Doug Phillips Excommunicates by Star Chamber

Submitting to Beall Phillips is an Excommunicable Offense

(Start with chapter one, if you are new here.)

After no one in the congregation could give me even one example of the sins for which I was being disciplined, I had a long chat with Beall Phillips outside. She apologized for not speaking to me all those years, for which I immediately forgave her. (It was, however, necessary to bring it up again in this story in order to show the proper context of the whole scenario.) When I tried to explain to her that I just didn’t see anything I had done wrong, Beall Phillips encouraged me to write my concerns to the five men who put the disciplinary action document into place.

The next day, following Beall Phillips’ counsel, I wrote my “defense.” It was similar to what I had said in church that Sunday, but better organized, more detailed, and better presented, as I actually had time to work on it. I mailed it to Doug Phillips, the sole (but unordained) elder; Bob Sarratt and Mo Gill, the deacons; Rick Huber; and Richard Short, the new member; and all their respective wives as well, since I was informed that all ten of these people were in agreement with disciplining me (I’m not sure how this occured since women are supposed to be literally silent at BCA, but this is what I was told). I believe they would have received it that Friday, January 28, 2005.

That Sunday, January 30, I noticed that several of these people brought my letter to church with them. After the service, everyone except our family had another meeting. I don’t know what happened during that meeting, only what happened afterward. We ate our lunch in the truck, since we were not allowed to fellowship with anyone anymore. When people started trickling out nearly an hour later, I had a present from a baby shower I was unable to attend and so I tried to give it to my friend with triplets. She refused to take it, however, and turned her back on me.

Confused, I went into the building to locate my children. As I approached the building, everyone started backing away from me, as if I were a leper. As I entered the building, everyone not only backed off, but also started turning their backs to me as well. Apparently, “how to shun the Epsteins” had been one of the topics of the meeting.

Seeing that the letter of defense Beall Phillips had advised me to draft had not softened the hearts of those five men, I decided to appeal to the congregation as a whole as well, sending each covenanting member a copy of my “defense.” I did this because the BCA form of government was something like a democracy, with the heads of household being called to ratify sensitive decisions by Doug Phillips, rather than a church ruled by a plurality of elders, the biblical norm as taught by Doug Phillips at his Vision Forum Uniting Church and Family conferences. My naive hope at the time was that some head of household might be considerate enough to read the defense and try to intervene on our behalf. Each family would have received it the following Saturday, February 5, 2005.

Although it usually took Doug Phillips about six weeks to find time to meet with us, even when it was a life or death matter, somehow he managed to pull together an emergency meeting of the whole congregation of Boerne Christian Assembly that Saturday afternoon when everyone received my “defense” in the mail. Everyone was required to come to the Star Chamber except the Epsteins, who were neither invited to, nor informed of, the meeting.

Because Mark had decided that we would not attend where we were obviously not wanted (a public turning of their backs to us gave us a clue), we went to another church that Sunday, February 6, 2005. We arrived early in order to speak with one of the four elders there, informing him that we were under discipline at Boerne Christian Assembly. He immediately invited us to come worship with them anyway, saying he would find out more later. Although we had significant differences in doctrine with this church, we were amazed at the love we were shown as we walked in the door, with many people excited to see us. We knew about half the congregation already from other associations we had with them. We met afterward with the one elder and his wife, telling them our story so far, and with Mark again taking full responsibility for everything that happened.

I don’t often read email on Sundays, so it wasn’t until late that evening, after Mark was already in bed, that I saw an email from Boerne Christian Assembly, written at 8:15 that morning. Curious, I opened it up to discover that Mark and I had been excommunicated.

I was informed that my “sins were very clearly and specifically spelled out” (in the discipline document) and that “the truth of the charges (against me) were confirmed not only through multiple witnesses and written documentation, but through your highly self-incriminating testimony which consisted of railing accusations against the local church and multiple examples of slanders and falsehoods which were then refuted to your face.” {Instead of answering my question of what specific sins I had committed, because it is already supposedly in the discipline document, Doug Phillips again makes broad charges that I testified against myself and railed against my church with “slanders and falsehoods.”}

My best friend of nine years responded to the charge of railing in a recent comment on Ministry Watchman:

“First, I want to say that I was shocked when I read this on BCA’s statement. ‘The response of the wife in particular was to bring many hateful railings and false testimonies against women of the church and against the leadership.’

In all of the many years I have known Jennifer, I have NEVER ONCE heard her “rail.” In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her so much as raise her voice! She is NOT a person to be given to much emotion, as anyone who knows her can attest.

I have also NEVER known Jennifer to tell any sort of lie. She is extremely honest—sometimes brutally honest, which I’m sure was her REAL fault. Add her honesty to the fact that she is both outspoken and opinionated, and you can see why a controlling man would have a problem with her.”

I stay at her home for about a week each year, so she’s seen me at my best and at my worst; if I were a railer, she would have seen it.

The excommunication letter goes on to say, “Since that moment (of the discipline letter two weeks prior), you have comprehensively defied the discipline of the local church, and you have both promised to do so.” {I am still trying to figure out how I either defied their discipline or promised to do so.}

“You have both actively waged a campaign of division among your body.” {This must be the letter of defense that Beall Phillips encouraged me to write immediately after apologizing to me.}

“You have both born false witness and disseminated slanders horrible and numerous.” {I try very hard to be 100% truthful in everything. This is a slick way of not addressing the specific allegations regarding Doug Phillips’ behavior. Note that I did not bring charges against an elder, but rather my story was completely wrapped up in the words and deeds, or lack thereof, of Doug Phillips. I could not possibly tell my story without relating the facts of his involvement in it. Rather than refuting my accusations with clear testimony, as a lawyer normally would do, Doug Phillips chooses instead to broadly accuse me of “slanders horrible and numerous” and bearing false witness in general. Blackstone defines slander as “a false tale or report maliciously uttered.” There is not one thing I said, or have written here, that is false; therefore, there are slanders neither numerous nor horrible; there are no slanders at all.}

“You have tolerated and even encouraged similar unruly behavior from your eldest daughter.” {I told Natasha that I was proud of her for taking a stand against lies from the pulpit when she got up and walked out of the sermon that Sunday in December 2004. I hope she always stands against evil. Why is this being brought up in an excommunication letter?}

“You have both railed against your local church, and again violated God’s Holy Word which prohibits you from bringing accusations against your church leadership without two or three witnesses to substantiate your claims. {I think it’s time for a Webster’s 1828 definition of the word “rail:” to utter reproaches, to scoff, to use insolent and reproachful language. Using this definition, I would have say that although Doug Phillips railed against me in both meetings, rather than attempting to restore me in a spirit of gentleness, I don’t believe I have ever railed against anyone in my life, and certainly not my church elder. Again, I did not choose to bring accusations against Doug Phillips, but I could not give my “defense” without specifically refuting his false accusations against me. At least I gave specific details, dates, and examples of that which I “accuse” Doug Phillips.}

“You have made implied legal threats and raised false criminal charges against your local church.” {The last time I checked, using precise terms such as “character defamation” and “slander” to describe falsehoods is not the same as implying legal threats. If that were so, this very excommunication letter would constitute a legal threat against us as well. Neither is it correct for Doug Phillips to call them “criminal charges.” Defamation and slander (verbal defamation) are fundamentally torts, not crimes, as Doug Phillips would have learned during his first year in law school. Thus the fact that he calls an observation of an offense in tort an outright “criminal charge” can only be interpreted as hype to make him look like a poor victim of wild accusers.}

“In short you have despised the chastening of the Lord and His Love as demonstrated through the counsel and discipline of the local church.” {Therefore, although the only thing I did in the previous two weeks was to put my “defense” in writing, at the suggestion of Beall Phillips, that act alone constituted “despising the chastening of the Lord.” Notice how the local church demonstrated His love to us by publicly turning their backs on us as well. Notice also how Beall Phillips was silent as our discipline was upgraded to excommunication, even though I wrote my defense at her suggestion.}

Doug Phillips then relates the secret star chamber meeting of the evening before, in which all the Boerne Christian Assembly members voted to excommunicate us, without our being present, because of our “defiance of discipline, implied legal threats, acts of division, and continued slanders.” {You may read my “defense” for yourself and see if it was defiant – on the 4th page of this document, in the 3rd full paragraph, I state: “Frankly, I think you expect the Epsteins to leave and not to submit to church discipline; however, we are people under authority.” Again, proper use of legal terms does not constitute a legal threat. This “defense” was not intended to divide, but rather simply to tell the truth, none of which was told in the disciplinary action against me. I did not slander anyone in the first place, nor I did continue to slander anyone in my “defense,” as all I did in it was to tell my side of the story as accurately as possible.}

Based upon these manipulations of the facts, “effective immediately, you are excommunicated from fellowship, and according to Holy Scripture, are to be treated as heathens and publicans. … The members no longer are in fellowship with you.”

“The Scripture explicitly calls upon the body of Christ to mark those which are unruly and have nothing to do with them. Accordingly, you are strictly prohibited from attending the meeting of the church of the Boerne Christian Assembly, setting foot on the BCA church building or grounds, or attending any functions sponsored by the assembly.” {It is our opinion that, given the timing of the email at 8:15 on a Sunday morning, and knowing that we attend services every Sunday morning faithfully, and knowing how long it takes us to get to church, that Doug Phillips fully expected us to show up at Boerne Christian Assembly that Sunday morning, February 6, 2005, only to be publicly humiliated by surprise discovery of our excommunication in the presence of the whole congregation. But, in the Providence of God, He led us to another service that fateful morning.}

“Mark and Jennifer, only through biblical repentance, restitution, and restoration to the body can you hope to have any fellowship ever again with the local body. But more importantly, you must fear for the state of your souls.” {Ordinarily, a biblically accurate excommunication would indicate such rebellion that the status of the person’s soul should be in question. However, since I have not refused to repent from any sin, precisely because I have yet to be told of any specific sin I need to repent from, I cannot be in rebellion, so I will trust in the Lord for the state of my soul. I will not let this be a scare tactic to admit to doing something I haven’t done.}

“Your only hope is to repent and flee to Christ. Should that day come, we will welcome you back with open arms.”

When I met with the elder of the other church the following morning to give him copies of all the documentation, and showed him this excommunication letter, all he could say is, “This is just like the Salem witch trials in which several innocent women were accused of being witches. Those who lied and confessed to being witches were spared. Those who told the truth and denied being witches were executed.” This elder then, on behalf of the four elders of his congregation, asked us to stay at his church for the next six months and let him and the other elders try to handle this situation with Doug Phillips.

The problem was that matters had been arranged in such a way that neither of us could qualify as sufficiently “repentant” and also maintain our integrity. In my case, I was being called to repent for unspecified sins that I had not committed. In Mark’s case, the charges against him were true, but although he confessed and repented of them, he was still excommunicated. Apparently for both of us there was just no way to avoid excommunication by Doug Phillips: Refuse to repent of sins that you’re not guilty of and you’re excommunicated. Confess and repent of sins that you are guilty of and you’re still excommunicated.

Given the manner in which the substance of the charges was handled, it is no surprise that the procedure for the discipline was equally unjust. In fact, not only was there no actual trial prior to excommunication, but there was also no due process whatsoever, despite the fact that Doug Phillips, as a former practicing attorney, was very familiar with the vital necessity of due process for any trial.

In the end, the decision to excommunicate was ratified by “mob justice,” with the men in the congregation itself (half of whom were employed by Doug Phillips) being called to vote to excommunicate us without us being permitted to be present to hear the charges against us or to defend ourselves. Even if all the charges against us had been true, it’s not clear that any of them were grounds for excommunication and, in any case, there was no due process to test and prove the charges.

Tomorrow, we will examine what it is like to be treated as heathens and publicans attempting reconciliation.

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22 Responses to “Doug Phillips Excommunicates by Star Chamber”

  1. Martin Says:

    You were nothing but a pawn for DP to exercise his power for the benefit of the congregation.

    Churches like this only grow based on blind loyalty to the ‘leader’ (not Christ) so the leader cannot tolerate any independent thinking.

  2. Morgan Farmer Says:

    Guilty if innocent…guilty if guilty?

    The situation was a no win for you and Mark from the beginning. Re-reading all of the posts again and again this entire situation seems to be a ‘rail roading’ to get you and Mark out of BCA on Doug Phillips’ ‘terms’. By that I mean to get you out as an ‘example’ so that he could use your situation to consolidate his ‘power’.

    Matthew 18 as well as any other reference to biblical discipline were thrown out the door and only used as fall backs for broad spectrum references when BCA or DP needed them.

  3. Always Batya Says:

    There are only two possibilities:

    1. Beall and Doug are not on the same page. They are both clearly over their heads. Beall especially.

    2. They ARE on the same page [and] planned this out.

  4. Lynn Says:

    Jen, now you bring in other elders from another church, who have the same position as you do about Boerne.

    The silence from Boerne is not good for them, and especially so now that you testify that there are other church elders who have been fully apprised of the situation and agree with you about these matters. And as far as I am concerned, the statement from Boerne is just so much smoke-blowing, broad-brushed nonsense. No dealing with any of your specific points here, and you are doing a good job of laying all of this out.

    And it is weird, since a husband pleads guilty, why would he be excommunicated for that? I mean, why both of you? Not that I think you needed to be, but according to them, you were the unrepentant one. I agree with what has been said — you don’t just “smoosh” two cases of discipline together like that. It does seem that they just wanted to get rid of both of you, but I can’t speculate as to their motives, just looks like it to me.

  5. Grace in action Says:

    Jennifer, As a person knowing a little of Vision Forum and Doug Phillips (having heard him speak at HS convention and interacting with the website), I was curious to read your website. I read through your “defense” attachment. I wasn’t there at BCA and I am hearing the story through your eyes.

    I thought I would just post this comment to you for reflection. The “defense” strikes me as overdone. It’s seventeen single spaced pages. It’s very well written, and you argue your case very well. You do, however, manage to get your digs in fairly consistently throughout the document. You’re obviously very angry. How could you hope to reconcile with BCA with such a document? Who would want to work with you after you did such a thorough job showing them all that they were unqualified to lead the church? And why slam DP and the ministry? I can hear you say, “because I don’t want anyone else abused as I was.” But I am guessing that’s not the real reason — that’s likely the cover. I am guessing the real reason is because you want payback, retribution. That’s unbiblical, of course.

    My unsolicited advice: give up this ugly chapter and dare to ask yourself why — deep down — you are so angry and bitter? I am not saying you don’t have points and some cause for anger. But why do you need to prove yourself reasonable and clean with such detail and effort? We’re all sinners, and some of us saved — thank God. You don’t need to prove to anyone that you’re a fine acting Christian. Any good Christian would know that you, and anyone else claiming the same, was lying or seriously deluded about their sin.

    • Esbee Says:

      why would she want to reconcile with such idiots? Her only sin was what was in their eyes as sin (it is nothing new…the pharisees tried to pull this crap on Jesus also) she was guilty of nothing more than Independent thinking and having an opposite or different opinion- freedoms guaranteed under our constitution…the question is why she and her husband stayed so long in a situation that not only broke christian laws but US constitutional laws as well.

    • Theresa Foley Says:

      Yes Jen is very angry because she was treated so horribly. These comments scolding Jen for being bitter are not very kind or helpful. Unfortunately hurting Christians are often accused of being bitter.

      • Jen Says:

        Theresa, I think I got over being angry a LONG time ago! Now, I want God to use me to set others free from a system of bondage and imprisonment.

  6. Jen Says:

    Grace in action, I wrote my “defense” two years ago, the day after the disciplinary action. It was certainly written in the emotion of the moment. If you continue reading my story, you will see that I apologize for writing it in the first place.

    At that time I do not think I was angry and bitter, necessarily, but I was deeply hurt and certainly confused. I did, however, know that this had already happened to others, and so my motive then, and my motive now, is to warn others.

    I could have easily gone public with my story immediately, but there were two main reasons I didn’t: First, we desired to do things God’s way and did everything we knew to do to facilitate reconciliation. Second, I wanted to make sure that whatever I did, it was with a pure heart, that I had forgiveness in my heart and not revenge. As a family, we have studied about forgiveness quite a lot, and we pray about it daily.

    I won’t begin to say that I did everything right in this whole scenario. If I had it to do all over again, I would do many things differently. But that is the value of hindsight, we can learn from our experiences so that we are more like Christ the next time a trial comes around. I hope that’s what I’ve learned from this.

  7. Mark Epstein Says:

    Grace in Action:

    One of the foundational reasons for taking this issue to the church is just the opposite of what you observe – Doug Phillips and his leaders ensured we were not able to muster any defense at any time – whether during church discipline, the “vote” for excommunication, or any appellate process. Furthermore, we were not even present at the so-called “trial.” As anyone remotely familiar with Doug Phillips knows, he is a school-trained lawyer and, therefore, Doug is fully cognizant and well versed with jurisdictions and judicial procedures.

    Regardless of any flaws with the original post-discipline document, which Jennifer wrote at the behest of Beall Phillips after being ambushed with the initial church discipline, the overarching issue is the unbiblical nature of the excommunication and the lack of due process. There is no secular justification for what Doug Phillips did, and there is certainly no biblical justification for his actions.

    I agree with my wife, perhaps you should read all of her posts and resist writing on one document without the benefit of the entire story.

    Mark

  8. wolfhound Says:

    Mark and Jen,

    I appreciate you guys bringing this stuff out in the open. I know that this has probably been one of the hardest things that you have ever went through. People do not understand the depth of hurt that something like this can cause on someone and those around them.

    I think that Romans 3:17-24 is applicable to this situation, since Doug preaches the Law so much.

    Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you not rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, as it is written.

  9. carla Says:

    Jenny,

    This is all “crazy stuff” to me but I just want you to know – you are loved, you owe no one any explanantion about anything in your life – the debt was paid 2,000 years ago -Happy New Year from someone who has known you all of your life! Love your sister!

  10. carla Says:

    ??

    Ed. Note: This is my sister, who cannot figure out what is going on here!

  11. Elaine Says:

    Mark and Jennifer, I am glad that you have posted these things on the web. Unfortunately, too many of us Christians have gone through or are going through experiences with controlling pastors (some perhaps are wolves in sheeps clothing). It’s helped me to read of your experiences so that I can put my own experiences in perspective. There are good pastors and then there are those who appear to be good, but are destroying the sheep.

    I would like to make a comment responding to the post by Grace in Action above: I think you are not considering that Jennifer’s experiences and hurts were real and that you are having a hard time seeing Doug Phillips for who he is. I believe you are struggling with what Jennifer has written because it’s hard to realize that someone who appears to be genuinely saved and living biblically could actually be as guilty as Jennifer’s story make him out to be. However, in my own experience involving a controlling pastor who began secretly harrassing me I decided to keep quiet and not expose the pastor for my own protection. I believe I was led to this decision through much prayer and guidance from God’s word, and since my husband would not have supported me in it. However I spent many hours pondering on the course of action I should take. Should I be the one to expose his sin to others? I chose to keep silent for a while and avoided contact with him. Later God provided a time where I was able to share my experience privately with an elder and his wife and my testimony became one of many others and led to this pastor coming under church discipline.

    Mark and Jen are only being witnesses of what has happened to them and for the purspose of helping others. Consider this, that even the apostle Paul wrote (some might call it slander, but this is in God’s Holy Word) about his experience in confronting Peter for playing the hypocrite regarding his eating with Jews/Gentiles, and in another passage he says “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” In light of Paul’s exposure of sin with these two people, I would say that Mark and Jen are follwoing Paul’s example in writing of their experiences with Doug Phillips.

    Unfortunately, it is very possible for someone in a biblical church to abuse authority or even worse. There is a verse that says that the elders who are sinning are to be rebuked publicly.

  12. gladass Says:

    Jen, Thank you for sharing your story. Our church is in the midst of dealing with a pastor who wants to go to this type of patriarchal system and this scares me to death!

  13. June Says:

    Am praying that the Doug Phillipses of this world are fully exposed for their taking God’s Word and twisting it for their own benefit.
    “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret:(Ephesians 5:11-12).

    God’s judgment WILL be upon them if they don’t repent.

    Instead, go to http://www.MinistrytoMarriage.com and find out how to live in a happy and godly marriage without living under the “curse” of Genesis. Hallelujah, Jesus redeemed us (YES< women, too) from the "curse"

  14. gabbergirl Says:

    Dear Jen,
    I’m sorry about what you went through, I know almost exactly how you feel because my family is going through similar things. We{my family} just stoped going to BCA.

  15. Rusty Says:

    Why do you people feel compelled to drag the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ through the mud by publishing such nonsense on the internet? Keep your disagreements behind closed doors where they belong, repent of such rubbish!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Else Says:

    I don’t get this whole story. The writer seems like a willing participant in her own oppression. Why have these endless arguments with this Phillips guy? Why not just walk away? It’s a free country.

    I’ve been to plenty of churches and I don’t think any of the ministers in them would’ve even had a clue what “under discipline” meant.

    • Jen Says:

      Else, I can understand why you would think it would be easy to just pick up and leave and go somewhere else, but there was something different about this church — family. Because of the tremendous amount of close fellowship both in BCA and in the “community,” we were closer to these people than we were to our own families, having actually signed a covenant saying we would never leave of our volition.

      Mr. Phillips is a very powerful man in this community. Time after time, when we attempted to go to other local churches, he was able to persuade them to keep us out.

      BTW, Else, this is old news now. 🙂 I have left this here for those who are considering getting involved as a warning to them, but I don’t actively write here anymore. This is a part of my life that is past, and over and done with, but I don’t want others to walk into the same trap blind, without fair warning. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. SLP Payne Says:

    And you see, this is a good reason NEVER to leave my catholic faith! This is most definitely a problem in many Protestant churches.

  18. Sarah Says:

    O, I’m sorry Epsteins for what you have gone through, and thank you for sharing.

    Just wanted to let you know that the links you have (of the documents you wrote in your defence) are broken, can you fix them? I’d be very interested to see how ‘the elders’ can put such false charges on you and how you responded.


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