Negative comments appeared here recently regarding Doug Phillips’ “spiritual father” Pastor Robert Gifford. In response we received word from Pastor Gifford, via one of his daughters and one of his church members, that Pastor Gifford is in no way pleased to be portrayed by Doug Phillips as his spiritual father, and that he is in no way responsible for teaching Doug Phillips Dominionism, Patriarchy, Family Integrated Church, home school elitism, etc. According to these commenters Pastor Gifford has for years been openly confronting Doug Phillips for his unbiblical and extra-biblical positions.
I was subsequently asked to interview Pastor Gifford for this article. Interspersed in this article are direct quotes from my interview with Pastor Robert Gifford, including this statement which explains his motivation for giving me the interview:
“I grieve over the way Doug Phillips has misrepresented me. But that doesn’t bother me the most. God will vindicate me. What bothers me the most is how Doug has defamed the testimony of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It breaks my heart the way he’s discredited and maligned the Word of God. He twisted the Word of God for his own advantage. I also grieve that so many people have been harmed by Doug’s teachings that I think it’s necessary for me to speak out. Doug has a dual personality. He’s been leading a secret life. It’s like the movie Catch Me If You Can.”
Doug Phillips has often made mention of Pastor Robert Gifford, crediting him as his “spiritual father and mentor.” He has done so numerous times from the podium at various venues, as well as in print:
“When I was a young man, my spiritual father, mentor, and pastor gave me a copy of John Gill. He told me it was the most trustworthy and foundational commentary in print. He explained to me that my hero Charles Spurgeon had feasted on John Gill’s writings when he was a young man. Nearly twenty-five years later, I want to once again publicly thank Pastor Robert Gifford for introducing me to the great John Gill who has remained my constant companion in my life.” 2007 Vision Forum Catalog, pg. 38
“It was during those days that two men helped transform my boyhood dreams into the vision of a man. One was my father, and the other was my pastor, Robert Gifford. Both men gave me many books which fueled my interest in the story of Creation and even the quest for dinosaurs. They practiced discipleship and communicated a Creationist message of dominion.” 2003 Vision Forum Catalog, pg. 2
Robert Gifford taught Doug and Brad Phillips, both as their church pastor, and beginning in their 8th and 7th grades, respectively, when they were students at Fairfax Christian School in Vienna, Virginia. FCS is a prestigious school that has attracted many Washington politicians, local celebrities and famous athletes who have sent their children there for a Christian education. Five FCS parents have run for President of the United States, including Howard Phillips.
When Doug and Brad first began attending FCS, “They were deep into Roman Catholicism. Doug also believed in theistic evolution.” Through the influence of Robert Gifford they turned from Roman Catholic evolutionists to make professions of faith in Christ and becoming creationists.
“As a young man, Doug was also discipled by Robert Gifford, a great preacher of the Word and pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, who communicated to Doug a passion for Christian apologetics and the sovereignty of God.” Vision Forum Ministries, About the President
I asked Pastor Gifford, “Why do you think that Doug has so often claimed you as having been such a significant influence in his life, right along side his natural father, crediting you as his spiritual father and mentor?”
“I think that I most definitely influenced him in regard to the fundamentals of the faith. I taught him biblical doctrine. I taught him in school and at church. But I also taught him one on one, in my home. I taught him the doctrines of grace. I taught him soteriology. I taught him creationism. So I taught him the fundamentals in his early age, I was influential in that. Secondly, my family had a big influence on him. He was over at my house a lot. He saw the way my family operated and he liked that. I have seven kids and my family had a big impact on him. I think Doug is sincere about my influence, but I also think he’s being dishonest about some of it too. I think part of why he uses my name is to establish credibility within the evangelical world. Look at me. I’m under a spiritual father. I think it’s also his way of trying to cover up, camouflage, some of the aberrant doctrines that he has.”
Doctrinally, Pastor Gifford is and always has been an evangelical Baptist. He is Dispensational and Premillennial. This demonstrates how highly the Phillips family has always respected him because doctrinally Howard Phillips, after converting from Judaism, became a Reformed Covenantalist, Postmillennial, Reconstructionist, Theonomist and Dominionist, and his sons Doug and Brad later followed after their father in doctrine. Though Doug and Pastor Gifford are at opposite ends of the theological spectrum, in all these years Doug Phillips has always spoken with great fondness of Pastor Robert Gifford.
The Phillips family became members of Pastor Gifford’s church, Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Woodbridge, VA (not affiliated with Sovereign Grace Ministries). Pastor Gifford was a significant influence in teaching the Phillips family the doctrines of grace, both from the pulpit, and in the Christian school.
Doug Phillips would go on to graduate high school at FCS and then attend the College of William and Mary. It was while Doug was at William and Mary that Pastor Gifford started noticing troubling changes in Doug, and Pastor Gifford often addressed his concerns with Doug.
Doug then attended George Mason School of Law. While in law school he married Elizabeth Beall Dewey. Pastor Gifford performed the wedding ceremony.
Perhaps one of the reasons Doug Phillips has admired Pastor Gifford is because he has been so direct with Doug. According to Pastor Gifford he warned Doug Phillips many times about problems that he saw developing in Doug’s life, both in the doctrines he began to embrace as a young man, as well as his immense pride.
If anyone deserves credit for indoctrinating Doug Phillips in Patriarchy, home school-only elitism, and family integrated church it would be John Thompson. Among other things Thompson is the founding director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches. While Doug Phillips was a staff attorney at Home School Legal Defense Association, he invited Pastor Gifford to his home to introduce him to John Thompson:
“I was supposedly Doug’s spiritual father, but he invited this man, John Thompson, to come and instruct me about marriage and family. Doug knew I’d been teaching what the Word has to say about marriage and family for years. I had over a hundred messages I’d given on marriage and family. Doug orchestrated this whole evening so that Thompson could indoctrinate me in Patriarchy. We sat around the table while everyone listened to this man lecture me. After he got done Doug had us all move into the living room where the men all sat down on the couches. My wife sat next to me; but I noticed all the other women stood behind their husbands, including Beall. It was very strange. They just stood there the whole time behind their husbands. I thought we were going to have a nice conversation. But it wasn’t a conversation, and it was very uncomfortable. This guy Thompson took over and started asking me questions. The last thing he asked me was, ‘If you were in a grocery store and your children started to act rebellious, how would you respond?’ So I said, ‘I don’t go shopping. My wife shops. Honey, what would you do?’ So my wife starts to answer and this Thompson guy cuts her off and says, ‘Excuse me! I’m speaking to the men!’ At this point I really had to hold myself back. Doug just sat there the whole time and said nothing. It was obvious that Doug set this whole thing up. At this point we got up and left.”
“When Doug left Virginia to move to San Antonio to start Vision Forum, I warned him to stay away from John Thompson and Patriarchy. I told him ‘It’s a tyrannical way to lead the family. It’s not biblical’.”
“I think men like Doug get into Patriarchy because they’re weak insecure men. So they gather a bunch of other men around them to figure out how to make their wives do what they want. They don’t know how to lead their wives. All they know how to do is force them. A man is supposed to lead his wife lovingly, sacrificially. unreservedly. It’s clear from Ephesians 5. The Bible calls the wife a ‘helpmeet’. What that means is that she’s a counselor. She’s supposed to give counsel to her husband, and the husband is supposed to listen to her. I’ve taught this for years. We men have blind spots. We need godly women to give us counsel. She’s a counterbalance to us.”
On Family Integrated Church:
“Doug was going around behind my back in my church telling people that Sunday school was evil. I confronted him about it and he lied and said he hadn’t. But I confronted him with the fact that ten families had come to me and told me he’d told them that Sunday school was sin. He told me, ‘I never said that. You’re misrepresenting me’. Doug was very divisive of the church. Several families left because of him, but I was able to prevent a church split. But that’s only because I put a stop to what he was trying to do behind my back. I kept catching him doing dishonest things like that where I’d confront him for something and he’d lie about it. It happened four times in a row.”
On Women Working Outside the Home:
“It’s not a sin for a woman to work outside the home. In fact there are times where it may be necessary for a woman to work outside the home to show her love for her husband and to complement him. This idea that a woman has to remain within the four walls of the home is nowhere found in Scripture.”
On Dominionism and Quiverfull:
“Doug has misrepresented me in the worst sense. He’s made me out to be a Dominionist. He’s put it in print. He’s said it many times. It’s libel. Dominionism is completely contrary to everything I taught. I think that much of Doug’s views of Dominionism came from the Shepherding movement. There’s a lot of similarities. He also teaches the same thing the Muslims teach which is you take over the world by having lots of babies. You establish an army through your children. It’s important to understand this. If you look at Doug through all his advertisements, the Vision Forum, he’s got his kids on the covers dressed in armor. This is what they’re doing. They’re forming armies through their families. I’m just the absolute opposite of all that.”
On Home Schooling Elitism:
“Doug and his brother Brad came to my home and told me, ‘Pastor Gifford, we believe that the qualifications for membership in the church are wrong. We believe that only home schoolers should be members of the church’. I told them, ‘Do you realize what kind of elitist attitude you have? Do you realize what you’re doing? This is totally anti-biblical. This is the problem that the early Jewish converts had when they thought only they could be members of the church and the Gentiles had to be excluded. What you have is an elitist mentality, and it’s going to turn into a cult if you’re not careful’. It was over that issue that Doug left my church and moved to Texas to start Vision Forum and his own church.”
On Moving to San Antonio To Start Vision Forum:
” ‘Doug, you’ve got a lot of natural talents and pride. Prideful men who rely on natural talents don’t depend like they should on the Holy Spirit. If you get prideful you also won’t rely on God’s Word to lead you. Pride goes before a fall, and that’s what concerns me. You’ve got to be very careful that you don’t do this in the flesh. You need to learn wisdom from above rather than the wisdom that comes from the world. You need to rely on the Holy Spirit to lead you. I’m concerned that in your pride you’ll just rely on your charisma and natural abilities’.”
” ‘Doug, don’t mix business with church. It always ends up that the business controls the church’.”
“I saw Doug’s abilities and charisma all along, and I always saw those more as a danger than a help. I told my wife that Doug was going to depend on his performance, and his charisma and his persona, more than on the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit.”
On Doug Phillips After He Started Vision Forum:
“Doug sent me some of his Vision Forum materials. I listened to them and was really disappointed. I called him and said, ‘Doug, where in any of this are you speaking of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ? All my teaching on the family always points people to Jesus Christ. You’re just teaching moralism. If we don’t lead our children to Jesus we fail. Moralism isn’t enough Doug. You’re de-emphasizing the gospel of salvation. You’re preaching moralism and Dominionism, not Jesus Christ’.”
“I’m not a Dominionist but even I can see that Doug’s militant form of Dominionism is extreme. I also confronted him about his Patriarchy. I pointed out to him that even the Dominionists weren’t teaching the kind of extreme Patriarchy that he does.”
Warning To Doug Phillips At Howard Phillips’ Funeral (May 2013):
“Doug, I’m really concerned for you. You’ve gotten far away from the Word of God by creating this Dominionist/Patriarchy/Family Integrated Church/Home School thing. You need to get back to the gospel of Jesus and stop being a moralist or everything you’ve done is going to fall. Point people to Jesus or your ministry will collapse.”
Pastor Gifford On Doug Phillips’ Infidelity
“All the these issues cause me great heartache, but nothing is so dreadful to me as Doug’s infidelity. In his pride Doug came to believe that he could live like a king with no accountability to anyone, even to God. The result is always immorality. Doug was taught in word and deed to live a pure and holy life that honored our triune God and His Word. He’s “turned from the holy commandment delivered unto him” (1 Thes 4:1-8) to a system of belief and practice that justifies immorality. May the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ quicken Doug and bring him to a place of true repentance and faith.”
Robert Gifford is an elderly man who, of his own admission, isn’t computer literate. Pastor Gifford has reviewed and approved this article for posting. He’s informed me that he likely won’t be monitoring comments to this article or responding to questions here. However, his daughter Grace, has informed me that she likely will.