There are a lot of Vision Forum folks who frequent this website. The recent news of the affair of its leader and the closing of the ministry’s doors is not easy. To many of you, this is serious business, a heartbreak and travesty.
Perhaps you know little of who Doug Phillips was or the ministry of which he founded. Wendy and I had a lot in common with Doug and the people close to his ministry. In fact, we still do. This news — now a month old — hits close to home. If you feel the same, I invite you to join us in how we’re handling the revelation of the fall of the top man in the Vision Forum movement.
Our history with Vision Forum starts with me, the “patriarch,” more than a decade ago. I first heard of them when I was an editor at Focus on the Family. One of my co-workers told me of a ministry that teaches kids to use slingshots. I thought, “cool!” and investigated. I still have a couple of those slingshots lying around.
At the time, our family fit the Vision Forum mold quite nicely. We had eight children. We preferred attending church together as a family, so the concept of “family integration” was attractive to us. We home schooled, were politically conservative, and were Bible-believing Christians. In many ways, we still fit the mold.
But we began walking away from Vision Forum in 2004. It wasn’t all at once, and it wasn’t all about Vision Forum. It had more to do with our walking away from legalism, that which we write about in our 2007 book Love in the House. Our first step away from it was when we left a church that was profoundly steeped in its teachings. Trouble is, we connected with and befriended many people who are still — to this day nearly a decade later — deep into Vision Forum’s teachings.
It’d be easy for a daddy blogger like me to chew them up and spit them out. But I love these people, some of them like family. I feel a strong connection to them, and Wendy and I want to walk life’s journey with them. They are real people with spouses, businesses, lots of children, and a community who want to stick together and love one another.
This hits to the core, doesn’t it? Doug Phillips resigned, Vision Forum closed its doors, and simply walking away is not that easy. It seems our Love in the House journey is painful and long. I find hope that the Doug Phillips scandal is a step in the right direction. For you, perhaps it’s the first step.
If you’re a family like us (are you, too, on the Vision Forum mailing list?), please consider being a Berean and weighing all things. I suspect you have had doubts all along, just like we did over the years. We believe this crossroad is a good place to be. It’s right where Christ wants us, an opportunity to rewrite some fundamentals in our families. Good can come of this, I’m certain of it.
The Fall of Doug Phillips
Perhaps you don’t even know who Doug Phillips is. Chances are you have come across his influence — especially if you subscribe to this site. We homeschool, we love lots of children, we are conservative Christians, and so on. Doug was an advocate for such things. It helps to understand exactly where we’re at before we start questioning.
On October 30, Vision Forum Ministries president Doug Phillips posted an open letter of resignation. In it he stated he had a long-lasting romantic relationship with an unmarried woman. Phillips is a most popular public speaker at homeschool conferences and at all the Vision Forum events. He cancelled all his engagements to focus on his family and, as anyone would guess, rebuild that which he broke.
Doug’s letter left a lot to the imagination. Not many questions were answered, even leaving the impression that Doug’s sin was perhaps petty. He gave a Clintonesque explanation that he did not have sex, whatever that means. He also made it clear that he was returning to his patronage duties to “raise his sons and daughters” and rebuild that which he holds dear.
I’m not sure about you, but I had several questions. Hardly satisfied, I was asking:
- How long was “many years”? What does “intermittent” mean?
- With whom? A subordinate? Co-worker? Other leader? Intern? Nanny? Church member?
- Was there financial impropriety involved?
- Did his church or ministry circle know about this? If so, for how long?
News from the ministry since the resignation letter has been tight. Only two press releases have come out since the resignation. The first was an announcement of the closing of its doors. The second was a clarification from Doug Phillips of what happened in his affair. I do not think Vision Forum’s tight-lipped secrecy is helping them any. It sure isn’t answering the questions I have.
At this point, who knows where this will go. Wouldn’t it be great if Doug renounced the bad and clung to the good? Yeah, that would be something, but the history of these kinds of things don’t leave me much hope. I smell conspiracy and coverup, which isn’t a rush to judgment, just an honest opinion.
I’ve been involved in many conversations with close friends trying to make sense of this. I have friends in both camps: some hate and some love Vision Forum. This is a complicated mess, but I have found it interesting to witness a particular defense, and I don’t believe it helps. I hope you resist this kind of reaction.
I’ve jumped in with my share of criticism, especially on my personal Facebook profile. Whenever I post criticism, almost knee-jerk are responses reminding me that no one is perfect, that he with no sin should cast the first stone, that we should love one another. I can see their hurt. “Christians shoot each other,” so the accusation goes. “We should be quick to forgive.” One dad got very angry with me, “What side are you on?” he rebuked me.
I find this response peculiar. Doug Phillips was known as a stern critic of all things immoral and, as he deemed it, unholy. He held deep criticisms of women in any leadership position — business, military, the home and church. He publicly excommunicated people from his church for marital infidelity. He challenged men to abandon pornography, be leaders of their home, and paved the way (at least appeared to) to biblical manhood and fatherhood.
He’s now proven to be a hypocrite. A false prophet. A fraud. Attacking me for being skeptical of him is strange, even revealing.
We should just forgive and forget? I don’t believe forgiveness is for me to give. Doug has his own conscience to deal with. I can only relate to who Doug was publicly, and if I had an unrealistic image of him, that’s my problem.
I find it ironic that the same week Doug Phillips apologized, Barack Obama apologized for his handling of the Affordable Care Act. The Vision Forum crowd is extremely intolerant of liberalism, as am I. No slack was going to be extended to the President of the United States, but complete grace was to be given to the President of Vision Forum. The hypocrisy of these men weren’t the only sins being exposed. Those quick to cover for these sins were guilty accomplices, it seemed.
Attacking the disillusioned doesn’t help any. Neither is a blind defense of all things previously held true. Instead, an honest analysis of how the fallen ministry impacted you and your family is what you should do. That’s what has filled my conversations for a month now.
The Next Chapter Is Yours
That’s where this story is tough: Doug isn’t going to write our story for us. He’s out. The next chapter is up to us. We can only bravely face the facts and start separating the truth from the fiction, rebuilding our lives for the better.
That’s what Wendy and I are doing: we’re thinking through the good and removing the bad. We’re analyzing our own beliefs on all sorts of things that, perhaps, we took too much for gospel truth. We’re keeping the slingshots, but we’re ditching the legalism. We’ve been doing this all along since 2004, but now we have a reason to make a cleaner separation. Good will come of this cleansing.
If you ran with the same crowd as Doug Phillips and Vision Forum, I encourage you to do similar introspection. What Vision Forum beliefs do you still hold onto?