Doug Phillips: Portrait of a Religious Sociological Cult Leader

Doug Phillips the wizardThe public exposure of Doug Phillips’ clergy sexual abuses have had the net effect of Toto pulling the curtain back on The Great and Powerful Wizard Of Oz. With the exposure of his colossal hypocrisies, Doug Phillips has lost all credibility, along with all his close personal friends and most of his admirers. Even several former Vision Forum employees and interns are posting articles and Facebook comments that clearly target their former boss, Jordan Muela’s article being the best example so far. Though in most cases they fail to mention Doug Phillips by name, everyone gets the idea anyway.

Doug Phillips has also lost his ability to control and intimidate through scare tactics. The level of fear from current and former members of Boerne Christian Assembly — “The Community”, as they call it — is not completely evaporated, at least not quite yet; but it’s been rapidly diminishing in the past month.

Seldom has any man fallen so abruptly from such a high and respected position to such a low one. With his public plunge comes the abrupt loss of Doug Phillips’ power over others, in particular his power to dominate Boerne Christian Assembly and Vision Forum employees. The fear of Doug Phillips has diminished commensurate with the plunge in his public image. With the loss of that fear more and more people are willing to come forward to tell their stories.

Those who have never been in a mind control cult themselves, or who have never studied the psychology of religious sociological cults, will have  difficulty believing that one 5’4″ man could wield so much power and control over one church, not to mention tremendous influence over thousands of his adoring followers. But for those who have gone through a cult experience yourself you’ll very much relate to this exposé, just as you’d relate to The Village.

When people who have never been in a cult themselves hear accounts of a cult they typically exclaim, “Why didn’t those people just get out of there? What held them back? Have they all lost their minds?” The answers are somewhat complex, except for this one: Yes, in a sense, they did lose control over their otherwise very sane minds. That’s not to say that any of them ever were or became stupid or crazy or mindless drones. They’re not any of those things. Anyone who believes they are too smart or invulnerable to coming under the mind control of a master manipulator, such as a Douglas W. Phillips, Esq., may be a prime cult group recruitment candidate themselves. Millions of people have gone through experiences just like the people of Boerne Christian Assembly. Those millions would have no trouble at all believing the stories of BCA victims.

What sort of people join cults? If BCA is any indication then it would seem that surprisingly intelligent and successful people often do. In BCA’s case they have included:

  • Medical doctors
  • Military officers and enlisted
  • College professors
  • Ranchers
  • Missionaries
  • Construction contractor
  • Business owners
  • Electrical engineer
  • Hotel manager
  • Financial analyst

I may not have believed their stories myself had I heard of them as a younger man. I’ve since experienced the devastation of joining what I thought was a perfectly normal church, only to recognize some six months later that I was actually in a religious sociological cult. I very much relate to BCA members because my own cult had been heavily influenced by the teachings of Doug Phillips and his fellow Patriarchy/Quiverfull/Home School/Stay At Home Daughter/Family Integrated Church gurus. My cult was led by a man who suffers from the same personality disorders as Doug Phillips (most cult leaders are sociopathic narcissists).

Cults are generally categorized as religious, sociological, and sometimes both. Religious cults are typically benign in practice and aberrant in doctrine. In other words they’re often non-abusive. Sociological cults are highly manipulative and often abusive. Religious sociological cults are the worst of both worlds. The abuses in these cults often manifest in clusters — various combinations of:

  • Emotional Abuse
  • Psychological Abuse
  • Spiritual Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Physical Abuse

Every cult will manifest at least one of these forms of abuses, and where one abuse is manifest it’s common to see additional forms manifested too. The fact that Doug Phillips has been publicly exposed for clergy sexual abuse means there is good cause to scrutinize him for perpetrating other forms of abuse. In my previous article I exposed a very perverse form of clergy sexual abuse that Doug Phillips is directly and personally responsible for. In this article I’ll address the emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuses that Doug Phillips is guilty of. It is only by the methodical and repetitive application of these other abuses that Doug Phillips was able to condition and control BCA members, thereby making them vulnerable to the clergy sexual abuses which followed.

Cult leaders generally have an entire toolbox of manipulation and control tools that they rely on. Charm is generally the first choice of Doug Phillips’ manipulation tools, and he’s a very accomplished charmer. Charm usually does work for him. However, “charm is deceitful” (Prov 31:30), and charm will only take a man so far. When charm doesn’t work Doug Phillips can abruptly shift to scare tactics. He can transform from friendly soft-spoken charmer to furious red-faced screamer in half a heart beat. An example of this is how he could charm the audience at the San Antonio International Christian Film Festival, yet go back stage and scream at the young BCA volunteers who were helping there. This Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde whipsaw effect is a classic cult leader conditioning technique. Not many people have personally witnessed Doug’s explosive rage, but those who have will never forget it.

As a religious cult leader Doug relies on the authority of the scriptures to give him an air of legitimacy. Like all other religious cult leaders, Doug Phillips cherry-picks scripture, twisting and perverting for his own manipulative agenda. The Doctrines of Grace don’t make for particularly effective tools of mind control, which is why Doug rarely, if ever, preaches on grace. But in the right hands the “Law-Word” Doug Phillips adulterers stoned to deathcan be terrifying. It doesn’t get any scarier than the prospect of eternal conscious punishment in the lake of fire. Law in the hands of a religious sociopath can be a terrifyingly effective mind-control tool. Doug Phillips preaches Old Testament Law every Sunday, and rarely ever exposits anything from the New Testament (with the exception of a brief homily during communion). Grace is given little more than a passing nod. Ironically enough, throughout the entire time Doug Phillips was cheating on his wife he was also preaching, “The Bible requires that all adulterers be stoned to death.”

To any casual observer BCA would strike them as having an appearance much like any other conventional family-friendly church. In fact BCA members have consistently praised the genuine “community” atmosphere that is hard to find in so many other churches. Sunday church often turns into an all-day affair, just like church typically was a hundred years ago, with services lasting 2-3 hours, and then a dinner on the ground “pot-providence” (pot-luck is evil). BCA families become intimate friends, fellowshipping not just at church on Sunday but also throughout the week. Children grow up together and some have married, making the bonds of family friendship just that much more intimate. For most BCA members these become the closest friendships they have ever known. That level of family investment in any church would make it extraordinarily painful to have to leave. This too can be another tool in the toolbox of the cult leader, and in the hands of a malicious man he can easily rip families to shreds.

In those times where there were no causes for conflict, things tended to operate much at just like other family-friendly churches. But every church still has problems arise from time to time, and every pastor must have some conflict resolution skills. Doug Phillips is woefully equipped in this department, and he has a penchant for turning a conflict into the makings of a church split. When conflicts have arisen at BCA Doug Phillips has often resorted to resolution by threat. Fear, if not terror, is the emotion that has overwhelmed many under Doug Phillips’ pastoral care. Doug Phillips has used threats and intimidation to great effect — to control The Community.

Doug Phillips excommunicationAt BCA one can come under “church discipline” for practically any reason at all. One does not need to be guilty of any particular sin, as the Bible defines sin. All that is necessary to come under “church discipline” (a euphemism for the wrath of Doug) is to say or do anything contrary to Doug Phillips’ personal preferences. Such was the case for Jennifer Epstein. According to Doug no Christian should or could vote for George Bush. Doug held that, as pastor, it was his prerogative to coerce his church members to vote for Constitution Party Candidate Michael Peroutka (Doug’s father, Howard, is founder of the Constitution Party). Anyone who disagreed was subject to church discipline. Jen dared to write Doug Phillips a letter expressing an opinion contrary to his. She believed that it was acceptable to vote for the Republican candidate. She was wrong. She found out that voting Republican was an excommunicatable offense. In response to Jen’s letter Doug snarled, “You’ll pay for this!” She was excommunicated by Doug’s Star Chamber proceedings absent any due process. The church was then ordered to shun Jen and her entire family.

Shunning is the big stick in most cults. However, religious cults, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, only shun the accused sinner. A sure sign of a religious sociological cult is that they will shun an entire family for the sins of just one member of the family. Not only were Jen and her husband treated as pariahs, so were the Epstein children. Their friends could no longer so much as say, “Hello.” Natasha Epstein experienced the devastation of having her best friend fold her arms and turn her back on her. If ever there were a system intended to destroy the Christian faith of children and teens, Doug Phillips has perfected it.

Another sure sign of a religious sociological cult is what happens when anyone tries to leave. In a normal church, if a member wants to leave, they can just leave. More formal churches have more formal expectations, such as requesting a letter of transfer to another church. But in all cases, real churches will always permit members to leave for any cause, at any time, with relative ease. A sure sign of a cult is that the cult leader makes it difficult to get out. If a request is made to leave, or for a letter of transfer, and the response is a threat, you know it’s a cult. Like all other cults it’s relatively easy to join BCA. One attends a membership class and then signs “The Covenant.” The problem is that Doug views The Covenant as being akin to marriage: ‘Til death do us part. To quote Doug Phillips: “There are only two ways you can leave BCA. You can die or the Elders can agree to transfer you to another church.”

Multiple BCA members have tried to leave over the years and there have been multiple threats.  The threats get especially ugly if a member wishes to transfer their membership to another church because they are displeased with Doug in any way. It’s unacceptable to ever show any displeasure or disapproval in a cult leader. Doug Phillips has seldom permitted a transfer to another local church, even under the best of circumstances, but leaving because someone is displeased with him is rarely ever permitted. Transfers are usually only permitted if you’re moving out of state, and a move out of state must be for a reason that Doug approves of. Any who try and leave without first obtaining Doug’s permission are “put under church discipline,” a preliminary sanction intended to dissuade the member from departing. If that doesn’t work the member is excommunicated.

Excommunication from BCA is emotionally and spiritually traumatic enough as it is. But Doug Phillips has often shown himself to be a very vindictive man. In Doug Phillips’ way of thinking excommunication is often insufficient punishment. Like so many other ecclesiastical bullies, Doug recruits teams of men as enforcers. At BCA it’s been Bob Sarratt, and Michael Gobart. At Vision Forum it’s been his interns and a few select employees. Through his henchmen he has proactively meddled and interfered with various “excommunicants” ability to join any other church, and he will keep up the harassment for years after an excommunication. Doug Phillips is also known for meddling and interfering in excommunicants livelihoods, including their businesses and employment. If he can ruin excommunicants financially he will. Last but not least is the threat of litigation which Doug Phillips has made against many.

As is the case in most religious sociological cults, conditioning through repetition is a key component of successful mind control. Squelching any and all complaints necessitates fabricating a plausible biblical doctrine. Labeling all grievances, legitimate or not, as “gossip” is a ready-made excuse for stifling complaints. Gossip is a subject Doug has harped on many Sundays, labeling it a “horrific sin.” Any gossip is subject to “church discipline.” This includes even listening to “gossip” or looking at “gossip” on the internet. Any web site that ever says the least thing unfavorable towards Doug Phillips is especially “horrific”, and any bloggers who have ever said anything negative of Doug have been branded “internet assassins” (such as Jen’s Gems). BCA members have been threatened with church discipline should they so much as look at any such blogs. So-called gossips have been made examples of by Doug to maintain control through instilling fear. BCA members have lived in mortal fear of speaking or listening to one another about any problems they have witnessed in the church, regardless of their severity.

However, everyone has their limits, and that limit is usually reached where it concerns the safety of one’s own children. Doug Phillips’ refusal to take charge of the Jennifer Grady issue ultimately pushed numerous BCA parents past their limits. Every BCA member has witnessed many examples of Doug Phillips meddling, interfering and being a control freak; and yet he wouldn’t take control of the Jennifer Grady sexual harassment. It remains a great mystery to this day.

Group conformity is another significant psychological factor of mind control in religious sociological cults. Even outside of cult settings, group conformity can be an enormous influence, as the Asch Conformity Experiments in the 1950’s proved. As the group grows in numbers the influence of conformity grows with it and it becomes ever more difficult for individual members to voice dissent. Any nonconformity is dealt with swiftly, and nonconformists often won’t even have to be corrected by the cult leader — the members themselves will often put down any nonconformity. An example of this is the BCA dress code. BCA women must wear dresses, not just to church, but at all times. Several of the BCA women are so observant that they can actually tell when a woman walks into church if she’s been wearing pants that week. One woman in particular won’t hesitate to call any such nonconformists out back of the church and give her a shaming session.

One would think that a cult leader’s influence would extend only as far as the four walls of his “church.” However, the power of group conformity is sometimes so significant that it can easily extend far beyond those four walls. Doug Phillips’ influence has extended coast to coast, largely through the micro-culture of the Christian home school community. It’s primary platform for leaders like Doug Phillips are its various state conferences and conventions. As a gifted and charming orator, thousands have hung on Doug Phillips’ every word. Being enamored by his charm, eloquence and gushing, an audience’s logic and common sense often goes right out the window. They become easy candidates for indoctrination. Even in spite of Doug Phillips’ public disgrace, many are still hearing his voice in their heads saying, “As Christians we must hate the horrific sin of gossip.”

For years many conference attending home schoolers have, because of Doug’s programming, lived an almost neo-Amish existence, viewing the internet as an evil promoter of “horrific gossip” with blogs like this one being run by “internet assassins.” No truth or insight can be found here because, as everyone knows, Doug Phillips is a godly righteous servant of Christ worthy of only praise and adulation. To go anywhere near a blog that mentions Doug Phillips by name without praising him to the heavens is “horrific sin.” Naturally, they also refuse to listen to any of the numerous home schoolers who feel betrayed and feel compelled to talk openly about it.

Preaching against the “horrific sin of gossip” has proven to be an effective mind-control tool. In spite of the magnitude of the Doug Phillips’ sex scandal, a scandal one would easily assume that everyone by now is up to speed on, we know from the numerous emails we’ve received that there are likely still thousands of Doug Phillips fans that refuse to inform themselves on Doug’s self-destruction.

A Cult Leader Destroys Himself, Yet His Followers Remain Under His Influence:

Jen was sent via email a newsletter from CHEF, a Missouri-based home school organization with a large membership. In it they plead with members to contribute generously toward “a special care package” for Doug Phillips and family. I thought this a nice gesture, at least up until I got to the part of the obsequious praises they sing to “our hero.” It makes me wonder just how odious Doug’s sins would have to be before they’d stop worshiping him. Be forewarned — it takes a strong stomach to read this:

Dear Families,

As many of you know by now, on October 30, Doug Philips resigned from Vision Forum, with Vision Forum Ministries dissolving on November 11. Like most of you, we are deeply grieved over this tragedy. On behalf of Doug, we would like to say that in all our years of leadership, we have never known another man with such a brilliant mind, clear reasoning, great wisdom, passion for God’s Word, courage and fortitude in fighting for the family, an innovative mind in creating tools for equipping families for the cultural battle, and who possessed a genuine love for his family. Nor have we known another man who has produced so much fruit for God’s kingdom. Just think of all the fruit Doug created and spearheaded. It is truly phenomenal! He deeply cared for the flock and labored continuously to feed the flock God’s best. He protected many from continuing in their sin of neglecting their duty as fathers, mothers, and children. He fed; he fed; he fed. He took God’s people to the choicest of pastures and the purest of waters. He elevated their sights to the heavenly throne of God and labored to keep them there. Doug had been given a vision and mission from God.

Doug was clearly raised up for such a time as this. He was our hero—the man who could lead us to victory through this horrific war. We revered him, loved him, and cheered him on. He was family.    Furthermore, in all the years we worked with Doug, we have never known another man who adhered to such high standards in keeping himself above reproach. He always traveled with his family, or at least one of his children, and surrounded himself with interns and staff. Doug told us that he went so far as to refrain from entering an elevator alone with a woman. So you may wonder, with all this protection, how did this great sin occur?

From our study of history, we know that the enemy always works at destroying the very thing that leaders boldly proclaim—the very principles upon which the fortress is built— and like a lion ferociously devours his prey.    Doug built his ministry on Christian marriage, Christian patriarchy, the Christian family, virtuous boyhood, virtuous manhood, virtuous womanhood, virtuous families. Boldly engaging in the cultural battle for the family, Doug was winning victory after victory, so naturally, the foundational truths upon which the ministry was built was the area that Satan must destroy.

Everyone knows that the best strategy for winning a war is to concentrate all efforts against the leaders of the battle. You simply take out the generals, the captains, the colonels—those who lead the fight—and you demoralize the troops to the point of total defeat.

Doug Phillips was the general in the homeschooling community. He led the battles, so it comes as no surprise that Satan pointed his biggest guns against him—to silence the voice of hope and destroy the heart and soul of the ministry. Although God is mightier than Satan, we must never underestimate the power of the enemy and the endless legions he has for fighting his battles. Although the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church, leaders always suffer heavy losses because they are in the forefront of the battle for life.

So if God is greater than the enemy, why did He give Satan permission to sift him and allow this to happen?

This is a perfect illustration of the magnitude of willful ignorance that often comes of following a cult leader. Their hero has fallen but they remain in abject denial of the fact that he isn’t just an adulterer, he’s an abusive narcissistic sociopath. They are prime candidates for blindly following after the next charismatic home school guru that rises to the top, only to repeat the cycle of abuse. And who will that next guru be? Voddie Baucham? Scott Brown? Peter Bradrick? Gregg Harris? Geoffrey Botkin? R.C. Sproul Jr? Kevin Swanson? Most of them, with the likely exception of Voddie Baucham, are already skilled manipulators and just a hair’s breadth away from being cult leaders, if they’re not that already. The last thing their overinflated egos now need is to assume Doug Phillips’ mantle.

Sadly, there remain thousands of home schoolers who just don’t get it. They’ve learned nothing from the example of the disastrous life of Doug Phillips. They don’t recognize they were conned by a huckster, a carnival barker, a facile manipulator. As such, they’re almost certain to get conned again.

Thankfully there are those who see clearly that Doug Phillips is nothing more than a master manipulator. To quote Nathan Huber, a former Vision Forum intern and BCA member:

“I thank God that I experienced the art of manipulation from a master and can now spot it a 1,000 miles away.”

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All memes used by permission of Doug Phillips Memes

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