, not through a stand & command style of fear-based leadership.

            • Erik

              So, very much what I saw with my parents. But there’s no way they’d call it patriarchy, Biblical or otherwise. That term is loaded, methinks.

              • Steven Birn

                What Rick Stevens has said is what I was getting at. It’s one thing for a father to be the head of his wife and family. It’s another thing to declare there’s only one way for a child to find a spouse. Phillips and Gothard have created the stay at home daughter who could be 30 but is still treated like a child. It’s ridiculous and not scriptural.

                I agree the term patriarchy is loaded. It’s been loaded and redefined by Phillips and Gothard (to say nothing of progressive feminists redefining the term in the 60’s. In some ways Phillips and Gothard’s definition represents an overreaction to feminism). I prefer the term covenant headship as a result.

                • Random

                  The Biblical patriarchs were nomadic princes with multiple wives. Patriarchy as defined today is never taught in the Bible. The concept you’re advocating is simply a husband/father acting in the role of Scripture’s parallel of Christ and the Church—it doesn’t mean he’s infallible, above question or reproach, and entitled to rule his family with an iron rod; patriarchy means something else entirely, certainly as people use/understand the term today.

  • RickStevens

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the “perfect, polished, pious” description. Too many times, leaders are placed (or place themselves) on this pedestal and lead a life of duplicity. When (not if) they fall, we feel like we’ve been duped. It was all a charade. They don’t have it all together. In fact, they’re sinners…just like me.

    All this being said, I see those parallels between most “movements” and the Pharisees. The extraneous “rules” being put into place so as to avoid breaking a real rule. Again, it’s the idea of Man adding to the Word of God. The husband is set as the head of the family, just as Christ is the head of the church. However, as Uncle Ben told Peter, with great power comes greater responsibility. As husbands and fathers, we are to love as Christ loves the Church, giving our lives as a sacrifice.

    Unfortunately, it seems as too many leaders see this in the exact opposite way. They love their ideology so much that they are willing to sacrifice their wives (and families) rather than sacrificing their lives.

    So, Chis, be angry. Be frustrated. It’s out of thse emotions that the return to Truth generally comes. Those emotions are the result of seeing the flock led astray. You can bet that the Good Shepherd feels the same way. This may just be the wake-up call that is needed to restore true, Biblical patriarchy, not the junk being peddled in many circles today.

  • I greatly appreciate your forthrightness, Chris. Your writing wrings true with the clarion sound of authenticity—authenticity borne out of great pain, disillusionment, and grappling with ones razor-edge propensity for going too-far this way or that. The only detail I’d differ is your use of “mistress” when describing the young woman Doug Phillips assaulted. The connotation being that she was an “all in” participant and and equal. Neither (according to her statement and the patriarchal power Doug Phillips wielded) being true. Keep hashing it out, Chris. While we never ascribed to Vision Forum nor other guru’s during our brief tenure as a homeschooling family, I understand the betrayal and frustrating sadness and anger.

    • Thank you so much for noting the poor word choice “mistress.” I made the change and added a notation. “Accuser” is the correct term.

  • Christie

    Thank you for this post. I have been wrestling with all this as well. We home school and love our big and growing family (4 littles–soon to be five). Right now I feel like I am going through a fruit basket trying to make certain that a discovered rotten lemon has not taken the damaged all. Only the fruit is incredibly precious and not easily replaced. Though we had only put our toes in this movement (heard and liked a few sermons) I feel like I still must re-evaluate our goals and our motivations and be certain that a little yeast has not infected more. I have been stepping back and making sure that we are on the right track and have not gotten bumped off and on another track unknowingly.

    What he did angers me in that it was disgusting and incredibly hurtful to so many. That he lived a dual life and preached morality by day in the public sphere while being disgusting in private and at night is horribly disturbing. I am glad I am not the only one that feels this way.

  • Great post, and if it’s any comfortable, I believe that while the lies we have believed and created have run very deep, God’s truth can run deeper still.

    • So true, Lana. I appreciate your writings, too!

  • Thank you for sharing this and for your recent writings on patriarchy. My family has also been harmed by that movement, mostly through my own fault. My husband saw that trying to fit the expectations of that “movement” was harming us both, but I wanted so badly to fit in with other women I knew and looked up to that I tried to cling to it for years.

    I’ve been through similar experiences in the past couple of years, watching several of the men I considered leaders fall (I was raised in an IFB church that followed the teachings of Jack Schaap and brought into Bill Gothard’s IBLP through that, then moved on to Vision Forum because the people seemed to be more educated and less legalistic). I was already on my way out of that movement when the allegations about all 3 came to light, but it still threw me for a loop.

    One thing all the turmoil it caused for me has done was to cause me to re-evaluate my whole relationship with Jesus and the church and realize that I had been looking to others instead of Christ, relying on fitting a certain pattern and image of Christian womanhood and the Christian family, and to following the teachings of particular pastors and writers, instead of conforming myself to Christ.

    I hope that with all of the pain this has caused followrrs of Doug Phillips and men like him, that it at least bears good fruit in the lives of others by turning their focus back to Christ and reminding us their our faith and hope lies in Him and in His resurrection, not in a particular teacher or lifestyle.

    • Wow. You moved from Schaap/Gothard to Vision Forum because they were less legalistic? Ufta.

      Your testimony is excellent. I’m so glad to hear you’re finding freedom in Christ.

  • Charles Tryon

    I’m sorry, but I had to laugh when I read our footnote about being forced to go to the retreat after totaling the car. I know you are perfectly serious, but it’s just funny how God has this way of turning our anger and rebellion and mistakes around, so that when we look back and see His fingerprints all over a situation, we just laugh and cry at the same time.

    I suppose it’s a reminder that, in the middle of what looks like Satan having a grand old time destroying our friends and undermining all the GOOD things that have come out of your life and the entire Home School movement, God is still there. Sadly, some people will let their faith crash and burn over this, but there will be so many others who will be freed from their bondage to the LIE, and end up being stronger lights for the Glory of Christ because of it…

    (Thanks for this post. It really helps me understand the situation, as well as what’s going on with some of my home school friends!)

  • Sue

    Really bothered and concerned with all of this information. I respect the Duggar family, but they espouse almost all of the ideas of the Patriarchal Movement and support many of the leaders that were mentioned. What are your thoughts on this?

    • I don’t view the Duggars as leaders in the movement; I view them as participants. I’m responding like I do with many family friends who are involved with Patriarchy: I love them and want the best for them, and the reality of the ideology will continue to challenge them.

  • Sue

    Really concerned and bothered by all of this information. Also, the Duggars, whom I respect, espouse almost all of the Patriarchal Movement teachings and support many of the leaders that were mentioned. What are your thoughts on this?

  • Sue

    I am very concerned and troubled by all of this information especially since the Duggars, a family we have highly respected follows most of the Patriarchal teachings and supports many of the people on the list given by Ms. Lourdes Torres. How are we to handle that connection?

  • Sue

    Wondering why you are deleting my comment? I have a true concern on how to handle the issue and you will not weigh in?

    • It wasn’t deleted, it appeared three times. This was a Disqus error. I see your comment and I have responded.

  • MKulnir

    Dear Chris,

    I have enjoyed and have been challenged by what you write about in your blog. The article above struck many chords. I was a huge fan of Doug Phillips and Vision Forum. Perhaps someday we may share some stories. Suffice to say, I relate to just about everything you wrote. But there is something that is very disturbing about your blog: The ads that you run on the bottom of the pages. Given the content of what you just wrote about, those ads on the bottom are particularly ironic and make the whole experience surreally weird.

    For instance, today’s samplings:

    YJNews – “Boy shows his father photos of his mother in bed with another man.”
    The PBH Network – “The sexiest Jennifer Lawrence Pictures Ever”
    CelebZen – “9 Huge Celebrities Who Are Surprisingly Small”
    Celebrity Gossip – “12 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Alcohol Addicts”

    I cannot imagine that those ads bring in anywhere enough revenue for you to justify how they distract from the messages you are trying to convey in your writings. And, whatever small annual fee your bloghost may require to keep your blog ad-free, it is a pittance compared to how those ads denigrate your blog, and well woth whatever the cost. Just sayin’.

  • shawn mathis

    “who seem more interested in distancing themselves from Doug’s signature theology of Patriarchy than fessing up and helping people make sense of the crap”

    It seems that way. I pray it is not.

  • David Borrink

    For years I’ve often thought that it’s pretty sobering how the Pharasees, who studied the scriptures in order to find eternal life (to quote Christ), are the same as many of those in the Patriarchy movement. They have such detailed studies and Biblical admonitions, but yet… they miss the whole point. That’s scary how we can seem to study so much and still miss the idea, no matter how polished it is, or how nice the catalogs and books look, or how sharp the web site looks, or the “perfect” appearance of how their “model families” are. They seem to miss that “these are the Scriptures that speak of Me”, and they miss Christ altogether.

    Like you said: “But the religious — the guys who should have been on his side – just didn’t get it.”