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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