Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Still Thank God for Doug Phillips; The Messenger Fell, but the Message Stands

Several years ago my husband John made the statement, "I thank God for Doug Phillips." He had impacted us in so many positive ways. This was before the scandal. Today I can still say I thank God for Doug Phillips. He has a long road ahead of him to repair the ruins. For the sake of his reputation, his precious children and wife, and the cause of Christ, I wish him success. May the good that he has done for the kingdom not be lost. 

We were just heading out for a family jaunt on November 1, 2013 when John sadly relayed to us the news that left us all stunned: Douglas Phillips had announced his resignation from Vision Forum, Inc. and Vision Forum Ministries. He had confessed to an inappropriately affectionate relationship with another woman, not his wife. 
The announcement caused us much sorrow. My daughter Alexa felt physically ill. (She had befriended the Phillips family at an economics conference a year before.) My immediate comment was, "How could he do that to Beall? How could he do that to his children?" My husband said, "I'm not surprised by these things anymore. I only wonder who's next?" (The "next" one turned out to be Bill Gothard.)
I can only imagine the tears and agony that the whole Phillips family has gone through as the knowledge of Doug's dalliance has sunk in.
I have searched the internet for updates on the situation, only to find articles by those who have personal vendettas and harsh criticisms, circling like vultures, feasting on the opportunity to further malign the man and his ministry.
I am not here to defend what Mr. Phillips did. It is in violation to his own Biblical beliefs that he acted against God's will, law and word by involving himself with another woman (to what extent, I know not, nor pretend to know). He has threatened to destroy the future destiny and heritage of his entire family, inexorably and immeasurably. He has in my opinion lost all legitimate right to future positions of leadership in any Christian church or ministry. He has stated that his intention is to remain "a foot soldier" in future endeavors and lead a quiet life. I hope he keeps to that path.
Yet in a sense his fall is very much in line with the doctrine of man's sinfulness, a tenet he also held. If anything, his life illustrates the plight and vulnerability of men in every station and state of faith, as also illustrated in many Bible stories of leaders gone wrong. It could happen to any of us. We should take heed lest we fall.
I also do not overlook the untold pain and emotional damage felt by the unnamed woman he has been involved with. I do not know the circumstances of the involvement, though rumors abound that it was with an underaged nanny in the Phillips' home. If this is true, Mr. Phillips is all the more culpable. Every effort should be made to minister to and restore the young woman, and if applicable to prosecute to the full extent of the law. Justice must be done--after all, it's Doug's second son's name. He has publicly espoused justice, and taught it to his children; now he must live it.
However, I am here to say that much of the ministry and products provided through the years by Vision Forum have been very helpful to our family and to others in our community of homeschool Christian families.
Mr. Phillips' intellectual acuity, historical research, team-building ability, and strong communication skills produced a voluminous repetoire of top-notched resources. They were well-researched, thorough, and visually appealing for all ages. I purchased a large segment of Vision Forum's materials through the years, including books and toys for my children and audiovisual lectures from several conferences. My husband and I incorporated much of his parenting approach and philosophy into our home life, and it has served us well. The materials on courtship, manhood/womanhood, family life and parenting were very helpful to us. Today our children all profess a Christian faith, are generally happy, productive members of society and are raising our grandchildren to be likewise. We haven't done everything right, and would tweak a lot of things if we had it to do over again, but with God's grace we have been blessed with good results.
We started a local family ministry several years ago, which led to starting a family-integrated church, and we sold or gave away much of Vision Forum's materials. We are not sorry we did that. We are only sorry that the picture of Doug Phillip's face on the packaging and his voice in the audio now makes it awkward to continue using and sharing them. Perhaps with time he will live down his current reputation, people will forgive and forget, and the materials will remain useful for future generations. 
Many of the books do not bear his authorship or picture, and remain treasures in our library. I especially like the R. M. Ballantyne fiction series which VF reprinted. They are beautifully bound and very engaging reading for young people, employing history from an overtly Christian worldview. Another favorite is Verses of Virtue, compiled by Beall Phillips. I could go on. I love good books, and so do the Phillips. 
One of the common attacks made on Mr. Phillips' ministry has been that he was legalistic--that is to say, he raised man's laws (which he had created himself) to the same level or higher than God's laws. I would have to argue that he was not legalistic. His core teaching was the sufficiency of scripture--that all the guidance we need for making moral decisions regarding personal, family and church life can be found in the Bible. He taught (if I understood him correctly) that the Bible transcends culture, and that when culture leads us away from Biblical principles, we should not follow the culture blindly, but choose the Bible's standards. This would apply to decisions regarding dress, diet, education, science, family, finances, business, marriage, medical choices, government, authority structures, and--is there anything else? Cultural trends may come and go, but the Word of God will stand forever. The nature of man never changes, and God's guidebook for man will always apply. Mr. Phillips and his fellow associates stood by this concept, as do I. It is not a popular stand to take, even among professing Christians.
Mr. Phillips is an advocate of theonomy and patriarchy--two other hot-button concepts that cause feminists and liberals to foam at the mouth. They also bring out the worst in some Christians. I observe a new generation of homeschool advocates who are rising up in opposition to these concepts as they were embraced by those of us in the first generation. Some of the opposition is probably well-deserved. We may have given the impression that dressing like "retro prairie muffins" (to borrow a term from Douglas Wilson) was the only Christian way to dress and anything "contemporary" is less than Christian, and if so, we were wrong. But theonomy and its founder Rushdoony remains a viable interpretive framework of the Bible and history. Doug propounded this view evenhandedly and persuasively. 
It is also true that some modern patriarchs take their role too far and abuse their privilege of authority. As we all know, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Mankind is notorious for this in every position of church, state, and family. The concept of check-and-balance and accountability is inherent in God's law, including the realm of the family. A woman has the right of appeal to her family, church and government if her husband is overstepping his bounds of authority through abuse, threats, etc. No man has a right to absolute authority; only God does. It does not argue against the patriarchal authority structure itself to point out abusers of that authority, any more than does abusive government officials give cause for dissolving all government structures and having anarchy. The structure should remain intact, while the individual abusers removed from their place of authority and/or the victims vindicated.
One homeschool blogger claimed that Doug Phillips had been "telling us women how to dress". I beg to differ. He did sell materials written by others that addressed the issue of modesty, a Biblical concept and virtue, in a historical context. His little girls were pictured in lovely feminine dresses in their catalogues, and in this way certainly he was intending to model femininity. He also carried a book by the Botkin sisters called So Much More, and one by Stacy McDonald called Raising Daughters of Virtue, which advocated for wearing feminine, modest clothing: in particular, skirts versus pants. While I didn't conclude from reading them that the female members of our family had to wear skirts 24/7, I nevertheless appreciated the attempt made by these godly Christians to stand up against a culture that systematically demeans and exploits women and trains them to sell their bodies. The emphasis on femininity was a breath of fresh air at a time when it's no longer cool to be feminine, or distinguishable from men.
Several years ago my husband made the statement, "I thank God for Doug Phillips." He had impacted us in so many positive ways. This was before the scandal. Today I can still say I thank God for Doug Phillips. He has a long road ahead of him to repair the ruins. For the sake of his reputation, his precious children and wife, and the cause of Christ, I wish him success. May the good that he has done for the kingdom not be lost. 

In Adam's Fall, we sinned all;    

There but for the grace of God go I.


Gregg E. Harris said...

Well said, Arden. Doug is still a child of God, who, like David of old, still has a future in God's grace. If his repentance is real, time will tell. The consequences of his fall will hound him and his family for the rest of his life, just as David's family problems hounded him. But let us all remember, though the first child died, the second child was Solomon.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how you can say he was wasn't legalistic. Could it be that your legalism is blinding you? How many of your standards do you say are God's when, in truth, can't be found in the Bible. Family integrated churches are not Biblical because they do not seek out individuals, but families. And in their inception many other churches are being split. I saw this first-hand. What you believe is between you and God, but I ask you to reassess.