Jennifer Epstein of Jen’s Gems tells of her experiences during her time in Doug Phillips’ church, Boerne Christian Fellowship. Originally published here. Please remember that while the contributors to this website are united in our belief that there are problems with the teachings of Vision Forum, we come from a variety of perspectives and this is just one of them.
(Start with chapter one)
Is the Doug Phillips / Boerne Christian Assembly statement against me “rife with pure fabrications, dangerous half-truths, malicious innuendo, and vicious personal attacks?”
Read and decide for yourself.
Just one month ago, in an article on Ministry Watchman, Charles Fisher introduced to the public the story of my family’s mistreatment by Doug Phillips and Boerne Christian Assembly. Three days later, BCA issued a public response on a brand new church website. Rather than reply to their statement, I decided to first finish telling my story, which I continued on this site after Charles finished a second article on Ministry Watchman. Because my own account is now complete, I will now respond to the BCA statement, section by section. This article is a little longer than my recent posts, so please be patient as you read it, but I do think you will find it well worth the time. Please note as you read that the excerpts of the Doug Phillips/BCA statement are indented, with my responses following.
Boerne Christian Assembly is a ministry whose primary effort is to broadly declare the gospel-good news of Jesus Christ and to teach the full counsel of God, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:20).
I find it sad that the BCA statement begins with a needless falsehood — the claim that Boerne Christian Assembly is a “ministry.” If BCA is just a ministry, by what authority do they claim to have exercised church discipline on Mark and me?
The distinction between a church and a ministry may seem like a small matter to some readers, but the fact is that the church is a God-ordained institution that lasts forever, whereas a ministry is man-made and finite. So it is not a small matter to blur the distinction.
Response of Boerne Christian Assembly to a Defamatory Attack Circulated by an Anonymous Source Against Church Leadership, Church Families, and Women of the Congregation
BCA (actually Doug Phillips, who has done most if not all of the drafting of this statement) uses the legal term “defamatory” from the first part of its statement to send a message that Doug is still considering suing us and to warn potential supporters of us of possible legal consequences of their support. Doug made clear in a blog post he made just a few weeks ago and before we went public with our story that he feels free to sue us because he excommunicated us. The truth is that such a lawsuit is highly unlikely to get very far, because “defamatory” means an untrue statement, and nothing that Charles Fisher or I have written has been untrue. So the use of the word is little more than an aggressive rhetorical device.
The truth is Doug Phillips has done far more to attack my family than we have done to “attack” him by taking our story public. The road to the present began in 2002, when Doug Phillips refused to help me even as I pleaded with him to intervene on behalf of our marriage. Not long after, Doug Phillips launched his attack on me by promoting a theology that says problems in the marriage are always the woman’s fault, by refusing to forgive me when I apologized for “gossiping,” by retaliating against my personal political belief that it is not immoral to vote Republican, and by refusing to protect a woman and children in his own congregation.
The fact that we are now going public, after exhausting all private avenues for reconciliation under Matthew 18, does not constitute our own attack at all; rather, we are merely warning fellow believers about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
1. Background: Boerne Christian Assembly (hereafter cited as BCA) is a duly constituted local assembly which has, since its beginning, been governed by plural leadership….
As Doug Phillips knows, the term “plural leadership” does not reflect a biblical principle of church government. The BCA statement uses this term solely to disguise the fact that they are not governed by a plurality of ordained elders. I used to always consider it the height of hypocrisy when BCA would begin services every Sunday with one of the deacons proclaiming that we believe in a plurality of elders, while year after year we only had one unordained elder, Doug Phillips. The Bible is clear that there should be a plurality of elders, not a plurality of “leadership” — as Doug Phillips himself teaches at the Vision Forum Uniting Church and Family conferences that he organizes and hosts. This example of Doug not practicing what he preaches is just the first of many that will be noted in this article.
2. Purpose: We have received notice that a highly defamatory article laced with personal character attacks has been widely disseminated by e-mail from an anonymous source.
My story is true. So by definition it is neither defamatory nor an attack on Doug Phillips’ personal character beyond revealing what that character truly is. Search through Charles Fisher’s or my story for evidence of any name-calling, pejoratives, hyperbole, or use of ad hominem attacks; you won’t find any. And, as our own websites make clear, Mark and I are public, not anonymous, sources for Charles Fisher’s story, although Ministry Watchman did originally refer to us as Jared and Mary Jackson in the interest of protecting us from possible litigation.
We also understand that it has been posted on a website run by individuals acting under pseudonyms.
This statement is deliberately misleading, as though BCA was not informed of the story when it was published and as though they only heard of Ministry Watchman through the rumor mill. This is not true, as Ministry Watchman sent Doug Phillips a courtesy copy of the story to his personal email two hours before the story was posted (and Doug’s personal assistant would have seen it almost instantly on his Blackberry). At that time Doug was invited to supply any corrections or clarifications to the story. He declined to do so. Ministry Watchman also offered a standing invitation for Doug Phillips to set the record straight on any errors he subsequently identified. Doug Phillips has declined to do so for over a month so far.
Although I don’t know if the authors at Ministry Watchman write under their own names or under pseudonyms as alleged in this statement, I do know that RC Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries filed a lawsuit against Christian blogger (and Ministry Watchman writer) Frank Vance. I also know that Doug Phillips has threatened to sue us and others. Under the circumstances — Christian public figures who refuse to obey the command in I Corinthians 6 to refrain from suing fellow Christians — it could be very prudent for Ministry Watchman contributors to write under pseudonyms. I certainly don’t fault them if they have chosen to do so.
Furthermore, we only have to look to the first two “We hate the Epsteins” websites to see that Doug Phillips’ own close associates chose to “attack” us using pseudonymns as well, all while they were exposing our names to the whole world, not to mention revealing pastoral confidences and using foul language in the process. Since Doug Phillips did nothing to stop this, I must therefore conclude that he gives them his implicit approval for what they have done. In my opinion, this is blatant hypocrisy.
The defamatory article has been sent by e-mail throughout our own church community and across the nation.
My true story has been read by many people who have emailed links to friends and associates. There are many concerned readers who are forwarding this important information to others. Doug Phillips uses email himself. I see no special problem with the medium.
The article involves numerous fictitious accounts of events, malicious accusations against BCA elder Doug Phillips and his wife Beall, the families of BCA, and its leadership.
“Numerous,” “fictitious,” “malicious,” and “accusations” are all broad and inflammatory but unsubstantiated words Doug Phillips often uses, which is one reason I know he probably wrote this statement (and not the person who signed it). These words don’t really say anything at all of substance. Why doesn’t Doug Phillips just address even one aspect of my story specifically? Maybe because he can’t refute it? Maybe because if he says anything at all falsifiable that it will be proven false?
The numerous accusations center around the relationship of BCA with a couple biblically and lovingly disciplined for gross, unrepentant sin in the beginning of the year 2005. The purpose of this letter is to offer a brief response.
Actually, my story is primarily about Doug and Beall Phillips individually, not about BCA. Notice how this statement tries very hard to take the focus off these two Phillips family members, where it belongs.
Now that I have completed telling my story (If you haven’t read it, you may want to do so, beginning here, before continuing with this article), it should be clear that the BCA “discipline” was neither biblical nor loving. In fact, the manner in which it was conducted would not even hold up to the much lower standards of the secular justice system, let alone to the higher standards of God’s Word. Doug, do you really think the way you have treated my children and me is loving? While I realize you think that this kind of discipline is meant to produce repentance in its rightful place, since you cannot clearly provide me with anything I need to repent from, you have effectively put me in a lose-lose situation: If I don’t repent, I am forever deemed an excommunicant; If I do confess, it would be a lie.
3. Summary: The article attacking BCA is a work of fiction. It is rife with pure fabrications, dangerous half-truths, malicious innuendo, and vicious personal attacks.
Here are more sweeping and unspecific charges. I have plenty of documentation that supports the truth of my story; BCA has offered nothing to disprove it. This type of language serves only to incite the reader’s emotions, something Doug Phillips taught us never to do. This is more of Doug holding others to a standard he does not follow himself.
It attributes to BCA leaders statements they never made, actions they never committed, and beliefs to which they do not subscribe.
Precisely which statements, actions, and beliefs might these be? I notice that the BCA statement is very careful, for example, to avoid denying that Doug Phillips called me a “whore” and a “Jezebel.” The BCA statement is also careful not to deny any of the other particular facts that I have put forward. Doug knows there are too many witnesses to deny such things. That’s why he resorts to denying, in a morally outraged tone, unspecified things he was not accused of committing.
The article demeans women in so far as it viciously attacks Beall Phillips and presents the women of BCA in a most unflattering and defamatory manner.
Beall Phillips has been a true helpmeet to Doug — helping him place blame where it doesn’t belong, helping him to manipulate my words into something they were never intended to mean, helping manipulate me into a situation where Doug Phillips could excommunicate me for what Beall herself recommended I do. Telling the truth about her role as a de-facto female elder is not “vicious,” unless what she has done is vicious (in which case it cannot be avoided). Furthermore, if the most extreme aspects of patriarchy as practiced by many at BCA appear unflattering, it is because of the subject matter, not because of the reporter. Criticizing Ministry Watchman’s reporting in this regard is merely blaming the messenger.
The article is undocumented, unsubstantiated, and unbiblical in so far as it is the result of a cooperative effort with an excommunicated couple to bring a false witness against Christians contrary to the Ninth Commandment and to the biblical requirements pertaining to those under church discipline.
Here is another example of a boldfaced lie. The original story by Charles Fisher WAS documented. In fact, that document includes Doug Phillips’ own signature (plus the signatures of other witnesses). See it for yourself right here. After that first story many more documents have been released. The first document supports my story, which, in fact, closely tracks the rest of the documentation. I find it very odd that the official BCA statement would find it so easy to lie about something that anyone can easily disprove. So I ask you readers, if BCA’s “leadership” will lie about this, why not about other things as well?
Furthermore, to call us “excommunicated” is to beg the question. That is precisely the matter under dispute. We deny that we were excommunicated, not only because Doug Phillips denied us due process but also because he refused to supply the appropriate grounds for excommunication. In fact, to this day, we have yet to receive any particulars about the sins we allegedly committed to justify the excommunication.
We deny the vicious charges presented in the document, stand by the character of the men and women defamed, and affirm the propriety of the excommunication both as to the substance and as to the procedure.
Which “document” is he referring to? Perhaps Charles Fisher’s original story? If so, I believe anyone would have a difficult time finding anything “vicious” in this rendering of my story. And if BCA has denied anything specific in that report, I would like to see it; a broad, general denial of “vicious charges” doesn’t amount to anything.
4. Excommunication With Due Process and Unanimous Approval of the Voting Church Body: Contrary to the claims made by this couple and the publishers of the defamatory article, the excommunication of the family followed biblical procedure consistent with our doctrine and confession, procedures which we believe to fairly represent the parameters laid out in Scripture.
I believe I made a clear case that this excommunication was both unbiblical and without due process. I have yet to hear one specific charge against me, although there have been very broad allegations without any examples. None of these broad charges, even if true, are an excommunicable offense. I was not provided time to prepare a defense, to gather witnesses, to even have a trial. I was tried and convicted by secret star chamber, and I still don’t even know the charges! There was no place and no person to whom I could appeal. I would like to know the Bible verses that describe using this kind of railroading to excommunicate.
Tremendous patience, longsuffering, and love were shown to the couple even in the face of violent railings, vicious accusations, cruelty and threats on their part directed at each other, other women at BCA, the families coming alongside of them in counsel and prayer, and the church leadership.
I would agree that Doug Phillips was patient with my husband’s anger even to the point that he refused to protect my children and me when our lives were in danger. However, I don’t think that is the kind of patience our Lord advocates. While Doug Phillips certainly had somewhat of a good relationship with Mark, his obvious disdain for me as a woman is what led to his very unloving and unbiblical treatment of me. At no time did I knowingly treat anyone, man or woman, at Boerne Christian Assembly with anything other than Christian charity, even when Beall Phillips tried to back me into corners, or when others told half-truths about me, such as when Kathleen Turley told Doug Phillips that I was gossiping, which was not the full story and certainly not my intent. In other words, to claim that Doug Phillips in particular was patient, longsuffering, and loving toward me is simply not true.
The initial reason BCA intervened with this couple was to prevent their divorce in light of the husband’s constant threats to divorce his wife.
True. It had absolutely nothing to do with me. So why was I punished by being banned from the Lord’s Supper as BCA’s first act of intervention?
Just prior to their formal excommunication, the acrimony and venom between the couple was at such a level that the wife suggested her husband was guilty of attempted murder and of psychological instability, while the husband presented compelling evidence of ongoing cruelty on the part of the wife.
As a former lawyer for HSLDA, Doug Phillips knew that he had a responsibility, both as an elder and as a lawyer specifically trained for these types of situations, to investigate my daughter Natasha’s and my allegations that our lives were in danger rather than laughing them off. I have even spoken to a well-known lawyer at HSLDA about this situation and he verified that Doug Phillips should have known better. Bob Sarratt is the one who suggested that Mark might be bi-polar, but even so, wouldn’t that be a logical concern in a situation like this?
As for the charges against me, I invite you, Doug, to give me even one example of my being cruel to my husband. The truth is that my husband made up charges against me, which you did not test but instead used as an excuse to discipline me. In fact, even after my husband recanted of his false charges in front of the whole church, you still used his false testimony to condemn me! So much for your advocacy of “Biblical law,” which does not permit judgment based on false testimony. Doug, why don’t you practice what you preach?
When confronted for sins, the wife insisted on a novel and unbiblical variation of the doctrine of sinless perfectionism to justify her claim that she had essentially not sinned in her home for close to half of a year.
The question was, “Have you sinned in your marriage in the last 24 hours?” I answered that I could not recall doing so. When Beall Phillips kept pressing, asking me about the last 48 hours, the last week, or the last month, I merely replied that I had not sinned recently in my marriage. In fact, Mark was so rarely home at this point, that I didn’t even have many opportunities to sin directly against him. I was not claiming sinless perfectionism but rather that, although I certainly had sinned in my marriage, as in all of life, I did not have some particular pattern of sin that Beall had been looking for to point to as the cause of our family’s marital problems.
Over a period of years leading up to the excommunication, the elders of BCA and appointed families from the local church logged hundreds of hours counseling both the husband and wife in the Word of God, sometimes with signs of hope, and other times with none.
While Mark was certainly afforded much counseling, although of mixed quality, I was counseled by Beall Phillips and Reba Short for a total of six hours over five years. Mark and I met with Doug Phillips for a total of four hours in five years, but I don’t consider his name calling and kangaroo courts to be “counseling.” Doug knows of this wide disparity, and he knows there is no good excuse for it, so he tries to obscure this to the readers of the BCA statement by combining my situation with Mark’s.
At no time was inappropriate language leveled against the couple by leaders of BCA.
Since there is no denial of using any specific words, I can only assume that Doug Phillips considers it appropriate pastoral behavior to call me a “whore,” “Jezebel,” “wicked,” “rebellious,” and “churlish,” even without supplying any examples of these charges. I guess that’s his view of how to shepherd a member of the flock.
The gradual and patient process involved counsel, appeals, confrontation, admonition, warnings, censure, discipline, and, ultimately, excommunication with the full consent of the church.
Let’s look more closely at each of these alleged steps:
Counsel – The only counsel I received was six hours worth by two women who thought problems in the marriage were all the woman’s fault and therefore could be solved in three weeks by following a list of submission guidelines.
Appeals – When Doug Phillips excommunicates you, there is no one to whom you can appeal.
Confrontation – I would describe my relationship with Doug Phillips as mostly confrontational.
Admonitions – “Jennifer, you are very wicked.”
Warnings – “You’re going to pay for this.” [For disagreeing in a private email that it is immoral to vote Republican]
Censure – When I ask for help in my marriage, I am not allowed to take communion for over a year.
Discipline – The whole church shunned me for something I didn’t do.
Excommunication – In a secret meeting, the whole church (half of which are Doug’s employees and thus had a major conflict of interest and incentive to vote as desired by the man paying their families’ incomes) voted to excommunicate me for submitting to Beall Phillips’ recommendation to put in writing a defense against false charges made against me?
As the final stage of a lengthy disciplinary process, the couple was brought before the church where they were admonished by the body, including men and women.
The disciplinary action in January 2005 was the final stage of discipline? Exactly how was I disciplined prior to this and for what? The suspension from the Lord’s Table in 2002 had been for my husband’s threats of divorce, as was stated just above, and it was supposedly resolved one year later when we were permitted to return to the Lord’s table. The only other “discipline” that occurred was that pre-conversion sins from which I had previously repented were read before the men, women, and children of the congregation, despite my husband’s pleading that they not be.
One other thing readers should take note of in this statement is that Doug Phillips is confessing here that there was no due process in his discipline. Instead of a trial with advance notice at which we could testify ourselves, present our own evidence, and cross-examine the witnesses supplied by the prosecution as a means to better discover the truth, we are presented to the congregation in a meeting at which our discipline which was pre-ordained.
The response of the wife in particular was to bring many hateful railings and false testimonies against women of the church and against the leadership.
My “defense” to this disciplinary action did not include railings, hate, or any false testimony. My defense was similar to what I have written in my story. My husband’s “railings” included confessing to giving false testimony, unsuccessfully pleading with the leadership not to discipline me based on the false testimony, and unsuccessfully pleading with the church leadership to not tell the whole church of my pre-conversion sins. Is this what Doug Phillips means by “railings”?
The husband was admonished for his violent anger, his lack of loving leadership, for unrepentant anger and hatred, and for bringing a false witness.
While Mark certainly confessed to and repented from his anger and lack of love, I can find no record of his being accused of bringing a false witness in the disciplinary action document we have from Boerne Christian Assembly. Certainly, the false testimony was still used by the BCA leadership as grounds for disciplining me, so criticizing Mark for such false testimony would not have been consistent, if it ever happened.
The wife was formally admonished for habitual dishonesty and lying, for railings and reviling against both her husband and church authorities, for cruelty, gossip, and attempted division of the brethren.
On this particular day, of this particular list, I was charged with gossip, of which I asked Doug Phillips for forgiveness but he refused to forgive me. I was not charged with dishonesty, lying, railings, revilings, cruelty, or attempted division. Nor have I done those things. You may check for yourself on page 5 of the Disciplinary Action to see that I was not accused of these things. I am once again mystified that the BCA “leadership” thinks they can get away with a lie that can so easily be caught.
Despite fervent and loving appeals on behalf of individual brothers and sisters, men and women within the body assembled, and the leadership of this church, the couple hardened their hearts to God and defied the admonition of the church.
Mark confessed his sins before the congregation that day and he was still excommunicated shortly thereafter. I merely asked, “What have I done wrong specifically, so that I can repent?” I was given no answer.
After careful prayer and deliberation, and pursuant to the clear commands of Scripture which states, “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:17), the couple was afterward excommunicated from BCA.
Even though we were told that we had six months in which to repent (I’m still not sure from what), we were suddenly and without notice excommunicated less than two weeks later in a secret meeting to which Mark and I were not invited. All that had happened during those two weeks was that I had written up, as advised by Beall Phillips, and circulated, a defense to members of BCA in response to the charges laid against me, as I had been given no advance warning or opportunity to do so at the previous disciplinary meeting (while my accusers had been informed weeks in advance and been able to prepare written statements). That was my only new offense and one that had been directed by Beall Phillips, the person designated by the “leadership” to counsel me. All I can conclude, then, is that submission to Beall in this was deemed the final, excommunicable offense and that her helpful “counsel” had been a set-up.
It should be noted that Doug Phillips did not make the initial recommendation to excommunicate this wayward couple. The motion for excommunication came from another member of the church body, and the BCA congregation voted unanimously in approving it.
I am very sure this is true. Doug Phillips is quite careful about not putting his name on anything and letting other people take the fall for him when things backfire. This BCA statement is another such example. Doug Phillips wrote nearly all, if not all, of it and as the sole elder of BCA, he should have signed it and taken responsibility for it, not Bob Sarratt. Some of Doug’s defenders who are foolish enough to put their names on their attacks against me would be well advised to follow Doug’s example and keep silent. If he won’t sign his own name to his own defense, why should you sign your name to a defense on his behalf?
5. Tactics Rooted in Dishonesty: The decision to isolate and attack Doug Phillips, both as an elder and also as the head of a ministry unconnected to the local church, is reprehensible.
My story focuses on Doug Phillips precisely because he is the one who was directly responsible for everything that took place. If Doug is isolated as the sole elder at BCA after teaching for years on the biblical requirement of church government by a plurality of elders, that is his personal responsibility, which should not reflect on me. Furthermore, there is nothing dishonest or reprehensible about pointing out that Doug Phillips does not practice in his own church what he preaches about church government at his Uniting Church and Family ministry conferences.
As the Bible says in James 3:1, those who presume to teach will be judged more strictly. Apparently, Doug Phillips interprets this verse as those who presume to teach shouldn’t be judged, or even criticized, at all.
It is a strategic tactic, the goal of which appears to be to confuse uninvolved third parties and to deflect attention from the real sin of the couple and the due process of accountability brought against them by a covenanting body that knows them very well and has walked with them for many years.
My goal here is to warn fellow believers, both those still at BCA and those who are in any way influenced by Doug Phillips, and his teachings through Vision Forum, that the man you see in public is not the same man in private, that you need to be aware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing who preaches due process to others but denies it to those under him. He holds up his own congregation as a national model, and he is seeking to spread that model across the whole country through his Uniting Church and Family Conferences and his National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, which, with more than 500 member churches, is looking more and more like a new denomination every day. It is Doug Phillips who has the strategic ambition to spread what he preaches across the country and around the globe; unfortunately, he does not practice what he preaches. Our response to this hypocrisy is very modest by comparison and comes nowhere near to grand strategy.
The facts are these: There was unanimous agreement on the part of the more than half a dozen families who had been privately involved in helping the family prior to their excommunication, on the part of the church leadership, and on the part of the entire voting body present (around twenty-five families) on what the outcome should be.
There were actually five couples who decided to discipline us initially in January 2005. Of these five couples, two couples and another of the wives had had little to no interaction with us. Beall had not spoken to me for years at this point, except for the six hours of counseling. So, six out of the ten people responsible knew almost nothing of us personally. The one man that did know me best in fact questioned why I was disciplined because he did not see the evidence for it. One couple, who work for Doug Phillips and are very close to him, came over to our home every week for dinner, and that man had counseled Mark extensively. That leaves Doug Phillips as the prime mover by a large margin.
Another odd aspect of this statement is the claim that “families” rather than heads of household decide on church matters. Doug does not believe in women voting, in church or state, and he also does not permit women to speak at all in church, so the claim that families decided is another example of deceptive reporting, as it is designed to give the impression that the women of the church had some formal say in the matter. They did not.
The decision was this: that for the good of the body and the spiritual good of the couple, excommunication was necessary.
While our family certainly has grown spiritually since we were “excommunicated,” I don’t think it has anything to do with being treated as heathens and publicans and the whole family being shunned. Maybe it would have been better for the body to not hide problems of this magnitude and allow others to come alongside and attempt to help us and to hold Mark accountable. In the end, because God is sovereign, I have no doubt that He will turn the evil done at BCA in the name of church discipline into good for purifying His bride. I think that is already happening through this site, as people are being warned to beware the pied piper and his “new Reformation” tune.
Concerning leadership: From its first days as a constituted assembly, BCA has maintained plural and equal leadership in the governance and oversight of the local body.
When BCA first started, it had three elders. About one year later, there were just two. Two years after that, and ever since the end of 2002, there has been only one unordained elder (unless there has been some very recent new promotion in response to the public criticism of the lack of multiple elders). BCA has always had 2-3 deacons, but deacons are not the same as elders. The truth is that it has been many years since anyone with knowledge of BCA could claim honestly that there has been “equal leadership” — unless “equal” is defined strictly as equally unordained to any office.
Even during times of transition, men have always stepped up into leadership.
Other men have preached, but everyone who is a member of BCA knows full well that no decision is made without Doug Phillips’ approval. Besides, leadership roles are not the same as offices. Many men have led in some way at BCA, but Doug Phillips has made sure for years that he was the only one holding the office of elder.
The suggestion that BCA is run by one man, or that the excommunication process was managed or run by one man, is a fraud and contrary to the clear facts.
BCA has long had one elder, one unordained elder – Doug Phillips. As the sole elder, Doug Phillips was solely responsible for the so-called excommunication as well, as he would have been the only one with any biblical authority to carry it out. The Bible does not give the “keys to the kingdom” to the heads of household of a church collectively but rather to a plurality of elders.
The isolation of Doug and Beall Phillips for censure, the connection with Vision Forum Ministries, and the absurd charges leveled against their character are tactics used by a couple who has become notorious for extreme behavior within their marriage and towards others, for gossip in the congregation, and for dishonesty.
My story about Doug and Beall Phillips involves Vision Forum to the extent that our second meeting with Doug Phillips took place in his office at Vision Forum, my three mandatory counseling sessions took place at Vision Forum, and I have been barred from the premises of Vision Forum due to the circumstances surrounding my story. But mostly, I was ultimately excommunicated because I responded, with my husband’s permission, to the open invitation of the President of Vision Forum to present to him my view of politics, which focused on the idea that it is not immoral to vote for Republicans (specifically Bush in 2004). Doug Phillips disagreed with my opinion, and for expressing it and refusing to recant without being persuaded by reason, he promised that I would pay.
If we were notorious for extreme behavior within our marriage, then why were so many BCA members shocked when the disciplinary action document was read in church on January 23, 2005? To any extent that we have become notorious since, it is no doubt due to frequent whisperings, including broken pastoral confidence about exaggerated misdeeds and sins from before conversion that have been confessed and repented of long since.
In fact, at one point their behavior was so extreme that a shepherd from a nearby congregation who also had counseled this family strongly advised Doug Phillips to get a court restraining order for his physical protection, a recommendation he declined.
We have never given any indication that Doug Phillips needed physical protection from us. This statement is designed to create sympathy where none is due. It also ignores the fact that multiple shepherds from other congregations have refused to go along with Doug Phillips’ star chamber approach to church discipline imposed on us and have told him so.
6. Ongoing Sin and Unrepentence: Subsequent to their excommunication, the couple published lengthy defamatory letters and disseminated them widely, bringing numerous false and railing accusations and demands against specific and numerous men and women of BCA.
Actually, before we were excommunicated, but immediately after the disciplinary action statement, at the advice of Beall Phillips, I wrote out a defense and sent it to the five men who decided to discipline me. After that seemed only to bring more shunning upon us, I appealed to the rest of the members of BCA as well, sending them a copy of my defense. We also gave a copy to the elders of the new church we were attending and to Bob Welch, who was involved in the excommunication. We did not take it outside the immediate group of people directly involved in one way or another. As I have already said, the substance of that communication was very similar to what you see on this site. Judge for yourself: Does what you read here sound like the BCA statement describes it?
They also raised the issue of a lawsuit against BCA.
Using correct legal terms in responding to an attorney such as Doug Phillips is not raising the issue of a lawsuit; that is, pointing out that something he said was egregious enough to be “actionable.” Making that observation is not the same as threatening a lawsuit. On the other hand, Doug Phillips did actually retain a personal attorney, Bobby Don Hart, who threatened to sue us. For months, our only interaction with Doug Phillips was through his attorney, and during that time we did not retain our own legal counsel or seek legal advice. That being so, which party — Doug Phillips or the Epsteins — has demonstrated a greater likelihood of initiating a lawsuit?
They further sought and were successful at using the spread of falsehoods to create active divisions within the community.
Not only did we not create divisions within the community, we actually recommended to certain families that they should visit BCA. When asked, we told the truth about our situation, but never in a manner intended to cause divisions. To be sure, the truth sometimes divides, but that is not always a bad thing. For example, being divided from false teaching has been good for my family.
Next, they began to launch hateful and slanderous websites comparing Doug Phillips and Vision Forum to Nazis, among other unkind and defamatory representations.
It is not true that Mark and I have launched such a website, and I certainly have not compared Doug Phillips or Vision Forum to Nazis. Readers are invited to double-check for themselves by reading through my site. But even if there is such a comparison, perhaps expressed tongue in cheek, so what? I’ve had several good laughs at being called much worse things on blogs run by supporters of Doug Phillips, and I don’t see why Doug should be so thin-skinned, unless something hit close to home. A true shepherd should be more tolerant and patient than a member of the flock, not less.
Next, they attempted via letter to blackmail Doug Phillips by threatening to destroy him via the internet unless he capitulated to unbiblical demands.
Mark offered to go to arbitration (such as Peacemakers) and explained that if Doug Phillips refused his efforts at reconciliation, that Mark would then take what we saw as the next logical step, which would be to send an email to several prominent pastors, asking for their help. That is all the charge of “blackmail” amounts to.
The unlawful nature of their behavior was explained to them, as was the fact that they have no protection under I Corinthians 6 against lawsuits should they persist in such behavior.
Mark’s request for arbitration was met with Doug Phillips’ lawyer, Bobby Don Hart, threatening to sue us instead. The only time Doug Phillips addressed his unbiblical interpretations of I Corinthians 6 not applying to excommunicants was when he said as much in his own blog. This was published on October 11, 2006, after Doug’s attorney had broken off all communications to us. I guess this is Doug’s way of admitting what BCA and Vision Forum insiders have known for years — that Doug Phillips uses his blog to communicate to people without naming names but still in a way that those in the know will know precisely the target and the message.
Next, they specifically positioned themselves as Internet whistleblowers against ministries that sue bloggers.
I wrote articles on my blog about the grievous sins of Ligonier, a Christian ministry which had sued a believer in direct violation of I Corinthians 6. I did this as a long-time monthly donor to Ligonier and as someone who believed proper stewardship of those donations required me to investigate the reports of the lawsuit when I heard of it. This was in no way related to Doug Phillips or Vision Forum or BCA — although we did eventually learn that the false church discipline against us, including pre-conversion sin relayed in pastoral confidence, had been brought to the attention of Ligonier senior management by Doug Phillips or his authorized staff during that time. So, to the extent there is a connection, it is one that Doug Phillips himself initiated.
Finally, they worked in conjunction with the website to mass disseminate rank lies and slanders against one of their former elders and to disparage the congregation that loved them.
When Ministry Watchman approached us about telling our story, we prayed about it and checked them out thoroughly. Satisfied that Frank Vance’s reporting in particular was seen to be accurate and well-documented, and impressed with the biblical standards of the website, we agreed to tell our story to one of their reporters, Charles Fisher. We have tried our best to tell the truth in every respect and cannot be held responsible for the fact that Doug Phillips treats any and all criticism of him or his leadership practices as “slander,” “lies,” “defamation,” etc.
As a part of their most recent actions, they have facilitated the posting of doctored and misleading documents onto the internet.
The first document that Ministry Watchman posted in support of our story had our names covered to protect our identity. They also blurred the names of the signatures of some witnesses as well since they were not implicated in the story. Doug Phillips’ signature, however, was not blurred. In any case, if you compare this first document that was redacted only to protect certain names to the second copy that is not altered in any way, you will clearly see that the names were the only thing changed, as was fully disclosed. Consequently, it is dishonest to call the document “doctored.”
By the way, since Doug Phillips drafted that document, and not Mark or me, if it is “misleading,” it is the responsibility of Doug Phillips, not Mark or me. At the time of this BCA statement, we had published only one document on the Internet. It was only later that it would have been accurate to say that we posted “documents.” This is not a big deal by itself, but it does provide additional evidence that the BCA statement was not drafted with scrupulous accuracy being a high priority.
In sum, their ongoing behavior has been consistent with some of the very issues for which they were excommunicated by the BCA congregation without a single vote in opposition.
In sum, you will see that Doug Phillips’ ongoing behavior has been consistently abusive not only throughout my story, but throughout the many lies and exaggerations presented in this very statement. I have already explained the unanimous vote (half of which constituted employees of Doug Phillips) and how it is not, in any case, the place of the congregation to do the work of the elders, so I won’t cover that again.
7. How Should the Church Respond to the Couple: In order to preserve the flock of God from damage caused by railers, extortioners, disorderly, disobedient, unruly, unrepentant and dishonest individuals, as well as to encourage such individuals to flee to Christ while there is yet time, the Bible offers the following directives:
The list of sins here grows to now include us being railers, extortioners, disorderly, disobedient, unruly, unrepentant, and dishonest. It should be clear by now that these terms do not describe us at all and are merely designed to draw attention away from the truth of our family’s five years of ecclesiastical tyranny and abuse under Doug Phillips. If these were true, one would think that given literally years to produce specific instances of these sins, in order for us to fully repent, the fact that he has not done so despite our repeated requests, tells me he either cannot produce such specifics or he will not because he is not interested in giving us any opportunity to be reconciled. My own view is that both are true.
Romans 16:17-18: Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
Mark and I are aware of no divisions or offenses that we have committed contrary to proper doctrine. If we have committed any, we certainly have not been informed of these with sufficient specificity to make repentance possible.
I Corinthians 5:11-13: But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
This new list of “offenses” seems to be added just so Doug Phillips can use another verse to justify excommunicating us. In any case, this list of charges is simply not true.
II Thessalonians 3:6-7: Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
We do not walk disorderly, but attempt to emulate the apostles and follow their teachings as closely as possible in our daily lives, especially regarding such passages as I Corinthians 6.
II Thessalonians 3:14: And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
I have done nothing for which I should be so ashamed that no one should eat with me. I have sinned, as has every other person in this world, but I am not an unrepentant sinner.
Psalms 101:5: Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer.
Slander always involves lies and falsehoods, neither of which have I told.
Proverbs 22:10: Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.
None of these apply to us either.
8. Conclusion: Recognizing that church discipline, like all godly administrations of discipline, is to be an act of love, the families of BCA have for nearly two years been praying for this couple and for their children.
And we have been praying for Doug Phillips and those at BCA as well.
It is our heartfelt desire to see love return to their family, hope to their children, and lasting harmony between husband and wife.
While this is certainly our desire also, I would not have known this was Doug Phillips’ desire by the way in which he treated my children and me. My children are still devastated by how Doug Phillips treated them. Doug Phillips has done far more to undermine harmony in our home than to promote it.
Though we cannot capitulate to their extortions, condone their ongoing destructive behavior, nor remain silent in the face of the spread of divisive falsehoods which they continue to propagate, we remain constant in having a genuine spirit of love toward them and earnestly desire their reconciliation through repentance first with God, and second with the families and loved ones who have poured out their hearts and lives for them.
Requesting first reconciliation, then arbitration, and then mediation is not extortion. I have been very careful to be truthful throughout my entire story. I do believe that in some odd way, Doug Phillips truly thinks he is doing the right thing in all this and that this is the way he is to love us, but by refusing to supply any specifics of our alleged sins he has made it impossible for us to be reconciled, if any true repentance is still needed on our part. His words of love and his deeds do not match.
We encourage those who desire the best for this couple, as well as the peace of the Body of Christ, neither to receive their slanders and false reports, nor to set aside Christ’s commands in dealing with them as an unrepentant man and woman under formal censure.
If I ever slander or give a false report (which are the same thing), I would encourage you not to receive them either. However, since my story is both true and well documented, it should be obvious by now that the circumstances leading up to and including my excommunication, and even our attempts at reconciliation since then are not the actions of “heathen and publicans” deserving formal censure.
Bob Sarratt, on behalf of the BCA session
It is telling that this statement is signed by long-time deacon Bob Sarratt, not Doug Phillips, who more than anyone else is responsible for what happened to my family. So why didn’t Doug Phillips sign his name and take the kind of personal responsibility that he requires of everyone else?
It’s unfortunate that the BCA statement ends as it begins, with a falsehood. This final falsehood is the claim that the statement was issued by the BCA “session,” a presbyterian term for a board of ordained elders that rule a local congregation together with equal authority. BCA is far from presbyterian but appears to seek the sympathy of presbyterians by giving the impression that BCA is ruled by a plurality of equal, ordained elders. It is not. The truth is that Doug Phillips has been the sole unordained elder at BCA for almost four years now, and nothing major is done at BCA without his personal approval (whether he permits his name to be used or not).
The above is my personal assessment of the Doug Phillips/BCA statement. I welcome constructive feedback on it, including correction of any errors I may have made. Or if you think I missed something in my analysis, let me know. I’ll be glad to receive correction and acknowledge it publicly. My hope is, with your help, that this article will be the most thorough and accurate, yet concise analysis of the BCA statement possible, to the glory of God and the edification of His people.