One year ago, the theme of the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival seemed to be “Defending the Defenseless.” This festival came only days on the heels of Doug Phillips being found in a compromising position with “Cassandra” and the subsequent sudden departure of her family from the beloved church they had attended for nearly thirteen years. Putting women and children first, and defending the defenseless, seemed to be the farthest thing from Doug Phillips’ mind as he stood front and center on the stage and continued to hide his deep, dark secrets from his adoring fans. At that time, no one knew he had quietly stepped down as elder, stating that he wanted to spend more time with his family. The reality is that he probably turned on the charm in order to save his marriage after having been caught. He waited until after the film festival to “confess” his sins to Bob Sarratt, the only other elder at BCA, a “yes man” who was very good at keeping Doug’s sins secret for the next nine months.
When Vision Forum Ministries announced online last October that the 9th annual San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival was first postponed, and then cancelled, it sparked waves of confusion and frustration for the filmmakers and their families who had worked so diligently to meet the film submission deadline which was only days away. Rather than emailing those on the SAICFF list and telling them of the postponement and cancellation, and with absolutely no explanation of why Vision Forum Ministries’ most popular annual event was being suddenly dropped at the last moment, the grapevine soon became the de facto form of communication within this small, but tightly knit, troop of independent Christian film makers. One by one, they contacted each other in utter disbelief: “How could this happen? We just spent the last year of our lives working on making another film, and now what?”
Ten days later, when Doug Phillips announced his resignation from Vision Forum Ministries, it began to make some sense. But did it really? Or did it actually cause more questions and more confusion? After all, according to World Magazine’s April 5, 2014 cover story article about Doug Phillips, the five men who confronted Doug Phillips on his doorstep did so the day before he resigned, which was October 30, 2013. If that is true, why did Vision Forum cancel the film festival ten days prior to Doug being confronted? I’m guessing there’s a whole lot more to this story than meets the eye, including why Scott Brown knew, at the latest, by September 9, 2013, and still allowed Doug Phillips to continue on with his duties as normal.
At this exact same time, a pastor in Illinois, Philip Telfer, was moving his family down to the San Antonio area to become the new pastor at Living Water Fellowship, which is Little Bear Wheeler’s church in the “community” here. Although Pastor Telfer had gone to a couple of the film festivals put on by Vision Forum and submitted a couple films himself, he had no interest in patriarchy whatsoever. Coming from an inner-city youth ministry in Chicago, patriarchy was a totally foreign concept to Pastor Telfer. Like so many other filmmakers and individuals who were just there to observe, they attended Vision Forum’s San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival simply because it was the only game in town for Christian films.
Not desiring all that work and talent to be wasted and discouraged, Pastor Telfer naively thought that it shouldn’t be too difficult to put together a new film festival for everyone who was already expecting one, so he went to Little Bear with his idea of simply providing an avenue for a film festival. In his mind, he just needed to find a venue, pick a date relatively close to the original date, and organize it. Little Bear thought he was nuts! He had no idea of the politics behind Doug Phillips’ resignation and that he would now be painting a large target on his back for stepping on such sacred ground. Not to be daunted, however, Pastor Telfer set out to provide a safe place for Christian filmmakers to gather and continue their annual film festival traditions.
When I first heard of this initiative, I was a bit dubious. What were his real motives? Is this just another ministry rising up to promote more patriarchy? Is this man trying to make a name for himself on someone else’s coattails? The only thing I knew about him was that one of our mutual friends was in ministry together with Pastor Telfer, in a ministry called Media Talk 101. That was encouraging enough to me to check it out since I knew my friend, a humble man who dearly loves the Lord, was definitely not into patriarchy, although he is a godly family man. I considered attending the new Christian Worldview Film Festival, held March 11-15, 2014, but I wasn’t really interested in just being a spy. That didn’t seem like a good idea, so I thought about it for a long time.
I have been going to school for quite a while now to become a certified health coach and my area of emphasis is in learning how to help people who are going through traumatic events, or who have not healed from the stress and trauma and pain of past events in life. Not only have I experienced much trauma and pain from the excommunication and all the aftermath from that, especially with my children, but I have also experienced a tremendous amount of agonizing and heartbreaking ordeals and upheavals in the last decade or so. God has taught me many ways to not only handle the stress and emotion and pain that accompany these difficulties in life, but also how to bring about the level of healing that actually makes me stronger and a much better person because of attending the University of Hard Knocks.
With Doug Phillips’ resignation came a mass of chaos, confusion, pain, and deep wounds within the “community,” both local and nationwide. Even many of those who thought they had finally put their differences with Doug Phillips in the past and had moved forward in life suddenly found themselves looking hurt in the mirror one more time. And it was very confusing. As TW Eston and I continued to write articles here after Doug’s resignation, the comments, both here and elsewhere, were filled with, first, denial, then anger accompanied by deep hurt. In any grieving process, these two are the first stages of how we respond emotionally in any situation where we have loss. Bargaining and depression are the next stages before finally coming to terms with accepting the loss. For some, going through these five stages of grieving happens very rapidly, but for others, it takes a very long period of time, while there are many who never reach the last stage of acceptance, allowing one to move forward in life. When we “bury” our feelings and emotions from a hurtful experience in life, we find ourselves stuck somewhere in this grieving process, unable to truly move forward freely in life. Others remain in the anger stage forever.
Telling my story online seven years ago was a cathartic process for me, and for those who followed along, many saw me go through these stages right in this blog. I am grateful that God brought me through the grieving process to the healing point of acceptance so that I could move forward in my own life, partly because I was able to respond to this whole recent debacle without personally involving myself the way I did the first time around. This allowed me to be much more objective. It also allowed me to be able to empathize with those who just had the rug pulled out from underneath them. I have read the comments and followed the conversations here and there, both online and in real life, with greater insight and compassion.
Healing from emotional pain is one of the life’s most transforming events ever. It is more powerful than the initial trauma. So, as I considered whether or not I should attend this year’s new Christian film festival, I realized that what I most wanted to do was to help bring healing to a hurting community. How could I do that? I decided to sign up as a volunteer and see what happened. Although I could have used a fake name to get in the door, I knew that if I was going to bring healing to this hurting community that I needed to be just me, so I signed up online with my real name. When the volunteer coordinator called me to talk to me about volunteering, I was surprised to find that she also attended BCA, but I was just going to go with the flow here, since my only goal was to bring healing to a hurting community. After we talked, she decided to have me “manage” the registration desk for the majority of the film festival. That meant that my face would be the first one everyone saw when they entered the front door. I knew I could use this opportunity for good!
With less than two days to go before the film festival began, I got the phone call. I’ve heard this so many times before. I either get a letter, an email, or a phone call, but they all say pretty much the same thing: “Don’t ever darken the doors here again.” I was fully prepared for the fact that this may be just another door slammed in my face, but when Philip Telfer called me to tell me that someone had emailed him, concerned about what might happen if I showed up at the film festival, I was pleasantly surprised when, instead, he asked me to have dinner with him and his wife that evening. I knew they were super busy getting ready for the film festival, so I was honored that he would give me his time and give me the opportunity to speak for myself. I found both Pastor Telfer and his wife to be wonderful people, and we easily fell into much laughter and a delightful conversation together! It turned out that we both had the same goals in this film festival: to bring healing to a hurting community.
I am happy to report that the first annual Christian Worldview Film Festival was drama-free. There was no idol who everyone was clamoring to see, but rather a servant-leader who was not only available whenever he was needed, but also just milled about and interacted with everyone in attendance. If there was a mafia dressed in black, packing pieces, I did not see them. What I did see were hundreds of happy people, excited to see old friends again, enjoying all the workshops, films, and special events that filled the week! And I enjoyed being there to greet every single person each day. As I saw those I had not seen in 8-10 years, I attempted to go out of my way to give each one of them a hug. My goal was to hug every person I knew from my days in the “community.” But what I found instead was that most of those who I had not seen in a long time were the first to want to give me a hug instead! There was even one family that currently attends BCA who wanted to hug me. Although I was not wearing a name tag, apparently, there were some who recognized my picture from online and came up to speak to me. One lady, upon confirming who I was, gave me a big hug and just said, “Thank you!” with tears in her eyes. One small step for healing, one giant leap for the “community.”
I really did have a wonderful time there. There were a few conversations about Doug Phillips and Vision Forum, but for the most part, these people were here to focus on moving forward, not looking backward. I went to a few films. I really enjoyed a couple, like Hero and Creed of Gold. There were a few I didn’t care for as well, but for me, that was not the main point. I also attended a lecture by Rich Christiano because I heard he was controversial. I wanted to hear that for myself. It was sad to see that certain young filmmakers did not show up, simply because it was not organized by Vision Forum.
Imagine the irony, then, of coming off the high of the first step toward healing, the first step toward making peace in this hurting “community,” of finding out in World’s article that Doug Phillips sent a letter, through his attorney, of course, threatening to sue three of the men who showed up on his doorstep that fateful day in October, 2013. This letter was mailed March 13, 2014, right smack in the middle of the Christian Worldview Film Festival. While many of us were working to bringing healing to a hurting community, Doug Phillips, obviously hurting himself that he was not the star of the show this year, was busy stirring up strife instead. The letter to Bob Renaud and Peter Bradrick (Doug Phillips’ former personal assistants) and Jordan Muela (former intern/VF employee) stated, in part: “the three of you have conspired together, and with others, in an attempt to destroy Doug Phillips, his family and Vision Forum Inc.”
This immediately brings to mind several questions. If there were five men standing on Doug Phillips’ doorstep on that red letter day in October, why were only these three threatened with a lawsuit? Why not Dr. Joe Morecraft, who immediately preached a sermon about Doug Phillips’ fall, although he did not name him by name; and Mark Weaver, Doug’s close college friend? I would posit that it has everything to do with the tiny little word found at the end of the sentence quoted above — “Inc.” It seems readily apparent to me that while Doug Phillips rightfully acknowledged his responsibility to step down from ministry (albeit months and years too late, and only under duress), that he had every intention of keeping the business side of Vision Forum going strong, while he took a breather for a year or so from public speaking, and then he would pick up the reins once again, ready to lead the charge of his Vision Forum Ministries brigade, onward to victory over the evils of the real world.
Apparently, Doug Phillips believes that these three young men, whom he personally trained, not only in the patriarchal way of life but also in how to use any means possible to attain the desired results, were somehow responsible for destroying his business. Pragmatism ruled the day in this business/ministry of Vision Forum, while love, respect, relationship, and all ethics were thrown to the wind. So what did these three young men do to merit the threat of Doug Phillips suing them? They broke the “No Gossip” rule. Never mind that the “No Gossip” rule is not to be found anywhere in Scripture. Never mind that there is no law that contains this supposed “No Gossip” rule. Never mind that one current BCA member recently stood up and said that this “No Gossip” rule does not exist, even in the face of hundreds of others who state otherwise. The “No Gossip” rule was originally put into place to keep people from speaking about what was happening between Doug Phillips and Joe Taylor, and it grew in intensity and reach ever since. The “No Gossip” rule has kept hundreds of hurting people, and families, from sharing their pain and hurts with anyone, for fear of retribution for breaking the “No Gossip” rule, even long after they left BCA or the “community.”
So what was this great sin that Bob Renaud, Peter Bradrick, and Jordan Muela committed? What was this juicy gossip that they shared, that would merit the level of a defamation lawsuit? Although Peter Bradrick’s Facebook page has since been closed, Peter shared his pain of being disowned by a man he considered to be both a father and a mentor to him. Bob Renaud shared a few other details, showing that he and Peter had worked together to confront a man they both deeply loved. Jordan Muela wrote a heartfelt Facebook article, “How Silence Enables Abuse.” Although he did not name Doug Phillips (if I remember correctly), everyone in the community knew who he was speaking about. (He has since hid his Facebook page, so I do not have access to the article now.)
In addition to these three young men speaking out, there were a few others who have spoken publicly as well. Apparently, Doug Phillips does not consider the others to be a threat, but one that has spoken out in favor of everyone keeping silent is Nathaniel Darnell. His most recent article about how to respond to the allegations of the nature being made against Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard caused quite a stir when he suggested that the young women should go to their elders if they were sexually abused. I guess he forgot that that’s exactly what got them into that situation to begin with.
Although no one I personally know from BCA and the community has publicly apologized to me, nor even really said anything about my situation, there have been a handful who have privately apologized. On a personal note, I will say that as I read each of the articles and comments above, as well as those by Nolan Manteufel and Ryan Short, that I have shed many tears. For me, they were healing tears, because at least I was not the lone person out here warning those I love that danger lurks nearby. Finally someone else was seeing it as well. It is truly tragic that it had to come at such a heavy price. Nathan Barnes, another former VF intern/employee, posted this status on Facebook recently:
The laws of friendship require a discovery of that which endangers one another. You would count him unworthy the name of a friend, who knowing a thief or an incendiary to lurk in your family, with a design to kill, or rob, or burn your house, would conceal it from you, and not acquaint you with it on his own accord. There is no such thief, murderer, incendiary, as sin: it more endangers us, and those concernments that are more precious than goods, or house, or life; and that most endangers us, by which the Lord’s anger is already kindled against us. Silence or concealment in this case is treachery. He is the most faithful friend, and worthy of most esteem and affection, that deals most plainly with us, in reference to the discovery of our sin. He that is reserved in this case is but a false friend, a mere pretender to love, whereas, indeed, he hates his brother in his heart. Clarkson, David (1865). The Practical Works of David Clarkson Retrieved from http://books.google.com
So why are all these statements made by Bob Renaud, Peter Bradrick, and Jordan Muela libelous to the point of warranting a lawsuit? Apparently, I Cor. 6 is magically erased from Doug Phillips’ Bible, but beyond the “sin” of violating the “No Gossip” rule, Doug Phillips seems to think that these three men conspired together to destroy the business half of Vision Forum. By Doug’s own actions, he destroyed Vision Forum ministries, which closed on November 11, 2013, although he has threatened to make legal claims against the remaining Vision Forum Ministries board as well. At first, he made it known that Doug still owned the business side of Vision Forum, but by November 27, 2013, we announced on this blog that Vision Forum, Inc., the business, would be closing permanently by December 31, 2013. Unless Doug Phillips was actually following our lead, we correctly reported this event. Most likely, we were not the first to know that Vision Forum, Inc. would be closing their doors, so this decision was probably made several days earlier than November 27, 2013. Look at the comments made by Peter Bradrick and Bob Renaud again. The only comment made publicly before we announced that Vision Forum, Inc. was closing was made by Bob Renaud on October 22, 2013: “Your sins will find you out so it’s best to follow Lanny’s advice: ‘Tell it early. Tell it all. Tell it yourself.’” (This comment causes me to question World Magazine’s timeline for the front door confrontation, unless Bob was just sending a message out ahead of time.) But all those other comments and articles were posted after Doug Phillips had already decided to close his business.
The only person who destroyed Vision Forum, both the ministry and the business, was Doug Phillips himself. The only person who destroyed Doug Phillips’ reputation was Doug Phillips himself. While the words of his former interns and close associates deeply hurt him, they were the wounds of friends who loved him enough to publicly rebuke a sinning leader, in the hopes of restoring him to his senses, and to a right relationship with God. As Doug Phillips once stated in church, when a man falls for a woman, all common sense goes right out the window. How prophetically true, in his case.
On August 7, 2013, Doug Phillips wrote a brilliant article about “True Repentance.” What happened that prompted this article we’re not sure at this point, but now seems like a good time to remind Doug of some key points that he made: “Those who remain unrepentant should not expect the blessing of the Lord. Unrepentance is not only an impediment to the very object of our life—true unity with God—but it leads to the judgment of the Lord. It is the single greatest roadblock to family vision.” Doug goes on to list six elements of godly sorrow that produce true repentance: brokenness, forsaking sin, truth telling, acceptance of responsibility, restitution, and peace.
From day one, we have been saying that Doug Phillips did not show any evidence of true repentance in his public statements. I know him well enough to read between the crafty wording clever disguised as godly sorrow. If Doug’s recent threats of legal action against his close friends and his former board members are any indication of where his heart is right now, these acts of retribution rather than restitution openly belie his words of resignation that are still publicly displayed for all to see. Although I had held out a tiny spark of hope that Doug Phillips would truly repent, in the manner he himself prescribes, his blame shifting, his arrogance, his refusal to accept responsibility for tearing down his own house and ministry, and his insistence that others pay him restitution instead, all point to his stirring up even more strife rather than being the one who brings peace and healing to a hurting community.
In his latest article, TW Eston presciently stated:
Doug Phillips is hasty to resort to legal intimidation. He has legally threatened dozens of people. To my knowledge Doug Phillips has never actually taken anyone to trial. Rather, he only threatens to take them to court, but out of the goodness of his heart he agrees to settle with them out of court, provided they keep their mouths shut, i.e. they must sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Are Non-Disclosure Agreements biblical? In certain cases an NDA may be appropriate, and they may not necessarily in all cases be expressly unbiblical. However, they should never be used if the underlying motive is to silence critics and cover up unrepentant sin. The purposes for which Doug Phillips has so frequently coerced the signing of NDA’s is only intended to silence those who would speak out against his egregious sins and hold him accountable for his duplicity and corruption. Doug Phillips’ habitual use of NDAs has allowed him to cover up a huge amount of sin, both his own sins and the sins of his accomplices.
But let us not be too hasty to judge Doug Phillips’ latest attempts to take his brothers to public court. Perhaps he has found I Cor. 6 in his Bible after all, and has mentioned the possibility of Christian conciliation instead. On the surface, appealing to Peacemaker Ministries sounds promising, but what is Doug Phillips’ track record with these types of situations? The first instance of using Peacemaker Ministries, that I am aware of, was when Mark and I asked Doug Phillips to go to mediation with us, through the trained Peacemaker counselors at Faith PCA here locally. The first thing we were required to do was to clean up all derogatory comments, whether they were ours or others, to refrain from saying that we were repentant, and to be silent. Since I had diligently sought to fully forgive Doug Phillips, and all those involved, privately in my heart before telling my story publicly (a public leader’s sins need to be made known to the same degree that their teachings are), and I was already extremely cautious in using my words carefully, it was a difficult decision to abide by these rules during the conciliation process. But for the greater good of bringing healing to the situation at hand, we did so willingly.
A couple months later, after an emotionally charged meeting between Doug Phillips and the elders at Faith PCA (two of whom were also the Christian conciliators for Peacemaker Ministries), we were informed that Doug Phillips refused any reconciliation with us. Doug Phillips told the elders that there is only one way for the Epsteins to be reconciled with me; they must come to me and repent fully without any equivocation of everything that we excommunicated them for, and they also have to repent for blogging about me. We were also invited by these Christian conciliators to never darken the door of their church again. When asked about the situation privately, one of the Christian conciliator elders remarked, “We f***ed up.” That was Doug Phillips’ first interaction with Peacemaker, that I am aware of.
Encouraged by even the thought of Christian conciliation, Joe Taylor thought he would attempt the same offer of mediation through Peacemaker. As you can see by TW Eston’s latest article on Joe Taylor, not only did Doug Phillips refuse Joe Taylor’s offer of using Christians to mediate, but he also took him to court. Two strikes for Doug Phillips.
But what happens when Doug Phillips decides he wants to be the one to call for mediation through Peacemaker Ministries? Rumor has it that Beall Phillips asked Peacemaker to mediate between Doug Phillips and Cassandra and her family before this all went public. Knowing that Peacemaker always requires silence on both sides during and after conciliation, this would have been a perfect way to forever keep Doug Phillips’ adultery hidden, allowing the family to continue their opulent lifestyle and the public fame and glory that they so enjoyed. However, Cassandra was wise enough to decline such an arrangement, and so was Peacemaker Ministries. Having met with Doug Phillips before, they probably knew it would not be a prudent case to take on. Three strikes.
As I consider the possibility of Peacemaker having taken that particular case, I cringe at the tremendous amount of damage that would have mounted had Doug Phillips been allowed to continue on as if nothing had ever happened. This is one of the reasons why using Peacemaker Ministries can be a very bad idea. While I readily acknowledge that many people have been helped through this ministry, I wonder how many others have actually been allowed to cover their sin, or worse yet, continue in their sinful lifestyle, because of this requirement of forever remaining silent.
In my training as a professional health coach, I have found that unresolved emotional pain causes more health problems, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well, than any other aspect of health. I remember when Mark, my first husband, required me to never speak about my adultery in the first couple years of our marriage, even though I had fully repented from it. There were times during those fifteen years of silence when I wanted to be able to share with others how God brought me through that time in my life and what I learned and how I repented and moved forward in life (although Mark never found it in his heart to forgive me). As the years went on, that enforced silence built up inside me and caused me deep turmoil. When Doug Phillips took it upon himself to tell the church about my adultery, which had happened 15 years earlier and for which Doug Phillips himself agreed that he saw true repentance in me, and I was now free to talk about it, it was like a load of bricks was finally lifted off my back. While Doug Phillips certainly had no business sharing a pastoral confidence which Mark had shared with him privately, it ended up being one of the most freeing things that ever happened to me, and I was now on the road to being healed emotionally.
To Peter Bradrick, Bob Renaud, and Jordan Muela: Don’t fall for it! You all know Doug Phillips well enough to know that his offer of going to Peacemaker Ministries is for one purpose only: to shut you up. Confidentiality rules the day in Peacemaker’s mediation process. While a public trial can bring to light every single detail and expose all the dirt on every side, Peacemaker goes to the opposite extreme and covers up all sin. Bob, with your legal training, you know that Doug Phillips does not have any legal grounds against you three. Yes, the easy thing to do is to settle quietly behind the scenes and go on about your life. But the right thing to do takes much more work, and only a man with great integrity will do the right thing.
This is not about making peace. This is all about silencing the truth. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” is a principle that applies to many different aspects of life. Everyone who sat under Doug Phillips’ teachings and ministry needs to know the truth now so that each person, each family, each BCA member, each VF employee and board member, can be set free, emotionally and spiritually, to begin healing that will lead to acceptance of what has happened, in order to move forward in life. May we all we be stronger and wiser for having walked this journey, but may we learn to love and forgive as we begin our new paths in life.