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Doug Phillips' Biblical Patriarchy Scandal Moves to the Courts

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Last fall home school leader and Biblical Patriarch Doug Phillips made a public confession of an inappropriate relationship with a young woman, leading to his resignation, the closing of his organizations and much behind-the-scenes jockeying.

But the confession left much ambiguity in terms of the actual accusations, so rumors and facts swirled together in the blogosphere as some insiders shared what they knew and others speculated. While Phillips has threatened litigation against former friends and colleagues, at least some of the speculation is put to rest now, as the young woman comes forward to file a lawsuit in the District Court in Bexar County Texas against Phillips, Vision Forum Ministries and Vision Forum Inc. The complaint accuses Phillips of various sexual improprieties, emotional damage related to that impropriety and even fraud, invoking his status as the defendant's former pastor, counselor and employer. It also brings charges against Phillips' ministry and his business.

Lourdes Torres worked as the Phillips' family's nanny and assisted in the work of Vision Forum Ministries and Vision Forum Inc. According to her legal complaint, Phillips began grooming her for their relationship when she was 15 years old. While Phillips has admitted to the relationship, he has claimed that they did not, strictly speaking, have sex. The complaint alleges between 1999 and 2006 Philips fostered increasing emotional intimacy, with Phillips telling her she was part of his family and that they worked and traveled together with and without his family. It alleges that their their sexual involvement (that remained just short of intercourse) was one-sided and that it began in 2007.

The complaint details years of pursuit on the part of Phillips in the form of phone calls, emails and text messages. It alleges that Phillips said his wife would die soon, promised he would marry her and at one point moved her into his home. According to the complaint, as the relationship became increasingly intimate, Torres became increasingly uncomfortable asking Phillips repeatedly to leave her alone.

Finally Torres told her parents and, according to the complaint, sought their help in keeping Phillips away. Then in January of 2013, after Phillips allegedly attempted a late-night visit to Torres family home (by knocking on her bedroom window), her parents brought the situation to the attention of the church elders. While in early 2013 Phillips was removed from authority in his church, he remained at the helm of Vision Forum Ministries (though with the closeness between the church and the ministry it seems unlikely that no one there knew the situation) until near the end of 2013, when a confrontation with a handful of friends and colleagues forced the resignation. At the end of 2013 Vision Forum Inc. sold off its assets and closed its doors though Phillips appears to still own the company. Jamie Dean at WORLD magazine provides more detailed account of these events here.

Phillips has promoted a view of the world infused with the Christian Reconstruction developed by Rousas John Rushdoony, though even some of Rushdoony's followers (including some at Rushdoony's own Chalcedon foundation) have distanced themselves from Phillips and his views, which are even more extreme. Phillips was a celebrated speaker on the home school circuit advocating that families build 200-year multigenerational plans to exercise biblical dominion over all aspects of culture.

Phillips excelled at helping home school families situate mundane day-to-day activities in the context of an overarching Divine plan for history. From his early work at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) to his ongoing advocacy in the home school movement he has helped build a legal structure which minimizes outside oversight, the goal being the autonomy of families in education and the establishment of Rushdoony's view that the civil government has no role whatsoever in the education of children.

In Reconstructionist theology, Christians are to exercise dominion over all aspects of culture. That task is given primarily to men; women are to seek dominion by supporting the dominion of the men in their lives (first and foremost by bearing as many children as possible), Phillips has developed that view into a full-blown movement known as Quiverful or Biblical Patriarchy. He teaches that it is men who are created in the image of God who is also male and that women are to be in complete submission to their fathers and husbands "in all things," as commanded by their reading of Ephesians. This movement rejects autonomy as unbiblical and opposes exposing young women to any influences (including leadership, education, self-sufficiency) that might make them more independent and less compliant/submissive or "feministic" as a violation of their God-given natures.

He also brought Biblical Patriarchy to bear in building a local church as well as a nationwide church network. Churches are ruled by male elders, they are comprised of family units led by fathers. Phillips' own church Boerne Christian Assembly (to which the Torres family belonged) was structured in this manner and Phillips was one of the founders of the Family Integrated Church Movement which seeks to bring these perspectives to affiliated churches across the country.

A relevant aspect of this church culture is the process for the resolution of disputes which requires that members bring even legal disputes before church elders (all male). Christians are prohibited from bringing charges against each other in secular courts and any discussion of controversy, or the seeking of advice, outside this all male forum is denounced as gossip. The penalty for gossip can be excommunication which must be enforced by other congregations in this network (or covenant).

These factors create what social scientists label a Total Institution. A young woman in this community is carefully kept from outside influences, and marginalized from inside sources of power and protection, rendering her incapable of confronting abuse or giving real consent to a sexual relationship. Phillips was in a position of authority over her as her pastor, counselor, and employer and in this context would have been acting on behalf of her father (who was apparently unaware of the circumstances).

I sought a direct response from Phillips or his representatives but as of yet have had none. Phillips did comment on the lawsuit through his attorney in a letter to WND that was later posted on Vision Forum's previously defunct Facebook page. Phillips denies all charges, calling them sensationalist and suggesting that they are motivated by a desire for financial gain. He argues that the relationship was consensual and "often initiated, encouraged and aggressively perpetuated by Ms. Torres" and goes on the challenge her credibility and the legal basis for her claims.

Within the last year both Vision Forum and Bill Gothard's Institute for Biblical Life Principles, two of the most important of the highly authoritarian home schooling groups have been rocked by sex scandals. While the scandals themselves aren't particularly newsworthy, the structure and character of the organizations in which they occurred are important. Leaders may have resigned and Vision Forum may be closed but many affiliated organizations continue to create this social context ripe for abuse.

The author of this post is serving as an expert witness for the plaintiff in this case.