Lourdes Torres-Manteufel was 15 when she met Doug Phillips, leader of Vision Forum, back in 1999. On her account, she was an adult when the relationship became sexual. The whole tangled affair is now in the courts, and it looks to become even more tangled and tawdry before we are all done.
My point in writing about this again is not to discuss any of the sensational or lurid details, which are really bad on anyone’s account, but rather to point to some of the larger realities that are perhaps going to be missed in the midst of the recriminations.
In the meantime, I pray that this thing gets settled out of court. I hope that Doug Phillips never even thinks about getting into ministry again. And it is also my prayer and hope that if the whole thing is dropped, that Torres-Manteufel, recently married, will get a running shot at a blessed and normal life.
As an aside, this is not the first time that I have been astonished by the willingness of Christian “worldview teachers” to resort to the unbelieving civil courts. If the stakes are large enough, the thinking goes, then surely it is not realistic to do what Paul said, allowing yourself to be defrauded rather than humiliate the church in the eyes of the unbelievers. In this instance, the sexual sin committed was humiliating enough — but at least the decencies of hypocrisy were observed. Now, with brazen threats of suits, Doug Phillips is disobeying the Word in a flagrant way (1 Cor. 6:1-8), and all to avoid paying consequences that he brought down on his own head. The Pauline injunction does apply to Torres-Manteufel also, but Phillips is the one was a teacher for many years, and who professed to understand this principle, and who should be willing to pay every dime he has to prevent this from becoming a greater laughingstock than it already has. Teachers incur a stricter judgment (Jas. 3:1), and our current problem should be more with what Phillips is doing right this minute, out in the open, and not what he did earlier behind closed doors.
All that said, I would like to offer the pious hope that we don’t use this occasion as an opportunity for missing the point, or changing the subject. There are various ways we could do this.
As should be well known by now, I believe everything the apostle Paul taught about headship and submission in marriage. This makes me, in the eyes of some, a patriarchalist. Another nicer word for that is complementarian, if you think simpering is nicer.
A predictable response from the world of feminism has been that the sexual sin here was the result of “patriarchalism,” which is of course, nonsense. But as with every lie, the part that is true makes it potent. Part of this concern is quite reasonable. Lust and authority are a very bad combination, and when people who are in authority over others, but under the authority of their own lusts, and use the former as an instrument for gratifying the latter, the results are disastrous.
But this kind of abuse can happen anywhere there is any kind of authority — the authority of parents, the authority of school teachers, the authority of baby-sitters, the authority of branch managers, and the authority of presidents over interns. This last year has seen a rash of cases where teachers abused their students, and all when there was no patriarchalism in sight. And the most famous case of someone doing the kind of “enabling” that Beall Phillips may have done is a notable case — we all know her as the Democratic front-runner.
So the issue is authority abused by lust, and we can’t fix it by outlawing authority. Authority is inescapable. But there are different kinds of authority — one accountable in the event of sin, and one unaccountable. The latter really is a true problem.
The issue with the version of patriarchalism that Phillips was selling was this. It was not seen in the adultery, which can happen in every human setting. The problem was seen in how the fact of that sexual sin was processed by those who were not participants in it, and who thought they were doing the right thing afterward. In other words, what happened after there were clear indicators to aggrieved parties (her parents and his wife) that Phillips’ qualifications to be ministering to others had gone clean off the rails?
I am not speaking here of why it wasn’t made public. There are plenty of possible motivations other than the wrong kind of “patriarchalism” for trying to keep the situation contained. There would be avoiding shame, maintaining a livelihood, sparing the kids, saving the marriage, etc. I am not defending such responses, only pointing out that they need have nothing to do with patriarchalism.
But the tell that the wrong kind of patriarchalism was operative in this (along with wrong notions of forgiveness, elder qualifications, etc.) was that after the first incident there was no insistence that Torres-Manteufel be moved to safety. In other words, people who were not involved in the first obvious sin got swept up into another set of less obvious sins — the sin of wrapping up the transgression of the spiritual leader in cotton batting in order to protect him from the consequences about to be delivered to him by a cold, cold world. But God is not mocked — men reap what they sow (Gal. 6:7). Be sure your sin will find you out (Num. 32:23), and this remains true despite the misguided buffering efforts of people who believe it their duty to love and respect the offender by covering for him. The problem with such buffering is that it keeps the same set-up that caused the problem in the first place.
By way of contrast, another possible response would have been that outlined by Dick Armey during the Lewinski episode. He was asked by reporters what he would do if he were in Bill Clinton’s shoes. He replied that if he were in Clinton’s shoes, he would be lying in a pool of his own blood, listening to Mrs. Armey asking how do you “reload this damn thing.”
So here is the heart of it. When in the midst of the sexual sin, however it was rationalized, there had to have been a strong awareness that the behavior was wrong, treacherous, sinful, rebellious, and all the rest of it. What was being done was being done in known defiance of what the Bible teaches. But when the sin had been committed, and everybody was dealing with the fallout, they resorted to what they thought was obedience to what the Bible teaches about how to deal with such things.
It is one thing to confess your sins. It is another thing entirely, and a much greater challenge, to confess what you thought were your virtues. To do the former, Doug Phillips would have had to confess his lust and his pursuit of it, which he might have thought started in the middle of the previous week. To do the latter, he would have to repent of structure of virtually his entire adult life. But the latter is where true repentance lies, and it is the only way out. I hope that Doug finds it, but the road he is currently on is not the right direction.
One of the most difficult jobs I have as a counselor is the task of getting people to confess their virtues — the things they are doing that they believe to be right, or scripturally grounded, but which are in fact all messed up. The theological problems at Vision Forum did not cause the adultery, because the theology of Vision Forum does not approve of adultery. But the theological problems were the cause of the entirely inadequate response to it once discovered.
Suppose I am counseling a father with an anger problem, a problem coupled with his own unique notions of his paternal authority. He has uber-views of authority when it comes to his own authority, but virtually non-existent views of authority when it comes to any authority he might have to submit to. Now when he sins by losing his temper, it is often very easy to get him to confess the sin of his anger. “Yes, that outburst was wrong,” he will say. He will confess that particular sin. But try getting him to see that his twisted views of authority are the hidden driver of his anger (not to mention the bitterness of its recipients), and he will stare at you blankly. It is as though he hears you telling him to confess his virtues, and as though you are telling him to repent of believing Ephesians 6:1-4.
I have before defined masculine headship as the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility. And the problem is not that Doug Phillips is practicing this, but rather that he is not.