Doug Phillips Threatens to Sue Us

In Response to Mark’s Request for Arbitration

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

When Hurricane Katrina hit, many of the refugees came to San Antonio and we donated many, many items to help get them back on their feet. When Doug Phillips mentioned on his blog that Vision Forum was collecting clothes for affected homeschool families affiliated with Vision Forum, I decided to help out in this way as well. I was going past Vision Forum that day anyway, so I decided to drop off several bags of clothing. I went to the retail store, where I knew Kathleen worked (the same “friend” I gossiped to about Doug Phillips previously) and greeted her warmly as I arrived. This was the first time I had seen her since the excommunication seven months earlier.

She did not know about the clothing drive, so I directed her to Doug’s blog. She then called Perry, who told me to come around back. I went around back, where Ryan asked me if I needed anything. I mentioned that I was waiting for Perry, who thanked me very kindly when I dropped off the bags of clothing. End of story. Or so I thought.

The next day, September 2, 2005, I received an official letter in the mail from Vision Forum Management (not signed). It said:

Dear Jennifer,

We received a report today that you came to our offices without making an appointment with the director of distribution for Project Katrina, and that you proceeded to act in a rude and harassing way to members of our staff.

Given this action, your formal state of discipline with a local church, and your unrepentant slander and criminal charges widely distributed by you against members of the Vision Forum staff, you are officially barred from the Vision Forum property until all above matters are appropriately addressed to our satisfaction.

I can be certain that Perry did not tell a lie about me, since he has never treated me with anything but kindness. Given Kathleen’s previous distortion of our discussion one year earlier (when I “gossiped” about Doug Phillips not protecting my children and me), I can probably guess where this twisting of the facts came into play here. I asked my son, who was with me, if I was in any way rude or harassing, and he assured me I was not. I hope you, my readers, can see by now, that that is not my style. So, now I am officially barred from Vision Forum property because I wanted to help fellow Christians in need.

Not being ones to repay evil for evil, however, as soon as we were released to pursue reconciliation with Doug Phillips and Boerne Christian Assembly, Mark wrote a brief letter to Doug on March 10, 2006:

Dear Doug,

I pray that God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ continues to bless the work of your hands, as well as you and yours.

I am writing today for a very simple reason – to ask you, on behalf of my family, to articulate the specifics of what you deem necessary to effect reconciliation between us. Upon receipt of your list, I will seek to be humble in response and actions, realizing that reconciliation between us will undoubtedly be a process.

Endeavoring for the name of Christ, I await your response.

In His Love,

PS I thought your piece on Dr. Morris was an excellent tribute to a great man of God.

I was very proud of him for writing such a penitent letter and felt sure we would make progress now. Not hearing anything though, Mark sent him another copy on March 23, and then a reminder again a week later. Still no reply.

Mark then wrote to Bob Welch in April, 2006, asking him to intervene with Doug Phillips. Bob Welch was an elder at Boerne Christian Assembly several years earlier, and we heard through the grapevine that he was present at the excommunication “star chamber,” where all the Boerne Christian Assembly members voted us out. Mark told Bob Welch that while “we do not intend to seek any restoration to BCA as covenanting members, our sole intent is to be obedient to the Scriptures in seeking reconciliation with Doug and the members of BCA, as brothers and sisters in Christ, this side of heaven.”

Shortly thereafter, on May 4, 2006, Mark received a letter signed by Bob Sarratt on behalf of the Boerne Christian “leadership:”

Dear Mark,

On behalf of Boerne Christian Assembly I am responding to your communications to BCA via Doug Phillips. {Notice how Doug Phillips never takes responsibility himself, even though Mark’s letter was addressed specifically to Doug.}

For gross, habitual and unrepentant sin, both you and Jennifer were formally excommunicated from your local church. There was 100% head of household affirmation of the excommunication by the families of the congregation. Since that time the families of BCA have been diligently praying for your repentance.

The issue at hand is not primarily about reconciliation with any man or even with a local church, but reconciliation with God through repentance and submission to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Should you genuinely turn from the sins that have enslaved you, including demonstrating evidence of true conversion through public confession and restitution for wrongs, the people of BCA would joyfully accept your repentance and the leadership would work with you in supervising the restoration process. At present, there is no indication that you acknowledge your sins, let alone have repented from them. Also, your public actions in the community and through your shameful use of the Internet to slander and defame reveal the same pattern of ongoing wickedness for which you and Jennifer were excommunicated. {Mark’s request to Doug Phillips said, “I will seek to be humble in response and actions.” What more proof did they want? This was the most contrite letter I had ever seen from Mark, yet Doug Phillips (who we think really wrote this letter) insists that there is no indication of acknowledgement of sins or repentance from Mark.}

Reconciliation with God and the earthly removal of your status as a heathen and a publican requires evidence of conversion. It is not a matter of negotiations or bargains, but of heartfelt biblical repentance. Please consult with the documents we gave you in January of 2005 for more information on any of these details.

Bob Sarratt for the BCA Leadership

There were no specifics given for how that repentance was to be demonstrated, so Mark again wrote Doug Phillips a lengthy letter on May 22, 2006. First, he confessed his sins:

My habitual sins included my failure to love my wife, my family, and myself as God commands, as well as failing to lead my family – my gifts from God. Not only have I confessed these sins before God and man, I daily seek God’s grace to remain in a state of repentance by completely turning from sins of anger and selfishness that found their outworking in my failure to love and lead my family.

Mark also stated why we did not want to return to Boerne Christian Assembly:

I do not intend to place myself or any of my family members under the authority of a church whose leader is unaccountable, who has engaged in a demonstrable pattern of abusive behavior toward those who legitimately question some of his specific actions, or who continues to use men too weak to hold him accountable to the duties and responsibilities of biblical eldership. As you are fully aware, Bob Sarratt publicly confessed in the June 2004 men’s meeting to not acting within the parameters of a quasi-elder and, therefore, not holding you accountable as the realistically sole elder of BCA. … I would be less than a God-ordained leader to my loved ones by placing them under your so-called leadership for any “restoration process.”

Mark then offered Doug Phillips mediation:

I am willing to seek resolution of our differences through a mutually agreeable arbitrator from outside the community. Moreover, I am willing to make any public apology for any sin not yet confessed that this mutually agreeable arbitrator would recommend.

Mark explained how unbiblical this excommunication was and how it was without due process, summarizing it thus:

You cannot invoke biblical passages providing you protection as an elder when you conduct yourself outside the God-ordained behavior that constitutes the parameters within which an elder must conduct his office. As an attorney, you know this.

Mark asked Doug for a response:

I suggest a personal response from you by June 6, 2006, regarding a willingness to engage in arbitration. If I do not hear from you by then, I will assume that you desire I take this issue elsewhere. Doug, I will beseech you once more in all humility – as I beseeched you regarding the unmerited and vicious public reading of Jennifer’s pre-conversion behavior – to arbitrate this dispute.

I think Doug Phillips misunderstood this next section:

Doug, you know it only takes the touch of a button to find yourself in a similarly embarrassing situation as RC Sproul, Jr. Ask your IT folks how easy it is to reduce the BCA writings and subsequent USPS and electronic correspondence between us to Adobe files, and then ask yourself if you want Jennifer’s letter of May 2005 seen side-by-side with your response, the tone of which embodies an almost palpable hatred. {At this time, we had no intentions of going public with our story, but were seriously considering telling our story to some other pastors and/or speakers who had a relationship with Doug Phillips, in the hopes that they could help us. Thus, the touch of a button to send the emails.}

He ended:

Lastly, please know that, despite our serious differences, I love you and my brothers and sisters at BCA. Yet, God did not make this image bearer a “yes” man to any man but, rather, a man who seeks to love God, love the wife he received as a gift and the children He chose to bless us with, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and the sinners He places in my path. As Martin Luther supposedly said, “Here I stand; I can do no other; God help me! Amen!

In the meantime, Mark and I weren’t the only ones being shunned, though. The shunning extended to our children, as well. Natasha, 17 at the time, suddenly had every friend ripped away from her. Some spoke to her once or twice at a public occasion, but for a social butterfly who was already struggling with her father’s anger, this was devastating. She soon left home. Joshua, a shy boy, lost all his friends as well. And Alicia, now 11, who is severely disabled, but loves to hug and greet everyone she sees, was even shunned. With the mind of a two-year-old, she didn’t understand why people who used to come over to her house every week now refused to hug her and turned their backs on her. The shunning was particularly difficult for all the children, but Mark and I took the opportunity to teach them forgiveness toward those who hurt them and to always take the high road. I taught them to greet those who turned their backs on them, to be kind to those who were mean, to love them unconditionally. We still pray every night for a spirit of forgiveness toward those who shun us and that we would love them as we should.

We never heard again from Doug Phillips, but on June 13, 2006, Mark received a letter from Don Hart, general counsel for Vision Forum:

Dear Mr. Epstein,

This letter is to advise you that I represent Doug and Beall Phillips. It is my view that under Texas and Federal law, your statements about the Phillips and your widely distributed letters of February 2005 and May 22, 2006 constitute actionable slander and libel. Were you convicted in a court of law for libel and slander, damages could be substantial.

{So, in response to Mark’s request for arbitration (Peacemakers, etc.), Doug Phillips “hires” an attorney to threaten us with legal action instead. Not only does he threaten us with a lawsuit, but he already talks about our conviction in the opening paragraph! And lest he forget to cover all the bases, he throws in a potential judgment as well. All this is in response to a request for mediation. Never mind the fact that as general counsel for Vision Forum, this constitutes a conflict of interest legally to represent Doug and Beall Phillips personally as well.}

Your recent letter of May 22, however, goes beyond defamation. You have formally attempted to blackmail my clients. Specifically, I refer to your threat of a public internet attack and your statement that Mr. Phillips will find himself in a “similarly embarrassing situation as RC Sproul, Jr.” unless he agrees to your demands. Like slander and libel, blackmail is unlawful and actionable.

{Blackmail? The legal definition of blackmail is the crime of threatening to reveal embarrassing, disgraceful or damaging facts (or rumors) about a person to the public, family, spouse or associates unless paid off to not carry out the threat, but that obviously isn’t the case here. Maybe he is talking about emotional blackmail, which is the stirring up of uncomfortable feelings in somebody, especially sympathy or guilt, in order to persuade that person to do something; but a request for arbitration could not be considered in that category, nor is this illegal. We know that Doug Phillips almost never responds to people unless he is given a deadline. He will put it off and put it off, as you’ve seen time and again just in our own story. This is what Mark said: “I suggest a personal response from you by June 6, 2006, regarding a willingness to engage in arbitration. If I do not hear from you by then, I will assume that you desire I take this issue elsewhere.” Mark then described the power of the internet, the power of email. He did not at any time say that he would do something to attack Doug Phillips if Doug did not meet his “demands.” This was not blackmail or a threat; this was merely an option that Mark reserved if Doug Phillips refused arbitration, which he did. He merely beseeched him to go to arbitration, asked him to respond by June 6, and told Doug Phillips that he would have to assume Doug refused arbitration if he didn’t hear from him. We know Doug Phillips well enough to know that if Mark did not put that clause in, Doug would have drug this out as long as possible, and we would be left dangling still.}

Since you are an excommunicated man under continuing church discipline, … it is not biblically permissible for Mr. Phillips to engage in the private arbitration you demand. Nor will Mr. Phillips be intimidated by your sinful and illegal attempt at blackmail.

{Since there was no ecclesiastical court for either the initial excommunication or for appeal, we offered what we thought was a reasonable alternative under the circumstances – arbitration. Again, there is no blackmail on Mark’s part.}

At this point, I am advising my client to consider practical and legal options.

It is the purpose of this letter to inform you that, should it become necessary to present a public or legal response to your slander, libel and blackmail, it will become necessary for Mr. Phillips and others to squarely and publicly address issues concerning your integrity and character. {This sure sounds like a threat to me.}

  1. The accusations by your wife and daughter to numerous witnesses that you are mentally unstable and in need of psychiatric treatment. {First he lies about who said this. Again, Bob Sarratt was the one who suggested that Mark was bi-polar. Then he lumps Natasha in there as saying this as well. Then he says there are numerous witnesses that can testify that I said this. If they do, they will be lying. And now he exaggerates the whole situation into “needing psychiatric treatment.” That is quite a leap from Bob Sarratt first asking if I thought Mark was bi-polar.}
  2. The accusations by your wife and daughter to numerous witnesses that you attempted to commit murder against your wife and children, and pose an ongoing threat to the lives and safety of your family due to uncontrollable rage and physical demonstrations of lack of self-control. {Doug Phillips did not take us seriously when Natasha and I brought these charges to his attention, but he will conveniently use them to discredit Mark if it comes down to going to court? He forgets that I made a written memorandum stating that I had come to him and the deacons asking for his help in this situation and he refused to protect a woman and her children then. Now he wants to turn around and “blackmail” Mark with threats of telling the world about what he did.}
  3. The decade long battle between you and your wife relating to her adultery which resulted in the conception of a child, and her refusal to remove the bed in which the adultery occurred from the home. This battle continued throughout the time leading to your excommunication and was a continual issue in our counseling of your family. Multiple parties can and will testify if necessary to these ongoing adultery-related sins between you and your wife. {This sounds like more threats, more exaggerations, and certainly a breaking of pastoral counseling confidences in telling this highly inaccurate story to his lawyer and threatening to tell it to the world, which as we see, he already did.}

It is a violation of both the civil law and the law of God to seek to coerce a man to set aside a biblical, lawful act of church discipline by threatening to defame him. Your libel and slander, which has been both private and public, has done much harm to the families of BCA and my clients. Despite this fact, Mr. Phillips and the leadership of BCA has chosen to suffer your harm and to continue to limit their conversation about your excommunication to a “need to know basis” instead of making widespread dissemination of those facts which prove your lack of credibility and the validity of your excommunication. This charitable treatment of two excommunicated individuals will not continue if you proceed on the course you have described. In any trial, the credibility of the witnesses is of paramount importance. For the good of your family I strongly urge you to reconsider your position.

{Don Hart needs to understand that the excommunication was both unbiblical and unlawful, so Mark was not violating either civil laws or the law of God. He did not seek to coerce Doug Phillips to set the excommunication aside; he merely asked to go to arbitration. Mark did not threaten to defame him, but merely stated the facts of what he would do if Doug Phillips refused arbitration. And now he is ending by threatening us with the possibility of a lawsuit again (in any trial).}

Don Hart, Esq.

The overall tone of Mark’s letter was pleading with Doug to do anything to move forward on this, but Doug Phillips’ reply was to hire an attorney and threaten Mark with legal action instead, refusing his offer of arbitration.

But we are not put off by these threats and continue in our pursuit for reconciliation.