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)
Voting For Republicans is an Excommunicable Offense
Knowing that I was at a loss as to how to biblically respond to Mark by this point, a friend had loaned me a book about submission and how it relates to wives who are abused, either emotionally or physically. Ironically, the foundation of the book was the story of Abigail and Nabal when David and his men wanted food. The book clearly exposited, verse by verse, how Abigail was still a submissive wife to a very angry husband. It was ironic to me because about one year earlier, Doug Phillips had preached on that very passage. In our ladies’ meeting after the service, I had asked if we should emulate Abigail’s behavior if we ever found ourselves in a similar situation. Beall Phillips immediately responded that this was a non-normative situation and that Abigail was not being submissive.
Greatly encouraged by this book, however, I shared it with Kathleen at church that Sunday after the second meeting with Doug Phillips, since Kathleen worked for Vision Forum and often counseled women with abusive husbands. In the course of the conversation, Kathleen stated that we were so blessed at Boerne Christian Assembly because if we ever had problems like that, Doug Phillips would help us. I didn’t know how to respond to that. I couldn’t agree with her because I knew it wasn’t true. Yet, I didn’t really want to tell her what was going on either, since I was forbidden to talk about Mark with anyone (other than Beall, who refused to speak to me anyway). Sensing my hesitation, she kept pushing for an answer. Thinking that someone finally cared, I eventually told her a bit of my situation, explaining that Doug Phillips refused to help us even when our lives were in danger. After listening for a while, she informed me that she was going to talk to Doug Phillips. I thought that she meant she was going to ask him to help, and pleaded with her not to talk to Beall about it. However, Kathleen told both Doug and Beall Phillips about it, not in a way that was helpful to me, but rather accusing me of gossip.
The next day, I received an email from Doug Phillips accusing me of broad sins again such as being unwilling to be under authority or counsel (requesting not to have Beall present in the meeting), to repent for sinful attitudes and spreading of untruthful gossip (Kathleen). I had asked repeatedly at that second meeting: “What exactly have I done? How can I change if I don’t know what my sins are?” I was accused again of being unsubmissive, disrespectful, and unloving. These seemed to be catch-all terms Doug Phillips often used in dealing with women. Then I was told that I was building a public case against my husband, when all I was doing was practically screaming for someone to help us!
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Mark was working behind the scenes with Doug and Beall Phillips to discipline me. Now their plans included three mandatory counseling sessions at Vision Forum, two hours each, with Beall Phillips and Reba Short, the two women who had already made it known to me that problems in the marriage were almost always the woman’s fault. They were going to help me work on the sin issues in my life in regard to my marriage. Beall Phillips had not spoken to me for two years, so I knew she didn’t know anything about me personally. Reba Short came over to my house nearly every Friday, but I don’t recall ever talking to her about our marriage, except for that one hour phone call, in which she attempted to get me to take all the blame.
Not trusting the motives of these two ladies, I asked if I could bring a friend. Beall Phillips replied to my request that “the terms of the meeting are not subject to debate. If you are formally refusing to follow the direction of the church leadership, then I will communicate that to them and they will take appropriate action.” I agreed to meet on their terms.
Nothing was done regarding Mark after that second meeting.
At the first counseling session with Beall Phillips and Reba, Doug Phillips had written a memo of understanding that Beall read aloud to me first, outlining why I was in breach of the covenant of the church for talking to Kathleen. The second document I was given was called:
Ways to Make My Husband Successful
Ways to Demonstrate a Submissive Heart
Ways to Bless My Husband
I was not told at the time that these fourteen items were mandatory, but rather I thought they were suggestions for how to be a submissive wife. Nevertheless, I took them home and read them aloud to my children, asking them to please evaluate me honestly in light of each of the fourteen items. I asked them to tell me whether or not I did each of those things on the list and to give me specific examples of how I was either submissive or unsubmissive according to this list. I did not have the conviction that women couldn’t speak to men about theology, and told Beall Phillips and Reba Short this in the first counseling session. Other than that, my children both agreed that I already did everything on that list anyway, to a degree. Although it was not clear to me at the first counseling session, by the third session I was told that it was mandatory that I completed them exactly. Nevertheless, I had fulfilled them in what I considered to be the spirit of the matter, including not talking to men about theology for the duration of the three counseling sessions.
Another issue that came up in the first counseling session was the doctrine of the total depravity of man. It soon became apparent that Beall Phillips and I did not agree on this point. In talking about sin in the marriage, Beall Phillips kept insisting that I must be sinning rather constantly. I explained to her that I believed in verses where Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” I don’t believe that Jesus would have told us to do something He didn’t expect us to do or that was impossible to do. I found this pattern to be consistent all throughout Scripture. These verses impacted my life greatly and I tried to obey the Lord daily, with the Holy Spirit’s help. Beall Phillips, on the other hand, said she believed that we couldn’t help but sin, and that she sins at least every 30 minutes, or more, in her own marriage. This was quite confusing to me, as I couldn’t understand why we were bothering with marriage counseling then, if we couldn’t help but sin all the time anyway. In fact, why we were bothering raising our children in certain ways if they couldn’t help but sin anyway. This defeatist attitude about life made me feel real sorry for Beall Phillips. I cannot imagine going through life as a Christian, thinking that I am doomed to sin every few minutes, whether I want to or not. What is the point of salvation then? Eternal security? We left that counseling session with me volunteering to go home and study this in the Scriptures.
I spent about 20 hours that week studying certain words and seeing what the whole Bible said about this subject. I also studied what Boerne Christian Assembly’s statement of faith said about it, and finally I looked at a commentary by Matthew Henry that I know Doug Phillips uses as well. I discovered that Beall Phillips seemed to be basing her beliefs on Romans 7, so I looked extensively at Romans 6 and 8 as well, to put it in context. While Romans 7 explains our fallen nature, Romans 6 and 8 give us hope as Christians, clearly showing that we are no longer slaves to sin, having victory through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. Excited, I went to the second counseling session eager to share several hundred verses on this topic, and firm in my convictions that we no longer have to sin as Christians, with the power of the Holy Spirit, although we are still fully capable of choosing to sin. After listening to several verses on the topic, when I came to Romans 6 and 8, Beall Phillips absolutely refused to listen to me, stating that I was preaching a new doctrine of “sinless perfection.” At no time did I ever claim that I had never sinned or that I was perfect.
Beall Phillips then began to question when was the last time I had sinned in my marriage. In the last 24 hours? 48 hours? Week? Month? I only answered that I didn’t remember sinning recently in my marriage, with the power of the Holy Spirit in my life. While I do still sin, I emphasized that I do not have a pattern of sin in my marriage.
After the first counseling session, Beall Phillips wrote me a summary email of her perspective of how it went. It was filled with many exaggerations or total falsehoods and was quite harsh. Here is an excerpt of that email:
“You said that this new belief in sinlessness might change. I pray that it does. If it does, will you still emphatically assert that you have not sinned recently in your marriage and that you did not sin in the meeting with the men last week? You must realize the implications of the beliefs you espouse. If your doctrine changes, will you start to sin again? Will you then realize that you did sin during the time you held to this doctrine of perfectionism? Or will you have stopped sinning only while you held to this doctrine?”
By the third counseling session, I was getting tired of being treated like dirt, so I read the verse in Galatians to Beall Phillips that says, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” I asked her how I could respond cheerfully when she was constantly backing me into a corner. She softened up for a few minutes, but still continued to insist that I was preaching “sinless perfectionism.” I tried to explain that I had to walk on eggshells in my marriage anyway and that I would do almost anything not to invite more anger, that I tried very hard not to sin in my marriage or in life. We were at an impasse by the end of the third counseling session.
The next day, October 29, 2004, I read on Doug Phillips’ blog about a voting scenario that he had written about candidates A and B in the land of Baal, actually inviting his readers to respond, which he normally doesn’t request. He also had a voting debate going on between Dr. Ken Gentry and William Einwechter. These two articles were designed to show that voting for either Kerry or Bush was a sin for a Christian. Since this was just days before the Presidential election, and since I was growing tired of hearing from the pulpit each Sunday how we needed to vote for Peroutka, the Constitutional Party candidate, I was glad for a chance to respond. Since Doug Phillips sometimes points out logical fallacies of other Christians, I took this opportunity to carefully point out seven logical fallacies in Doug’s little voting scenario as well. While I was at it, I responded to Bill Einwechter’s article on why we should vote for Peroutka as well. Not wanting to embarrass Doug Phillips by sending it to his personal assistant, I sent it privately to Doug’s own email instead, with my husband’s full blessing. This did not go over real well, starting with Beall Phillips immediately sending me an email in which she said, “I purposed to bring to your attention those areas of continual sin about which we have appealed to you.” She then listed my five sins in writing this letter: Doug did not give me permission to write to him (?); I had been formally directed not to rebuke or instruct men (not true); I had a mean spirit; I was rebuking my elder; I have a hard heart. The email was so harsh and critical toward me that I simply asked her to refrain from contacting me any further unless she had something kind to say. I also stated, “I sincerely hope that the people in our church do not have to agree with the “elder’s” position in politics; if so, we are no longer a church, but a cult.”
Two days later, we went to church. In the three counseling sessions, Beall Phillips kept stressing that I had sinned by gossiping about Doug in my conversation with Kathleen. Although I hadn’t considered it gossip, I was willing to apologize anyway. Doug Phillips is hard to get hold of, so this particular Sunday was the first time I had seen him since I spoke with Kathleen. I wanted to take care of the situation before church, but Doug Phillips arrived late, so I went up to him when he came in and asked if I could speak to him before we took communion, as was our practice at Boerne Christian Assembly. He did not want to talk, but I insisted, so we went outside. I apologized for gossiping about him and asked his forgiveness. Doug Phillips wanted to know if I was going to apologize for writing the voting paper as well. I explained that I didn’t see that I had sinned in doing so, so I didn’t see anything to apologize for. He then said that he would not forgive me for gossiping either and, glaring at me, said, “You’re going to pay for this.”
After we went back inside, Doug Phillips began to preach. His two hour sermon that day was to read my voting paper, refuting it point by point. Although Doug Phillips and I did not see eye to eye on voting ethics, his main concern seemed to be that a woman in his congregation had written him this paper. I looked on his blog and could not find anything that said women couldn’t respond or that Boerne Christian Assembly women couldn’t respond, but Doug Phillips made it clear that if Mark had written that paper instead of me, it would have been all right.
Two months later, Doug Phillips decided to preach about me again, although I was home sick that day. Doug Phillips began talking about an unsubmissive woman in the church who was under church discipline (if I was, I didn’t know about it) and her repentant husband. My daughter, Natasha, then 17, was so frustrated by the lies emanating from the pulpit, that she got up and left in the middle of the sermon. When she told me about it afterward, I wrote Doug Phillips and asked him if he was preaching about me, knowing full well he was. Doug Phillips replied, “The Bible says that if any woman has a question about the preaching of the Word she is to ask her husband at home.” Doug Phillips then stated that he had already talked to Mark about this, but Mark denies talking about this subject with Doug.
Wanting to hear this message, I asked for a copy of that day’s sermon and I was told that everyone at Boerne Christian Assembly would receive it in the mail. While this was odd, I waited, but it never came. I called and asked for it several times, but although it was promised, I was never given a copy of that tape.
I was soon to find out just what “being under discipline” meant.