Several years ago I read a very disturbing book. It was so disturbing that I could not read more than a few pages at a time, and I had trouble sleeping every night I read it. The book was an examination of a very popular teacher, and it reported that not only were his teachings far from biblical but that he practiced things that I could not believe that any Christian could do. Even worse, most of my friends and acquaintances hung on every word the man said. That man was Bill Gothard and the book was “A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life” by Don and Joy Veinot and Ron Henzel.
Greatly distressed and wondering what to do to help my friends, I decided to turn for counsel to Doug Phillips, the pastor of my church Boerne Christian Assembly. I told Doug that I had read the book, that I was very concerned that so many members of BCA were caught up in Gothardism, and that I wondered what he thought should be done. I was greatly taken aback by Doug’s answer, as he said that although he didn’t agree with the way Bill Gothard got there, he did agree with Bill’s conclusions, and that was all that mattered. He also told me to just leave the matter alone and not discuss it further with other people. I was puzzled by Doug’s response, since he often taught that the ends never justify the means. I found out a little while later that he was already scheduled to speak and sell Vision Forum products at Gothard’s annual conference that year.
Fortunately, I didn’t let Doug’s response keep me from using my brain to find out that the authors of this book were also part of an apologetics ministry, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc., which provided teaching and training to pastors and laymen. At the time, I didn’t see how their work could have anything to do with me, apart from their exposure to Gothardism, which Doug had already forbidden me to speak of, so I filed them away mentally for future reference.
After I went public last December with my story of the years of ecclesiastical abuse my family suffered at the hands of Doug Phillips, I recalled the ministry of of Midwest Christian Outreach. I decided to contact them to see if they knew anything about Doug Phillips and Vision Forum. As it turned out, they had already received numerous inquiries about Doug Phillips and/or Vision Forum and were considering whether to conduct an investigation of them.
After that contact, I generally put MCOI out of my mind. When I didn’t hear anything else for a while, I thought perhaps they weren’t really interested in investigating Doug Phillips or Vision Forum. So when I found out a few months later that they were almost ready to publish a whole article about Vision Forum, I was very surprised. I was particularly curious to find out if they had uncovered and were reporting on another story of ecclesiastical tyranny similar to mine.
I received the article “Who Will Be First in the Kingdom” shortly before the Arlington homeschool conference. I was quite surprised to see that it was about Patriarchy. At that time, I was still in love with Patriarchy and had no intentions of giving it up. When I read the “Top 10 Biblical Ways to Acquire a Wife” in their article, I thought it was funny, but it really rubbed me the wrong way. How dare they make jokes about what I considered to be a sound biblical principle! In fact, the more I read the article, the more sick to my stomach I became. I realized Don Veinot wasn’t talking about any of the issues I had with Doug Phillips and Vision Forum at all. He was talking about areas that were near and dear to my own heart! However, I was not going to complain at all; I was just grateful that someone else was speaking up about Vision Forum.
The timing of publishing this article happened to be the same as when I was already planning on going to the Arlington Homeschool Book Conference to try to meet with Doug. I thought that passing out copies of Don Veinot’s article on Saturday of the conference would be a good back-up plan if Doug refused to meet me on Friday. With that possibility in the back of my mind, I asked Don Veinot if I could hand out copies of his article at the conference. He agreed. As it turned out, Doug did refuse to meet with me, so I did follow my back-up plan. Doug was not happy about that or about the contents of Don Veinot’s article, and you can read about what happened at the conference here.
It turned out that there were others who also didn’t like Don Veinot’s article. Brian Abshire took great offense at Don’s analysis of an article by Dr. Abshire posted on the Vision Forum website. Dr. Abshire and Don have exchanged several letters on the subject, and caused a lively debate. Perhaps because they hoped Dr. Abshire could deal with Don for them, Vision Forum did not contact Don Veinot directly until nearly three months after the article came out and long after he originally contacted them. At that time, Don was sent a 15-page letter describing what Vision Forum had against him and his ministry. Vision Forum subsequently sent a follow-up letter as well.
A few weeks later, Don decided to send us a copy of this correspondence from Vision Forum because so much of what Vision Forum wrote to Don Veinot consisted of personal attacks against Mark and me, and Don thought we deserved to see them in case we wished to respond. I appreciate this old-fashioned courtesy very much, because the general lack of it is one reason Doug Phillips’ continual whisperings often travel so far without challenge.
When we received our copies of Vision Forum’s correspondence with Don, we immediately saw that it was very typical of the way they deal with critics. First, as usual, the letters are not signed by Doug. He gets someone else to do the dirty work. In the past, it has been a BCA deacon signing an attack on behalf of the non-existent “Session” of BCA, or Doug’s lawyer threatening legal action, or another prominent patriarchal figure such as Kevin Swanson or Dr. Abshire weighing in for Doug. This time, it was Doug’s long-time assistant, Wesley Strackbein.
Something else about the letters to Don that are typical of Doug’s MO is that, while they invoke the name of Christ, they are highly accusatory of the personal character of those they attack. They also employ guilt-by association tactics such as trying to taint what Don says by claiming he is associated with others (Mark and me) that they have already smeared.
Another characteristic of Doug’s MO that you can see clearly in the letters is an effort to avoid facing the main issues by changing the subject. Don’s article was entirely a critique of Vision Forum’s theology of patriarchy. If you don’t believe me, go back and read it for yourself. You will see that it relies for its sources entirely on publicly available information on Vision Forum’s own website. You will also see that it says nothing about me or about Vision Forum’s or Doug Phillips’ treatment of me. In fact, Don did not consult with Mark or me about any aspect of his article before it was published. That being so, isn’t it curious that most of Vision Forum’s 15-page letter was devoted to attacking Mark and me?
I think the reason for Vision Forum’s misplaced attacks is that this is their best (only?) ammo. They have no credible answers to Don’s theological critique. So they have to change the subject. The fact that I handed out copies of Don’s article was just the fig leaf of an excuse they needed to change the subject to what has lately been their favorite rhetorical whipping boy, the Epsteins. When I see this kind of thing I keep asking myself: Do they really think their followers are so stupid that they won’t see through the tricks?
I’m still not sure of the answer to that question. So I’ll write about things I do know. The main purpose of Vision Forum’s letter was to address two issues, what they called “Misrepresentations and Alliance with Renegades.” Since the supposed “misrepresentations” have some connection to Don’s theological critique, I’ll leave them to him to address publicly if he wants to. I’ll address Vision Forum’s effort to avoid the theological debate by claiming Don has allied himself with renegades. I won’t be able to address all of Vision Forum’s numerous errors and outright libels, but I will address a few of the main ones below, enough for you to get the point.
Vision Forum’s renegade rhetoric begins from the very start of the letter. So before you read further, make sure you’re sitting down and, if necessary, buckled in. You’re in for a wild ride. After identifying himself and thanking Don for taking the time to read the letter, Doug’s mouthpiece, Wesley Strackbein, immediately accuses Don of “join[ing] hands with a lawless couple who have become notorious for their prolonged campaign of gossip, lies, cruelties and deceptions…” For stating that the purpose of the letter was to make peace, Wesley was off to a great start!
A few paragraphs further, he affects to soften the blow a bit by saying that “we also realize that unscrupulous individuals may have taken advantage of your good intentions or even sought to curry favor with you by manipulating you into believing that their cause is your cause.” Telling someone that they’ve been duped will probably not win them over either.
After stating that they are willing to disagree on many theological and practical issues, Vision Forum says that “we do not believe that this spirit of equanimity is possible if Christians resort to libel and internet assassinations…” I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. The definition of “libel” is to publish in print an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his reputation. The key word in this definition is an untruth. If I have said anything untrue, why hasn’t Doug Phillips posted anything to the contrary? Not only has he not published any documentation disproving anything I have said, he has also not stated any place specifically where I have lied. That is because I have told the truth. Therefore, there is no libel. This line was directed to Don Veinot, but it carried clear implications for every other Doug Phillips critic as well.
The bulk of the letter addressed the issue of the alleged alliances with renegades, which Vision Forum summarizes as follows:
You Have Publicly Aligned Yourself with and Drawn Support from Individuals Who Have Been Excommunicated for Ongoing Unrepentant Sins and Who Have Demonstrated a Pattern of Continued Sinful and Lawless Activities Since their Excommunication, as Affirmed by Several Jurisdictional Entities
and was followed by: “Your active association with individuals whose pattern of egregious, sinful behavior is far-reaching, well-documented, and confirmed by the testimony of several distinct church bodies as well as a presiding Justice of a State Supreme Court.” I am trying very hard to figure out who these several jurisdictional entities are who have affirmed our excommunication. Jurisdictional must mean that they have jurisdiction over us. We have attended two churches since our excommunication for any length of time. We did not join either of these two churches. Does that mean that they still have jurisdiction over us? If so, is two the same as several? If so, how did they “affirm” our excommunication? Did they acknowledge that we were excommunicated? Yes. But we also acknowledge that. No one denies that fact. Did they review the evidence for themselves? One church did and Little Bear Wheeler then spent the next 14 months trying to get Doug to repent from excommunicating us. Faith Presbyterian did not ever review any of the evidence. Did they send us back to BCA? Faith Presbyterian did, and when we asked them what we were supposed to repent from, they had no answer for us. I really see no evidence for this claim that several jurisdictional entities have affirmed our excommunication. This fallacy is a faulty appeal to authority and designed simply to overawe Don with their impressive list of authorities.
As for a Justice of a State Supreme Court confirming anything about me, let alone my sinful behavior, well, Doug is really confused about his jurisdictions here, because although he has threatened to sue my husband and me, he hasn’t yet, so the jurisdiction of the state hasn’t been involved to confirm anything.
“While such ignorance, if founded, is inexcusable on your part, it could explain how you were led astray to conspire with these renegades…” And now Wesley lists only a “partial summary” concerning the “misbehavior of this embittered couple.” I will just deal with the items that address me, for the sake of brevity here.
Been excommunicated and adjudged to be treated as “heathen and publican” with the unanimous affirmation of a confessional church for ongoing (sometimes public, but always) serious sins, including habitual lying, revilings, and cruelty on the part of both husband and wife directly related to Mrs. Epstein’s past adultery with a Muslim which produced a child out of wedlock.
This is what I was excommunicated for? I was excommunicated for sins I committed before I was a Christian, now 17 years ago, and for which I fully repented a year later? I later put that repentance into writing and Doug Phillips agreed that I had fully repented. And now Vision Forum is stating that my excommunication and all my sins are directly related to my pre-conversion past. I’m pleased to see that Vision Forum has finally admitted in writing what I have said from the beginning. I am also pleased that, although Doug Phillips and Vision Forum do not appear to understand grace and the forgiveness of sins, the Lord did not need their mediation to give it to me.
Been reproved and admonished by multiple ministries, churches, and ministers for their unrepentant sins, spirit of vengeance, deceptions, etc.
The footnote states that these multiple churches are BCA, Faith PCA, and Living Waters Fellowship. I’m not sure who the ministries are, but I assume the ministers are the elders of these respective churches. I understand BCA’s stance on this very well. Faith PCA told us to reconcile with BCA first. When we asked what we should repent from, they had no answer. LWF took our side for a long time. We prefer not to speculate on why they had a sudden change of heart. Even so, when we asked them what “inaccuracies and misinformation” they were referring to, they had also had no answer. I do not believe I have done any of this in a spirit of vengeance. If I had wanted revenge, I could have gone public much earlier than the almost two years we waited, trying to reconcile. I spent much time praying about it and I still do, as I want to make sure my heart is right in all that I do here. I have been very careful with my words as well. If I had a spirit of vengeance, I would think it would be quite noticeable after all I’ve written here. As for the deceptions, I stand willing to be corrected on anything I’ve written on this website and elsewhere. However, in this charge, like the vast majority of such charges, Vision Forum has declined to offer any examples that can be tested or confirmed. Why? Because no such examples exist.
Been formally banned as a vendor from participation in conferences with FEAST, a regional home school organization, because of “unethical practices” including “deception” toward this group in the years 2005-2006.
It is true that Ruth Perez of FEAST issued a letter critical of me. She did not contact me first, however. And, as soon as I learned of the statement, I immediately wrote her a Matthew 18 letter, asking for more information about my alleged sins. She never responded. I don’t know if her long-standing association with Doug is the reason she has followed his example in making broad charges while refusing to back them up with specifics, but that is what has happened here as it did with Doug.
Of course, even if all of these charges against me were true, they would still do nothing to undermine or taint Don Veinot’s powerful theological critique of Vision Forum, which was the only point of the article in the first place.
Worked with “Christian” White Separatists to advance their agenda of gossip and lies against men and ministries.
The footnote here includes a link to a site set up to attack me by long-time Doug Phillips buddy, Matt Chancey. They may call him an “independent investigator,” but it isn’t so. The fact that Vision Forum was willing to lie about Doug’s relationship with Matt in a desperate effort to give the site some legitimacy is enough to know that it’s nothing more than a political damage control effort by this professional political consultant and long-time Phillips pal. It’s called “playing the race card.”
Been upbraided by a State Supreme Court Justice [for] activity which the Justice characterized as “vile schemes.”
Huh? I’ve never met a State Supreme Court Justice, nor have I ever had any dealings with one. Another misplaced appeal to the wrong authority.
Been exposed for their efforts in a conspiracy to destroy the good name of Christian leaders that has involved using the cover of proxy servers, writing under numerous anonymous and pseudonymous names, launching websites which perpetrated frauds, and even conspiring to spy on the homes of pastors like RC Sproul, Sr. and to interview neighbors under false pretenses for the purpose of gathering damaging information to be used in public smear campaigns.
Absolutely not. I have never been involved in a conspiracy to destroy the good name of any Christian leaders. I was a long-time donor to Ligonier Ministries. I felt a moral responsibility to investigate reports that the money I donated was being squandered. I found that to be true, and I posted several blog articles on that subject under my name. I make no apologies for that. In fact, I still pray for R.C. Sproul, Sr., although I no longer donate to his ministry.
Publicly (through the Internet and written correspondences they have widely distributed) called no less than two hundred men and women to repentance before their personal tribunal of justice. To accomplish these ends, they have trafficked in unrelenting gossip, have deliberately posted pictures of the Sproul family designed to humiliate them and have become a clearinghouse for gossip for anonymous internet assassins with an axe to grind. They have not only demanded the repentance of RC Sproul, Sr. and Doug Phillips, but of entire congregations, of multiple ministers of the Gospel, and of no fewer than ten members from their former local church whom they have charged with wrongs against them; and have called no less than three Christian ministries to repentance.
I have publicly called for the repentance of public figures who have sinned against me and refused all private efforts (including independent mediation) to resolve the matter. I’m sorry that this is a sensitive subject for Doug, but I think that’s probably because he has a guilty conscience. At least I hope so.
Been complicit in emailing numerous vindictive and false charges about Doug Phillips to home school leaders, government officials, and friends and business associates of Vision Forum as part of a coordinated campaign to besmirch Doug Phillips’ name and unlawfully interfere with business and ministry interests of which he is a part.
Mark and I wrote a carefully constructed letter that we emailed to homeschool leaders. Everything in it was well documented. Doug Phillips is welcome to provide his own evidence to try and counter any of my claims at any time. He has not done so, because there is no such evidence. So all he has left is this kind of strong rhetoric.
Mass-disseminated numerous outrageous and calumnious articles, including one which accused godly missionaries of complicity in the murder of Christians.
I have to give Wesley credit for variety in his choice of words to attack me, even though he does so in a letter supposedly about an article that I had nothing to do with. I don’t think I have ever before seen “calumnious” used in a sentence. I’m even a little embarrassed to confess that I had to look it up. Seriously, though, the footnotes to this charge keep referring to “Jennifer and other Ministry Watchman co-conspirators.” Clearly, Vision Forum is trying to turn all of its critics into conspirators and blame each act of “conspiracy” on every “conspirator.” I don’t know which logical fallacy that is, but I know it is one, or maybe two or three together.
Have posted offensive and inappropriate photo-shopped images of Doug and Beall Phillips on the Internet as part of their smear campaign.
I’m sorry that Wesley’s legalism has stifled his sense of humor. That’s not good for his health. I really don’t think this picture is that bad:
Have relentlessly ridiculed, mocked, and borne false witness against the women of Boerne Christian Assembly, both individually and collectively.
To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t said anything untrue about BCA women. As far as I know, I have not said anything true in a mocking manner. I have tried to be kind and fair in my portrayal of them, but I have used them as examples for my thoughts on how women are not valued as they ought to be in Patriarchy. I think the problem is that they have been led to a position that attracts the ridicule of the world, and I am being blamed for that.
Have conspired to secretly tape record conversations with the individuals they seek to defame.
Huh? I have no clue about what Wesley is talking about.
Have (between the two of them) operated, founded, or helped to establish no less than five attack-sites against Doug Phillips which have collectively published tens of thousands of words and untold hundreds of lies, while “exposing,” harassing, and defaming Christian ministers.
This charge begs the question. Doug says that what I say is a lie. I don’t agree, and I support what I say with documents. The length of those documents doesn’t matter, except that if Doug Phillips has done as much harm as I believe, then it makes sense that there would be many words needed to report on that harm. The truth is that all that Mark and I have written is far outweighed by the quantity of comments made by others on my blog, who share their own experiences with Doug Phillips or Vision Forum or offer their own theological critiques. In fact, so far there have been nearly 10,000 comments posted on my site. That’s a remarkable number for such a short time. Instead of blaming me for everything, Doug should ask himself why so many people besides me feel the need to express their concerns about him in public.
Staged publicity stunts (using [Don’s] materials), for which Jennifer Epstein was cited by police for criminal behavior.
My son and I passed out fliers on a back sidewalk until the police were called and all the commotion was brought to the front of the building. Standing on my First Amendment rights is not a crime last time I looked, but it is often a right that is trampled on.
Wesley ends this particular list by stating that “the evidence proving Mark and Jennifer’s complicity in unlawful and potentially criminal activity is voluminous, and we are personally in possession of hundreds of pages which document their role in a far-flung Internet conspiracy to discredit Reformed ministers and ministries.” Sometimes Doug gives me so much credit I have to be careful not to get a big head about it. When I take a reality check and realize that I haven’t actually done these things, I just have to shake my head in wonderment.
Wesley goes on to tell Don Veinot why his “alliance with notorious Internet assassins and church excommunicants is irrefutable,” naming all types of “incontrovertible facts.” These include Don giving me his “diatribe article” for me to use as a “publicity stunt” to “facilitate [my] campaign of hatred” and stating that I claimed that I was working directly with Don; I published private letters from Don on my website; and that Don allowed me to comment on his website, among other allegations of proof of our working together against Doug. I am sorry that I caused Don to sin by my posting a comment on his website. Maybe someone can help me find that verse in Scripture.
Finally, Wesley asks Don some questions about his alliances with “lawless individuals,” stating that he has been “in communication with the Epsteins’ small group of Internet malcontents [that’s you, dear reader] (some of which may be Mrs. Epstein under one of her multiple Internet personalities)…” and why would he “team up with unscrupulous individuals?”
Wesley ends his libelous letter by claiming “this letter is an attempt to restore peace. It is an olive branch…”
I end this true article by asking you whether Vision Forum’s letter has really extended an olive branch or actually fired both barrels of a shotgun?