Doug Phillips, Vision Forum, and Vision Forum Ministries are being sued by a woman who was a nanny for the Phillips family. All counts of the petition arise out Mr. Phillips allegedly using the young woman for his sexual gratification. The allegations include abuse of power and gross hypocrisy of Phillips himself, but they also depict a larger context: the culture of patriarchy itself.
Patriarchalism, associated with Quiverfull and sometimes “family integrated churches,” may visit or even dominate a conservative Presbyterian church. It’s easy enough to see its errors in supposing there is a detailed regulative principle of the family, that we are called to replicate Old Testament culture, and to see that their detailed project to take back our culture tends to leave the gospel in the shadows. This lawsuit raises the additional concern of whether patriarchalism expressed in such movements tends to produce a culture that is dangerous to women.
The petition (or “complaint”) is drafted by an advocate so it’s not as nuanced as an academic study would be, but it generally reads like a plausible account of a patriarchal culture surrounding Doug Phillips and the young woman that created ripe conditions for abuse and for covering up abuse. Here are direct excerpts from the petition:
11. Defendant, Douglas Phillips, is an attorney who is not licensed to practice law in the State of Texas. Prior to moving to Texas, he was employed by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and takes much of the credit for “saving homeschooling.”
Phillips espoused avoiding interaction with authorities at all costs. There is a pervasive sense within Phillips’s tight circle of people that they are engaged in a cosmic war, and that they avoid contact with the government and other outside groups that might hold them accountable or ask questions. Phillips used his training as a lawyer to help foster an unregulated community that operated as a “total institution” where Ms. Torres would have limited access to outside support as she came to see her situation as abusive.
12. Douglas Phillips created a sociological environment that operated as a “total institution.” The total institution concept is used to describe an environment where a person is exclusively surrounded by a large number of similarly situated people. In other words, people within a total institution work together, worship together, spend leisure and recreational time together, and even dwell together. Thus, a person within a total institution is cut off from the normal world entirely. As a closed and tightly knit unit of people, total institutions lead an enclosed and uniquely administered round of life that is peculiar to its own characteristics and beliefs.
13. As one component of the “total institution,” Douglas Phillips’s community had its own church-court system. Disputes were brought before a board of all male elders in what resembled a legal proceeding without any of the rights of the accused in secular courts. For Ms. Torres, this system would force her to go up against Phillips—the most powerful man in the extended community—who is a trained attorney known for his skills at argument and intimidation. If Ms. Torres were to lose, she likely would be excommunicated from her church and all other churches that are legitimate in the eyes of her community. Seeking advice from others would have been labeled as gossip and treated as a very serious sin. One could be excommunicated for this, a practice that very much protects the men in power. Ms. Torres had watched others be abused under this one-sided dispute resolution process.
14. Douglas Phillips held a high position of trust in Ms. Torres’s life, personal family circles, social circles, and her religious circle. Phillips carefully, intentionally, and effectively closed off all access to outside intervention and support necessary for her to challenge him.
18. Phillips was the dominant authority figure in Ms. Torres’s life and family. He made himself her spiritual father. He was her authority figure with regard to where she lived, where she worked, where and how she worshipped, her education, her interpersonal relationships, her time and schedule, and even acted as her counselor. In other words, Phillips was the pastor of her church, her boss, her landlord, and the controller of all aspects of her life—obedience to Phillips was as obedience to God in this total institution.
19. Prior to the fall of 2013, Douglas Phillips was the self-promoted leader of what is commonly known as the “patriarchal” or “quiverfull” movement. Phillips’s teachings were generally critical of the traditional local-church as he advocated a “home-church” model that created division within evangelical circles. Phillips travelled extensively as a presenter attempting to advance his teachings.
20. Phillips was also the primary leader of a patriarchal church in Boerne, Texas. Phillips used these positions of leadership to manipulate and coerce Ms. Torres.
21. Phillips’s patriarchal movement teaches that men are, and should be, in the absolute control of women. Patriarchy considers women to primarily exist for the purposes of producing children, caring for the men, and rearing the children. Females in the patriarchal movement are discouraged from attaining higher education of any kind and are told that their sole purpose is to marry a man within the movement to meet the purposes described above. In other words, women within this movement are perceived to exist only for the end-goals communicated by the male leaders that perceive themselves as the “patriarchs” of this world.
22. Families within patriarchal and quiverfull communities place extreme importance on maintaining their daughters’ sexual and emotional purity. Sex before marriage is held to be sin, and sex before marriage also damages a daughter’s marriage prospects. Most couples in Christian patriarchy and quiverfull circles don’t kiss before marriage, and some don’t even hold hands or embrace. Furthermore, this virginity is more than just physical; it is emotional as well. Girls are urged not to “give away pieces of their hearts” by becoming emotionally entangled with boys their age. Every teenage crush becomes suspect and dangerous. Dating is out of the question, as it is considered to be “practice for divorce.” Instead, females within these environments find husbands through parentguided courtships, trusting their father’s guidance and obeying his leadership. Marriage is seen as a transfer of authority from the daughter’s father to her husband.
23. While Ms. Torres would have felt compelled to submit to Douglas Phillips, the purity culture would have meant at the same time, her submission made her “damaged goods” in her eyes, the eyes of her family, and her community—raising the cost for her to come forward to call him to account. She was, in fact, in a “no-win” situation.
24. Douglas Phillips asserted that God is male, and explicitly not female; that the human male is the “image and glory of God in terms of authority, while the woman is the glory of man.” That is, men are in the image of God in terms of authority over their households; women are created in God’s image in a decidedly different way, sometimes called “reflected glory.””
25. Phillips argues that while men are to exercise dominion, women are to assist their husbands’ dominion by serving in the home. According to Phillips, women in the “exceptional state” of being unmarried may have “more flexibility,” but it is not the “ordinary and fitting role of women to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion.”
26. Under patriarchy, the framework in Scripture is extended—out of context—to women in general. Every woman has a male authority, and that male authority looks to Christ as his authority. A woman is to obey her male authority, whether it is her father, husband, brother, or son, and he in turn is to obey Christ. By obeying her male authority, a woman is obeying God. This is seen as the natural and God-given order.
27. Douglas Phillips, and his two corporate entities (Vision Forum, Inc. and Vision Forum Ministries), are major advocates of Patriarchy. This ideology includes the belief that there are God ordained distinct gender roles and that man was created first and woman’s creation was secondary. It holds that patriarchy is the divine family order ordained by God. The husband and father is the head of the household, family leader, provider, and protector; the wife and mother, created to be a helper to her husband, is a bearer of children and a “keeper at home,” remaining in her God-ordained and proper sphere of dominion for a wife, the home. The children are to remain obedient to their parents, even as adults. Children are to marry through a process of courtship guided at every step by their father, and unmarried adult daughters are to remain under their fathers’ authority and in their fathers’ homes. This patriarchal family order is held to be divine and God ordained. Stepping outside of it is held to be rejecting God’s will and listening to the lies of “the world.”
28. As an example of Phillips’s control, he stated: “Daughters aren’t to be independent. They’re not to act outside the scope of their father. As long as they’re under the authority of their fathers, fathers have the ability to nullify or not the oaths and the vows. Daughters can’t just go out independently and say, ‘I’m going to marry whoever I want.’ No. The father has the ability to say, ‘No, I’m sorry, that has to be approved by me.’”
29. In the book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, it is written that women in Phillips’s patriarchy are expected to ask their husbands about every detail of household management, remain silent in church, are discouraged from speaking in the company of men, and are typically considered at fault for marital difficulties, all of which are thought to stem from their lack of submission. This book also states, “Women are not allowed to speak in church.” Prohibition to speak in church is “a rule so steadfast that women had to rely on their male family members or other male congregants to say anything in church: to announce a prayer request, to walk to the front of the church, to receive communion for the family . . . .”
30. Voddie Baucham, a leader in the patriarchal and quiverful movement, explains the patriarchal men’s desire to be revered by younger women: “A lot of men are leaving their wives for younger women because they yearn for attention from younger women. And God gave them a daughter who can give them that.” The attitudes that produce these ideas are what leads to physical, mental, verbal, spiritual, and sexual abuse of both women and daughters within the patriarchal movement.
31. Dr. Julie Ingersoll (Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida) described the role of women in patriarchy in a 2003 article on Religion Dispatches: “In biblical patriarchy, the refrain of ‘women and children first’ hides an agenda whereby the women are ‘first’ only insofar as they keep their place which is subordinate to men . . . tragically, a biblical woman is also ‘first’ to take the blame for marital problems, ‘first’ to be excommunicated as part of church discipline, ‘first’ to serve her father and then her husband in his vision for dominion.” Groups like Teach Them Diligently (operated by David Nunnery), Family Covenant Ministries (operated by Jon Summers), National Center for Family Integrated Churches (operated by Scott Brown), Voddie Baucham Ministries (operated by Voddie Bauchum), Advanced Training Institute Conferences (operated by Tim Levendusky), and Generations with Vision (operated by Kevin Swanson), to name a few, continue to promote and encourage the philosophy of patriarchy while others who espoused this teaching, such as Bill Gothard or Jack Schaap, have stepped down or are incarcerated for crimes against children.
33. Females within the movement are manipulated by the male leaders. The males control and manipulate them into believing that the world revolves around the male “patriarchs.” Women, as scapegoats, are blamed for the inappropriate conduct of the men, thus preserving the men’s self-perceived collective self-image is preserved and concomitantly lowering the women’s self-esteem, so that women will fall into deeper submission under the men’s patriarchal authority. Women within this movement are instructed to do anything to please the male leaders.
To be sure, these are allegations at this point and Mr. Phillips will have the opportunity to tell his side of the story. But if they are true – even if they are true after reining in some of the sweeping language – they are not merely about Mr. Phillips but about his kind of patriarchalism. And that can be found, in various degrees, elsewhere.