Vision Forum and Confessing Your Virtues

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.

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K. Swanson
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K. Swanson

This is so helpful to me in trying to process the whole Doug Phillips situation. Also, a helpful exhortation to watchfulness in my own life AND it is Providentially very applicable to some situations which our elders are dealing with, too. Thank you for the faithful words.

John McNeely
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John McNeely

This is a great analysis  of the situation. Also we all enjoyed your message at Jon and Jamie’s wedding and the sermon on Sunday.  It was a joy to get to worship with the congregation at Christ Church. We will do our best to care for them and look forward to being blessed by Jamie’s presence.

perry coghlan
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perry coghlan

You mean Hillary Clinton? “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.”

Rob
Guest
Rob

I think it’s also telling that most of the effort in this situation went toward protecting Phillips, and very little toward protecting his victim.  In situations where authority is abused, whether sexual or otherwise, a first step should always be protecting those who have been taken advantage of by the authority figure.

paul
Guest
paul

K Swanson. I assume you are Kevin Swanson. You ran in Doug’s circles, you shared the pulpit with him at many conferences, you were friends and members of NCFIC, and you never noticed these tendencies in him? His hunger for power? His lack of Gospel centered sermons? Come on! Also, aside from a radio show you did on him a few months ago, you have said virtually nothing. Guilt by association is wrong, but I think you need to man up and say more about this. Same with Scott Brown and others that shared the pulpit with him and no… Read more »

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

I too thought this was a helpful commentary on a tragic situation.  As a Catholic who was sickened and enraged by the priest scandals, I had two thoughts.  The first is that while I agree that the issue is with toxic authority rather than with patriarchy, the sin is enabled by the adulation and unquestioning obedience of bystanders.  (I am speaking in totally general terms here with no reference to the Phillips.)  Nuns who should have known better obeyed the orders of priests to send a particular child over to the rectory–even though the child was begging not to go. … Read more »

Thursday
Guest
Thursday

Slightly off topic, but this made me think: what is perhaps the most abusive institution (in the sense of where the most people are abused) in all of Western society?* I would say it is the public school system. The public schools are hives of abuse, mainly from other children, but also, on occasion, from the teachers (including inappropriate sexual relationships). Yet, none of the people who are so concerned about the alleged tendencies of the patriarchal family toward abuse raise a peep about the rather obvious tendencies of the public school system toward abuse. Apparently they seem to think… Read more »

Thursday
Guest
Thursday

Public school teachers are in much the same position as prison wardens. Wardens’ main concern is to keep the prisoners on the premises. They also need to keep them fed, and as far as possible prevent them from killing one another. Beyond that, they want to have as little to do with the prisoners as possible, so they leave them to create whatever social organization they want. From what I’ve read, the society that the prisoners create is warped, savage, and pervasive, and it is no fun to be at the bottom of it. In outline, it was the same… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

His lawyer states: “… he was not her personal pastor, counselor …”. Ain’t that a lovely brand of church fellowship.

“Feed my sheep,” He said.
“Nay, Lord, not this one.”

Thursday
Guest
Thursday

This blog post from Dreher adds to my comment above.

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Doug — your fourth paragraph implies Phillips could or should now avoid the plaintiff’s suit against him. How?

And a big chunk of her suit is against “total community”. Her suit holds those very intrachurch courts as despicable patriarchal power grabs. How dare they be “unregulated!” her lawyer says.

Thanks in advance for addressing this!

melody
Member
melody

“I don’t think Jesus ever wanted respect for authority to totally swamp elementary common sense.” I agree. I think the biggest problem the church refuses to face is unbelief; and by that I mean that God can and will use our nosedives as teachable moments for us. We are so afraid that if the world finds out how imperfect we still are, they will want nothing to do with us so we carefully paint ourselves into a false photo of perfection that no one can live up to. In part, we really don’t believe we need a Savior.

Jake
Guest
Jake

Pastor Wilson, how do you know anyone was covering this up for him and/or leaving her in harm’s way once they knew? I must have missed that.

Dona
Guest
Dona

Thank you for your willingness to share that Biblical patriarchy is not wrong. But it can be abused, like many good things. I am sure you are aware that Doug has been confronted over the years by those with sincere concern for his family. He had an amazing way of turning the tables and not hearing the truth in those gracious confrontations. God has amazing ways of getting people’s attention. A good reminder to humbly seek scriptural accountability.

AShore
Guest
AShore

So where were the elders when Doug Phillips defrauded Joe Taylor ? Doug Phillips should have been removed from leadership when that happened. If the leadership had performed their duties over that incident , we may have been spared this one.

Katie
Guest
Katie

Father Shehanigan! That’s perfect, Jill Smith.

valerieab
Member

If the context of the timeline is pretty lurid, is there sufficient reason to believe the timeline is trustworthy? Or does it originate elsewhere?

Liz
Guest
Liz

I have been particularly astounded (alarmingly so) at the support for Torres-Manteufel from so many (if not most) of the Christians I’ve seen writing on the subject. As the article above mentioned Doug Philips’ teachings, those of his church, etc, have always condemned adultery and the like. Why haven’t we seen dare I say…any…writings about how there are two sinners (in particular) in this situation. I completely agree that he will be judged more harshly as a leader. But to see her as “abused” instead of as a fornicator that continued in the sin as an adult woman for several… Read more »

Bill B
Guest
Bill B

If the context of the timeline is pretty lurid, is there sufficient reason to believe the timeline is trustworthy?

A timeline of phone calls can be reconstructed from subpoenaed billing records, and any saved phone messages/text messages on the plaintiff’s phone could easily prompt a judge to start signing off on further subpoenas.

The phrasing of some passages in the lawsuit lead me to believe that her attorney has a MUCH better understanding of a technology-based paper trail than either Phillips or his attorneys.

antexw
Member

Doug, According to the link below, this is a matter of not just lust but a determination of allegations involving coercive sex acts and even adultery, even after a weak-willed adulteress would’ve in such weakness eventually given in (without “crying out” per Dt 22:24) to the adulterer after she initially refused. Therefore, in the face of such alleged crimes, it is not the case that this is necessarily a matter of disobedience to God against (1 Co 6:1,2,3,4.5,6,7,8) in going before unbelieving judges since this is an alleged crime of physical adultery involving harlotrous handling of the bosom (Ezekiel 23:3)… Read more »

Roy
Guest
Roy

@Liz, I’m with you. She was asking for it. Just look at how she was dressed.

Jane
Member

Valerie, I’m not sure why a context containing lurid details of a genuinely lurid situation undermines the credibility of other facts given within the context. It is what it is, lurid as it is, but I don’t think Doug wants to give more airplay to the ugly details than necessary.

Jane
Member

“Doug — your fourth paragraph implies Phillips could or should now avoid the plaintiff’s suit against him. How?”

Isn’t it always possible to avoid a suit in which you’re the defendant by simply acceding to the plaintiff’s demands?

I’m not saying this is necessarily the course of action Phillips should pursue, but it’s always an option.

valerieab
Member

Ah…I think I was misinterpreting “context” as the site itself, not other details included in the source.

Julia Fetters
Guest
Julia Fetters

Christians must go to the court of law when the church ‘circles the wagon’ around the perpetrators. Those in and around Patriarchy and Homeschooling will not listen to the godly men in our country such as Erwin Lutzer, Allister Begg,Chuck Swindoll, Adrian Rogers (if he were still here)… I know. We were in the aforementioned groups who will only listen to those who espouse their same brand of teaching. This leaves the victim to be blamed almost without exception. A little slap on the hand for the perp. and a nasty look at the victim and all is said and… Read more »

Seneca Griggs
Guest

The Patriarchy is hated by many, even people professing to be believers. But the reverse, the Matriarchy, leads to the ghetto.

Julia Fetters
Guest
Julia Fetters

Alistair Begg wrong spelling in comment.

Liz
Guest
Liz

@Roy I’m assuming your referring to my comment (no where to be found above, I’m rather confused as to how you responded to it and I never saw it posted to the site) that asked for feedback on why Torres-Manteufel is not being encouraged to repent by the Body of Christ of fornication, considering the fact that she was an adult, that the sensual acts went on for years, that she did not immediately (or even semi immediately) report the sexual acts that she says were unwanted, and ultimately she was involved in a group that taught that what she… Read more »

Liz
Guest
Liz

Ah, must have been a glitch I see the missing comment above.

Leslie
Guest
Leslie

I am responding to Thursday’s post at 11:14 this morning. The Contra Costa Civil Grand Jury in Contra Costa Calufornia last week issued a report on abuse in the school system. They were spot on and willing to hold many people accountable. Please google and read the report. Their recommendations should be enacted by public schools, private schools and perhaps home schools. Abusive people are everywhere. Is the right of allowing abuse in the name of freedom greater than protecting innocent children from those who abuse power. I don’t think so

Jane
Member

Gotcha, Valerie. I’ve read some of what I think Doug is referring to and I don’t believe it’s unnecessarily lurid, but it is lurid because of the subject matter. I also agree that it’s not necessary for most people to read (including me) but sometimes you click on something and then you’re reading it, you know?

Observer
Guest
Observer

The problem with patriarchy and the reason I prefer complementarianism (and there is a difference) is because where patriarchy is practiced there is no recourse for women who are being treated wrong. Whenever a woman attempts to address a situation where a man is treating her wrong–whether it be a husband or a pastor or any other man–and whether it is concerning a small matter or a large one–she is judged to be “insubordinate” and the case is closed. In patriarchial circles, some men may be accountable to other men with whom they selectively share what they want, but there… Read more »

Observer
Guest
Observer

Post script to my previous post– let us remember that Beall, like Lourdes, is also subject to this patriarchial system, and in her circles, she has had no other recourse than to support and submit.

AShore
Guest
AShore

@Seneca Griggs

There is another path that you forgot
Patriarchy without proper church elder oversight => sociopathic narcissist invasion

Why do I believe there was no proper church elder oversight ?

Look at the Joe Taylor incident

carole
Guest
carole

Thursday, I don’t want to derail the topic, but I too am really concerned that on the majority of articles I am reading about the Phillips scandal, he is described in the first few lines as, “a leader in the homeschool movement.” It as if all who homeschool are members of his church. I think that those who oppose homeschool will use this incident to discredit it. I certainly agree with you about the power we give public school teachers and have read, that there are more cases of sexual abuse “reported” between teachers and students than by what happened… Read more »

Liz
Guest
Liz

@Observer when she eventually admitted at the beginning of last year what had been going on the sexual encounters, contact, etc. stopped. Yes I’m sure we can all agree that the way it was handled after the sin was admitted to was not the proper way of dealing with it. BUT the relationship stopped, which is what would have happened if she had admitted to the adulterous relationship years ago, but she didn’t. So sad. He has more that he will be held accountable for at judgement and in the hear and now, but it is gut wrenching to watch… Read more »

melody
Member
melody

“…that she did not immediately (or even semi immediately) report the sexual acts that she says were unwanted.” As someone who was sexually abused (albeit barely as I was able to fend off my attacker) by someone from my church during my teens; I can sympathize with this young woman who could not tell anyone. I held my circumstance in for over two years and it nearly ate me alive – all the while I put on a happy face. This girl would have had to give an explanation to people who might have blamed her for what happened to… Read more »

Liz
Guest
Liz

melody I’m so sorry that happened to you. I want to be clear that I’m not saying that “not telling someone” is necessarily the sin. There might be a host of understandable reasons that one might feel that they couldn’t share what had happened to them. The difference with this woman’s experience and yours, was that she continued in the sexual relationship. In your case like you said, you fended off your attacker (praise the Lord!), and then I assume you did or would have done everything you could to not be in that person’s presence. If that person had… Read more »

Michelle
Guest

Observer….I thought your distinction was very good and important in this situation on complementarianists verses patriarchy. I do believe most women want to submit biblically and properly with knowing their is accountability or a higher authority, whether police or church or family.

Katecho
Member

Very well said Liz.

Ivory
Guest
Ivory

Yes – our prayers should be for this young woman and her family. She was used and abused. For those who don’t understand this sort of Hyper-Patriarchy, the crux of it is that a young woman does not have a voice to speak out against abuse and injustices. She met and was pseudo employed by Doug Phillips from the time she was a teen ager. She learned to trust him as a spiritual father figure. I am sure she was told many times with words and by actions that she was to keep her mouth shut. How confusing for a… Read more »

Krista
Guest

As someone who was abused in the Church and received no protection or help from the Church but great help and healing from counselors, police officers, and others, I am appalled that you hope this is settled out of court. The courts are there for the protection of victims and the prosecution of violators. It would do Mr. Phillips no end of good to be held accountable for his vile behavior so that every other deviant in the Church who uses patriarchy as a shield for perversion will be afraid, very, very afraid to ever perpetrate this kind of horror… Read more »

Steve Dawson
Guest

The whole Doug Phillips incident shows a complete breakdown in the Patriarchal system. If one believes in Patriarchy, then one has to believe that at least a good part of its purpose is to protect those under its care. This and the Bill Gothard debacle are proof that at least some in the Patriarchy movement haven’t gotten the message. The real question is did anyone explain the message to them? Where’s the accountability? Both from the perpetrators and those who were their associates?

carole
Guest
carole

Another point that seems to be ignored by those who claim she had no voice as a woman is she did have a father. This “hyper- patriarchy” is about father’s leading their families. So as she in fact had a father, she did have a voice and he seems to have had no trouble believing her once he was informed. Is that not correct?

From the outside in
Guest
From the outside in

@Liz, I am not sure if you are just now hearing about this entire thing, or if you have been following Doug Phillips for a while now. His entire “church” was/is nothing more than a cult. His flock was so desperately seeking the perfect christian life,that they became blind to the insanity going on around them. His victim was groomed for his pleasure, starting at age 15. The young women in this cult are purposely kept uneducated, purposely kept from “the real world”. I firmly hold to the belief that she was emotionally and cognitively unable to make it stop,… Read more »

Steve240
Guest

When there is no checks and balance with power like there doesn’t appear to have been with Phillips then it is possible for this to happen. Why did you neglect this? Wasn’t Phillips set up like a dictator?

ordinary guy
Guest

This is very good and a point often missed in these situations. Also, I don’t like simpering.

Taylor Joy Young
Guest

Since Patriarchy is reinforced by several teachers, not just Phillips, Wilson, & Gothard, I wanted to give an example of the type of advice that is given to *women* in abusive situations. This blog is from a complementarian, patriarchal woman, and can in no way be considered “feminist.” If this is how a woman is held responsible for abuse when her *husband comes at her with a butcher knife*, how do you think Ms. TORRES would have been received if she’d gone public w/ her accusations at the time? Remember the fundamental lie of abusers: their behavior is ALWAYS the… Read more »

Liz
Guest
Liz

@ From the outside in It sounds like you and I have the same passion for truth, and I really appreciate that! You should know that I did do my research on this, I do have an understanding of the culture that Lourdes was a part of (went to two VF conferences in 2010, and before that grew up in circles that were lets just say friendly with Gothardites), and I have never been a Doug Philips fan. The truth is this, Lourdes was taught to “obey them that have the rule over you.” She was also taught the truth… Read more »