On May 7, 2007, the Chalcedon Foundation posted a lengthy article on their blog entitled In Defense Of Doug Phillips. However, the article stayed up just a matter of several hours and was hastily replaced by a much briefer two-paragraph article, entitled Beware Agents Of Defamation.
I consider both articles to be misleading and misrepresentative of the facts. However, I also have to wonder what the full story is behind Chalcedon yanking the first lengthy article and replacing it with the second very brief article? It would seem that the article’s author, Chris Ortiz, went off half-cocked and, recognizing his blunder, quickly decided to back up and regroup.
The first Chalcedon article would have been a major coup for Doug Phillips. However, it didn’t stay up nearly long enough for him to have been able to use it to his advantage. Had he tried to use it, and then found that it had suddenly been yanked, that could have been very embarrassing. The fact that it was taken down so hastily raises all kinds of questions. I don’t know if the removal and replacement of the original In Defense Of Doug Phillips article posed an embarrassment to Doug Phillips, but its appearance certainly didn’t pose any embarrassment to me. Therefore, I’ve reposted it below.
I do know that more than one person has contacted Chalcedon Foundation to express their displeasure over Chris Ortiz’ original article. Was Chalcedon responding to the pressure of these complaints from some of their own donors? It would appear so.
In his original article, Chris Ortiz acknowledges the long standing friendship between Chalcedon Foundation and the Phillips family. This friendship is obviously far more important to them than the facts in my case, but still not so important that Chris Ortiz isn’t concerned about how his original article, and even his current article, might adversely affect donor support for Chalcedon. It would seem that this friendship with the Phillips family isn’t of so strong a bond that it’s invulnerable to the pressure exercised by Chalcedon’s own financial supporters.
I can’t imagine that Doug Phillips was at all pleased to see the above article hastily replace the original article of May 7. Nevertheless, the article has a far more inflammatory and misleading title than the original article had. I don’t consider it a minor thing to be accused of “defamation.” Chris Ortiz needs a dictionary:
You can’t defame someone with the truth. You can only defame them by slander or libel. Mr. Ortiz fails to specify how I’m guilty of slander and/or libel. At no time has Chris Ortiz ever contacted me. However, I’m aware that he has been in contact with Vision Forum and even dialogued extensively with Matt Chancey. Apparently, Chris has been very eager to get Doug Phillips’ side of the story, and only Doug Phillips’ side of the story.
Monday, May 07, 2007
In Defense of Doug Phillips
A letter is circulating within the isolated halls of the Christian homeschooling blogosphere that represents an appeal to the homeschooling community of both individuals and organizations to disassociate themselves from the “ecclesiastical tyranny,” and other assorted evils, of Doug Phillips, founder and president of Vision Forum.
I am responding to this letter only because the appeal is made to associated organizations that might “give him a platform from which he can promote his views.” The writer seeks to “protect the Christian homeschool movement” by isolating and relegating Doug Phillips “to the outer fringes where he properly belongs, and where he can do little harm.”
For a good many years, the Chalcedon Foundation, and the Rushdoony family, have enjoyed a mutually edifying friendship with Doug, his personal family, his father (Howard), and many of the fine staff at Vision Forum. Doug Phillips was a featured speaker in 2005 at our 40th anniversary conference and is a vocal endorser of the ministry of R. J. Rushdoony. Granted, I’ve rarely met Christian leaders that agree on every point, but the calling for Doug’s isolation is an unjust and immoral appeal. It lacks a Biblical basis, and despite the author’s denial, reeks of a personal vendetta.
The author of the letter is a woman by the name of Jennifer Epstein. Her and her husband Mark have both hosted and participated in a number of web sites focusing on Doug Phillips and Vision Forum (See Jen’s Gems, Ministry Watchman, and Ultimate Truth). The word count dedicated to “exposing” Doug Phillips is enormous.
Mrs. Epstein extensively details the problematic relationship with Doug Phillips at her blog, “Jen’s Gems: Exposing Doug Phillips’ Ecclesiastical Tyranny” — a rather odd title for a blog. I’m not sure how the “Jen’s Gems” part fits with “exposing ecclesiastical tyranny.” How is public exposure of a Christian leader a gem?
The account of the Epsteins and Doug Phillips is too detailed to cover here. Although that history is needed to understand the full context of any events, only Jennifer Epstein has taken the time to type it out. Doug has not. Therefore, the story is one-sided, and for that reason, no responsible Christian should respectfully adhere to her admonishment to dissolve a working relationship with Doug Phillips and Vision Forum.
The local church in which the Epsteins encountered Doug, and where Doug serves as an elder, did release a few official statements regarding the Epstein controversy. You can read them here. This is a disappointing and obviously painful history for all parties involved, but the efforts being made by the Epsteins to discredit Doug Phillips are irresponsible, in my opinion.
Let me say at the outset that I have no doubt that the Epsteins have experienced great personal pain brought on by themselves and possibly by the actions and treatment of others. Because we are not privy to both sides, we cannot make a judgment as to the nature of their case. We also shouldn’t need to. This is a private ecclesiastical matter that should not be burning up the blogosphere. That’s where I have a problem.
The Epsteins struggled severely for a good many years due to an act of adultery on the part of Jennifer Epstein that led to the birth of a child that they put up for adoption. This transgression occurred prior to the Epsteins becoming Christians, and Jennifer regularly insists that her sin is off limits for consideration by her husband, Mark, or anyone else that might criticize her. Christ has forgiven her, and so should everyone else. Fair enough.
However, years of anger had built up in Mark Epstein, and their marriage deteriorated to the threshold of divorce. Jennifer viewed the problem as primarily Mark’s anger over her past adultery. This is not surprising. Such a thing is no cakewalk for a man, as the Scriptures declare:
For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, thou that givest many gifts. ~ Proverbs 6:34-35
I have a very close Christian friend whose marriage finally ended in divorce for the very same reasons. His wife committed adultery with the worship leader of their local church. She repented of it, but he could never forget about it. This affected him emotionally, and soon others would accuse him of being bi-polar and in need of medication for his seasons of anger toward his wife.
Anger, like pain, is the indication that something is terribly wrong. Anger doesn’t linger, or increase, if there’s nothing to be angry about. It’s likely, with the Epsteins, that Mark was experiencing the lack of justice or restitution for the sins committed against him. Like my friend, asking him to forgive and forget was a tall order.
This is why God permits divorce for adultery. The “excommunication” is part of the restoration process for the offended spouse. Mark was not able to experience this. He continued to live with the woman that caused his personal pain. This only encouraged his imagination to replay his wife’s adultery. Giving birth to the child must have significantly compounded Mark’s heartache. But Jennifer decries anyone that mentions the “sin” which she committed before she became a Christian. Practically, this is an unreasonable request when it becomes the source of later tension that itself becomes the source of a local church conflict. You reap what you sow.
The season of their greatest struggle was spent at Boerne Christian Assembly (BCA), the home church of Doug and Beall Phillips. Jennifer provides a detailed account of her version of the transpiring events that prompted her campaign to “expose” Doug Phillips. The leaders at BCA emphatically deny these allegations, and two other churches provide their confirmations that seriously question the Epsteins’ allegations. Despite this, the Epsteins continue to defame the names of Doug and Beall Phillips as well as the ministries of Vision Forum and the associated National Center for Family-Integrated Churches.
Much of the accusation — as the title of Jennifer’s web site implies — is focused upon what Epstein describes as “ecclesiastical (and patriarchal) tyranny,” i.e. the oppression of women within the Christian home, and the suppression of Mrs. Epstein within the church. In one sense, Doug is absorbing the general criticism of all patriarchy adherents. This is hardly justified. The theological discussion of patriarchy should be engaged in a different forum by someone other than Jennifer Epstein.
As to the personal allegations, the evidence is circumstantial. Phillips denies these accusations, but he has not sought to publicly defame the Epsteins. He’s also not written a response to every detail of Jennifer’s account. I think this is wise. Since Doug is the face of Vision Forum, and the Epsteins intend to tarnish both, Doug must respond to this as any sizable organization would — with official statements. The more the Epsteins drone on about Doug on their respective blogs, the more this appears to be a personal vendetta. I cannot see what good they hope to obtain by this method.
Again, I am only responding for the sake of those few readers of this blog that are also familiar with Doug Phillips and Vision Forum. You are probably aware of the extended friendship between Chalcedon and Vision Forum. They have done much to introduce a great many to the work of R. J. Rushdoony. We know Doug. We don’t know the Epsteins. So, when I became aware of the intent of the Epstein’s letter, I felt it necessary to say something in response.
I’m sure the testimony of Mrs. Epstein regarding the painful path of her marriage is valid and her feelings real. I hope that she understands that regardless of Christ’s forgiveness, there is often a harvest for seed we’ve sown. I admire their attempts at making their marriage work, and I genuinely hope they can find the peace they’re looking for. I would caution them from redirecting their pain and bitterness from themselves to Doug Phillips. You cannot blame him for your history. Remember, none of this would have developed had the initial transgression not been committed. To lay their present burden at the doorstep of Doug Phillips is an unjust balance — something the Lord hates (Prov. 11:1).
The damage is done. She has sent out her letter and posted all the details on her web site. She has admonished Christian organizations like Chalcedon to disassociate themselves from Doug Phillips because of her personal encounter with him. This is faulty reasoning. The two things are not connected. She knows this. Therefore, to make it sound less personal, she has expanded the tarnishing of Doug Phillips by introducing other accusations.
She accuses Doug of being “insensitive and callous” regarding an article he wrote after the Virginia Tech shooting in which he suggested that students should be permitted to carry guns. She brings up an internal dispute about the veracity of a documentary entitled “Raising the Allosaur.” She accuses Phillips of being a closet racist because of his endorsement of the writings of R. L. Dabney. (Well, that would put a great many of us in the same light. I love Dabney).
Do you see the problem here? These are important issues, but they are also disputes over doctrine or debates over social positions such as slavery or the second amendment. They hardly warrant the sort of defamation campaign the Epsteins are presently pushing.
Therefore, there is no other conclusion than that the Epsteins are doing this for personal reasons. To say this has to do with protecting the reputation of homeschooling in general is beyond disingenuous. At one point in her letter she mentions the indelible issue of her adultery; that subject we’re all supposed to forget about:
Without any due process whatsoever, Doug Phillips unjustly excommunicated us for sins that we’d already repented of, as well as sins for which there wasn’t a shred of evidence to support. In fact, one of Doug’s charges against Jen was over a sin that she had committed years before she had even become a Christian, and years after she had repented of that sin! The Lord Jesus forgave her of that sin over seventeen years ago, but apparently Doug Phillips’ standards of forgiveness are far higher than the Lord’s.
This one was hard to swallow. The prose makes it sound as if Mark is making this statement, but if you read Jennifer’s whole account regarding her own marital strife, Mark was the one who struggled most with “forgiving” her:
“Mark continued to grow increasingly angry, threatening divorce almost daily, until one day it seemed as if it would become a reality. Retiring from 20 years in the Army, he had a job offer in another state and decided to leave us for good.”
“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.”
For years his deep resentment resulted in constant anger, threats of divorce, and finally endangerment. However, this letter makes it sound as if Mark is bewildered at how Doug can’t seem to find forgiveness for Jennifer’s 17 year-old act of adultery: “The Lord Jesus forgave her of that sin over seventeen years ago, but apparently Doug Phillips’ standards of forgiveness are far higher than the Lord’s.” Are they kidding?
Folks, this is a private conflict that one party has decided to make public. And, if the principle of forgiveness is supposed to reign here, then why doesn’t Jennifer follow her own standard? If she can criticize her own husband for not forgiving her past sin, and she can criticize Doug for the same, then why can’t she simply release Doug as well and move on with her life?
She doesn’t want to. She wants justice! That’s what her husband sought all those many years. He was sinned against, and there seemed to be no penalty. Jennifer simply let her adultery and illegitimate child be washed away in the blood of Jesus and the adoption agency. Mark would have to forgive as Christ forgave. He struggled with that. There was no justice for him.
Yet, she will have her day of justice against Doug Phillips — even if she has to ruin his life’s work to do it. She claims she has sought reconciliation through proper channels on two different occasions. That’s well and good. In both instances, she says, Doug refused their offers of reconciliation. That’s also well and good. Then she says, “We’re not motivated by vengeance. We’re motivated by a genuine concern for the well being of the Christian home school movement.”
This logic does not follow. How does one go from failure to personally reconcile over a serious ecclesiastical matter to warning the public about a man’s beliefs about patriarchy, the second amendment, and reading an old Southern theologian that endorsed slavery? How does one make such a leap? Her personal conflict with Doug Phillips does not warrant a public defamation of his ministry.
The Epsteins want justice — plain and simple. They claim they’re following the Scriptures in approaching Doug Phillips. Now, Doug has left them with no recourse. They are going to a higher authority, i.e. the public! They should be going to God. It’s not their responsibility to extract this justice by their own hand. They are seeking penalties by defaming the Phillips’ name and hindering the work of Vision Forum. If you read their personal account, you’ll see the motivation is highly personal. Jennifer Epstein states the purpose for her letter to homeschoolers regarding Doug Phillips by writing:
“It’s vital that the most prominent of our home school leadership be men and women of impeccable reputation and strong moral character. We’re* very concerned that one of the most prominent of our home education leaders runs the risk of causing the entire home school movement great damage.”
I would agree. Impeccable reputation and strong moral character are vital. However, does this not assume that she is both an example of such an impeccable reputation and a clear judge of that same quality in others? She herself states that she is a part of the “home school leadership”:
“I’ve* been a Christian home educator for twelve years now and have been president of a local home school group for seven years. I’ve* been active in the home school community for quite some time and have helped to coordinate numerous home school functions and co-ops in the San Antonio, Texas area and have worked at many homeschool conventions.”
*Notice the change from second to first person in this last paragraph. Although the letter is signed by “Mark and Jennifer Epstein,” it’s obviously her letter.
I don’t think a woman suffering years from a crumbling marriage brought on by her own immorality, and facing church discipline, is an example of impeccable reputation and strong moral character. Therefore, she is on very weak ground to be spreading her side of the BCA controversy all over the internet. After all, I found out about this letter on a secular web site that regularly condemns Christian conservatives. These are sites that already war against homeschooling and regularly have men like Doug Phillips in their crosshairs. Mrs. Epstein has made a bold step in making these matters public. She better hope she’s right. The heavenly reciprocity may not be to her liking.
posted by Chris Ortiz at 5:02 PM
There is much that I can say about Chris Ortiz’ own personal interpretation of the events, aided of course by the input of his friend, Doug Phillips. However, instead of offering my own analysis of Chris’ articles, I’d like to open things up for discussion and comment. Readers are also welcome to ask me questions (as Chris himself should have done) about these two Chalcedon articles. Feel free to contact Chris Ortiz directly at firstname.lastname@example.org What I will say at this point is that I simply don’t understand why Chris Ortiz would want to drag The Chalcedon Foundation into this. It wasn’t his fight.
A Personal Note To Chris Ortiz: Chris, your donor relations skills are atrocious. Before you start attacking people and accusing them of “defamation,” etc., it would be smart to first look up their names in your own database just to make sure they’re not Chalcedon donors. Did you know that the Epsteins are Lifetime Members of Chalcedon? You do now. Because Doug Phillips spoke so highly of Chalcedon, we became supporters while we were members of Boerne Christian Assembly. I’m sure you also now understand why we will never again financially support Chalcedon. It’s not because of Doug Phillips. It’s because of you. Chalcedon has you to thank for that, Chris. Chalcedon also has you to thank for losing Cynthia Kunsman as a financial supporter. Chris, how many more donors will you cost Chalcedon?