The Doug Phillips affair scandal has rocked and shocked the Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy world the past few days, so I figured I’d address one angle that to my knowledge hasn’t been covered in depth yet: the path that Doug Phillips will try to take to “restoration” and “forgiveness.” It usually seems to take about 15 steps. But first, some background:
Let me start off by saying that whatever Doug Phillips did or didn’t do with any unnamed woman who wasn’t his wife, I think it’s highly unlikely that it’s the worst thing he’s ever done or even that it is a key issue in what is messed up about this whole situation. People like to ooh and ahh and point fingers and make prurient jokes when a leader gets caught and is forced to admit to doing something scandalous, but often the real scandals are what these men are openly doing when they’re not engaged in amorous activities, no matter who they might be illicitly (not) sexting or (not) sleeping with in their down time. I think the same is likely true of Doug Phillips.
Fact is Doug Phillips has made a lot of money creating a huge tome of slickly marketed very bad advice disguised as Christian curriculum and ministry called Vision Forum, and he has used his position as the son of Howard Phillips, founder of the US Constitution Party (formerly the US Taxpayers Party), to create an apparatus to sell it far and wide, enriching himself and expanding his political power at the expense of some of the most vulnerable in our society – women and children – for years.
As a former homeschooled girl I am one of the ones he has hurt, albeit indirectly, and I am offended by what Doug Phillips has had to say about and to women in his home education curriculum materials and speeches, which are designed to convince people that the “natural use of a woman” is to serve men and that starting at a young age girls must be “protected by the umbrella of their father’s authority” and kept from ideas and situations that could lead them to ever think otherwise, much less be empowered to act upon it. I am disgusted by this “biblical advice” he sold to parents like mine, because although mine were poor and never spent any money on Vision Forum stuff, they were definitely influenced by the ideas he spread at the many homeschool conferences that their peers attended and took to heart. I am also horrified by Doug Phillips and his ilk using homeschooling as a Trojan horse, part of a strategic “culture wars” attack on our nation’s culture of individual freedoms and democratic political system. Although I’ve gotta admit that knowing Doug’s old buddies at the HSLDA are supporting Ken Cuccinelli, a guy who wants to reinstate anti-sodomy laws and ban oral sex, does seems even more comical in light of Doug’s assertion that he did not “know” the woman in question in the Biblical sense, which, as I understand it, is pretty much a Christian version of Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
We really don’t even need to know what inappropriate (or perhaps in Cuccinelli’s dreamworld, illegal) things Doug Phillips did or did not do with or to this poor unlucky female, because his worst behavior was already out front and center, perversely held up by him and others like it was a stellar reputation. His admission of infidelity and hypocrisy about purity does not hold a candle to the wrongs he has done in trying to systematically control and demean Christian women (and men he thinks act like women) as part of his extreme patriarchal dogma. He is unfit for a leadership position because he has provided poor direction, spread inaccuracies about the bible, hurt many people, has never apologized for it, and is at this very moment in time still continuing in it and making money off of it. He has exhibited and disseminated anti-woman ideas in the conservative Christian world and particularly the homeschooling subcultures for many years now and the damage is deep.
The type of life that Doug Phillips and his compatriots have created for women and girls who are unlucky enough to belong to families that adhere to his teachings is closer to what you might see in the purdah system in rural Afghanistan than what you’d come to expect among American Christians.
I would know, as I am friends with and work directly with a lot of people hurt by the fallout of the Stay At Home Daughter stuff, women who have lost years of their lives to that empty ideology and are now finding their way into the growing survivors group circles. I know too many girls whose parents put them on a “home ec” track that was homeschooling in name only, forbade higher education or any form of financial independence, and even went so far as to deny homeschool diplomas or refuse to fill out FAFSA paperwork in order to keep their daughters under their control, pledging to instead marry them off in “no touch courtships” to creepily self-centered and out-of-touch young patriarchs-in-training, all in the name of “saving their souls” and not raising “homewreckers.” I know that if my grandparents had not intervened that might have been my life too and as it is I came too close to some of it and it definitely did cause me harm.
So no matter what Doug Phillips did or didn’t do to or with this one unnamed woman and no matter how much he hurt his wife and family through whatever “marital indiscretions” he had, fact is there is a much wider circle of women and their loved ones left hurting and needing to recover from the harmful and selfish things he has blindly chosen to put his time and energies into and is still shamelessly engaging in.
Given this widespread harm that Doug Phillips has caused within the conservative Christian homeschooling community, my expectation of what will happen next might come as a surprise.
I think it is very likely that Doug Phillips will be “restored” to his ministry, continue on with his mission, and not suffer long-term harm to his reputation or standing for his disclosure of hypocrisy and infidelity.
Now, this does somewhat depend on what exactly he did, and all we have right now is one vague apology letter saying he’s stepping down (from the ministry, if not the moneymaking portion of his enterprise) due to some sort of extramarital amorous relationship with a woman. If the woman was underage at the time, or if he was found to also be engaging in homosexual activity (simply sitting way too close to handsome young men in a supposedly platonic fashion is standard for him), or there are several people who come forward and tell stories of systematic sexual harassment, then the jig is up and he is likely done for.
Why isn’t his disgrace likely to permanently boot him out of a ministry leadership position? Well, there’s different branches of Christianity. He just so happens to belong to an authoritarian strain, which has a rather peculiar value system. So…
6 Facts About Authoritarian Christian Culture:
1.) Forgiveness is not a voluntary thing. When it’s requested it is mandatory – you must forgive or your heart is seen as evil.
2.) Like in the military, shit rolls downhill. Leaders are always entitled to more forgiveness and less formal punishment than followers for similar infractions.
3.) The separatist mindset is based on the idea that bad stuff creeps in from outside. So if a leader does something seen as very sinful it’s a sign that sin from the evil, Godless outside world has gotten in, not that their system or the person they put their faith in has its own brand of built-in awfulness. So as backwards as it might seem, the more awful stuff their leaders do, the more its a sign that the outside world is messed up.
4.) The “outside world” is always seen and described as being much much worse as far as crime and pain and sickness than what they have in their “bible believing” community, even when normal metrics indicate it isn’t or might in fact be considerably less violent/miserable/impoverished/stifling than whatever they have occurring within.
5.) The idea that they might actually be “those people who have it worse” simply doesn’t cross their minds, they will not believe it if you try to tell them, and attempting to do so triggers loss of respect and suspicion. You’ve run into a self-sealing argument.
6.) The worst thing about any sort of authoritarianism is not actually the leaders. It is the hordes of authoritarian followers, self-righteous minions mindlessly acquiescing to what their corrupt leaders say and do, overlooking, minimizing, or engaging in immoral things at the direction of the leadership, fearfully attacking like a swarm of hornets when their demagogue or their “necessary choices” are questioned.
Now that the culture in which a man like him can reclaim his role as a pastor and spiritual leader are clear, on to my handy dandy 15 Steps to Forgiveness for Authoritarian Christian Leaders outline detailing how, (if Doug Phillips carefully follows these points in staging his comeback), he can progress from the fall to the restoration:
Fifteen Steps to Forgiveness for Authoritarian Christian Leaders:
1.) Man gets caught with pants down
2.) Man denies it or provides excuses and pretends like everything is fine
3) Man is forced by elders/leaders/media/angry mob of former minions to fess up
4.) Man gives scripted apology admitting the bare minimum of what he did
5.) Man acts “chastened” and “humbled,” invokes his shame and regret at bringing shame on his family
6.) Man expresses how hard this is on him and his family, hoping to use the real and honest sympathy of listeners to get off easy
7.) Man indicates that he is being forgiven by his family and that you should forgive him too because “we all fall short”
8.) Man goes into semi-hiding for a bit, strategically releasing things that not-too-subtly serve as “proof” that he is hard at work improving himself and restoring relations with his family
9.) Man has his acolytes/minions/political and social circle defend his sullied reputation, calling anyone who mentions his indiscretion “bitter,” “spiteful,” having an “evil heart” and engaging in “casting stones”
10.) Man waits until anger at his behavior subsides, then finds an external source to tell his side of the story to, complete with a touching redemption narrative and supportive quotes from his relatives
11.) Man finds or continues a lower level job within his field and publicizes how happy and “humbled” working at it is making him
12.) Man resumes his old station or another one of similar stature, claiming greater wisdom from the whole experience and being “called to lead” once again
13.) Man accuses anyone mentioning his “fall” of not exhibiting proper forgiveness of sinners like Jesus instructs us to do
14.) Man is slightly more careful not to get caught doing whatever it was he did before
15.) Man uses his “everyman” status as a “fellow sinner who has seen the grace of God” to sell more stuff, people buy it, and he gets older and richer
Given the 6 facts and 15 steps outlined above, there’s a very good chance that the outrage and disgust being directed at Doug Phillips is kind of like what happened to Miley Cyrus after the VMA’s: People pile on and act all revolted and disgusted but then they give the stage back to the offending person, buy their next book or album. Thing is, with all the vitriol directed at Miley for being a “bad example” (and at Billy Ray Cyrus for not being a proper patriarch and controlling his daughter), that brings up an important question – what kind of example is Doug Phillips setting and will he get the same sort of condemnation for it?
The simple answer is absolutely it’s bad, but no, he won’t. The 2 main unspoken rules of Christian patriarchy are as follows: (1) there is no winning allowed and (2) it is always the woman’s fault. The sort of pile-on and outrage at “feminine transgressions” and forgiveness of “male sin” is a huge part of the problem in this worldview and it is such hypocrisy. In fact I would argue that had Doug Phillips instead gone out and done exactly what Miley did – gotten stoned, shook his ass on the crotch of a sleazy guy in public, and been filmed riding a wrecking ball naked, thereby ostensibly disgracing his leadership and calling his judgment into question, the level of moral transgression would be a lot lower than what he did was. His whole career is based on rigid patriarchal gender roles and purity culture propriety that only thinly veils the disrespect and even outright loathing for women which Doug Phillips consistently displays. His carefully scripted apology-announcement (which did not include an apology towards the “other woman” and did not leave any space for his wife and kids to not forgive him) has likely left loads of people beyond his own immediate family feeling betrayed, disillusioned, and misled but like his family they too will be expected to “forgive” this type of “male sin.”
So yeah, to all the people who are inclined to “forgive” and “restore” Doug Phillips (particularly those who have started defensively name-calling anyone who says Vision Forum should be shut down and Doug Phillips’ church and homeschool megaphone permanently taken out of his grasp), I have news: you are an authoritarian follower. Please for the love of God (yes, the actual love of God) quit it! Forgive what Doug did or didn’t do all you want to, but don’t forget or give him or others the opportunity to once again blame women or continue the folly. Too much is at stake and homeschool kids deserve better.
Doug Phillips’ legacy already includes several support groups full of former homeschool kids trying to pick up the pieces of their injured lives and make sense of the incomprehensible and dehumanizing things that happened to them at the advice and encouragement of people like Doug Phillips. Because of this, (in case you can’t already tell) the idea that he is still out selling tapes of his sermons, “Beautiful Girlhood” dolls, and knockoff Indiana Jones style patriarchal boys’ gear to gullible homeschool families seriously bothers me. Please, stop buying stuff from Vision Forum and tell that man that the jig is up.
Heather, thank you for posting this. I’ve been doing research on systems of spiritual abuse for over five years. I believe you’ve provided one of the best pieces of analysis I’ve read about a particular christianized authoritarian system. You’ve succinctly addressed the core theological, cultural, and personal dynamics involved here in a way that shows a depth of reflection, discernment, and compassion. As a survivor of spiritual abuse myself, I see these all as indicators that significant healing is happening for you, and I trust that will continue for you and thereby encourage the journeys to health of those you relate with.
I suspect your conclusion about Doug Phillips’ probable restoration to public ministry is correct, barring some revelations that make sidelining him long term absolutely unavoidable. This rush to restoration without rehabilitation seems to have become a hallmark of those held enthralled by their charismatic leader. Those so entrapped fail to see that, as you pointed out, the greater problem is Mr. Phillips’ entire paradigm and systems of control with their pervasive evil … not merely his personal sins and moral failures with their supposedly limited impact.
For those who insist on his restoration to ministry, I have my own opinion about an appropriate period of rehabilitation: I believe Mr. Phillips needs to spend seven years away from public speaking, leading, or ministry of any kind for every one year he was engaged in the self-proclaimed “lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman.” [And, since it appears that his business is viewed as resourcing ministry, he should step down from that as well.]
According to this formula, restitutionary repentance may indeed take the remainder of his lifetime. However, if there is true change of heart, mind, and behaviors, then that shouldn’t seem an undue hardship or inappropriate. In fact, that lengthy, appropriate time of reflection will hopefully give Mr. Phillips the substantial opportunity needed to consider the widespread and destructive impact of his paradigm, his theology, and his personal activities.
Absolutely. The Christian Patriarchy movement has done untold damage, but maybe this debacle will lead some of its adherents to question it. Let’s hope!
Oh, and I looked at Wintery Knight’s post. Creepy. Does the author want a loving partner, or an obedient employee? His blog post comes off like a job description, and things like warmth, companionship, and empathy are nowhere in sight.
Very well articulated, Heather. It is the erroneous and abusive belief system, not the particular sin, that is the most damaging thing here. Well said.
This is simply brilliant! It sounds like you know the same Doug Phillips I know. Sadly.