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Doug Phillips: The Big Scandal You Didn't Hear About and Why It Matters

11/06/2013 01:29 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Julie Ingersoll Professor of Religious Studies, University of North Florida

Doug Phillips, the Home School Movement's leading Quiverful Patriarch resigned from Vision Forum Ministries, admitting a "lengthy inappropriate relationship" with a woman. It appears that while as he has been fighting homosexuality and feminism as threats to marriage, he has actually been the threat.

His supporters are lauding his resignation letter as appropriately contrite repentance and arguing that this has no bearing on the validity of Biblical Patriarchy. But actually it does, making this more important than another hypocritical cheating scandal.

Phillips is a key figure bringing Christian Reconstruction into the larger home school world. Building upon R.J. Rushdoony's postmillennialism and "Biblical Philosophy of History," he teaches home-schooling families to "exercise dominion" through 200-year plans, "multi-generational faithfulness" and "Biblical Patriarchy."

His influence is hard to overstate; there is barely a part of the home-school movement his empire has not touched. He started as an attorney at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), is a sought-after speaker at home school conventions and Vision Forum sponsors well-attended conferences of its own. Phillips was a founder of the patriarchal Family Integrated Church Movement. He has close partnerships with Henry Morris at Institute for Creation Research, the Duggar family of 19 Kids and Counting and actor-turned-Christian activist Kirk Cameron.

Phillips has been active in the Tea Party in San Antonio where Vision Forum is located. He has a film school and annual Christian Film Festival that have been involved with films screened by local tea party groups across the country, including Agenda: Grinding America Down and Indoctrination: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America.

Phillips has critics in the home-school movement, but even they work from concern about his substantial influence. See, for example: Love, Joy, Feminism; Home Schoolers Anonymous, Spiritual Sounding Board, Jen's Gems, and That Mom.

Phillips' infidelity is more than a private matter because, by design, his Biblical Patriarchy makes women vulnerable such that even with a husband repeatedly violating his marriage vows, practically speaking, a wife has no options.

The Family, in Biblical Patriarchy, is the primary institution through which God has delegated authority entirely to men. Women are to be "in submission in all things," first to their fathers and then to husbands, chosen by fathers. The purpose of the family is the exercise of the patriarch's dominion, especially through procreation. Women are to bear as many children as is possible. Anything short of that is deemed selfishness, accommodation with the "culture of death" and rebellion against God's will.

Education is solely a family concern and no other institution may intervene. That they oppose even with the smallest of regulations preventing child abuse is a point pressed by Phillips' home schooling opponents.

Education for girls within Biblical Patriarchy is focused on training them for domestic duties. Vision Forum's catalogs, Beautiful Girlhood Collection and the All American Boy's Adventure Catalog, stated purpose is to teach "Biblical" gender norms: meekness, submissiveness and dependency for girls; chivalry, curiosity and adventurousness for boys. There are strategies for boys to obtain college degrees without actually attending college but college education for girls is often seen as unnecessary and even destructive.

Vision Forum offers opportunities for boys including a "law school" (really just a conference) "Hazardous Journeys" for manly men (this is not a parody), an entrepreneurial boot-camp and the "Christian Boys' & Men's Titanic Society." For girls they offer a "Father Daughter Retreat" (noted for its creepiness), in which fathers "lead," "woo" and "win" their daughters to become "industrious, family-affirming, children-loving, women of God."

Phillips' scandal calls attention to the dangers of the world he wants to build: A woman raised in Biblical Patriarchy is carefully sheltered, most especially to opportunities to develop any kind of self-sufficiency. If she finds herself with a houseful of children and a husband forced to admit publicly to unfaithfulness that extends over a long period of time, she has no options.

The cheated wife is not likely to be supported by the patriarchal community. The leaders (all male) are likely to be sympathetic the husband's "temptation" and should she discuss the situation outside of the sanctioned forums controlled by men she will be denounced as a gossip. Sometimes the women are blamed: the "other woman" as Satan's temptress and even the completely innocent wife for having "let herself go" or being inadequately submissive.

As supporters laud Phillips' statement, I see him setting the stage for a time out to be followed by a return to leadership completely redeemed. No woman, in the few leadership roles allowed to them, would be accorded such "grace," even for less serious failings.

Phillips "confession" is very carefully parsed giving a bit of information but leaving more questions than answers. The relationship was "inappropriately romantic and affectionate" but he claims he did not "know this woman in a biblical sense" without explaining exactly what he means. Powerful leaders do not resign over a flirtation.

He could have left the explanation at "inappropriate" yet something compelled him to go beyond that. Is he parsing out what it means to have sex (undermining his sincerity) or hiding something more significant like a power/authority dynamic making this not entirely consensual. Is there an angered father who must be placated but must also, as is his primary obligation in Biblical Patriarchy, preserve his daughter's purity?

Importantly, making some sort of a confession means that Phillips' wife must to continue to submit to his leadership. She may, as he claims, be responding with "supernatural love and forgiveness" though its unlikely we'll hear that from her. But within this world she has no other choice and she is an influential in her own right.

Finally, Phillips apparently resigned only from his ministry, not the rest of his empire. He notes that "the Men" will manage the ministry "during this time," hinting even now that this will be temporary. He has, after all, a 200-year plan.