Open Letter To Chalcedon Foundation Regarding Its Defense of Doug Phillips

This article is in response to comments posted by “Chalcedon Foundation” at the Spiritual Sounding Board. The opinions expressed herein reflect the views of this guest author and do not necessarily reflect those of the blog owner.

Dear Chalcedon Foundation,

I concur with your admonishment that we not engage in “broad brush” argumentation, especially when making public statements in opposition to (and I would add in defense of) a doctrine or philosophical position, or for or against the person advancing that doctrine or philosophy. We all need to guard against confirmation biases which can so easily make fools of us all.

Whether I personally agree with them or not, I don’t care to see any person, or the organization they represent, be unjustly and dishonestly maligned. It’s no fun being on the receiving end of unjust public criticisms of our statements that have been disingenuously lifted out of context, such as you claim your organization is suffering from.

However, be grateful that you at least are being afforded the opportunity to defend yourself at Spiritual Sounding Board, a courtesy which we all deserve. Julie Anne Smith isn’t afraid to accept comments on her blog from anyone, including from those that she may strongly disagree with. Jen Epstein has the same liberal comment policy on this blog too, and your response to this article is most welcomed here.

Many of those who unjustly paint Chalcedon Foundation with a “broad brush”, as you claim, effectively blaming you for all the evils they believe have come from Christian Reconstructionism, Theonomy, Calvinism, Patriarchy, etc., may be doing so out of ignorance, as you assert. Or maybe they really do know what they’re talking about. I’ll come to that issue later and explain your only remedy to that, and if you handle it well I’m confident that many of your detractors will begin to see that there is little to nothing in common between Doug Phillips and R.J. Rushdoony, just as there is little to nothing in common between Calvinism and the straw man its detractors assail which is, in reality, Hyper-Calvinism.

Many are assuming that because Doug Phillips says he was heavily influenced by R.J. Rushdoony, ipso facto, Rushdoony bears personal responsibility for the horrific fruits of Doug Phillips’ life. I don’t buy that leap of logic. Doug Phillips was infinitely more influenced by his father, Howard. Anyone who knew Howard Phillips knows that Doug Phillips fell very far from the tree (as did Brad Phillips). Children can be a direct reflection of their parents, but quite often that’s not the case at all. We do the best job we can in training up our children in the way they should go, but not each of our children always turn out as they should. I have yet to see anyone (at least publicly) blame Howard Phillips for how two of his six children turned out. And does anyone blame R.C. Sproul Sr. for how R.C. Sproul Jr. turned out? How much less, then, is R.J. Rushdoony responsible for Doug Phillips, or anyone else who claims that Rushdoony influenced their thinking.

Justly or unjustly, Chalecedon Foundation has been blamed as the source — the fountainhead, of so-called “Biblical Patriarchy” as we’ve come to know it today, and as advanced by Wilson, Phillips, Sproul & Swanson (might make a great name for an 80’s rock band). Whether they care to now admit it or not (and most of them have admitted it in the past), each of these men have been influenced by the teachings of R.J. Rushdoony. But they’ve also been influenced by many others too.

As I see it, there are various shades and gradations of Patriarchy and, in my view, R.J. Rushdoony seems to have propounded a form of it that was on the “benevolent” end of the scale — much like we think of a kindly old grandfather. In my view Rushdoony was the epitome of that grandfatherly type and he eschewed prideful, power-hungry men. On the opposite end of the Patriarchy scale is an autocratic power-hungry form, or what I term Hyper-Patriarchy, that is best represented by Doug Wilson, Doug Phillips, R.C. Sproul Jr, and Kevin Swanson. Each of them is gifted, in varying degrees, with creating a public image of nice-guy; but the reputation they hold amongst those who have been under their “pastoral” care shows them to be ecclesiastical tyrants. As long as things are going rather smoothly, they can maintain the facade of nice guy, at least up until someone finds it necessary to challenge them about something. They have each hidden behind the cloak of pretended “accountability” which is, in fact, a small circle of hand-selected yes-men. Each of them have grasped after the seat of spiritual authority, and once they obtain it they abuse those under their authority. The label “Patriarchy” is another facade they hide behind, lending the needed appearance of “biblical legitimacy” to their authoritarian rule.

It seems to me that your organization should have been doing everything it could to distance itself from the Hyper-Patriarchs. To my knowledge it never has. I’m confident that if R.J. Rushdoony had been alive when the Christian home schooling movement started going off the rails (a movement which many credit Rushdoony as having been a founding father of) he would have publicly distanced himself from the young upstarts who co-opted it, most noteworthy among which are Doug Phillips, Kevin Swanson and R.C. Sproul Jr. These young men all saw an opportunity to cash in, and cash in they did. Doug Phillips, with his cunning business acumen and lawyerly skills, was able to cash in to the tune of millions of dollars per annum. Kevin Swanson and R.C. Sproul Jr. are comparatively inept and haven’t enriched themselves quite as handsomely, although they’ve still made a healthy living off of home schooling, and each have gathered a large and loyal following. They are The Home School Rock Star Band. They banded together and appointed themselves leaders of home schooling, a movement which theretofore had been autonomous and parent-directed, not unlike the home church movement.

These takeover artists were of a different breed from their forebears, men such as Raymond Moore, a man who truly deserved the title “The grandfather of Christian home education.” Unlike the young upstarts who came after him, Ray Moore wasn’t in it for the money, the notoriety, or to start his own cult group. He was a self-sacrificing man of God, as was R.J. Rushdoony who also sacrificed much as a pioneer of the modern home school movement.

In my view Rushdoony doesn’t deserve the guilt by association he’s been saddled with because of those corrupt men who came after him, men that he in no way trained or tutored, and yet these men claim him as the source of their theological inspiration. If I perceive Rushdoony’s views correctly, there is very little in common, other than the terms used (such as “Patriarchy”), between what he taught and practiced and what the Hyper-Patriarchs practice. That’s my perception, and I have good reason to believe it’s accurate.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that my perception is heavily informed based on what Chalcedon Foundation was during R.J. Rushdoony’s life, and not so much on what Chalcedon Foundation has become subsequent to his passing in 2001. Quite frankly I think your organization has done a poor job of carrying foreward the legacy of its founder, and what I’m about to say is a perfect example.

In 2007 your organization, via it’s communications director Christopher J. Ortiz, posted on its website In Defense of Doug Phillips to counter and put down Jen Epstein’s public warnings to the Christian home schooling community of the dangers of continuing their relationships with Doug Phillips. Chris Ortiz made no attempts to privately contact Jennifer prior to posting that article, although he did contact Doug Phillips, and even Matt Chancey. Hypocritically in that article, Chris Ortiz accuses Jen of being “one sided”, while making no attempt to get her side of the story.  To his credit, Chris Ortiz did soon thereafter make his article go *POOF* from Chalcedon’s website. It was replaced with a much briefer article, but as Jen notes, with a “far more inflammatory and misleading title than the original article had”, Beware Agents Of Defamation. Jen saved both articles and posted them as, Chalcedon Foundation Back-Peddles On Defending Doug Phillips.

In a comment that Chris Ortiz posted in reply to Jen’s article he offers up as a defense, “We know Doug and VF. We were not aware of you and Mark (and this is not a fun way to meet!).” When we say “we know” someone in that sort of context, and with the sort of events that were transpiring at that time, it can only mean, “I vouch for this person’s character and integrity, and I’m so convinced of my position that I’m willing to publicly call you an ‘Agent Of Defamation’ and ‘irresponsible’.” Ortiz presumptuously and omnisciently dismisses Jen’s assertion,  “We’re not motivated by vengeance. We’re motivated by a genuine concern for the well being of the Christian home school movement.” He dismissed the Allosaurus fakeumentary debacle, even though its public exposure as a fraud resulted in such a huge scandal that Doug Phillips immediately pulled it from his online catalog. Ortiz concludes In Defense of Doug Phillips with, “Mrs. Epstein has made a bold step in making these matters public. She better hope she’s right. The heavenly reciprocity may not be to her liking.” 

Heavenly reciprocity? Now you’re sounding just as threatening as Doug Wilson. I’m confident R.J. Rushdoony would have never spoken like that. Rather than invoking divine threats, I’ll merely speak of personal responsibility. Your dismissiveness of the Epsteins’ charges provided cover for an ecclesiastical tyrant who had already destroyed the lives of many families, including the faith of many small children (see Mark 9:42,  Matt 18:6) who have fled the Christian faith altogether. With your repudiation of the Epsteins’ public warning, and a public endorsement of Doug Phillips, you further empowered him to continue his abuses, at least up until just this past month, all based on a fatuous claim that you “knew” the man. You knew nothing.

You were at least correct about one thing: “Mrs. Epstein has made a bold step.” She is indeed bold, and she is courageous. Jennifer Epstein was out on the front lines seven years prior to Doug Phillips’ current sex scandal, warning the Christian home school community that Douglas W. Phillips is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That took an incredible amount of courage to go up against a man with the immense resources Doug Phillips had at his disposal. Jen was a mere home school mother going up against a very popular religious leader and attorney with millions of dollars at his disposal. He was supposedly “known,” but all anyone knew of Jen was that she had been forever tainted with “Excommunication.” The obstacles that Jennifer Epstein has had to overcome in order to bring the home school community’s attention to this wolf in sheep’s clothing have been enormous. Tragically, most, like Chalcedon Foundation, chose to remain blissfully ignorant and ignore the warning signs.

But a sex scandal isn’t so easily ignored, especially a sex scandal that was taking place for years, and throughout the entire time Douglas W. Phillips was lecturing and preaching to us about multi-generational faithfulness, Christian morality, marital fidelity, husbands loving their wives, fathers setting good examples for their sons, etc. We’ve all seen examples of hypocrisy in the church, but rare have been examples where the hypocrisy has arisen to this level.

Chris Ortiz and Chalcedon Foundation, you couldn’t have been more wrong. You didn’t “know” Doug Phillips at all. He was cheating on his wife at that very time in 2007 when you came to his public defense, and even long before that. If you were wrong about that you should really consider going back and reevaluating everything else you’d assumed about him. It would also be wise to carefully evaluate those men who claim to be carrying the mantle of R.J. Rushdoony but, who in reality, are merely using it as a pretext to abuse their authority. Jen called on you over 6 years ago to show your loyalties to the Christian home schooling movement by distancing yourself from Doug Phillips. You ignored those pleas and gave him cover instead. In the future I trust you’ll be far more careful before you stake your reputation on a man that you’ve been warned about. Warnings of that nature shouldn’t be so flippantly brushed aside.

Whether you like it or not you do face a guilt by association image problem, and you are largely responsible for it. You’re an educational ministry, yet you’ve failed to effectively educate on this issue, and there’s only one way to fix it. Please consider embarking on a thorough study and exposé of “Patriarchy” as it is espoused and practiced by Doug Phillips, Doug Wilson, R.C. Sproul Jr, Kevin Swanson, James McDonald, and others of their ilk. Then publish it as a report, as you have done with so many other important topics. The fact that you have failed to do so gives many the impression that you may agree with these “Patriarchs” (silence is acquiescence).

To my knowledge, Jen Epstein was the first to launch into a diligent survey of the “Biblical Patriarchy” espoused by Doug Phillips. Her multi-part series motivated other home school moms to do the same, moms just like her with no formal theological training. Even with her lack of formal training, Jen soon discovered that the so-called biblical support Doug Phillips claimed for his positions were largely bible verses taken completely out of context. She soon had completely collapsed Doug Phillips house of Patriarchy cards. But where was the leadership of organizations like Chalcedon Foundation at the time, and why the silence on this vital subject since then? If you continue with this silence it can only be interpreted that Chalcedon Foundation is on board with Doug Phillips and the Hyper-Patriarchs.

You were given a golden opportunity in 2007 and you completely blew it. Don’t pass up a second opportunity. As a courtesy I will send your organization an email notifying you of this article. Your comments here are welcomed.

Lastly, if you have a mind to issue some sort of retraction, or apology, or some other statement distancing yourself from Douglas W. Phillips, you might want to do so sooner than later. The sex scandal is just…

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