A Patriarch Takes a Fall: Doug Phillips Resigns

doug phillipsDouglas 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 FallMcDonald 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.


About Sharon Autenrieth

Wife, mom to 5, homeschooler, Christian Education Director, idealist, malcontent, follower of Jesus.
This entry was posted in Christianity, church, education, family, feminism, gender, homeschooling, patriarchy, religion, spirituality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to A Patriarch Takes a Fall: Doug Phillips Resigns

  1. jubilare says:

    “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.” Um, yes. If you fail at the basics, chances are you’ve got problems at the foundation.

    I doubt this will prove more than a speedbump for the people who believe in “biblical patriarchy,” but we can hope that it might prove more than that to people who might otherwise be convinced.


  2. Let me first state that I don’t subscribe to the doctrines peculiar to the movement to which Phillips belonged, nor have I ever heard of him before this incident, so my comments are not in any way meant as an apologetic in defense of his views. That said, it’s intellectually dishonest to conjoin a report of this man’s moral failure with an attack on his beliefs.

    The fact is, no amount of personal failure on Phillips’ part has any logical relevance to the truth-status of those propositions affirmed either by himself or others like him. After all, one can find moral failure among members of any belief system, and yet that wouldn’t invalidate every proposition ever affirmed among mankind.

    Had this man’s extramarital behavior been prescribed or ground on his doctrinal views, then a criticism of those views would have been legitimate. However, as it stands, the most this man can be accused of is hypocrisy.

    It would have been better to simply say that this man no longer has any credibility in representing the movement to which he belonged, or to say that his hypocrisy has disqualified him from ministry. After that, if one differs with Phillips’ particular beliefs, one could then give reasons why one takes his views to be wrong, i.e., offer a cogent refutation which is independent of his personal failings. Such a refutation is the only “speed-bump” to which anyone should give rational consideration.

    Finally, I went to the link to read “When Heroes Fall”. Frankly, it’s difficult to see how any objective reader could view that as “spin”. Anyone can see that the article wasn’t offering a defense of any patriarchal doctrines, but only took note of the fact that a leader’s moral failure isn’t something about which one should be shocked. People sin. ALL people sin. Even those heroes of faith (e.g., King David) were guilty of egregious sin. That was the author’s point. And while I don’t share that author’s Reformed theology or any “Biblical Patriarchy” system, I just think someone needs to point out the irrationality in attempting to falsify a set of propositions via ad hominem attacks.


    • Frank,
      Thanks for your comment.

      “It would have been better to simply say that this man no longer has any credibility in representing the movement to which he belonged, or to say that his hypocrisy has disqualified him from ministry.” – I think I did this, actually. As for explaining why I differ with his beliefs this blog post is not the place for that – because I’ve done a good deal of that in the past (and undoubtedly will do more in the future). If you scroll through my posts in the gender category you’ll find plenty of posts expressing my problems with biblical patriarchy.

      What strikes me in McDonald’s post – well, one of the things that strikes me – is the shift away from Phillips. Think about your own deepest, darkest secret. Feel ashamed of your own sin. That’s a diversionary tactic. I don’t have any problem with anyone who would choose to say nothing, or to simply say, essentially, “This is awful news. Please pray for everyone involved.” That would be appropriate. But what McDonald and others are doing, in my opinion, is to silence critics. Oh, and as for not putting leaders on pedestals – Phillips chose to be on that pedestal. He held his family and his home life up as a model in the public eye.

      This question is asked out of genuine curiosity. You said you’ve never heard of Phillips before and don’t adhere to his theology. How did you happen to find this blog post?


      • Sharon,

        Yes, I understand you were pointing out Phillips’ disqualification for service. My only objection was to using his failure as an opportunity to criticize his theology, since there was no logical or causal relation between the two. I also didn’t intend to suggest that you should have attempted a refutation of his theology in the OP (nor was I suggesting that you haven’t done so elsewhere), but only noted that any such criticism should be distinct and separate from a report about his moral failure.

        As for McDonald, you may be correct to suggest that he is silencing critics, but I suspect that the critics he wishes to silence are those who would use this as an occasion to impugn Phillips’ theology, insofar as critics tend to commit the same ad hominem fallacy. Everyone should observe that McDonald made no attempt to defend Phillips’ moral failure. Nor did he suggest Phillips should remain in his ministry position. Nor did he defend any “Biblical Patriarchy” movement. All he did was point out that no one should be surprised or dismayed at Phillips’ failure, which is quite correct. Even if McDonald’s motive is to prevent Phillips’ followers from abandoning their movement, it doesn’t invalidate his point, which remains without dispute.

        I just happened to be teaching apologetics to my children today, and the lesson happened to be about the Elmer Gantry fallacy of attempting to invalidate a Biblical worldview based on the moral failings of Christian preachers. So to answer your question, my wife read your post this afternoon, and she forwarded it to me because of its relevance to today’s homeschool lesson.




      • Frank,
        Thank you for the reply. I’m a very small-time blogger – not the sort that people typically seek out on purpose – so I’m interested when people “stumble” upon it one way another.

        McDonald doesn’t defend Biblical Patriarchy in his post, but he certainly holds to it. He’s got a “back story” just as I do.

        And honestly – I’ve been in the church all my life. If Elmer Gantry were typical I’d say it would invalidate a biblical worldview. If the gospel doesn’t CHANGE us – as the Bible says it will – something is terribly wrong. It’s either wrong with the “biblical worldview”, period, or it’s wrong with our distorted version of that worldview. Biblical Patriarchy is built on adherence to Law, and I’d suggest that’s a distortion of the gospel that is always doomed to failure.

        Thanks again!


      • Yes, I suspected McDonald shared Phillips’ views. However, since it’s not something he raised in his post, I thought it worthwhile to observe that it wasn’t relevant to the point he made about human failure.

        While I agree with you that the gospel ought to change true believers, it’s not clear as to the degree that would apply. After all, behavior is more indicative of one’s metaphysical commitments than it is of the ontological status of their propositional content.


  3. Brenda Karl says:

    I think it is interesting to notice that while blogs everywhere are praising Mr. Phillips for stepping down and no longer taking speaking engagements, he clarifies on his blog post today by stating in part, …” I will not be giving speeches or running conferences at this time of my life under the banner of VFI or VFM”….he isn’t done.


  4. Bill says:

    I read about this when I saw it posted on facebook. Even though we homeschooled our children, to the best of my knowledge I’ve never heard of this man. But no doubt some of our fundamentalist homeschooling friends relied upon his advice and teaching to shape their curricula.

    I came back to the post today and was struck by this part: 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. That nails it.

    This fellow admits to a “lengthy” adulterous relationship. Evidently he was cheating on his wife for a long time, while telling women they should submit to their husbands and (presumably) pretending to be some sort of authority and role model for Christian manhood. That is, he was claiming to be a “marriage expert” while being unfaithful to his wife. I’m left wondering whether his hypocrisy ever crossed his mind.

    It feels like we’ve seen this movie before, lots of times, from leaders in the “family values” business.

    Let me offer a hearty “Amen” to the final paragraph of this excellent post.


  5. M91 says:

    He was actually forced to step down. Perhaps at first Christians were marvelling at his humility in publicly repenting of his sin, and praying for him (as Pastor McDonald was), but it didn’t take long for the truth to come out and now his former followers are disgusted with him. He was a wolf in sheeps clothing, a liar, a cheat. Maybe someday he will repent truly…but I know many of his former followers who won’t listen to him again. Even if he becomes a Christian. And if he does, he wouldn’t have the audacity to go back to teaching.


  6. Tammy Noel Smith says:

    We came out of such a church.After this happened,we were shaken up by the LORD,because He cares about His children being led away from Him and what He says in His Word.I really believe that the LORD is cleaning house.In these last days,we need to be very discerning every time we hear someone interpret the Bible.Looking back now,we see many things that we didn’t search further in the Bible.We got caught up in the ‘righteousness’ of it all.There is a real pride in this teaching.The church we were attending had a large library of Vision Forum cds.After the affair scandal,our pastor kept the cds in the library….that was the last straw for us.We are in a small home church where everyone has answered the call to adoption of children,another thing Vision Forum wasn’t big on,including our church.We had no support for the adoption of our 5 children from China and Ethiopia…..Adoptions that came out of incredible miracles for these adoptions to come to fruition.Their motto was “All of Scripture for all of life”.They didn’t read the passage in James 1:27.


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