Doug Phillips’ Peculiar Interpretation of “Covenant Theology”
When Mark and I were “excommunicated” from Boerne Christian Assembly in 2005, we were “disciplined” individually. In theory, we could be restored individually. In other words, if I were to repent of whatever it is that I’m supposedly guilty of (we’re still trying to figure out what that could be), but if Mark were not to repent, then I could return to membership in BCA and would not have to wait until Mark repents of whatever it is that he’s supposed to repent of. The inverse would also, supposedly, be true. This is born out in Section X of the Disciplinary Action Statement against us from January 23, 2005. It states the following:
X. Individual Discipline
For this purpose of this disciplinary action, both of you are being treated as individuals. Restoration of one spouse is not contingent on the restoration of the other. Your past and future conduct is evaluated on an individual basis. Either or both of you may request restoration of fellowship, and your request will be evaluated on an individual basis.
Mark and I were “excommunicated,” and we were excommunicated as individuals. Our entire family was not excommunicated. Our children were not excommunicated. Our children were not under any form of church discipline whatsoever. In practice, though, BCA has treated our children as though they too were excommunicated. BCA has shunned and punished our entire family. What sin are my children guilty of? None that anyone has ever stated. Only in the past couple months has anyone from BCA said anything about any alleged sins that my children are guilty of, and in both cases those alleged “sins” occurred just within the last couple months.
Joshua’s “sin” is that he assisted me with passing out fliers at the Arlington home school conference. Natasha’s “sin” is that she went to Vision Forum to assist the process server in identifying Doug Phillips, after Doug’s employees had already lied to the process server and told him that Doug wasn’t there. Also, shortly after that incident, one or more of Doug’s employees alleged that Natasha had “flipped them off.” Natasha denies this. However, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that Natasha did “flip off” Vision Forum employees. What does that have to do with the shunning and “discipline” that she’s been subjected to for the two years prior to that incident? The same goes for Joshua. Even if assisting me with handing out fliers at a home school conference were a “sin,” what does that have to do with the prior two years of shunning and “discipline” that Joshua has been subjected to by everyone at BCA? Doug is now grasping for excuses after the fact for punishing my children.
Shunning and punishing my children for my own “sins” doesn’t in any way inspire or compel me to want to repent. Just the opposite. Scripture forbids punishing children for the sins of the parents, and visa versa:
Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin. Deut. 24:16
But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge. Jer. 31:30
The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. Ezek. 18:20
Even if Doug Phillips were capable of complying with my repeated requests to furnish me with a specific and detailed list of my sins, supported by evidence and testimony of witnesses (rather than the vague, unspecific, and unsupported general list of charges that I can’t comprehend how I’m guilty of such things, nor will anyone even attempt to explain the charges), punishing my children for my alleged “sins” only confirms the fact that Doug Phillips is an ecclesiastical tyrant — a bully. Isn’t this exactly what a bully does? Pick on and punish people who are smaller and weaker and unable to defend themselves? Bullies are also cowards, and it doesn’t get any more cowardly than what Doug Phillips has done, but to punish children when they’ve done nothing wrong.
After having spent five years of their young lives totally enveloped in BCA, and all their friends at BCA, and knowing very little outside of BCA, my children suddenly had all their friends and all their social lives ripped away from them. BCA members were ordered to shun Mark and me. However, in practice, they shunned us all. How has that affected my children? It’s been absolutely devastating to them. If my children pull through this with their Christian faith intact, it will only be by the grace of God. It certainly won’t be because of any kindness and compassion of Doug Phillips. There have been many times that I have genuinely feared for Doug and the judgment awaiting him. The Lord Jesus showed a very special care and compassion for children, and obviously he expects His under-shepherds to follow His example:
But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matt. 19:14
In a very practical way, Doug Phillips has censured my children for no sins of their own. In so doing, he has hindered and undermined my children’s walk with the Lord. Doug’s unjust punishment of my children has seriously hampered their Christian faith. My children have greatly struggled with the implications of fellow believers treating them so cruelly, all sanctioned by a “pastor.” Unless Doug repents, he may one day pay a very heavy price for it:
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matt. 18:6
If Doug Phillips would do it to my children, he can and probably will do it to others, as well. But he can only do so if he’s given other opportunities. It is for this, and other reasons, that I’ve gone public with my story. If I can do anything to prevent Doug Phillips from injuring the lives and undermining the faith of anyone else, and children in particular, I believe that I have a moral and a biblical obligation to do so.
Here’s a peek into just one weekend of my children’s lives. First, Natasha:
If there is one thing young ladies love to do, it’s to plan their weddings. For years, girls in their teens and early twenties will giggle and whisper and share secret plans for that special moment — someday. This is often a time of choosing bridesmaids and flower girls as well, and many girls make promises to one another to have each other be attendants in their weddings. This everyday scenario takes place just as often in Family Integrated Churches as well, especially where courtship is taught and practiced. But what they don’t plan on, maybe, is outside interference, outside meddling.
My daughter, Natasha, was very good friends with Little Bear Wheeler’s daughter, Aimee, for seven years. Natasha and Aimee fellowshipped and spoke often. Not only did they plan their weddings together, but Aimee was the one person who was there for Natasha when it seemed that all the other Christians were only interested in judging her. Being a pastor’s kid (PK) isn’t easy. It put Aimee in the spotlight, always under the scrutiny of other church members, both inside and outside her own father’s church. Natasha stood by Aimee through thick and thin. So when Aimee recently announced that she was getting married, Natasha expected that they would go through with the plans they had made for Natasha to be Aimee’s bridesmaid. Disappointed, but not really surprised, Natasha soon realized that Aimee’s attendants did not include her after all, but she was still looking forward to attending the wedding of one of her best childhood friends. However, Natasha’s invitation never arrived.
Seeing how desperately Natasha desired to go to her friend’s wedding, a mutual friend ran interference and was able to get Natasha an invitation to the wedding that was to take place on Saturday, July 28. Natasha was so elated! But that joy lasted only a few hours before being dashed by a phone call from Aimee, uninviting Natasha to her wedding. Devastated, Natasha asked why. It turns out that Doug Phillips’ “influence” (and meddling) reaches a long way. Apparently, some people at BCA read Still Fed Up and they weren’t pleased with the pictures of Natasha that the SFU boys stole from Natasha’s private website and posted on SFU. Then there was the false accusation that Natasha “flipped off” the Vision Forum folks when she was at Vision Forum, assisting the process server. These two incidents seemed to be enough to provoke Doug Phillips into convincing Little Bear Wheeler to not only ban the entire Epstein family from attending Aimee’s wedding, but also to hire policemen to keep us all out, on threat of being arrested if any of us showed up.
Natasha asked Aimee if she had ever given her reason to believe that Natasha would lie about flipping people off at Vision Forum. No, Aimee didn’t have any reason not to believe her, except that certain people from Vision Forum (Peter Bradrick was standing there the whole time) had stated such. Aimee didn’t know who to believe. Natasha asked if she had ever caused a scene before, and if not, why would Aimee think that she would do so at her friend’s wedding? Aimee had no answer except that a certain person had convinced her father that Natasha should not be allowed to attend. In the end, Aimee really had no choice but to submit to the edicts of Doug and her own father.
Natasha felt betrayed by the fact that shortly after our “excommunication,” Doug removed any mention from Vision Forum’s web site that Natasha had won runner-up in a Vision Forum writing contest. This was her first indication that she too would be punished for her parents’ “excommunication.” The punishment has continued to this very day, and from all appearances, she will continue to be punished for the “sin” of being an Epstein.
The fact is that none of the other Epsteins had been issued an invitation, and we wouldn’t have “crashed” Aimee’s wedding. There was no need for Doug to hire police officers to keep us out. Apparently though, he still believed it necessary to hire policemen for the sole purpose of keeping out just one twenty-year-old girl. This goes to show just how fearful Doug really is, and it’s that same fear that caused him to hire police and other “security” for his recent open house at Vision Forum.
Now to fourteen-year-old Joshua:
Joshua has also been very lonely since the whole family got kicked out of BCA. Joshua is very shy to begin with, but he did have a very good friend at BCA. He’s seen him a couple times at various events since January 2005, but averaging once a year to see a friend just doesn’t seem to fulfill those social needs. We have tried finding other friends, but other churches, which don’t seem to last very long either, haven’t had any boys close in age who were willing to be his friend either. He’s quite a likeable guy; we’ve just been stymied in our attempts to find even one friend for him.
So when our recent houseguest said that he would like to visit BCA this past Sunday, he asked if Joshua could come with him to keep him company. Joshua was so excited about seeing his one friend again that he was willing to risk pretty much anything for the opportunity to spend time with a boy his age for a few hours.
I asked Henry Johnson, our friend, why he wanted to visit BCA. Henry is Joe Taylor’s digging partner and works at the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum with Joe. Henry has witnessed Doug’s treatment of Joe and Henry is also the videographer who was with me at the Arlington Homeschool Conference in May. He saw how I was treated there. So I wondered why Henry wanted to visit BCA. He said there were a couple reasons. First, even though he knew what had happened to both Joe and me, Henry is the type of person to give someone the benefit of the doubt. I had also told Henry of the incredible sense of family (Family Integrated Church) that we felt for the five years we were at BCA. I had explained about how we would stay at church all day fellowshipping after the service. Henry had such a strong desire to a part of something like that all his life that he was grateful if he could just experience it, even for one day. I had described the service to him and it seemed like the type of church service Henry would greatly enjoy. BCA would also line up well with Henry’s own theology. Henry has not been able to attend church for a long time, for various reasons, so he was excited to be a part of a service like this, even if it was just for one day. Living out in the boonies, Henry gets lonely sometimes, so he, too, was looking for church fellowship for the day.
So, with much anticipation for a pleasant day, Henry and Joshua drove an hour to visit BCA. Accidentally parking on the wrong side of the building on someone else’s land, they were greeted cheerfully by Bob Sarratt, who asked them to please park in a different location. After pulling in next to a whole line of white 15-passenger vans, Doug Phillips got out of his van right next to them and Henry greeted him. Doug returned his greeting. When the church bell rang announcing the beginning of the service, Henry and Joshua made their way to the building to find a seat. As they passed the annex building, Joshua noticed Doug Phillips speaking with Mo Gill, one of the deacons. It soon became clear what they were discussing. Walking up onto the porch, Henry and Joshua greeted several of the men and young men there, who also greeted them in return. Joshua knew a couple of them very well and spoke for just a moment with them.
Shortly thereafter, Steve Ringer came up and asked to speak to Henry. Steve wanted to know why they were there. Henry explained that Joshua had a friend there and that Henry had come just to enjoy the service and to be with Joshua. Steve wanted to know if Henry was the man doing the videotaping in Arlington and Henry said that he was. Steve said that Henry and Joshua had “shown an aggressive nature” toward them, but Henry replied that he was only there to listen to the sermon, that he was not there with any kind of aggressive intentions at all. He explained that rather than taking someone else’s word for what church was like at BCA, that he desired just to worship with them for a day. “I have no desire to do anything else except listen,” he said.
At this point in the conversation, Wesley Strackbein joined them and said that Henry couldn’t be trusted to act in an appropriate manner, so he asked Henry to leave the premises. After verifying that he was indeed being asked to leave, Henry asked if Josh could just stay there and Henry would pick him up later. Wesley responded that since Josh is part of the same family that caused a great deal of harm to BCA, that even though he didn’t have anything against Joshua personally, that given Joshua’s family’s involvement, “covenantally, that would not be acceptable.”
The term, “covenantal,” is significant. We can only interpret this as meaning that since Mark and I had been excommunicated, all our children are “covenantally” subject to the same punishment. Unless Mark and I are restored to fellowship, all our children are to be treated as though they, too, have been excommunicated. For all practical purposes, Doug expects, and even demands, that all other churches treat us all in the same manner. An example of this is what happened to us at Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA). We were initially all welcomed there. Later we were all asked to leave together. No option was ever afforded us to just bring our children to FPC, so that just their own spiritual needs for hearing the Word preached, and Christian fellowship, could be met. Just like BCA, FPC punished not only us, they punished our children, too.
Wesley Strackbein introduced Bob Sarratt to Henry as an elder for Boerne Christian Assembly. Although Bob’s name appears on the document that BCA wrote against us when we first went public, he was not an elder at that time, but he was a deacon. I also noted when I wrote my response to that article that even though Bob Sarratt’s name appears on the document that it had to have been written by Doug. It appears that Doug has since appointed Bob Sarratt as an elder.
Henry then explained that he had heard a lot about BCA and he wanted to come and share in their worship. Interrupting him, Bob Sarratt said, “That may have been the pretenses, Sir, but Joshua Epstein has been publicly crying out against this body, handing out fliers, being interviewed on the internet, and saying slanderous things, along with his family, and as such, he is not our welcome guest.” Bob went on to say that if the Epsteins wanted to meet with the leadership and settle all that that BCA would love to have us back. In the meantime, Joshua would not be allowed to stay and he asked Henry to leave as well. He said if Henry were there by himself sometime, he would be welcome to stay. However, since BCA was leasing the facility, they had the right to ask people not to stay if they were seeking to disrupt the meeting of the church.
Henry assured Bob that he was not there to disrupt anything but had only desired to quietly participate in the service. However, he said that he understood what Bob was telling him. Bob continued on that the Epsteins’ actions had proven time and time again that they must be there to disrupt the service. Bob went on to say that Henry was complicit in Arlington as well and Wesley said he had witnessed that as well. Again, Henry said that he understood that they didn’t approve of his videotaping at Arlington.
Then Bob asked where Joshua was. Joshua had been waiting several feet away, on the front porch, during this conversation. At one point, Doug Phillips and his son, Joshua, who is the same age as my Joshua, and who also used to be very good friends with him, passed right by Joshua Epstein, but refused to even look at or speak to him. It wasn’t as if they just didn’t notice; they had to have passed within just a few inches of him, and they had seen him as they walked up. There was no mistaking the obvious shunning of a fourteen-year-old boy. His own father had set the example. Like father, like son?
As Bob Sarratt then approached Joshua, he told him that he had seen him protesting and bringing accusations against BCA. He said he had also seen Joshua “on the interviews and in the commentary.” Bob told Joshua that although he wasn’t personally excommunicated, that Joshua was complicit in the acts of slander and had had a very negative impact against BCA and therefore he wasn’t welcome there until that was settled. But that wasn’t enough for Bob. He continued, “We could call the sheriff’s department and they’ll remove you from this body and we do have the right as leasees. We have the domain of this property right here that you’re on.”
Again, Henry expresses his understanding, “I’m sorry we couldn’t stay, but I understand.”
But Bob Sarratt still isn’t finished with them and tells Joshua that he can’t come back until the excommunication of his parents is taken care of, as well as the issues that have arisen since the excommunication which “pale by comparison.” As Henry once again agrees, Bob has to threaten them one last time: “I’m going to have to ask you to leave or we will be calling the sheriff’s department and have them remove you.”
Henry finally shakes Bob’s hand and tells him he’s sorry and he appreciates it. After Henry shakes hands with Steve Ringer and Wesley Strackbein as well, Joshua puts his hand out to Bob Sarratt as well, who had already put his hand back in his pocket. As Joshua stands there with his hand out, waiting for Bob, Bob finally and reluctantly agrees to shake Joshua’s hand.
As Henry and Joshua walk toward the truck, Joshua remarks to Henry, “That was real Christian love, wasn’t it?” Laughing, Henry simply replies, “No!”
So what did this fourteen-year-old do to be openly shunned like this by Doug Phillips and his son? What did Joshua do to be threatened twice with calling the cops on him? How has Joshua slandered BCA? I seem to recall that slander involves saying something that is not true. When has Joshua protested and brought accusations against BCA? When was he interviewed and what commentary has he provided?
Joshua is my son and that is the real reason he was not allowed to worship at BCA on Sunday. Doug Phillips is the one who taught me to take my children with me wherever I go, so naturally I would have brought them with me to Arlington. I did not go there to cause trouble. I went there to speak with Doug. When Doug refused to meet with me, I used my time there to warn others about Doug Phillips. Since Doug encourages us to “teach our children real life,” that is exactly what I did. Joshua helped me pass out a few papers, legally, to some attendees. He was not interviewed by the police, nor did he protest, slander, or bring accusations against anyone. He has never done anything to cause Doug Phillips to think that Joshua will ever do him any harm. I have never done anything to harm Doug Phillips, nor will I. That is not why I am here. I am here first to call Doug to repentance (which I did for a number of months), and second, to warn fellow believers about a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I have never had any intention of bringing harm to Doug or anyone at BCA or Vision Forum, nor will I ever. These acts of calling the authorities, or threatening to call the authorities, are simply Doug’s overreaction to his own refusal to meet with a woman to discuss the issues.
Doug and BCA’s latest claim that they’re now willing to meet with us is just another ruse. For two years we attempted to meet with Doug. In every case we were told, “Talk to my attorney.” I’ve never heard of such a thing. In the first place, our “excommunication” isn’t an attorney matter. It’s a pastoral matter. Secondly, we weren’t “excommunicated” from Vision Forum, and Doug’s attorney is Vision Forum’s attorney. He’s not BCA’s attorney, nor does he even attend BCA.
Is it appropriate to punish the children for the sins of the parents? Under Doug’s bizarre interpretation of “covenant theology,” yes, apparently it’s totally appropriate, and it’s consistent with Doug’s views on covenant theology. However, it’s not in any way biblical. Perhaps in the future, I’ll do an exposé of Doug Phillips’ strange views of covenant theology.
And by the way, what were those sins again, those sins that I’m allegedly guilty of?