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)
Former HSLDA Attorney and Founder of the Christian Boys’ and Men’s Titanic Society Knows What His Duty Should Have Been
Reserving Matthew 18 for only very serious offenses, I had only officially used it once, with Doug and Beall Phillips. Things were becoming so bad at home, however, as the emotional abuse escalated to new heights and we began fearing for our physical safety, that I decided to formally approach Mark in March 2004 in the spirit of Matthew 18 as well, pleading with him to repent from his anger and to turn his heart toward his family again. My words fell on a cold heart, however, so about six weeks later, I asked two witnesses to stand with me while I asked him again to repent. Richard and Reba Short, close friends with Doug Phillips and who both work at Vision Forum with their children, agreed to stand by and listen.
This attempt backfired as well, though, when Reba called me the next morning, strongly pressuring me to admit that it must all be my own fault, since problems in a marriage are almost always the woman’s fault. Although Richard agreed to counsel Mark after that, I later found out that his counsel was mostly along the lines of: “If you show Jen that you love her, then Jen will see how wrong she is and she’ll stop sinning.” Again being given an opportunity to blame the wife, Mark only continued to grow even worse.
By August, 2004, he had moved into the spare bedroom. Since Mark came to church every Sunday when he was in town, one family noticed that he wasn’t there that particular day and asked me where he was. Still not wanting to violate the rules laid out for me in that first meeting, I evaded answering them, several times. Finally, grateful that at least someone cared, I replied that Mark didn’t want to be a part of our family anymore.
Somehow this got back to the deacons, who pulled me aside to talk to me after church, reminding me that I promised not to say anything negative about Mark. By this point, Beall was refusing to speak to me at all, Doug Phillips was totally inaccessible, and I felt like no one cared. The deacons began asking some questions about the situation, apparently not realizing that anything was wrong. In a small church like that, when we would spend ALL day together every Sunday, they didn’t know anything was wrong. Although it took us an hour to drive to church, as it did most everyone when Boerne Christian Assembly moved to its third location way out in the boonies, not one person asked why Mark and I started driving in two separate vehicles each week. After almost one year of Mark leaving early after the service, one man did ask where Mark went after church. I replied that he went to the same place Doug Phillips did each Sunday after church.
But I digress. Upon finding out about Mark’s anger, Bob Sarratt, one of the deacons, asked me if I thought Mark was bi-polar. Not being fond of pop-psychology myself, yet being at a total loss for what to do, I had asked the other deacon, a medical doctor, if he knew if the term “bi-polar” was accurate biblically. He did not know. I told both deacons that I did not know what was the source of Mark’s anger: if it was mental illness, if it was demonic, or if it was just plain sin. Bob Sarratt then suggested that we get Doug Phillips involved. Not wanting a repeat of that first meeting, I declined. The deacons persisted, however, so I agreed as long as Beall Phillips was not going to be present. They both agreed to those terms. When they asked Mark to attend the meeting, he also emphasized that Beall Phillips not be present.
In the interim, however, two weeks before this proposed meeting, Mark nearly killed his whole family, late one Saturday night. Screaming for Mark to stop, my children were absolutely terrified. At church the next day, we attempted to ask for help. One man was greatly concerned and tried to help both my daughter and me, although since he was not in “leadership,” there was nothing he felt he could really do. When my daughter went to ask Doug Phillips for help, he did not believe her and laughed it off. Bob Sarratt merely suggested that we not get in the car with Mark for two weeks (the situation involved road rage, of sorts). Even when our lives were in danger, nothing was done.
Six weeks after suggesting a meeting, on October 7, 2004, Doug Phillips agrees to meet with us for precisely two hours in his office at Vision Forum. After greeting the two other men in attendance, we walked into Doug Phillips’ office and saw Beall sitting there as well. I did not say anything until Doug Phillips gave me an opportunity to speak. Then I kindly asked why Beall Phillips was present, when it was made clear all around that she would not be in attendance at this meeting, because of her refusal to speak with me for the last couple years. Doug Phillips assured me she was there to help me, so I asked Beall what her intentions were. When she assured me she only wanted to help me, I agreed to let her stay. Sensing the tension, Doug Phillips asked Beall to leave anyway. Not off to a very good start, I was then given an opportunity to talk. Knowing that I wasn’t prepared for the first meeting, I had taken the time to gather some evidence for this meeting. I shared with Doug Phillips about how Mark had nearly killed his whole family two weeks prior, but he just laughed at me. I brought an email where Mark was describing in detail how he would kill someone in a particular group. I brought the lyrics to a song Mark would sing about killing people, but Doug Phillips refused to let me read the lyrics. I described how he would attempt to teach the children specific methods for killing “enemies,” which had nothing to do with war. I described his constant talking of killing, especially around the children. I told how we each would greet Mark at the door when he came home from work, only to have him shove us out of his way. This was all in addition to the tremendous amount of screaming and yelling and constant false accusations we endured. I also told Doug Phillips of my attempts at following Matthew 18 so far, and asked for the church to please step in now. Doug Phillips listened, but he didn’t say anything.
After Mark spoke, Doug Phillips started asking Mark why he thought there were problems in the marriage, giving Mark plenty of opportunities to put the blame on me again, even though Mark was extremely angry in this meeting as well. I was not given another chance to talk. In the end, Doug Phillips said, “Mark is an angry man, and that is wicked; but you, Jen, you are very wicked, you are rebellious, and you are a Jezebel.” I still couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.
There were no decisions made, no instructions given. No plan was discussed, no protection offered. I went home with no hope left, fearing for my life.