What is the difference between this year’s Vision Forum catalog and those of the last several years? Little Bear Wheeler is AWOL. He’s not there. He’s simply disappeared from Doug’s catalog, and from Doug’s life entirely.
Hasn’t Little Bear Wheeler and his Mantle Ministries always been a major part of Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum catalog? Wasn’t his whole history section always centered around his very good friend, Little Bear? Didn’t they used to put on Father/Son retreats together? Weren’t they close personal friends?
Little Bear Wheeler and Doug Phillips only live a few miles apart. Why is Doug now refusing to have anything to do with Little Bear? What’s the big rift over? It’s over me. Us. The Epsteins.
I told a little bit of that story in a comment recently, but I didn’t name names. A few people have accurately guessed who I was talking about, in some comments that they posted here (which I didn’t approve). It’s probably just a matter of time before a lot more people figure this out too, so I am going to go ahead and tell some more of the story here, including the names. I have decided to come forward with Little Bear’s name because of what he did for us. Little Bear Wheeler went way above and beyond the call of duty. Little Bear Wheeler deserves to have homeschoolers know that he is a loving, selfless and biblically-minded man who is worthy of their support.
When we were first excommunicated, we went to visit Little Bear Wheeler’s church. This church was also in what we all called “the community,” a group of churches that all started from BCA. They were not church splits, but were started as a result of some differences of personalities. All four churches in “the community” loved one another. We all fellowshipped together often. But that all changed when the Epsteins were excommunicated. Then it all stopped. It stopped because Doug Phillips required that all the other churches shun us as well. But not everyone agreed with Doug, and that included Little Bear Wheeler.
We were upfront with Little Bear about our being under “church discipline” from the moment we arrived. Little Bear not only welcomed us with open arms, he immediately took time to find out what was going on and asked me over the next day. Being the history buff that he is, when I told him my story, he said, “This sounds just like the Salem Witch trials.” He then asked us to stay at his church for six months while he and the other three elders attempted to clear up the situation with Doug Phillips. We agreed.
It was a time of being greatly loved by this church and by Little Bear and another elder in particular, who took us under their wing and spent time with us daily. They did all that they knew to do to help us with our marriage. This in itself was in huge contrast with what we experienced at Boerne Christian Assembly where, rather than helping our marriage, Doug’s so-called “marriage counseling” only made things much worse. Little Bear and his elders also attempted to contact Doug many times for the express purpose of facilitating reconciliation. The problem was that Doug refused to cooperate.
Little Bear was one of Doug’s best friends for many years (see here and here and here), but when Little Bear took us in, Doug Phillips became extremely angry with him and refused to have anything to do with him and his family again. They were already scheduled to speak together at a Father/Son retreat six months after our excommunication, and although they spoke at the same retreat together, Doug absolutely refused to speak to Little Bear the entire time they were there. Little Bear even left a note for Doug under his door asking to speak to him, but Doug refused to even acknowledge Little Bear.
Although we only attended church there for six months, Little Bear and his co-elders worked for 14 months trying to get Doug Phillips to reconcile, but Doug refused even to meet with any of them. When Doug finally did meet with Little Bear, after some 14 months, Doug accused Little Bear of sinning for “fellowshipping with sinners.” Little Bear and the other elders did say that if they had it to do all over again, they would do the same thing. We are grateful to them.
Little Bear’s business/ministry, Mantle Ministries, was directly linked to Doug Phillip’s Vision Forum as well. They run in the same circles, they speak at the same conferences, and they sell some of the same products. They used to work together on numerous projects. Since Doug had the upper hand business-wise, Little Bear was very concerned that Doug would ruin him financially when we started telling our story through Ministry Watchman, and he was distressed at the thought of his name being made public. At that time, we decided not to publicly use Little Bear’s name, for fear of what Doug might do to him. We know that Doug is very much about vengeance, not just because of what he’s done to us, but what he’s done to so many others, as well. We didn’t want to see Little Bear hurt, but the fact is that Doug Phillips paid back Little Bear long before we went public with our story anyway.
I think it’s time to publicly thank Little Bear Wheeler for the incredibly selfless man that he is, and the kindness that he’s shown us. His charity has cost him dearly. He truly lives out the verse, “We ought to obey God rather than man.” Little Bear loved us when we were beaten down and deeply disillusioned with the church. He loved us as a true under-shepherd of Jesus Christ at a time when we had grown skeptical of pastors. He tried all he could to bear our burdens. He welcomed those who were deeply hurting and had no place else to go. He even went so far as to continue helping us for eight more months after we left his church. Little Bear was willing to risk losing his friendship, and a profitable business relationship, with a man who had been his good friend for a long time. He truly loved God more than “mammon.”
Little Bear Wheeler is a truly honorable man, and this is the honorable man that Doug Phillips is shunning because of us. Little Bear Wheeler is now paying a heavy price for having done nothing more than loving and caring for us — for being pastoral. For fourteen months Little Bear Wheeler attempted to facilitate reconciliation between us and Doug Phillips. For all his charitable efforts, Little Bear has been subjected to a dose of The Phillips Treatment.
When you see Little Bear at a homeschool conference this year, or one of his incredible retreats, please encourage him and let him know that he did the right thing in the eyes of God. His reward will be an eternal one.
“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” I Cor. 3:11-15