Douglas Phillips resigned as director of Vision Forum Ministries a few days ago, citing a “lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman” other than his wife, Beall. You can read his statement here.
If you know who Douglas Phillips is at all, chances are you know exactly who he is. He is a celebrity within conservative homeschooling, a proponent not only of homeschooling but of a very rigid family structure that he calls “Biblical Patriarchy”. According to Phillips the righteous will live by rules; lots and lots of rules: biblical manhood and womanhood, homeschooling, family integrated church, courtship, young earth creationism, stay-at-home daughters, quiverfull, Reconstructionism. He speaks widely and has been, perhaps, the most powerful single figure in the shaping of the Fundamentalist homeschooling subculture.
It would be hard to overstate how strenuously I disagree with Douglas Phillips on almost everything. I think his teachings are not just wrong, but poisonously wrong. I write, in part, to fight the influence of Douglas Phillips and his fellow “patriarchs”.
So hearing that he’d resigned from his ministry and cancelled his speaking engagements, it was difficult to sort through my emotions. I’m not happy. Phillips has a wife and eight childen, and they all get dragged through this public scandal with him. I’m not gloating, I’m not gleeful. But do I think the world would be better off if Douglas Phillips never wrote another book or gave another speech espousing Biblical Patriarchy? Yes, I do. I really do.
Still, there’s been a little unseemly rejoicing among those of us in the anti-patriarchy camp (we need a better name!). Because of that, and because the details of the story are so sketchy, I didn’t plan to write anything on the subject – until I read James McDonald’s blog post, When Heroes Fall. McDonald is another leader in the Biblical Patriarchy movement; yet another pastor/author/king of the castle who has made a career out of telling the rest of us that we’re doing it all wrong. He’s less charismatic and polished than Phillips but they’re definitely on the same team. I encourage you to read McDonald’s post. It’s elegant spin, and it turned out to be only the first such post from those who are in support of Phillips’ theology. One of the most common themes is that “the man is not the message”, that people shouldn’t doubt Phillips’ teaching just because he fell in to sin.
Here’s the problem with that argument: Phillips’ “ministry” was built on the idea that he had tapped into God’s one and only model for the Biblical Family. He was the most high profile and influential advocate of what are perhaps the most oppressive and legalistic models of marriage, parenting and gender in all of Protestantism. And yet, he failed to live up to the most basic Christian marital ethic. I have two thoughts about that. 1) Can we stop pretending that rules, rules and more rules are the path to Christian purirty? Law never works. 2) I don’t know how long Doug and Beall Phillips have been married, but lets just ballpark it at 25 years. That’s how long I’ve been married, and I suspect we’re around the same age. Every person who has made it that long without cheating on their spouse is now, in my eyes, a more qualified “marriage expert” than Doug Phillips. If you can’t even pass that one simple test, mister, you should never, ever presume to tell the rest of us what we’re doing wrong in our homes and families.
And I worry that he will be telling us again; that in a year or two he’ll be back to teaching men how to take dominion over their households, raising up another generation of domesticated daughters and silent wives. His fellow patriarchs will help him in this “restoration” because they have to defend the system they’ve built. They certainly aren’t defending Jesus, who treated women with respect. And they’re also not defending the gospel of the Kingdom, which is nothing like the cult of Biblical Patriarchy. Ultimately, they are defending their own power, because that’s what the patriarchy is about: power.
Okay, I’m a little more het up about this than I thought. So I’m going to suggest that you listen to the always calm and reasoned voice of Karen Campbell. She’s been writing about Biblical Patriarchy for years, and she knows of what she speaks.
Look at the teachings that have come out of patriocentricity, especially in the last 6 or so years. Teaching that men are the prophets, priests, and kings of their homes, daughters are helpmeets to their fathers, women are here primarily to fulfill the creation mandate and are expendable if threatened with ectopic pregnancies, women do not have their own callings from the Lord but rather are to fulfill a man’s calling, and a strident hierarchy that hearkens back to the antebellum south, these are just the tip of the ice berg. They certainly reveal a heart attitude toward women that can lead to unfaithfulness to a wife and broken dreams for a younger woman taken as a mistress, emotional or physical. Though many are spinning it otherwise what has been taught and promoted by the patriarchs absolutely does matter and absolutely can lead to adultery!
I pray that the Phillips family finds a way through this very public crisis. I pray the same for the unidentified woman and her family. But as for Wilson’s career “restoring biblical manhood, godly femininity and the Christian home”? I hope it’s over, for good.