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)
Convicted of Pleading for Help
When Mark and I arrived at Boerne Christian Assembly in 2000, our marriage was the best it had ever been. We had seemingly put the past behind us and were spending a lot of time praying that God would show us all the sin in our lives, both individually and together as a family. We were listening to dozens of sermons on topics that related to family life and theology, repenting together as we learned so many new things. When we arrived at Boerne Christian Assembly, Doug Phillips continued teaching us many incredible things about what the Bible says regarding families and daily life.
And while I appreciated much of what he taught us, I began to notice that he used very little Scripture and a lot of “vision,” very little practical application, but lots of theory. Some people can easily translate vision into reality, but in my own teaching experience, I’ve found that most do much better learning from actually doing it themselves, from demonstrations, and from stories or examples. For example, Doug Phillips often preached about men leading their families in “family worship.” I am in full agreement with that, and think it is a vital teaching. However, in my five years of listening to Doug Phillips, I cannot recall one specific example, one demonstration, one story about the specifics of “family worship.” I know there are many different methods and ways of carrying that out, but if you have never seen it done, it is a scary step for a man to attempt to try something he’s not only never done, but really has no clue about how to do it anyway. Mark described this as “frustrating.”
While much of what Doug Phillips teaches regarding Patriarchy sounds biblical, because of the lack of practical application, his teachings are often taken to extremes. Sometimes, men just hear his vision of men always “leading,” and they become domineering and demanding, causing undue stress on the wife. I know of one family that divorced precisely because of hearing this teaching and not understanding what it really should be. Sometimes, men will try to emulate what they see in Doug Phillips, and start requiring their families to have all the same rules as the Phillips. Unfortunately, if there are no personal convictions behind the rules, they soon become extremely oppressive and smother the family. Some men just have no clue about how to “lead” their families; they just know that it’s being constantly preached at them from the pulpit. Having come from a home without a godly leader, these men need lots of practical examples.
As Mark sat under this teaching, knowing the right thing to do, but not knowing how to do it, he began to get frustrated and angry. Our marriage began to deteriorate. I went to Beall Phillips on three occasions, in their new home now, asking her help in how I could be a submissive wife to an extremely angry husband. She reminded me of a gentle answer turning away wrath and how wives can win their husbands without a word. On each occasion, I went home and tried even harder, but to no avail.
Mark continued to grow increasingly angry, threatening divorce almost daily, until one day it seemed as if it would become a reality. Retiring from 20 years in the Army, he had a job offer in another state and decided to leave us for good. Standing by the pool that Sunday at church, I briefly closed my eyes in prayer, asking God for help. When I opened them, Doug Phillips was walking past me at that moment so, sensing that this was from the Lord as I never had occasion to really speak to him before, I asked if I could talk to him for a moment. Explaining that Mark was going to leave us the next day, I asked if Doug Phillips would be willing to talk to him. Doug Phillips then started asking me if I was fulfilling I Peter 3: “Are you submissive? Are you trying to win him without a word? Do you have a gentle and quiet spirit? Do you obey him?” Why was I getting the third degree when all I did was ask for help? Assuring Doug Phillips that I was doing all these things to the best of my ability, Doug then went outside after Mark.
Finding Mark just getting ready to leave, Doug Phillips approached him by his car and started peppering him with questions as well: “Is Jen a nag? Is she a dripping faucet? Is she disrespectful and unsubmissive to you? Is Jen rebellious and churlish?” Desperate to justify his own actions, Mark clutched onto these inappropriate adjectives and agreed with Doug. Rather than trying to find the root cause of Mark’s obvious anger that day, Doug Phillips immediately jumped to the conclusion that it must all be my fault for causing Mark to be so angry. Then when Mark starts spewing forth bitterness and unforgiveness about my past sins before I was a Christian, Doug Phillips suggested that maybe I hadn’t fully repented after all, and that must be the problem. Although Doug Phillips convinced Mark not to leave the next day, he did not use this occasion to even speak to him about his own sin in threatening divorce.
Doug Phillips is highly inaccessible, even to his own small congregation, but I did think that imminent divorce and abandonment might be cause for at least some quick intervention. Six weeks later, however, in October 2002, Doug Phillips was finally available to meet with us. Bob Welch was also there, but I believe it was his last official duty as an elder because he left right about that time, if I remember correctly. There was also one deacon present, as well as Doug’s wife, Beall, and Bob’s wife. When I entered this meeting, I had no clue that Mark and Doug had this conversation previously, so I came with hope that someone was going to be able to help us.
After giving an appearance of being fair by letting us each tell what was going on, Doug Phillips then quickly turned to an obviously prepared line of interrogation, bombarding me with questions about my pre-Christian behavior thirteen years earlier and from which I had already fully repented in 1990, when I came to know the Lord. Doug Phillips kept wanting to know details about what had happened, (which he has since told some of his supporters, who have posted them online for everyone to see – although the online versions are greatly distorted and untrue). Doug Phillips kept pressuring me to admit that I had not repented from my sin, behaving very much like a prosecuting attorney trying to get the witness to plead “guilty,” calling me a “whore” and a “Jezebel” (which to Doug means a woman who tries to rule over her husband in rebellion). Beall Phillips chimed in by totally misrepresenting our three conversations in which I asked her for help in being a submissive wife, and instead she said that I was disrespectful and unsubmissive in my attitude toward her. Shocked at her total change of attitude, I could hardly believe it when Doug Phillips joined her in calling me name again and added his own terms of endearment such as “churlish.”
Doug Phillips then proceeded to tell three outright lies about me as he totally ignored Mark’s extreme outbursts of anger right in the middle of the meeting turned Kangaroo Court. Doug Phillips stated that I said no one was counseling me; no one was, although Bob Welch was counseling Mark at the time. Doug Phillips stated that I said no one was holding Mark accountable; although Bob was counseling Mark, he was clearly not holding him accountable in any way. Although I cannot remember the third lie, I clearly remember Doug Phillips calling me a liar while he sat there and falsely accused me himself. Although Doug and Beall Phillips accused me of being unsubmissive and disrespectful, they could not give me any examples of that in my life when I asked for them. The truth was that because of Mark’s extreme anger, I tried extremely hard to do my best at all times to be a godly wife. I had enough anger from my husband as it was; I didn’t need to invite anymore.
As if playing the role of prosecuting attorney instead of shepherd and counselor wasn’t enough, Doug Phillips then declares himself to be the judge as well, deciding that it must be all my fault, and pulls out my sentencing papers, which he already prepared before the “court” began. Although Mark is listed on the “Guidelines for Accountability,” this was mostly a sham, as Mark was never held to these standards. Because there are so many spelling errors in the paper, I will list my requirements here for you, but you may see the original document with all signatures here as well to verify it.
Jennifer may not:
1. Ever question, contradict, criticize, correct or end-run any communication or decision by Mark to Mark or to anyone else.
2. Speak ill of her husband or family matters to third parties.
3. Speak critically of Mark to the children.
1. Agree to submit to the guidelines for accountability of the leadership of the local church with a full heart as unto the Lord, recognizing their goal is to facilitate obedience to the Lord and help rescue a marriage.
2. Demonstrate genuine reverence and submission to her husband in all things as unto the Lord.
3. Examine herself for unconfessed, or inadequately confessed, sins against her husband from any time during their marriage.
4. Not take communion until love is once again restored in the family, or on an individual basis, until the spirit and letter of the above is followed, and deemed such by the leadership of the local church. (Minor excommunication)
5. Forgive and love one another.
In the case of violations of the “may not” guidelines listed above, Jennifer will be willing to submit to reasonable accountability reporting guidelines to be determined.
These “reasonable accountability reporting guidelines” consisted of each of us being assigned people to whom we could call 24 hours a day to “tattle” on each other if there was a problem. Mark was told he could call Doug Phillips on his cell phone, although Doug never answered. Mark did talk to Jeff, the deacon, a couple times. I was assigned to call Beall Phillips, but since I don’t let my children “tattle” on each other, I did not feel it was right to “tattle” on my husband either, so I never called her. In turn, Beall Phillips never once asked me how my marriage was going or why I hadn’t called her.
Making himself prosecutor, judge, and jury, Doug Phillips orchestrated the whole Kangaroo Court in a fashion that seemed designed to be a quick fix to a serious problem. As one friend commented, Doug Phillips liked putting bandaids on open, oozing wounds. The outcome of this Kangaroo Court was that Doug Phillips determined that I had not fully repented for sins committed thirteen years earlier, before I was saved; that it must be my fault that Mark was so angry and wanted a divorce; that I now had strict “rules” to follow; and that I could no longer take communion each Sunday — indefinitely.
These guidelines were not temporary guidelines, something that would go away when communion was restored. These guidelines turned out to be what is generally expected of every wife according to Doug Phillips’ hyper-Patriarchical view. Men are in charge, and as such, wives are never to question them. There is the occasion for an appeal, as if we were little children, but these guidelines were never intended to be temporary in nature. Even after communion was restored, and even though my family was in danger, I was reminded that I could not speak ill of Mark to anyone. But that’s another story for another day!