Douglas W. Phillips (son of former presidential candidate for the Constitution Party, Howard Phillips) has been a well-known figure in home school circles for a long time. A graduate of the George Mason School of Law where he studied under Robert Bork and Doug Ginsberg, Phillips went on to work for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) as a staff attorney, and as the Director of the National Center for Home Education.
After leaving HSLDA, Phillips and his wife Beall began The Vision Forum, Inc., a company providing books and support materials for Christian families. The company's non-profit arm, Vision Forum Ministries, was soon publishing books and recorded lectures about family life and the church, and films about the natural world and history from Phillips's perspective. At some point during this period, Phillips became "professor of Apologetics with the adjunct faculty at the Institute of Creation Research."
Controversy has clung to Phillips throughout these career turns, some of it under the radar and some of it very public. Almost all of the controversy, private and public, has centered around his views on patriarchy, an understanding of masculine and feminine home and gender roles that he claims is biblically derived. His insistence that patriarchy was the biblical ideal and his forcefulness in promoting this view were the primary reasons for his leaving HSLDA after its founder, Michael Farris, refused to let him use the HSLDA platform to publically endorse it.
Patriarchy in its Doug Phillips iteration is pretty radical by almost any standard. Not only are women exclusively homemakers and men are the head of their household, but daughters are to remain at home until married, not go to college, marry the man their father chooses for them, and work hard to make their father's name great. This last duty isn't restricted to daughters—all members of the household are bound to the father as vassals to a sovereign, and in fact Phillips has often used the sovereign metaphor to describe what he claims is the biblical role of fathers.
This teaching has obviously and rightfully led many eyebrows to be raised. Just to be clear: we at Exodus Books are committed to the biblical teaching concerning male and female gender roles. We believe fathers are the spiritual and temporal heads of their households, and that men in our society need to man up and do what's required of them. However, we also raise our eyebrows at Phillips's particular brand of male and female family roles.
Men are not in any way to lord their position above anyone, inside their household or not. That isn't biblical manhood, it's at best a misunderstanding of good leadership, and at worst the grounds for serious abuse and manipulation. Phillips's version of manhood is one that emphasizes power and control above kindness and love, and that is in absolute opposition to the call of Scripture for men to love their wives and children selflessly and sacrificially.
Ironically, Phillips is also fond of stories about "women and children first," particularly the story of how the men on the Titanic put the weaker vessels off of the vessel to their own peril. This would seem to indicate that he does, in fact, understand sacrificial leadership, yet his love of these stories often manifests itself as a kind of romantic nostalgia rather than a heartfelt commitment to the moral bravery these stories highlight.
Sadly, the irony goes much deeper than ideology. Doug Phillips has recently (as of early 2014) attracted attention far beyond the confines of his large but fairly insular home school following for behavior in obvious conflict with just about everything he's ever claimed to stand for. The irony is not lost on critics, both Christian and non-Christian: Is this how "patriarchy" works itself out? Is everything really just a front for an abuse of power on the order of that displayed by ancient kings?
For the last several years, Doug Phillips has engaged in a romantic relationship with a young woman (young, but of age) who is not his wife. The exact nature of this relationship has been made unclear by rhetoric, accusations, and obscurantist language, but it is clear the relationship was highly inappropriate and immoral, had a physical element, and was a betrayal on Phillips's part of his family, his church body, his company and ministry, and the patriarchal message he's touted so tirelessly.
It's interesting to note that one of the most prominent features of Phillips's teachings has always been a strong emphasis on the need to adhere completely to a standard of moral conduct that often goes far beyond what the Bible actually teaches, whether implicitly or explicitly. Legalism is all too commonly taught by Christian leaders; in Doug Phillips's case, it was a source of deep contention both prior to and following his fall into disrepute.
Our purpose here is not to smear Doug Phillips, or to add unfounded speculation. As Christians who believe we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone, we realize anyone is able to fall into sin great or small, and that all of us made alive in Christ were once dead in trespasses and sins. But that does not give Doug Phillips a pass. In fact, since he claims to believe these same doctrines, Doug Phillips is actually to be held even more accountable to his moral failings.
Clearly, he hasn't taken his call to defending the weak and defenseless seriously, and has in fact used his position of authority and power to feed his own selfish and sinful desires. He also hasn't resolutely and completely repented of his wrongdoing, instead using highly ambiguous language in his public apologies, changing his story more than once, lashing out against those who brought his sin to light, and even to some degree attempting to shift blame. He also remained in a position of control and leadership within his church, company, and ministry for several months after having been outed.
Because of all this, we've decided we will no longer buy items authored by Doug Phillips and are clearancing those we sell. He has betrayed the trust of those closest to him as well as of those who looked to him from afar for leadership and guidance, and so far he hasn't showed a real concern for biblical repentance but has instead tried at every step to lessen the impact to his own reputation. We hope that this will change, but we also feel that we cannot support the memory of a ministry whose leader was guilty of the very sins he so despised in others.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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