How Doug Phillips and Scott Brown Promote Sin and Cowardice In The Church
“Discernment is not simply a matter of telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right.” –Charles Haddon Spurgeon
In 2007 Scott Brown, Director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, preached a sermon entitled, Gossip: The Plague of the Church. This sermon was preached to an audience of several hundred immediately following a conference on building businesses and entrepreneurialship. The audience also included some pastors.
Doug Phillips, President of Vision Forum Ministries, was at that conference and struck a deal with Scott Brown to sell the sermon as an audio CD on the Vision Forum web site.
Jen Fishburne informs me that it was no coincidence that Scott Brown preached this sermon at the time he did. It was at this same time that Doug Phillips was beginning to feel the heat from Jen exposing his ecclesiastical tyrannies and abuses on her blog. Jen had done everything humanly possible to seek reconciliation with Doug, but he sabotaged her every overture. As a last resort she published her story on her blog, not to shame and humiliate him but to publicly expose Doug Phillips as an ecclesiastical tyrant so that others might not fall prey to his abuses.
Jen has been accused many times of being “bitter and unforgiving”, but I know Jen well and I know that the opposite is the case. Her motivation isn’t a hatred for Doug Phillips but a love for the body of Christ.
As a direct result of Jen’s story going public, the home school community was asking questions, and even some members of his own church, Boerne Christian Assembly, were voicing concerns. In desperation Doug Phillips searched for a way of shutting down all inquiries into his abusive practices. The charge of “gossip” was a ready-made excuse for silencing all calls for his accountability and repentance. Scott Brown’s “Gossip” sermon was tailor-made to clamp the lid down hard on any challenges to the tyrannies of a spiritually abusive pastor.
It was Scott Brown’s “Gossip” sermon which launched the No Gossip Rule in the BCA community. By mass-marketing the CD, Vision Forum and the NCFIC have also effectively inculcated the No Gossip Rule within a large portion of NCFIC churches. Doug Phillips and Vision Forum have, likewise, indoctrinated thousands of Christian home school families with the No Gossip Rule. To quote from one of my previous articles:
Doug Phillips has railed against so-called gossipers for years, and gossip is whatever Doug Phillips defines it to be. As Doug Phillips has often said, “He who defines the terms wins”, and the way Doug defines gossip is by equating gossip with a violation of the 9th Commandment. This is quite typical of how Doug Phillips twists and distorts sacred scripture for his personal agenda. To Doug Phillips gossip is anything that anyone says about him, or about his friends, that he doesn’t like. It makes no difference to him whether the things said about him are true and already public information. Say something about Doug Phillips that he likes, even if it’s just complete lies and fabrications (and there have been plenty of his sycophants who have done so to feed his massive ego), but that’s not gossip. But say anything true about Doug that he doesn’t like and it’s not just merely gossip, it’s “wicked gossip” or the “horrific sin of gossip”…
This is one of the most oft-used mind-control tools Doug Phillips has pulled out of his toolbox, and he’s used it to tremendous effect. Doug Phillips injects massive doses of guilt and shame to prevent anyone from confronting him and holding him accountable, or even so much as reading anyone’s blog where they might find “gossip” about him. What few BCA members and Vision forum employees and interns that have read our articles and posted comments here have inevitably condemned it as, “I see your fruit on this site and it is wicked gossip.”
The fruit of Doug’s “no gossip” rule has created many more non-thinking people than just within the walls of BCA and Vision Forum. That mind-control influence has been spread to thousands of home school families too, and that mind-control prevents thousands from so much as looking at a blog of this nature lest their utopian home school dreamworld be contaminated.
Those indoctrinated in the No Gossip Rule can’t even question it, even in the light of the very Scriptures from which its teachers claim it originates. To my knowledge, the Phillips-Brown No Gossip Rule hasn’t ever been challenged. I intend to not only challenge it here, I intend to dismantle it, and the Code Of Silence that goes with it.
The Phillips-Brown No Gossip Rule contains a terrifying message. It is the VF/NCFIC equivalent of the Mafia’s Omertà. Omertà means “honor” in Sicilian, but the Mafia perverted the term into a Code Of Silence. The violation of Omertà has frightful retaliatory consequences. The power of the Mafia is real and only a fool would defy it. The power of Scott Brown and Doug Phillips is largely bluff and bluster. The threat of “excommunication” from a cult leader has no impact on the condition of one’s soul, nor does it carry any weight whatsoever with the Lord God. But as P.T. Barnum put it, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Doug Phillips and Scott Brown have effectively created a Christian Cosa Nostra, complete with its Code Of Silence. Doug Phillips is all about drama and theatrics. He loves dress-up and costume parties, so it should surprise no one that he accessorized his Boss image by having VF employees and interns trained as “executive protection” agents. He periodically had them play dress-up as black-suited black-shade wearing armed enforcer goons. In several cases he’s sent his enforcer goons out (very likely at VFM donor expense) to threaten and intimidate people who dared to expose him. In at least two cases that we know of blog owners dramatically altered and removed content from their blogs, or shut them down altogether, as a direct result of those threatening encounters. Those strong-arm tactics have been well concealed and they are known in detail to only the perpetrators, victims, and a few others, like Jen and myself.
Multiple thousands have come under the influence of not only the Phillips-Brown No Gossip Rule, but also the cultish influence they have injected into dozens of other religious sociopathic leaders they have served to inspire within their VF/NCFIC subculture. Brown’s lecture wasn’t preached so much to his own church members, though some were there. He was addressing a larger audience of several hundred. There were pastors in that audience, and Scott Brown had an objective of influencing those pastors to become the same kind of autocratic tyrant that he and Doug Phillips are.
For those who have embraced the No Gossip Rule, violating it could have even worse consequences than what the Mafia imposes. This is because the consequences, as they have been led to believe, could be eternal. As I will demonstrate herein, that threat is a myth based on nothing more than Scott Brown’s clumsy and inept twisting of Scripture.
One thing that is not bluff and bluster, however, is the very real threat of “church discipline” (code word for banishment and shunning) for any who would dare to violate the No Gossip Rule, or challenge it, or challenge any of those other numerous cultish rules endemic in the VF/NCFIC subculture. In Gossip: The Plague of the Church, Scott Brown affirms that gossip warrants a “zero tolerance policy”. According to Scott Brown gossip is the worst and most destructive sin in the church. Gossip is due the harshest possible penalties. Gossip is due only one warning, and two at the most:
“I had a very interesting moment several months ago where I was speaking to a pastor friend of mine at my house and we were talking about the subject of gossip and he told me that in his church he has a zero tolerance policy for gossip, and he said that in his church in Wilmington, North Carolina, no one becomes a member of that church until they hear the sermon on gossip, and he delivers this sermon on gossip every September, and he makes two promises to the people in his church. The first promise is that whenever they come they are going to be taught scripture as best as he can in its context and, secondly, that no one will speak evil of you behind your back, and I was very interested in this policy because I’d never heard anything like that before, and I thought what a great policy and what a great practice in the church, and I said could you send me last year’s sermon, and he did… And he says that gossip is the chief destroyer of the church. And the destruction isn’t to brick and mortar but it’s to the souls of people…(4:20) Here’s what my pastor friend told me in his church. He said, You know Scott in our church if you commit adultery you get four warnings according to Matthew 18. But if you gossip you’re out of here by the first or the second warning. And that’s it. You will not survive in this church after the second warning, and maybe the first” (17:50)
Scott Brown goes on to state his approval for this “zero tolerance” policy, and it’s one that he apparently practices himself. He may be accurately representing his “zero tolerance” pastor friend for the tyrant that he unwittingly portrays him to be. On the other hand Scott Brown may be every bit the duplicitous liar that Doug Phillips proved himself to be when he lied for many years about his “mentor and spiritual father” Pastor Robert Gifford, and that Pastor Gifford allegedly commissioned him to start a church in San Antonio. Either way though, “zero tolerance” has some frightening ramifications.
Yes, we are to confront and discipline sin in the church, but we are to do so per Matthew 18:15-17, and that applies to all sins and all members of the local church, including to pastors, elders and deacons. Scott Brown singles out gossip as being the one sin that is unworthy of any Matthew 18 biblical due process because it is far worse than any other sin. Under Scott Brown’s tyrannical oversight, if gossip happens there’s only one warning, two if you’re lucky. Confession and repentance apparently count for nothing in such a case. You’re put out of the church and you’ll be shunned by all your friends. This sounds like an ironclad guaranteed way to shut everyone up.
Is gossip inherently so much more destructive to the church than other sins that it warrants a zero tolerance policy and immediate expulsion and shunning? Is gossip so horrifically sinful that it qualifies for sanctions that aren’t imposed even in cases of adultery, extortion, drunkenness, and idolatry? Is that really what the Bible teaches? Scott Brown claims as much:
“And so here in Titus 3:10 we read, reject a divisive man after the first or second admonition. I don’t know why this sternness is present here. It’s more stern than the sins that we might regard as even greater sins, like adultery, or like extortion, or like drunkenness, or like idolatry, or like covetousness, or all manner of idolatry. It’s right in the same plane and it’s categorized in the midst of other great evils.” (18:10)
Here Scott Brown makes a subtle and yet significant exegetical and logical error. He conflates terms. This is something he does throughout his lecture, and he does so with practically every verse he quotes. Titus 3:10 uses the term “a divisive man” which he conflates with “a gossip”. If not confronted, gossip in the church does have the potential to cause division. However, it is not gossip that the Apostle Paul is referring to when he speaks of a “divisive man”. What is a divisive man? Scott Brown doesn’t seem to appreciate the importance of interpreting scripture with scripture. The previous verse (9) clearly defines what a divisive man is by the activities he engages in:
But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; (Titus 3:9)
Scott Brown and Doug Phillips claim to be Calvinists, so let’s see what John Calvin has to say of Titus 3:10. In Calvin’s Commentaries he likens the divisive man not to a gossip but to an argumentative, quarreling “heretical man”:
10. Avoid an heretical man. This is properly added; because there will be no end of quarrels and dispute, if we wish to conquer obstinate men by argument; for they will never want words, and they will derive fresh courage from impudence, so that they will never grow weary of fighting. Thus, after having given orders to Titus as to the form of doctrine which he should lay down, he now forbids him to waste much time in debating with heretics, because battle would lead to battle and dispute to dispute. Such is the cunning of Satan, that, by the impudent talkativeness of such men, he entangles good and faithful pastors, so as to draw them away from diligence in teaching. We must therefore beware lest we become engaged in quarrelsome disputes; for we shall never have leisure to devote our labors to the Lord’s flock, and contentious men will never cease to annoy us.
It’s debatable whether Titus 3:10 is even about church discipline at all since “have nothing more to do with him” implies that it is addressing someone outside the local church. If it applied to a member of the local church Paul would likely have said something like, “Rebuke him before the assembly and cast him out of your midst for an example to all”. That would be consistent with another of Paul’s pastoral instructions, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1Tim. 5:20). However, even if it could be reasonably argued that Titus 3:10 is addressing members of the local assembly it clearly only applies to the argumentative, quarreling heretical man, not mere gossips.
After conflating “divisive man” for “gossip”, Scott Brown goes on to say that failing to shun a gossip is sinful:
“Notice the last three passages of Scripture that we read say reject a divisive man, or to avoid them, or to not keep company with them. You might think about that on a practical level. Maybe on two levels. Is it possible that there are people in the body of Christ who are sinning by not avoiding you? They actually continue to relate with you and they should not because of this. Or is it possible that we are relating with and not avoiding those who gossip? These are beautiful and very simple passages of Scripture. They’re not complex. A six year old can understand them.” (18:48)
“A six year old can understand them” is a rather common tactic among intellectually dishonest men like Scott Brown. His message is transparent – “What I’m telling you is so obvious that even my little grandchildren get this. If you don’t get it you’re dumber than a six year old. Don’t even think about questioning me about this.”
Needless to say, any pastor who considers his own twisted interpretations of Scripture to justify his autocratic methods of ruling his church to be “beautiful” is no pastor at all. Like Doug Phillips, Scott Brown is a religious sociological cult leader.
Under the terms of this No Gossip Rule the accused gossiper is confronted with the frightful threat of “discipline”. Discipline in many NCFIC churches is accompanied by the implied threat of banishment (“excommunication”) and shunning. This is precisely what Scott Brown is advocating in the above quote. Banishment and shunning means being cut off from “the community of believers” and being cast out into “the world” where they are “lost”. The shunned are cut off from all their friends, and sometimes even family members, who will no longer so much as speak to or even look at them. They may even lose their job if their employer is a member of the same cult (I’ve seen it happen). They are forever a pariah.
The threat of being shunned is a powerful mind control tactic that keeps members passive and docile. This is precisely the demeanor that cult leaders demand of their followers – unquestioning servile obedience in all things. Obedience to the cult leader is the real standard in a cult, not the Word of God. The Bible itself is not the authority to the cult but, rather, it is what the cult leader interprets the Bible to mean for them. Any dissenting views are subject to immediate and harsh discipline. One cannot dictate efficiently as an autocrat without first silencing opposition, and Scott Brown’s sermon gives the alleged “biblical authority” to put down any and all dissenting views, as well as eliminating any and all accountability of themselves.
One of the indicia of cult leaders is their penchant for blowing minor sins and transgressions completely out of proportion with what the Bible says of them, while also often ignoring major sins (and especially their own sins). The sin of gossip is a perfect example of this. Of gossip Scott Brown says:
“The Lord hates it and He calls it an abomination… If we want to understand this subject we need to understand that God hates it.” (24:55)
Scott Brown makes this bold claim by conflating “gossip” for “sowing discord among the brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19) and completely ignoring the context of the passage of those things listed which God actually does hate. Gossip may be the vehicle through which some discord is sown, but sowing discord is a far more egregious act than mere gossip. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God hates gossip, nor does the Bible call gossip “an abomination”.
Abomination is one of those scary words that cult leaders love to recklessly toss around because “sin” just doesn’t have the punch they’re looking for to justify “disciplining” the alleged perpetrator. Once someone is charged with an “abomination” then all bets are off for any biblical due process.
The back cover of the “Gossip” CD case states:
“Gossip is the great destroyer of families, communities, and local churches. And the Bible has much to say about this form of verbal murder [emp. added]. Now, in this Scripture-saturated message, Scott Brown defines and diagnoses the problem of gossip, unveils the spiritual devastation it leaves behind, and explains the scriptural remedy and the blessings which accompany following God’s commands regarding the use of the tongue.”
Scott Brown’s message includes a number of quoted Scriptures, but it would only qualify as “Scripture-saturated” if the scripture verses he quotes were directly applicable to gossip and not distorted into something not intended by the authors. In his sermon introduction Scott Brown says,
“I’m not actually going to do an exposition of the book of James, but I’m going to give us lots scripture, lots of verses. I’m going to just wear us out with verses here this morning. I almost never do this but I’m going to do it this morning.” (3:30)
The following is the list of verses Scott Brown quotes from, given in the order that he quotes them. I’ve summarized the verses, not according to what Scott Brown claims they say about gossip, but what the verses plainly say for themselves:
- Matt 5:21-26 “angry with his brother without a cause”, “whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool’, shall be in danger of hell fire”
- Ps 15:1-3 backbiting, taking up a reproach against a neighbor
- Prov 6:16-19 “A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.”
- Prov 26:20-23 talebearer, contentious man, “Burning lips and a wicked heart”
- Rom 16:17-18 “divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned”
- 1 Cor 5:11 “do not keep company with… a reviler”
- Titus 3:10 “avoid a divisive man”
- James 4:11 “Do not speak evil of one another”
- 1 Pet 3:8-12 “Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit”
- 3 John 9-10 “Diotrephes… prating against us with malicious words”
- Prov 17:4 “An evildoer gives heed to false lips; A liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue.”
While we should all take heed of these admonitions, none of these verses have much if anything to do with the act of gossiping. Rather, they are about slander, lying, speaking deceitfully, backbiting, reviling, sowing discord among brethren, contentiousness, and listening to and giving credence to lies and liars. Yes, all of these things can be conveyed by means of gossip. But gossip can also occur without any of those other sins being perpetrated.
Scott Brown’s method of expositing Scripture is little different from throwing a big pot of spaghetti and meatballs at the wall and hoping something will stick. His exegetical skills really are that much of a mess. He twists and contorts Scripture, as well as the definitions of the terms used therein, while conflating one term for another, all to arrive at a predetermined outcome. Deception is always rooted in truth, or at least a half-truth because blatant lies would never have any chance of deceiving anyone but the most gullible. As such Scott Brown starts off his lecture by giving a half-truth:
“So I’d like to define gossip here a little bit with scripture. The terms gossip and slander occur around 56 times in Bible, and they’re often used interchangeably”. (7:10)
As Doug Phillips has stated many times, “He who defines the terms wins.” Scott Brown and Doug Phillips have defined gossip as slander and slander as gossip, when in point of fact they are distinctly different from one another. Slander and gossip are not “interchangeable” as Scott Brown claims, whether it be in the Bible, or anywhere else. If “gossip” were “interchangeable with slander”, as Scott Brown asserts, it would have to be, like slander, a violation of the 9th Commandment in all cases. Certainly gossip can be the means of facilitating these things, but gossip is not, of its own accord, a violation of the 9th Commandment. Gossip is, quite often, completely truthful, whereas slander is always lies, fabrications, and/or half-truths.
To conflate “slander” for “gossip” Scott Brown very early in his lecture uses a specific Bible version that he believes aids him in this error, the 1995 edition of the NASB. The editors of the NASB state: “Version Information – While preserving the literal accuracy of the 1901 ASV, the NASB has sought to render grammar and terminology in contemporary English.” While a modern English rendering may be beneficial to the casual reader, it’s hardly the basis for sound hermeneutics. In order to make his case that gossip = slander, Scott Brown quotes Proverbs 20:19 (at 7:30) from the NASB:
He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets,
Therefore do not associate with a gossip.
The naive may suppose that Solomon himself is conflating slander for gossip. Wisdom literature, such as we see in the Proverbs, is often poetic, and often delivered in one sentence segments where the second part of the line may serve to contrast the first part or, as in this case, it may serve to reinforce the first part (see Prov 10:1 – 22:16 & 25:1 – 29:27). In all cases it is still a poetic literary form. We get into deep weeds quickly when we take poetical literature too literally by attempting to augur intention that isn’t there; and in the same way we also get into trouble by taking biblical parables too literally. It’s called “wisdom literature” for a good reason – not only may it impart wisdom to those who can receive it, it may also require a modicum of wisdom, or at least a bit of common sense, to properly understand it in the first place.
In no way does Solomon seek to make slander “interchangeable” with gossip. Scott Brown himself probably knows better. If not then he is a remarkably ignorant Bible teacher. Doug Phillips’ favorite Bible commentator is John Gill. Ironically enough John Gills says of Proverbs 20:19:
“It may be applied to false teachers, and their deceptions with good words and fair speeches; the word used signifies to deceive with the lips; see Romans 16:18”.
Nevertheless, this NASB rendering of Proverbs 20:19, or rather Scott Brown’s conflated interpretation of this rendering, forms the very foundation from which Scott Brown then proceeds to base his entire No Gossip Rule.
“So maybe we could define gossip like this: A person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts, a rumor or a report of an intimate nature… But basically speaking negatively about another person without that person being present is gossip.” (9:05)
Here Scott Brown finally uses a reasonably honest definition for “gossip”. Yet he has already corrupted that definition by claiming that the terms “gossip” and “slander” are “interchangeable” when they are not. This is typical of what he does throughout his duplicitous sermon. Since Scott Brown has defined gossip as slander, he then must go on to define “slander”:
“So here’s a definition of slander: The utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another’s reputation. A false and defamatory oral statement about another person. And this term in Hebrew would be translated typically with the word talebearer and in Greek becomes the word blaspheme or to speak against us.” (10:12)
Scott Brown offers up a reasonably accurate definition for slander, at least up until, like his definition for “gossip”, he conflates slander for “talebearer”. Yes, a slanderer is also a talebearer, but not all talebearers are slanderers. If Scott Brown were capable of an honest definition he would have equated the modern “gossip” for the biblical “talebearer”. I’d like to be able to say that Brown and Phillips are only ignorant Bible teachers; but knowing their character as I do I can’t chalk this up to mere ignorance. This is all quite deliberate on their part. They are guilty of conflating gossip with slander for a specific agenda – to silence any and all opposition to their abuses of authority. This Code Of Silence prevents anyone from holding them accountable.
In seeking out actual dictionary definitions, I purposefully quote here from Doug Phillips’ favorite dictionary, the Webster’s 1828. Of this dictionary Doug Phillips says: “When Noah Webster first published this book, he understood that whoever defined the words of a culture would capture that culture”:
1. A sponsor; one who answers for a child in baptism; a godfather.
2. A tippling companion.
And sometimes lurk I in a gossip’s bowl.
3. One who runs from house to house, tattling and telling news; an idle tattler. [This is the sense in which the word is now used.]
4. A friend or neighbor.
5. Mere tattle; idle talk.
GOS’SIP, verb intransitive To prate; to chat; to talk much.
1. To be a pot-companion.
2. To run about and tattle; to tell idle tales.
BACK’BITE, verb transitive [back and bite] To censure, slander, reproach, or speak evil of the absent. Proverbs 25:1.
1. A false tale or report maliciously uttered. and tending to injure the reputation of another by lessening him in the esteem of his fellow citizens, by exposing min to impeachment and punishment, or by impairing his means of lining; defamation. slander that worst of poisons, ever finds an easy entrance to ignoble minds.
2 Disgrace; reproach; disreputation; ill name.
SLA’NDER, verb transitive To defame; to injure by maliciously uttering a false report respecting one; to tarnish or impair the reputation of one by false tales, maliciously told or propagated.
It’s interesting to note that “gossip” originally had a positive meaning, but over time it was corrupted to the point where today it is pejorative. The term “gossip” has changed a great deal over time. That is not the case for the biblical terms “slander” and “backbite” whose meanings have remained reasonably fixed throughout history. “Gossip” only came to be used in its disparaging form in relatively recent history. As such “gossip” appears not a single time in the King James Version (1611) or the Geneva Bible Translation (1599). The Geneva Bible happens to be the preferred translation of Doug Phillips and many others in VF/NCFIC circles. The ESV, which is highly acclaimed by Bible scholars, includes “gossip” only twice (Ez 36:3 & 2Chron 12:20). This isn’t much to go on to build an entire doctrine out of.
If Scott Brown and Doug Phillips were honest they would only use the terms “slander” and “backbiting” instead of “interchangeably” substituting the completely separate and distinct term “gossip”.
For those of us who have been on the receiving end of slander (and I’m no stranger to that myself), it indeed can be the murder of one’s reputation – “character assassination”. Through lies, fabrications and half-truths the slanderer with malicious intent sets about to cause severe damage and harm, and to divide friend from friend. Slander and backbiting are expressly condemned in scripture, not only for the harm they cause, but also because they are in direct violation of the 9th Commandment.
Scott Brown makes a case for speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil, and he equates the see no evil and hear no evil with sins that will “mar” the hearer permanently. Therefore, one must do everything possibly to avoid so much as even accidentally overhearing gossip, lest it corrupt and defile them:
“Once you hear gossip you’re marred. You are marred. That tasty trifle goes down to the inmost parts and you are never the same again. One little word and you’re never the same again regarding that person. It’s tragic. If you’ve ever listened to gossip then you just need to know that you’ve been defiled. Because it has gone down. It’s gone down, deep down into the inmost parts and it’s a danger to you.” (27:33)
“You’ve been defiled.” How terribly frightening! Fear of alleged “defilement” is a common tactic used by performance-based religious cult leaders to control their followers. Scott Brown then reinforces the policy of cutting off and shunning anyone who would dare to ever gossip:
“Note and avoid a gossip, and there are a number of passages of scripture that make this clear. Romans 16:27-18, 1Corinthians 5:11, and Titus 3:10 all say this. Let’s just sort of get some detail on this. Romans says to note such a one. Romans 16. Titus 3 says warn a gossip once and then twice. Titus 3 says reject a factious man. And in Romans 16 avoid, and 1Corinthians 5 do not keep company with. And then it gets even worse do not even eat with such a one in 1Corinthians 5. Well there’s just much evidence for the importance of avoidance and isolation of this sin. We’re not used to doing that, are we? It’s counter-intuitive to us. We don’t want to do this. But yet we have these very stern and clear warnings from scripture.” (28:10)
Scott Brown speaks “of how gossip is often disguised” as a prayer request, seeking counsel, or bearing one another’s burdens (21:50). True enough, this can happen. In a healthy church of compassionate believers it’s far less likely to happen than in an unhealthy dysfunctional church. Rather than addressing the problem in a biblical way, Scott Brown recommends the elimination altogether of prayer requests, seeking counsel, and bearing one another’s burdens:
“On the speaking side of the coin, first of all keep quiet. Zip it. Just zip the tongue. Remember what your mom used to say? It’s as simple as momma. Momma got it right, didn’t she? If you can’t say anything nice just don’t say it. Don’t share your pain. We live in a culture which teaches us to just share any old thing coming out of our black old heart. Well this isn’t the counsel of the Lord. This is the counsel of a wicked culture saturated in ungodly psychological principles. Don’t make your prayer requests. Have you ever heard of silent personal prayer? Do you have to bring everybody in the world in to prayer for a brother who might be having trouble? Couldn’t you just labor in your closet for him instead of speaking evil of him in the midst of it?” (33:10)
Is this what Scripture actually teaches? Is making a prayer request for a friend or loved one really gossip? Is coming to the pastor for counseling in, say, an abusive marriage, really gossip? What of “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”? (Gal 6:2). In Scott Brown’s church it appears that everyone is required to just stuff it and suffer in silence. Certainly that has also been the experience for members of Boerne Christian Assembly.
Scott Brown’s teaching on gossip is a gross misrepresentation of Scripture. It calls into question whether he is capable of honestly expositing any biblical topic or passage at all. Rather than guiding Christians out of sin, Scott Brown is actually teaching people to sin. In other words, the cure is worse than the disease. Many of Scott Brown and Doug Phillips’ followers have falsely assumed that obeying the No Gossip Rule will keep them out of sinful behavior in the church when just the opposite is the case.
A wooden compliance with the No Gossip Rule ignores the command of Jesus to “judge with righteous judgement” (John 7:24). Christians aren’t to live with their heads buried in the sand, ignoring sin in their midst. Gossip is hardly the only sin in the church, nor is gossip the “abomination” that Scott Brown makes it out to be, or the “horrific sin” that Doug Phillips makes it out to be. By complying with the No Gossip Rule one would, of necessity, not be able to do a number of things required in Scripture:
- Mat 18:15-17 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
If only I am aware of a grievous sin in a brother’s life, how am I to obey this scripture and still comply with the No Gossip Rule? I can confront that brother privately about his sin, but what if he doesn’t repent? According to the No Gossip Rule I have to keep that brother’s sin a secret, thereby making myself complicit in his sin.
- 1Tim. 5:19-20 “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.
How am I to accuse an elder of sin when I’m not even permitted to speak with and identity any other witnesses for fear that I will be charged with “gossip”?
- Gal 6:1-2 “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
How is one to obey this scripture in light of the No Gossip Rule? Also, how do we allow the brethren to fulfill the law of Christ (which is love) if no one ever shares their needs and can only “zip it”?
- 1Cor. 5:11-13 “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”
This is one of the passages Scott Brown lifted out of context. What if I know that a man is sexually immoral and that man is my own pastor (such as Doug Phillips)? What if that man is also my employer because I work for Vision Forum? What if because I work for Vision Forum I also know the same man is covetous and an extortioner? I could try Matt 18:15, but I already know that everyone else who’s tried it before was fired, put under church discipline, and everyone was ordered to shun them for the rest of their lives. Maybe I could go to the elders of my church? No, that can’t work because they’re all just hand-picked stooges of the pastor. So how do I obey scripture and not violate the No Gossip Rule?
“Bearing one another’s burdens” may require listening patiently to a wounded brother or sister’s tragic story, not judging them over it, or fearing that we’ll somehow be “marred” by it. Requiring that Christians suffer in silence isn’t love but hate.
“Speaking the truth in love” sometimes means having to confront sin (as defined by the Word of God, not some twisted cult leader’s interpretation). The Code Of Silence implicit in the No Gossip Rule just creates a whole new level of sins far worse than the problem of gossip.
It’s been said that, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.” How true. Doug Phillips through Vision Forum has marketed the image of inspiring “biblical manliness”. The reality is, however, that Doug Phillips has created hundreds, and perhaps thousands of cowardly men who remain silent in the face of terrible sin. Nothing could more clearly prove this point than the dozen years he spent cheating on his wife. Multiple men knew about it and said nothing and did nothing. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. That’s not manliness. That’s cowardice.
The No Gossip Rule that has been so successfully promoted by Scott Brown and Doug Phillips has had precisely the effect they intended – it’s shut everybody up. There has been much sin in the camp for years; but rather than confronting it to purify the church, sin is concealed. That Code Of Silence is a sure-fire recipe for concealing sin, when scripture commands that we expose sin and purge it from our midst:
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. (Eph. 5:11)
Ever since the public revelation of Doug Phillips’ clergy sexual abuse Scott Brown has sought to distance himself from Doug Phillips. In a sermon Scott Brown gave immediately after Doug Phillips’ resignation Brown even referred to Phillips as an “apostate”. Yet it is by Scott Brown’s No Gossip Rule that he empowered Doug Phillips to get away with his apostasy for so many years, and those sins are far worse, and far more extensive, than have come to public light so far.
Until Scott Brown’s teaching on gossip is eradicated from all Vision Forum and NCFIC spheres of influence there will be more scandals and abuses of power that occur within those churches.
Like Doug Phillips, Scott Brown is a Pharisee and a hypocrite. We should all heed Jesus’ warning, and Scott Brown and Doug Phillips should take special note of it:
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.” (Luke 12:1-2)
One of our regular commenters here, who wishes to remain anonymous, emailed me an article that she wrote on gossip. It’s an insightful article and provides some practical guidelines for knowing what gossip is and what gossip isn’t. I believe her article complements my own and addresses several key areas that I have not. I hope everyone will also read it. I have her permission to share it here: Is it Gossip or Speaking the Truth in Love?