Doug Phillips’ Stubborn Silence

We Finally Go Public After Doug Phillips’ Lawyer Mouthpiece Refuses Additional Apologies and Efforts at Reconciliation

(Start with chapter one, if you are new here.)

When Natasha was 15, she decided to enter the Elsie Dinsmore contest by Vision Forum in 2002. Having never written an essay before, she was excited and worked hard on it. She was very pleased when she won first “Runner-up” in her age category (13-18), and that recognition afforded her many opportunities to meet people all over the United States. Inevitably, when we would travel, or especially when we would attend a Vision Forum event, Natasha was often asked if she was the girl who won the Elsie Dinsmore essay contest. Unfortunately, however, Doug Phillips decided that our excommunication should extend to treating Natasha like a heathen and a publican, and sometime after April 1, 2006, Doug dropped her from the list of winners. You can see the cached Vision Forum page of Natasha winning here, and the current Vision Forum page here.

Shortly thereafter, upon receipt of Don Hart’s letter, Mark replied to Don on June 15, 2006, beginning with confessing whatever new sin he was aware of:

There is no doubt I owe your client [Doug Phillips] an apology for the letter sent the week following your client’s deliberate public humiliation of my wife that he, and now you, refers to as “church discipline” followed by excommunication. I should have confronted your client a second time (on a one-to-one level) before sending a letter to every covenanting member of Boerne Christian Assembly. I also owe your client an apology for my actions in November 2005, after previously learning your client, or those vested by your client, related our excommunication to non-members of the covenanting community, which is anything but the “charitable treatment of two excommunicated individuals” you reference in your letter. In each case, I was wrong, it was sin on my part, and I am profoundly sorrowed by my actions. However, though sinful, in neither case do my actions rise to the level of actionable libel or slander.

Mark then gave Don Hart a little history of our situation, giving his opinion that the underlying reason for Doug Phillips excommunicating me is my comment on his blog about voting. Here is why Mark is convinced, as he tells Don Hart:

  • Your client [Doug Phillips] refused to accept my wife’s apology for speaking about him behind his back.
  • Your client has refused to accept a written apology from my wife in May 2005 for sending out the letter of January 2005 to all of BCA.
  • Your client told my wife if I had written the political email, it would have been acceptable.
  • Your client told my wife she would “pay” for her email.
  • Your client’s “leadership team” and hand-picked “counselors” worked with me to develop the areas of counseling for my wife, none of which included adultery or the bed you mention in your letter.
  • Your client personally warned me my wife would be publicly disciplined, which preceded my inclusion in the discipline.

Your client could have been sued for his intentionally tortious conduct, as well as the violation of the counselor/counselee confidentiality relationship violated during the public reading of counseling notes, while your client and members of his leadership team (two deacons) imposed formal church discipline upon my wife and me. However, my understanding of Holy Scripture forbids a Christian from suing another Christian under all circumstances. Furthermore, I wish to underscore that I am referring to man’s lower standard of professional behavior and confidentiality in both the actionable tort-violation and privacy issue – not God’s higher standard of conduct to which an elder must conform.

Mark went on to explain that the excommunication was not only unbiblical, but that Doug Phillips was accountable to no one, and therefore there was no way to appeal the excommunication. Mark listed several verses in Scripture that deal with excommunication and showed that none of them applied to us.

Gal. 1:8 – “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”

We did not preach a different gospel; at no time did I ever claim “sinless perfectionism” or anything similar. Reading Romans 6 and 8 in conjunction with Romans 7 is not a different gospel; it is the same gospel that Paul preached.

I Cor. 16:22 – “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed.”

We both love the Lord with all our heart.

I Cor. 5:9-11 – “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 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.”

We were not excommunicated for being sexually immoral; we were not covetous, idolaters, revilers, drunkards, or extortioners.

Mark then reminded Don Hart of II Cor. 2:6-8, in which Paul is talking about a man in the church who was previously disciplined:

“This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.”

Mark also gave fair warning that Doug Phillips has plenty to lose:

Should your client avail himself of your services in a civil suit, you need to be aware that no matter the result, your client will be tainted with the public image of a pastor, a pastor who is a public figure, suing a parishioner….The media, as well as the majority of female jurors, will be quite interested in a handpicked female counselor’s comments about marital problems always being the fault of the wife.

Another issue Mark clarified for Don Hart on behalf of Doug Phillips was that it was not Mark’s intention at that time to take this story to the internet (push of a button).

If I did not hear from your client, then I would take this issue to the next logical step, that step being sending all the relevant information I had to a minion of America’s pastorate. {Mark is saying that he was going to ask for help from a couple well-known pastors.}

To show how far Mark was willing to go in meeting Doug Phillips’ terms, Mark bent over backwards to effect reconciliation:

It is my fervent prayer and hope that your client and I can be reconciled as brothers in Christ. This is my desired end state, for I love your client, I respect his devotion to God, and I appreciate his ministry to the family. To accomplish this, I am willing to take two steps backward by dropping binding arbitration from the current discussion. If your client is willing to have Rev. Bob Welch function as an intermediary between us, then I am willing to meet with Rev. Welch and your client, even though Rev. Welch gave his approval to the excommunication. I am willing to begin the meeting by humbly apologizing to your client and asking for his forgiveness for the two sins articulated in this letter. I am even willing to keep this meeting private and never speak of it, if we can come to a mutually agreeable outcome, thereby allowing your client to address this issue, as he desires, with the congregants of BCA.

Mark asked three things of Doug Phillips in return: that he drop the excommunication and restore fellowship with Boerne Christian Assembly members, but not restore our membership; that Doug write a letter releasing us to attend another church in good standing; and that Doug Phillips would give his assurance that he would never try to excommunicate someone again without an ecclesiastical court.

Mark ended his letter to Don Hart with this:

Of course, I would prefer your client and I fall upon each others’ necks and publicly apologize to one another in front of BCA.

Following a lengthy phone call with Don Hart a few weeks later, in which Don insisted that the excommunication was biblical, although he could not articulate why, nothing was resolved, so Mark decided to try one last time. This last letter of July 31, 2006, was quite different:

After much prayer and study, … we do not fully understand or comprehend what BCA alleges our offenses to be.

In the disciplinary action letter of January 23, 2005, we are both accused of:

  1. Unconfessed sin
  2. Lack of repentance
  3. Bitterness
  4. Lack of love
  5. Jurisdictional abandonment and/or usurpation
  6. Using children as weapons against each other

As individuals, [Mark] is accused of:

  1. Unforgiveness and lovelessness*
  2. Not being under authority
  3. Threats of divorce*
  4. Anger*
  5. Lack of family leadership*

Jennifer is accused of:

  1. Rebellion against her husband and local church
  2. Gossip spreading
  3. Mean-spirited treatment of others
  4. Refusing to acknowledge sins
  5. Claiming a near sinlessness

(Note: 4 of 5 of (Mark’s) personal sins are marked with an asterisk (*). I am fully aware of these sins, I have publicly admitted my guilt, and have repented to God, my wife, and my family.)

The following is what we need to know in order to begin to understand the totality of the sin BCA says we have committed, in order to confess said sin and repent:

  • What are these biblically defined unconfessed sins that we committed?
  • What verses define the behavior as sin?
  • When and where, specifically, did the sins occur?
  • Who was or were the witnesses to each specific instance of sin?
  • What did the witnesses do, for each specific sin, to confront Jennifer or Mark in the spirit of Matthew 18?
  • What counseling (by whom, when, where, etc.) was provided for each sin?
  • What are the who, where, and when of each specific refusal to repent from each instance of a specified act of unrepentant sin?
  • Which specific sins rise to the level of an excommunicable offense?
  • What are BCAs definitions of “biblical repentance, restitution, and restoration to the body,” as stated in the excommunication email?

We take this excommunication very seriously, we want this issue resolved, and we wish to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters. However, since our right relationship with God is priority number one, then we need to know the specifics of our … behavior … for which God’s representatives are holding us accountable in order to be reconciled to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Mark asked for a reply by August 15, 2006, two weeks later.

When Mark did not hear anything from Don Hart for over a month, he was courteous enough to call him up and ask how the answers were coming along. Don Hart explained that he had been out of town and hadn’t been able to get the letter to Doug Phillips. While it was true that Don Hart was out of town, however, according to Doug Phillips’ own website, Don Hart was out of town with Doug himself, being a speaker at the Vision Forum Entrepreneurial Boot Camp during the month of August, 2006. Even though not delivering legal communications to your client can be considered malpractice, being gracious, Mark asked if three more weeks would be sufficient for Doug Phillips to provide an answer. Nevertheless, the mutually agreed upon deadline of September 29, 2006, came and went with no word from either Don Hart or Doug Phillips. And there has been no word since.

All we were asking was what would be expected in any court of law. Can you imagine a prosecuting attorney going before a judge and accusing the defendant of breaking the law? The judge would ask, “But what did he do?” The attorney would respond, “Well, he is violent and abusive.” Judge: “But what exactly did he do?” Attorney: “Well, he is violent and abusive.” Judge: “Prosecutor, he surely must have committed some crime. On what date, at what time, when, and where did the incident take place?” Attorney: “Well, I really don’t have that information, Your Honor. I just know that he is violent and abusive.” Judge: “Who did he abuse? How was he violent? What exactly did he do?” Attorney: “Well, all I know is that he was violent and abusive.” What judge would ever convict anyone based on that testimony? And yet that is exactly the kind of testimony that was used to excommunicate and discipline me. All I want is specifics. How can I possibly repent if I don’t know what I’ve done in the first place?

We were in a catch-22. We could publicly confess to broad, general sins we were accused of, both real and false, pay restitution, and put ourselves under the authority of a sole, unordained elder who had already abused us for five years. Or we could pretend that this whole situation didn’t exist and go to another church. Or we could just stay home and isolate ourselves. We prayed about what to do next.

It seemed that it was time to ask for help, so Mark asked me to call Dr. S.M. Davis, who had such an impact on our family and was a business associate of Doug Phillips. I called, but Dr. Davis doesn’t counsel people outside his own church anymore, so his daughter spoke with me. She did not understand what “excommunication” meant, so she thought it was merely a case of forgiving and going on with life. While we have forgiven all involved, however, that does not release those responsible from repentance and it does not change the fact that Doug Phillips has a track record of hurting many people and will continue to do so if he does not repent.

Shortly thereafter, a friend talked to us about our need to be in a church. We believed that we were putting ourselves under proper authority by staying home, since we were excommunicated and told that we were to be treated as heathens and publicans, but this friend gently rebuked us that since the excommunication was both unbiblical and without due process, we were in fact under no obligation to Doug Phillips regarding it and he encouraged us to find a church home. We have been attending church for a few months now.

In God’s providence, Ministry Watchman contacted us a while ago and asked if we would be willing to go public with our story, promising us anonymity. After much prayer and checking them out very carefully, we agreed to take the risk of telling our story to the public, in the hopes that we could warn fellow believers about this wolf in sheep’s clothing. As you can see, Doug Phillips immediately allowed others to expose our real names, so the protection offered by Ministry Watchman was no longer of any real use. We are grateful for Ministry Watchman’s continued support of our family, but it has been good for me to write this all out myself.

For the last two years, we have prayed every day about this situation, especially that our hearts would be right before God and that we would forgive Doug Phillips and those at Boerne Christian Assembly. We have forgiven them. We have sought to submit to their judgment even though we knew our treatment was unjust both in the substance of the accusation and in the lack of due process. Because Doug Phillips is the sole (unordained) elder at BCA, he is totally unaccountable in the church as well as outside of it, making a normal appeal to a higher church court impossible. We still tried to be reconciled as the Bible commands, working on an ad hoc basis with four elders from another church for 14 months. We wrote letters of apology for even the smallest offenses that we could think of, but Doug Phillips refused to forgive us of even those offenses. We wrote letters requesting explanations, but Doug Phillips refused to answer our questions. We offered to go to arbitration and mediation, but were met with threats of a lawsuit instead. You can see by Doug Phillips’ personal silence himself on the web that he will not answer us and that he has left us with only two options: slink away silently or go public.

We do not believe that slinking away silently is a biblical option. We are commanded to expose the evil deeds of darkness. And we are commanded to warn others of danger. That’s what we’ve been doing these past couple of weeks. Now the outcome of this situation is, as it always has been, in the hands of the Lord.

**********************************************

Although this is where our story ends for today, this is not where this blog ends. I will be providing commentary and analysis on not only different aspects related to our story, but also responding in a Christ-like manner to my detractors, who desperately tried to get my focus off my story.

I welcome questions and comments regarding everything on this blog in my story. I pray that God will give each reader discernment regarding Doug Phillips as you read my story, and I will do my best to clarify anything that is still unclear.

Thank you for your time and consideration in reading my story. May God bless you and your family.

Doug Phillips Threatens to Sue Us

In Response to Mark’s Request for Arbitration

(Start with chapter one, if you are new here.)

When Hurricane Katrina hit, many of the refugees came to San Antonio and we donated many, many items to help get them back on their feet. When Doug Phillips mentioned on his blog that Vision Forum was collecting clothes for affected homeschool families affiliated with Vision Forum, I decided to help out in this way as well. I was going past Vision Forum that day anyway, so I decided to drop off several bags of clothing. I went to the retail store, where I knew Kathleen worked (the same “friend” I gossiped to about Doug Phillips previously) and greeted her warmly as I arrived. This was the first time I had seen her since the excommunication seven months earlier.

She did not know about the clothing drive, so I directed her to Doug’s blog. She then called Perry, who told me to come around back. I went around back, where Ryan asked me if I needed anything. I mentioned that I was waiting for Perry, who thanked me very kindly when I dropped off the bags of clothing. End of story. Or so I thought.

The next day, September 2, 2005, I received an official letter in the mail from Vision Forum Management (not signed). It said:

Dear Jennifer,

We received a report today that you came to our offices without making an appointment with the director of distribution for Project Katrina, and that you proceeded to act in a rude and harassing way to members of our staff.

Given this action, your formal state of discipline with a local church, and your unrepentant slander and criminal charges widely distributed by you against members of the Vision Forum staff, you are officially barred from the Vision Forum property until all above matters are appropriately addressed to our satisfaction.

I can be certain that Perry did not tell a lie about me, since he has never treated me with anything but kindness. Given Kathleen’s previous distortion of our discussion one year earlier (when I “gossiped” about Doug Phillips not protecting my children and me), I can probably guess where this twisting of the facts came into play here. I asked my son, who was with me, if I was in any way rude or harassing, and he assured me I was not. I hope you, my readers, can see by now, that that is not my style. So, now I am officially barred from Vision Forum property because I wanted to help fellow Christians in need.

Not being ones to repay evil for evil, however, as soon as we were released to pursue reconciliation with Doug Phillips and Boerne Christian Assembly, Mark wrote a brief letter to Doug on March 10, 2006:

Dear Doug,

I pray that God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ continues to bless the work of your hands, as well as you and yours.

I am writing today for a very simple reason – to ask you, on behalf of my family, to articulate the specifics of what you deem necessary to effect reconciliation between us. Upon receipt of your list, I will seek to be humble in response and actions, realizing that reconciliation between us will undoubtedly be a process.

Endeavoring for the name of Christ, I await your response.

In His Love,
Mark

PS I thought your piece on Dr. Morris was an excellent tribute to a great man of God.

I was very proud of him for writing such a penitent letter and felt sure we would make progress now. Not hearing anything though, Mark sent him another copy on March 23, and then a reminder again a week later. Still no reply.

Mark then wrote to Bob Welch in April, 2006, asking him to intervene with Doug Phillips. Bob Welch was an elder at Boerne Christian Assembly several years earlier, and we heard through the grapevine that he was present at the excommunication “star chamber,” where all the Boerne Christian Assembly members voted us out. Mark told Bob Welch that while “we do not intend to seek any restoration to BCA as covenanting members, our sole intent is to be obedient to the Scriptures in seeking reconciliation with Doug and the members of BCA, as brothers and sisters in Christ, this side of heaven.”

Shortly thereafter, on May 4, 2006, Mark received a letter signed by Bob Sarratt on behalf of the Boerne Christian “leadership:”

Dear Mark,

On behalf of Boerne Christian Assembly I am responding to your communications to BCA via Doug Phillips. {Notice how Doug Phillips never takes responsibility himself, even though Mark’s letter was addressed specifically to Doug.}

For gross, habitual and unrepentant sin, both you and Jennifer were formally excommunicated from your local church. There was 100% head of household affirmation of the excommunication by the families of the congregation. Since that time the families of BCA have been diligently praying for your repentance.

The issue at hand is not primarily about reconciliation with any man or even with a local church, but reconciliation with God through repentance and submission to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Should you genuinely turn from the sins that have enslaved you, including demonstrating evidence of true conversion through public confession and restitution for wrongs, the people of BCA would joyfully accept your repentance and the leadership would work with you in supervising the restoration process. At present, there is no indication that you acknowledge your sins, let alone have repented from them. Also, your public actions in the community and through your shameful use of the Internet to slander and defame reveal the same pattern of ongoing wickedness for which you and Jennifer were excommunicated. {Mark’s request to Doug Phillips said, “I will seek to be humble in response and actions.” What more proof did they want? This was the most contrite letter I had ever seen from Mark, yet Doug Phillips (who we think really wrote this letter) insists that there is no indication of acknowledgement of sins or repentance from Mark.}

Reconciliation with God and the earthly removal of your status as a heathen and a publican requires evidence of conversion. It is not a matter of negotiations or bargains, but of heartfelt biblical repentance. Please consult with the documents we gave you in January of 2005 for more information on any of these details.

Sincerely,
Bob Sarratt for the BCA Leadership

There were no specifics given for how that repentance was to be demonstrated, so Mark again wrote Doug Phillips a lengthy letter on May 22, 2006. First, he confessed his sins:

My habitual sins included my failure to love my wife, my family, and myself as God commands, as well as failing to lead my family – my gifts from God. Not only have I confessed these sins before God and man, I daily seek God’s grace to remain in a state of repentance by completely turning from sins of anger and selfishness that found their outworking in my failure to love and lead my family.

Mark also stated why we did not want to return to Boerne Christian Assembly:

I do not intend to place myself or any of my family members under the authority of a church whose leader is unaccountable, who has engaged in a demonstrable pattern of abusive behavior toward those who legitimately question some of his specific actions, or who continues to use men too weak to hold him accountable to the duties and responsibilities of biblical eldership. As you are fully aware, Bob Sarratt publicly confessed in the June 2004 men’s meeting to not acting within the parameters of a quasi-elder and, therefore, not holding you accountable as the realistically sole elder of BCA. … I would be less than a God-ordained leader to my loved ones by placing them under your so-called leadership for any “restoration process.”

Mark then offered Doug Phillips mediation:

I am willing to seek resolution of our differences through a mutually agreeable arbitrator from outside the community. Moreover, I am willing to make any public apology for any sin not yet confessed that this mutually agreeable arbitrator would recommend.

Mark explained how unbiblical this excommunication was and how it was without due process, summarizing it thus:

You cannot invoke biblical passages providing you protection as an elder when you conduct yourself outside the God-ordained behavior that constitutes the parameters within which an elder must conduct his office. As an attorney, you know this.

Mark asked Doug for a response:

I suggest a personal response from you by June 6, 2006, regarding a willingness to engage in arbitration. If I do not hear from you by then, I will assume that you desire I take this issue elsewhere. Doug, I will beseech you once more in all humility – as I beseeched you regarding the unmerited and vicious public reading of Jennifer’s pre-conversion behavior – to arbitrate this dispute.

I think Doug Phillips misunderstood this next section:

Doug, you know it only takes the touch of a button to find yourself in a similarly embarrassing situation as RC Sproul, Jr. Ask your IT folks how easy it is to reduce the BCA writings and subsequent USPS and electronic correspondence between us to Adobe files, and then ask yourself if you want Jennifer’s letter of May 2005 seen side-by-side with your response, the tone of which embodies an almost palpable hatred. {At this time, we had no intentions of going public with our story, but were seriously considering telling our story to some other pastors and/or speakers who had a relationship with Doug Phillips, in the hopes that they could help us. Thus, the touch of a button to send the emails.}

He ended:

Lastly, please know that, despite our serious differences, I love you and my brothers and sisters at BCA. Yet, God did not make this image bearer a “yes” man to any man but, rather, a man who seeks to love God, love the wife he received as a gift and the children He chose to bless us with, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and the sinners He places in my path. As Martin Luther supposedly said, “Here I stand; I can do no other; God help me! Amen!

In the meantime, Mark and I weren’t the only ones being shunned, though. The shunning extended to our children, as well. Natasha, 17 at the time, suddenly had every friend ripped away from her. Some spoke to her once or twice at a public occasion, but for a social butterfly who was already struggling with her father’s anger, this was devastating. She soon left home. Joshua, a shy boy, lost all his friends as well. And Alicia, now 11, who is severely disabled, but loves to hug and greet everyone she sees, was even shunned. With the mind of a two-year-old, she didn’t understand why people who used to come over to her house every week now refused to hug her and turned their backs on her. The shunning was particularly difficult for all the children, but Mark and I took the opportunity to teach them forgiveness toward those who hurt them and to always take the high road. I taught them to greet those who turned their backs on them, to be kind to those who were mean, to love them unconditionally. We still pray every night for a spirit of forgiveness toward those who shun us and that we would love them as we should.

We never heard again from Doug Phillips, but on June 13, 2006, Mark received a letter from Don Hart, general counsel for Vision Forum:

Dear Mr. Epstein,

This letter is to advise you that I represent Doug and Beall Phillips. It is my view that under Texas and Federal law, your statements about the Phillips and your widely distributed letters of February 2005 and May 22, 2006 constitute actionable slander and libel. Were you convicted in a court of law for libel and slander, damages could be substantial.

{So, in response to Mark’s request for arbitration (Peacemakers, etc.), Doug Phillips “hires” an attorney to threaten us with legal action instead. Not only does he threaten us with a lawsuit, but he already talks about our conviction in the opening paragraph! And lest he forget to cover all the bases, he throws in a potential judgment as well. All this is in response to a request for mediation. Never mind the fact that as general counsel for Vision Forum, this constitutes a conflict of interest legally to represent Doug and Beall Phillips personally as well.}

Your recent letter of May 22, however, goes beyond defamation. You have formally attempted to blackmail my clients. Specifically, I refer to your threat of a public internet attack and your statement that Mr. Phillips will find himself in a “similarly embarrassing situation as RC Sproul, Jr.” unless he agrees to your demands. Like slander and libel, blackmail is unlawful and actionable.

{Blackmail? The legal definition of blackmail is the crime of threatening to reveal embarrassing, disgraceful or damaging facts (or rumors) about a person to the public, family, spouse or associates unless paid off to not carry out the threat, but that obviously isn’t the case here. Maybe he is talking about emotional blackmail, which is the stirring up of uncomfortable feelings in somebody, especially sympathy or guilt, in order to persuade that person to do something; but a request for arbitration could not be considered in that category, nor is this illegal. We know that Doug Phillips almost never responds to people unless he is given a deadline. He will put it off and put it off, as you’ve seen time and again just in our own story. This is what Mark said: “I suggest a personal response from you by June 6, 2006, regarding a willingness to engage in arbitration. If I do not hear from you by then, I will assume that you desire I take this issue elsewhere.” Mark then described the power of the internet, the power of email. He did not at any time say that he would do something to attack Doug Phillips if Doug did not meet his “demands.” This was not blackmail or a threat; this was merely an option that Mark reserved if Doug Phillips refused arbitration, which he did. He merely beseeched him to go to arbitration, asked him to respond by June 6, and told Doug Phillips that he would have to assume Doug refused arbitration if he didn’t hear from him. We know Doug Phillips well enough to know that if Mark did not put that clause in, Doug would have drug this out as long as possible, and we would be left dangling still.}

Since you are an excommunicated man under continuing church discipline, … it is not biblically permissible for Mr. Phillips to engage in the private arbitration you demand. Nor will Mr. Phillips be intimidated by your sinful and illegal attempt at blackmail.

{Since there was no ecclesiastical court for either the initial excommunication or for appeal, we offered what we thought was a reasonable alternative under the circumstances – arbitration. Again, there is no blackmail on Mark’s part.}

At this point, I am advising my client to consider practical and legal options.

It is the purpose of this letter to inform you that, should it become necessary to present a public or legal response to your slander, libel and blackmail, it will become necessary for Mr. Phillips and others to squarely and publicly address issues concerning your integrity and character. {This sure sounds like a threat to me.}

  1. The accusations by your wife and daughter to numerous witnesses that you are mentally unstable and in need of psychiatric treatment. {First he lies about who said this. Again, Bob Sarratt was the one who suggested that Mark was bi-polar. Then he lumps Natasha in there as saying this as well. Then he says there are numerous witnesses that can testify that I said this. If they do, they will be lying. And now he exaggerates the whole situation into “needing psychiatric treatment.” That is quite a leap from Bob Sarratt first asking if I thought Mark was bi-polar.}
  2. The accusations by your wife and daughter to numerous witnesses that you attempted to commit murder against your wife and children, and pose an ongoing threat to the lives and safety of your family due to uncontrollable rage and physical demonstrations of lack of self-control. {Doug Phillips did not take us seriously when Natasha and I brought these charges to his attention, but he will conveniently use them to discredit Mark if it comes down to going to court? He forgets that I made a written memorandum stating that I had come to him and the deacons asking for his help in this situation and he refused to protect a woman and her children then. Now he wants to turn around and “blackmail” Mark with threats of telling the world about what he did.}
  3. The decade long battle between you and your wife relating to her adultery which resulted in the conception of a child, and her refusal to remove the bed in which the adultery occurred from the home. This battle continued throughout the time leading to your excommunication and was a continual issue in our counseling of your family. Multiple parties can and will testify if necessary to these ongoing adultery-related sins between you and your wife. {This sounds like more threats, more exaggerations, and certainly a breaking of pastoral counseling confidences in telling this highly inaccurate story to his lawyer and threatening to tell it to the world, which as we see, he already did.}

It is a violation of both the civil law and the law of God to seek to coerce a man to set aside a biblical, lawful act of church discipline by threatening to defame him. Your libel and slander, which has been both private and public, has done much harm to the families of BCA and my clients. Despite this fact, Mr. Phillips and the leadership of BCA has chosen to suffer your harm and to continue to limit their conversation about your excommunication to a “need to know basis” instead of making widespread dissemination of those facts which prove your lack of credibility and the validity of your excommunication. This charitable treatment of two excommunicated individuals will not continue if you proceed on the course you have described. In any trial, the credibility of the witnesses is of paramount importance. For the good of your family I strongly urge you to reconsider your position.

{Don Hart needs to understand that the excommunication was both unbiblical and unlawful, so Mark was not violating either civil laws or the law of God. He did not seek to coerce Doug Phillips to set the excommunication aside; he merely asked to go to arbitration. Mark did not threaten to defame him, but merely stated the facts of what he would do if Doug Phillips refused arbitration. And now he is ending by threatening us with the possibility of a lawsuit again (in any trial).}

Sincerely,
Don Hart, Esq.

The overall tone of Mark’s letter was pleading with Doug to do anything to move forward on this, but Doug Phillips’ reply was to hire an attorney and threaten Mark with legal action instead, refusing his offer of arbitration.

But we are not put off by these threats and continue in our pursuit for reconciliation.

Doug Phillips Ends Friendship Rather than Admit Excommunication Error

Elders From Another Church Wash Their Hands of Him for His Refusal to Repent

(Start with chapter one, if you are new here.)

The elders of this other church were quite eager to help us and quickly set up a phone call to Doug Phillips on Wednesday of that week, February 9, 2005. Although Doug Phillips talked on the phone with these four elders, it was only to accuse them of violating Matthew 18. Despite the fact that Matthew 18 is a passage about how Christians should seek to resolve personal offenses and does not prevent elders in one church from trying to reason with an elder in another church over a disagreement about a church disciplinary matter, Doug Phillips was insistent that this church was sinning by harboring “heathens and publicans.” Doug Phillips insisted that these four elders should have come to him alone first, then to some larger group apparently, and then to all of Boerne Christian Assembly. Since these other elders were not the ones offended, but were merely trying to be peacemakers between brethren, Matthew 18 clearly did not apply in this situation. Although some of these elders were long-time friends with Doug Phillips, Doug was willing to break off these precious friendships rather than work together on this issue of our excommunication. He was only interested in them admitting that they had sinned by allowing “heathens and publicans” into their church. These four elders worked hard to get an appointment to actually meet with Doug Phillips but, as usual, Doug was too busy and could not meet with them for eight or nine more months. One of the elders expressed it this way: “A priority issue of this nature did not receive the attention it should have.”

Meanwhile, a dear friend suggested that I write a letter to Boerne Christian Assembly asking forgiveness for anything I could think of, so I prayed about it and decided to apologize for defending myself in writing, when Mark had already come to my defense by taking full responsibility at the congregational meeting for discipline. While I still maintained the truthfulness of my original letter, I did apologize for inadvertently hurting the five men involved and their wives by writing about them, but emphasized that my main intent was only to help prevent others from being hurt. I offered them my forgiveness, my love, and my fellowship, asking them to forgive me in return. This letter was written under the authority of the four elders as well, and sent with their blessing.

The next morning, May 20, 2005, the Boerne Christian Assembly “leadership,” which consisted of one unordained “elder,” Doug Phillips, and two deacons, sent an email to us (and copied to the whole congregation), reminding us that we were excommunicated and stating, “The excommunication took place according to Holy Scripture” {I’m still waiting for the verses that say I did something serious enough to warrant excommunication}, “with the 100% approval of the household heads of BCA” {I know this is not true, because at least one family didn’t know about it for months. Of course, even if it were true, it wouldn’t mean much, as fully half of the families who are members of Boerne Christian Assembly are employed by Doug Phillips, creating quite a conflict of interest}, “and only after the church which loved you and cared for your soul had demonstrated tremendous longsuffering and patience to you and Mark after five years of working with you, and in the midst of your longstanding and grievous sin” {For some reason, I think Doug Phillips truly believes he did the right thing, but I hope seeing it all here in writing will prick his conscience.}

“As you know, the Bible requires that excommunicants are to be treated and understood as ‘heathens and publicans.’ This is your status. All faithful believers of the Lord Jesus Christ will honor Christ’s command neither to eat nor fellowship with you as long as you remain excommunicant.” {Note what he is saying between the lines about the other church that took us in, as we had a potluck meal with them each Sunday. He is also warning the members of his own congregation that they will be regarded as faithless if they have any interaction with us.} “Though you may not understand this, your formal disfellowship and excommunication is an act of true love.” {In cases of true rebellion, this would certainly be true. But I was now in a lose/lose situation, and rebellion did not factor into it at all.} “Your life will in large part be defined by the way you respond to God’s discipline in your life through His local church.” {This is very true; our lives have in large part been defined by this situation, especially the lives of our children, who had every friend suddenly taken away from them.}

“When a person has been formally adjudicated ‘a heathen and a publican,’ and cast out of the body in the hope that they will flee to Christ under His kind discipline, the only way for such a person to be restored is to demonstrate true repentance by humbly returning to the local church, publicly and genuinely repenting for all sins which were the basis of the excommunication and seeking restoration under the oversight of the church leadership…” {In other words, my letter wasn’t good enough; I had to come in person and confess to all the false accusations in the original excommunication, and do whatever Doug Phillips wanted me to do. My husband has a favorite saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” I had already foolishly gone into that second meeting with Doug Phillips when I knew what had happened in the first meeting with him. Doug Phillips refused to forgive me when I asked for forgiveness, both for gossiping the first time, and now for this very letter. Doug Phillips called me names, lied about me, falsely accused me, preached against me, refused to protect my children and me, and looked down on me just for being a woman, in addition to not allowing me due process in any stage of discipline, and now he expected me to seek restoration under the oversight of the church leadership, which I know means Doug Phillips. Not only do I have no desire to be in an abusive situation like that again, but I hope to warn others of the potential abuse of Doug Phillips if they find they ever need help from him or they even disagree with him. I do not think it would be in anyone’s best interest to be under the oversight of Doug Phillips at this time.}

Something else that Doug Phillps’ comment here reveals is the claim that the local church is an absolute authority in matters of church discipline and that the leaders of that local church need not themselves be under any authority or accountable to anyone else. This is in direct contradiction to what Doug Phillips, Scott Brown, and others teach at the Vision Forum Uniting Church and Family Conferences. But imposing limits on others that he refuses to submit to himself is something Doug Phillips does all the time.

“Today, members of our local church received a letter which claims to offer some qualified repentance.” {I was extremely careful to ensure that my apology was without excuse, summarizing it thus: “I am sorry for responding when I should have kept quiet. I am sorry for saying hurtful things about others, especially the leadership. I am sorry for responding in less than a gracious manner. I was wrong to fight back in the manner in which I did, even though my intentions were to help others. Will you each forgive me?” I think that is a completely unqualified apology. However, what Doug Phillips is probably referring to here is when I say, “I will not be apologizing for the accusations brought against me. I am not seeking to be in covenant with BCA anymore…” Rather than accepting what I do apologize for, he is expecting me to apologize for things that I did not do.} “The letter continues to justify your sinful behavior” {doctrinal differences?} “and fails to address the issues for which you were excommunicated.” {I am still waiting for Doug Phillips to specifically address these issues as well.}

“Moreover, the fact that you would bypass the local church leadership and urge members of the local church to disregard the judgment of the local church is evidence of continued unrepentance.” {I said in my letter to them: “I consider each one of you brothers and sisters in Christ and have already forgiven everyone involved. I hold no bitterness nor grudge toward anyone and pray for you often. I hope that when we see each other, which we will, it will be with open arms and joy! … I know that Christ would be glorified if the world knew we were Christians by our love for one another.” And this is how Doug Phillips believes that I urged BCA members to disregard the judgment of the local church, by extending an offer of Christian love to them. Even though I knew that they were turning their backs on my children and me in public, I was offering them love instead.}

This is another example of Doug Phillips trying to have things both ways. He claims that the excommunication was decided by a unanimous vote of the heads of household at Boerne Christian Assembly. That means they exercised the disciplinary authority. Now he says I cannot repent to them and they cannot consider my repentence because they aren’t the church leadership? Make up your mind, Doug: If you want democratic church government (i.e., the heads of household voting for discipline), then they also get the right to independently evaluate a letter of repentance. But if you believe in republican church government (i.e., as in a presbyterian church where the elected and ordained plurality of elders decides on discipline), then the “leadership” at Boerne Christian Assembly needs to stop avoiding responsibility by hiding behind a heads-of-household vote. That kind of abdication of masculine responsibility goes straight back to Adam. It is unworthy of any self-respecting patriarch, let alone anyone who claims to be a church shepherd.

“Since defying the church discipline” {I still don’t know what that refers to}, “you have continued to lie and to slander as well as cause division within the community of believers, thus adding to the sins for which genuine repentance and restitution would be necessary.” {I have not lied or slandered, but I did tell the truth of the situation to the elders of the other church. I guess that attending another church is causing a division. Actually, it was Doug Phillips himself that was causing division within the “community,” by requiring the other churches to treat us as “heathens and publicans,” and coming against them when they refused to treat us that way, embracing us as Christians instead.}

“Should you truly repent for your sins, turn to the Lord, submit yourselves to Christ’s authority, and in humility seek restoration through the proper channels of the local church, we will welcome you with open arms.” {In other words, if I agree with everything Doug Phillips says, and I admit to doing things which I didn’t really do, and come crawling back to BCA and pay restitution (see above), and keep my mouth shut forevermore, then I can get back into this spiritually abusive church.} “Until that time, no true believer is to treat you as a Christian.” {For anyone who has treated me as a Christian, I fear for your soul, as Doug Phillips would say that you are not a true believer. I wonder how Jesus would treat me, if He were here.}

The timing of Doug Phillips’ email was somewhat significant, again, as it was sent at 12:32 a.m. on Friday. That particular weekend was the annual homeschool conference in San Antonio and we both knew that I would see many BCA members that weekend for the first time since the excommunication. I had a booth there selling an algebra program, which is the only homeschool business activity I have ever engaged in. My booth was very close to Vision Forum. The day before the conference (the same day I sent the letter to everyone at Boerne Christian Assembly), while we were all setting up for the conference, Vision Forum deliberately blocked my truck so that I couldn’t leave for an hour. Some teenage boys who used to attend Boerne Christian Assembly came over and helped me unload my truck and carry boxes to my booth. Upon seeing this, some Vision Forum employees made some very snide comments to these teenagers about helping a “heathen and a publican.”

The next day, several of the Vision Forum young ladies, when they had to go past my booth during the conference, would start running at full speed in their long skirts when they reached one edge of my booth, and then sprint to the other end of the booth, where they would then resume walking. That was my comic relief for the day. Most others would just turn their head away as they passed so they wouldn’t have to see me.

Due to significant doctrinal differences, we left the church at which the elders tried to assist in dealing with Doug Phillips after the requested six months, yetwe willingly remained under their authority in the area of the excommunication as they continued to try and reason with him. These four elders had requested that we let them take the lead in dealing with Doug Phillips on behalf of the Epsteins. Having a true desire to submit to authority, we both felt that since we were excommunicated, by biblical standards the church was to treat us as “heathens and publicans,” so we thought the best way to submit was by staying home on Sundays, as unbelievers would, while the elders of this church continued pursuing reconciliation with Doug Phillips and Boerne Christian Assembly. We recognize now that such submission was not necessary, but I point this out to stress that we were willing to go to great lengths to try and submit to church authority, even when we believed it was wrong.

We were blessed to be able to watch sermons each week on video from Dr. SM Davis, who deals extensively with solving family problems. Not long after beginning to watch these videos, Mark decided to fully repent from his sins toward our children and me. The more counsel we received from Dr. SM Davis’ sermons, the closer we began to grow as a couple and as a family. Even though we do not recommend home video or TV sermons as a legitimate substitute for church membership and regular attendance, we do believe that God honored our intentions in doing the right thing in our special circumstance, and He used the biblical teaching in the SM Davis videos to transform our family for the better.

In the fall of 2005, Doug Phillips and some other Boerne Christian Assembly “leadership” finally met for the first and only time with these four elders from the other church. Doug Phillips’ main concern still appeared to be that he wanted these four elders to admit they had sinned by taking excommunicants into their church and that they had violated the “letter of the law” of Matthew 18. Even if Matthew 18 had applied in this situation, which it did not, the “spirit” of Matthew 18 was never violated. These four elders were gracious and patient with Doug Phillips, going to him privately to work things out. By the close of the meeting, these four elders told Doug Phillips and the others present that they still love the Epsteins and would do the same thing if they had it to do over again. In fact, they told Doug Phillips that they would do the same for any other person from Boerne Christian Assembly if they were hurt by Doug as well, taking in the wounded family and loving them as Christ would.

Unfortunately, this resulted in severed long-term relationships on the part of Doug Phillips and the other elders, and between Boerne Christian Assembly and this church. There are now many divisions in what used to be a very tight-knit community. This is probably what distresses me most about this whole situation – that other relationships had to be torn on our account. I would never have wanted that. Of course, the division was not my choice but that of Doug Phillips, after he insisted on maintaining his autonomy and refused the loving admonition and wise counsel of elders from another community church.

In March, 2006, nearly 14 months after this other church began attempting to work with Doug Phillips and Boerne Christian Assembly on our behalf, and having repeatedly pursued reconciliation with Doug, they finally gave up and washed their hands of any further responsibility in attempting reconciliation on our behalf, leaving us free to now pursue the matter ourselves.

Doug Phillips Excommunicates by Star Chamber

Submitting to Beall Phillips is an Excommunicable Offense

(Start with chapter one, if you are new here.)

After no one in the congregation could give me even one example of the sins for which I was being disciplined, I had a long chat with Beall Phillips outside. She apologized for not speaking to me all those years, for which I immediately forgave her. (It was, however, necessary to bring it up again in this story in order to show the proper context of the whole scenario.) When I tried to explain to her that I just didn’t see anything I had done wrong, Beall Phillips encouraged me to write my concerns to the five men who put the disciplinary action document into place.

The next day, following Beall Phillips’ counsel, I wrote my “defense.” It was similar to what I had said in church that Sunday, but better organized, more detailed, and better presented, as I actually had time to work on it. I mailed it to Doug Phillips, the sole (but unordained) elder; Bob Sarratt and Mo Gill, the deacons; Rick Huber; and Richard Short, the new member; and all their respective wives as well, since I was informed that all ten of these people were in agreement with disciplining me (I’m not sure how this occured since women are supposed to be literally silent at BCA, but this is what I was told). I believe they would have received it that Friday, January 28, 2005.

That Sunday, January 30, I noticed that several of these people brought my letter to church with them. After the service, everyone except our family had another meeting. I don’t know what happened during that meeting, only what happened afterward. We ate our lunch in the truck, since we were not allowed to fellowship with anyone anymore. When people started trickling out nearly an hour later, I had a present from a baby shower I was unable to attend and so I tried to give it to my friend with triplets. She refused to take it, however, and turned her back on me.

Confused, I went into the building to locate my children. As I approached the building, everyone started backing away from me, as if I were a leper. As I entered the building, everyone not only backed off, but also started turning their backs to me as well. Apparently, “how to shun the Epsteins” had been one of the topics of the meeting.

Seeing that the letter of defense Beall Phillips had advised me to draft had not softened the hearts of those five men, I decided to appeal to the congregation as a whole as well, sending each covenanting member a copy of my “defense.” I did this because the BCA form of government was something like a democracy, with the heads of household being called to ratify sensitive decisions by Doug Phillips, rather than a church ruled by a plurality of elders, the biblical norm as taught by Doug Phillips at his Vision Forum Uniting Church and Family conferences. My naive hope at the time was that some head of household might be considerate enough to read the defense and try to intervene on our behalf. Each family would have received it the following Saturday, February 5, 2005.

Although it usually took Doug Phillips about six weeks to find time to meet with us, even when it was a life or death matter, somehow he managed to pull together an emergency meeting of the whole congregation of Boerne Christian Assembly that Saturday afternoon when everyone received my “defense” in the mail. Everyone was required to come to the Star Chamber except the Epsteins, who were neither invited to, nor informed of, the meeting.

Because Mark had decided that we would not attend where we were obviously not wanted (a public turning of their backs to us gave us a clue), we went to another church that Sunday, February 6, 2005. We arrived early in order to speak with one of the four elders there, informing him that we were under discipline at Boerne Christian Assembly. He immediately invited us to come worship with them anyway, saying he would find out more later. Although we had significant differences in doctrine with this church, we were amazed at the love we were shown as we walked in the door, with many people excited to see us. We knew about half the congregation already from other associations we had with them. We met afterward with the one elder and his wife, telling them our story so far, and with Mark again taking full responsibility for everything that happened.

I don’t often read email on Sundays, so it wasn’t until late that evening, after Mark was already in bed, that I saw an email from Boerne Christian Assembly, written at 8:15 that morning. Curious, I opened it up to discover that Mark and I had been excommunicated.

I was informed that my “sins were very clearly and specifically spelled out” (in the discipline document) and that “the truth of the charges (against me) were confirmed not only through multiple witnesses and written documentation, but through your highly self-incriminating testimony which consisted of railing accusations against the local church and multiple examples of slanders and falsehoods which were then refuted to your face.” {Instead of answering my question of what specific sins I had committed, because it is already supposedly in the discipline document, Doug Phillips again makes broad charges that I testified against myself and railed against my church with “slanders and falsehoods.”}

My best friend of nine years responded to the charge of railing in a recent comment on Ministry Watchman:

“First, I want to say that I was shocked when I read this on BCA’s statement. ‘The response of the wife in particular was to bring many hateful railings and false testimonies against women of the church and against the leadership.’

In all of the many years I have known Jennifer, I have NEVER ONCE heard her “rail.” In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her so much as raise her voice! She is NOT a person to be given to much emotion, as anyone who knows her can attest.

I have also NEVER known Jennifer to tell any sort of lie. She is extremely honest—sometimes brutally honest, which I’m sure was her REAL fault. Add her honesty to the fact that she is both outspoken and opinionated, and you can see why a controlling man would have a problem with her.”

I stay at her home for about a week each year, so she’s seen me at my best and at my worst; if I were a railer, she would have seen it.

The excommunication letter goes on to say, “Since that moment (of the discipline letter two weeks prior), you have comprehensively defied the discipline of the local church, and you have both promised to do so.” {I am still trying to figure out how I either defied their discipline or promised to do so.}

“You have both actively waged a campaign of division among your body.” {This must be the letter of defense that Beall Phillips encouraged me to write immediately after apologizing to me.}

“You have both born false witness and disseminated slanders horrible and numerous.” {I try very hard to be 100% truthful in everything. This is a slick way of not addressing the specific allegations regarding Doug Phillips’ behavior. Note that I did not bring charges against an elder, but rather my story was completely wrapped up in the words and deeds, or lack thereof, of Doug Phillips. I could not possibly tell my story without relating the facts of his involvement in it. Rather than refuting my accusations with clear testimony, as a lawyer normally would do, Doug Phillips chooses instead to broadly accuse me of “slanders horrible and numerous” and bearing false witness in general. Blackstone defines slander as “a false tale or report maliciously uttered.” There is not one thing I said, or have written here, that is false; therefore, there are slanders neither numerous nor horrible; there are no slanders at all.}

“You have tolerated and even encouraged similar unruly behavior from your eldest daughter.” {I told Natasha that I was proud of her for taking a stand against lies from the pulpit when she got up and walked out of the sermon that Sunday in December 2004. I hope she always stands against evil. Why is this being brought up in an excommunication letter?}

“You have both railed against your local church, and again violated God’s Holy Word which prohibits you from bringing accusations against your church leadership without two or three witnesses to substantiate your claims. {I think it’s time for a Webster’s 1828 definition of the word “rail:” to utter reproaches, to scoff, to use insolent and reproachful language. Using this definition, I would have say that although Doug Phillips railed against me in both meetings, rather than attempting to restore me in a spirit of gentleness, I don’t believe I have ever railed against anyone in my life, and certainly not my church elder. Again, I did not choose to bring accusations against Doug Phillips, but I could not give my “defense” without specifically refuting his false accusations against me. At least I gave specific details, dates, and examples of that which I “accuse” Doug Phillips.}

“You have made implied legal threats and raised false criminal charges against your local church.” {The last time I checked, using precise terms such as “character defamation” and “slander” to describe falsehoods is not the same as implying legal threats. If that were so, this very excommunication letter would constitute a legal threat against us as well. Neither is it correct for Doug Phillips to call them “criminal charges.” Defamation and slander (verbal defamation) are fundamentally torts, not crimes, as Doug Phillips would have learned during his first year in law school. Thus the fact that he calls an observation of an offense in tort an outright “criminal charge” can only be interpreted as hype to make him look like a poor victim of wild accusers.}

“In short you have despised the chastening of the Lord and His Love as demonstrated through the counsel and discipline of the local church.” {Therefore, although the only thing I did in the previous two weeks was to put my “defense” in writing, at the suggestion of Beall Phillips, that act alone constituted “despising the chastening of the Lord.” Notice how the local church demonstrated His love to us by publicly turning their backs on us as well. Notice also how Beall Phillips was silent as our discipline was upgraded to excommunication, even though I wrote my defense at her suggestion.}

Doug Phillips then relates the secret star chamber meeting of the evening before, in which all the Boerne Christian Assembly members voted to excommunicate us, without our being present, because of our “defiance of discipline, implied legal threats, acts of division, and continued slanders.” {You may read my “defense” for yourself and see if it was defiant – on the 4th page of this document, in the 3rd full paragraph, I state: “Frankly, I think you expect the Epsteins to leave and not to submit to church discipline; however, we are people under authority.” Again, proper use of legal terms does not constitute a legal threat. This “defense” was not intended to divide, but rather simply to tell the truth, none of which was told in the disciplinary action against me. I did not slander anyone in the first place, nor I did continue to slander anyone in my “defense,” as all I did in it was to tell my side of the story as accurately as possible.}

Based upon these manipulations of the facts, “effective immediately, you are excommunicated from fellowship, and according to Holy Scripture, are to be treated as heathens and publicans. … The members no longer are in fellowship with you.”

“The Scripture explicitly calls upon the body of Christ to mark those which are unruly and have nothing to do with them. Accordingly, you are strictly prohibited from attending the meeting of the church of the Boerne Christian Assembly, setting foot on the BCA church building or grounds, or attending any functions sponsored by the assembly.” {It is our opinion that, given the timing of the email at 8:15 on a Sunday morning, and knowing that we attend services every Sunday morning faithfully, and knowing how long it takes us to get to church, that Doug Phillips fully expected us to show up at Boerne Christian Assembly that Sunday morning, February 6, 2005, only to be publicly humiliated by surprise discovery of our excommunication in the presence of the whole congregation. But, in the Providence of God, He led us to another service that fateful morning.}

“Mark and Jennifer, only through biblical repentance, restitution, and restoration to the body can you hope to have any fellowship ever again with the local body. But more importantly, you must fear for the state of your souls.” {Ordinarily, a biblically accurate excommunication would indicate such rebellion that the status of the person’s soul should be in question. However, since I have not refused to repent from any sin, precisely because I have yet to be told of any specific sin I need to repent from, I cannot be in rebellion, so I will trust in the Lord for the state of my soul. I will not let this be a scare tactic to admit to doing something I haven’t done.}

“Your only hope is to repent and flee to Christ. Should that day come, we will welcome you back with open arms.”

When I met with the elder of the other church the following morning to give him copies of all the documentation, and showed him this excommunication letter, all he could say is, “This is just like the Salem witch trials in which several innocent women were accused of being witches. Those who lied and confessed to being witches were spared. Those who told the truth and denied being witches were executed.” This elder then, on behalf of the four elders of his congregation, asked us to stay at his church for the next six months and let him and the other elders try to handle this situation with Doug Phillips.

The problem was that matters had been arranged in such a way that neither of us could qualify as sufficiently “repentant” and also maintain our integrity. In my case, I was being called to repent for unspecified sins that I had not committed. In Mark’s case, the charges against him were true, but although he confessed and repented of them, he was still excommunicated. Apparently for both of us there was just no way to avoid excommunication by Doug Phillips: Refuse to repent of sins that you’re not guilty of and you’re excommunicated. Confess and repent of sins that you are guilty of and you’re still excommunicated.

Given the manner in which the substance of the charges was handled, it is no surprise that the procedure for the discipline was equally unjust. In fact, not only was there no actual trial prior to excommunication, but there was also no due process whatsoever, despite the fact that Doug Phillips, as a former practicing attorney, was very familiar with the vital necessity of due process for any trial.

In the end, the decision to excommunicate was ratified by “mob justice,” with the men in the congregation itself (half of whom were employed by Doug Phillips) being called to vote to excommunicate us without us being permitted to be present to hear the charges against us or to defend ourselves. Even if all the charges against us had been true, it’s not clear that any of them were grounds for excommunication and, in any case, there was no due process to test and prove the charges.

Tomorrow, we will examine what it is like to be treated as heathens and publicans attempting reconciliation.

Doug Phillips’ Political Payback

Disciplines Wife for Broad, Unsubstantiated Charges

(Start with chapter one, if you are new here.)

Life continued on as usual until we received a request to come to church early on January 23, 2005. The previous Sunday, Mark had told Richard Short that I was not a believer, so in my naiveté, I thought we were going to be asked to defend our faith at this meeting. When we arrived, however, there were five men waiting for us: Doug Phillips, the sole elder; Bob Sarratt and Mo Gill, the deacons; Rick Huber; and Richard Short, a brand-new member. They then proceeded to read us a document entitled, “Disciplinary Action of BCA for Mark and Jennifer Epstein.” (I would encourage you to read it now.)

There were many problems, inconsistencies, and lies in this document. For instance, in Section III A, there are four reasons listed for why Boerne Christian Assembly (read: Doug Phillips here) is going public. 1. “Your own lack of self control and inappropriate public behavior among the local church…” {I guess this means the time I talked to Kathleen about Doug Phillips not being willing to protect us.} 2. “Both of you are guilty of making misleading comments to your brethren bound to cause confusion to the saints.” {Notice how there is a pattern of broad charges, but never saying anything specifically. I have no clue what this is.} 3. “Your resistance and inappropriate response to shepherding” {I asked to bring a friend to the counseling sessions}, “confrontation (and even this disciplinary action).” {Here Doug Phillips assumes beforehand how we are going to respond to this very document even before he reads it to us; this is very similar to the document he presented at the first Kangaroo Court.} 4. “Under the circumstances, the Bible expressly requires that such matters be told to the church. (Matt. 18:15-17)” {Doug Phillips cites Matthew 18, step three, but he hasn’t used steps one and two yet.}

You will notice throughout this document that both Mark and I are addressed together as if we had either conspired to sin together, or as if we received the same treatment throughout our time at Boerne Christian Assembly. For instance, in section III B, it states that we “collectively received hundreds of hours of counsel from leaders and brethren.” {This is very deceptive, as I received a total of six hours of “counsel” from Beall Phillips and Reba Short, and four hours of name-calling and false accusations from Doug Phillips, during my entire five years at Boerne Christian Assembly. I shouldn’t forget the three times I asked Beall for advice on how to be a submissive wife to an angry husband as well. That probably equaled about 30 more minutes, for a total of 10 ½ hours altogether. Mark, on the other hand, did receive much more counsel than I did, but lumping us together in this group of “hundreds of hours” of counseling is quite deceptive.}

In Section III C of this document, Doug Phillips brings up, again, sins I had committed in 1989 and fully repented from in 1990 when I came to know the Lord. Not only had I repented then, but the letter of repentance I had written Mark almost three years prior was the very one that brought tears to Doug and Beall Phillips, causing them both to acknowledge that this was proof of my full repentance. However, Doug Phillips again chose to bring up my past again. Mark pleaded with Doug not to read this portion to the whole congregation, but his pleas fell on deaf ears and this was read to a congregation who knew nothing about this and who had no need to know, especially the children.

Also in Section III C, Doug Phillips accuses me of making “accusations about Mark’s mental state” {which was in fact initially brought up by Bob Sarratt}, “broad charges about Mark’s propensity to harm his family” {which shows exactly how concerned Doug Phillips was about our physical safety}, and “constant digs against Mark” {again with no specific example of what those were}.

In Section III D, Doug Phillips states that “after you came to the church leadership stating repentance and revival, you were released to return to the Lord’s Table.” {This is simply not true. I had no input whatsoever in this decision and I had no conversation with Doug Phillips or anyone else regarding this matter. Mark simply came home one day and told me I could take communion again.}

At the top of page 3, Doug Phillips says that we were “formally admonished and rebuked by the church leadership for ungodly behavior” on October 5, 2004. {You will recall that that was the time when Doug Phillips said to me, “Mark is an angry man, and that is wicked; but you, Jen, you are very wicked, you are rebellious, and you are a Jezebel.” I asked for specific examples then of what I was doing, so that I could change, but none were forthcoming.} Doug Phillips goes on to say that I refused “to take responsibility for (my) actions” {even though I kept asking what those actions might be} “or to honor the directives of the leadership” {again, I asked to bring a friend to the counseling sessions}.

There is an excerpt of a letter on the third page, of which the second paragraph states: “Your unwillingness to be under authority or counsel,” {which again refers to Beall Phillips showing up at the meeting when I had specifically requested that she not be there because she had refused to speak to me for the previous two years and because I asked if a friend could come to the counseling sessions}, “to repent for sinful attitudes” {I keep asking what these were}, and your spreading of untruthful gossip {my pleas for help were certainly truthful; to the extent that Doug Phillips considered them gossip, I did apologize, but he blatantly refused to forgive me}.

At the top of page 4, Doug Phillips lists many lies, such as “You refused to follow the basic directives which were given to you.” {This is the list of 14 suggestions to make your husband happy, of which I did all 14. I used email instead of writing it down on a piece of paper for one of the suggestions. I even refrained from talking to men about theology during that timeframe, even though I did not see that as being biblical. I did what they asked me to.} You “claimed a startling new doctrine of near sinless-ness as it applied to your own conduct in marriage.” {The last time I checked, Romans 6 and 8 were not new. I merely explained that I had not sinned recently in my marriage, nor did I have a pattern of sin in my marriage from which I needed to repent.} You “claimed a near sinless-ness in interactions with church leaders.” {I guess that must be the voting paper I wrote to Doug Phillips – which is the real reason for this whole “disciplinary action.”}

In the second paragraph of page 4, Doug Phillips says that Mark has “again raised the threat of divorce.” {This simply shows how little Doug Phillips really knew about us, as this threat was almost daily for nearly our entire time at Boerne Christian Assembly.}

The last sentence of Section IV states that “brothers and sisters have been engaged in formal individual counsel with you including the Shorts and the Hubers.” {Although Mark was in an accountability relationship with Richard Short, I had no formal individual counsel with any of these people. Notice how we are lumped together again as if everything were equal.}

Section V starts out by saying, “Though we are not present in the Epstein house, we have been able to confirm the factuality through … our own observations and interactions with you, each of the concerns mentioned below.” {When I asked for examples, even just one example, Doug Phillips was unable to provide me with any. In fact, I asked the whole congregation for even just one example, but I have yet to hear any. However, here Doug Phillips insists that they have “observed” each of these different sins.} “Each concern has been confirmed in the mouth of multiple witnesses {we asked for a list of those witnesses, but they were unable to provide even one witness to any of these sins}.

Here is what I am charged with: {Notice the lack of specificity.}

Unconfessed sin {Writing a letter to Doug Phillips about voting?}
Lack of repentance {Writing a letter to Doug Phillips about voting?}
Bitterness {Toward whom, I’m not sure. But I prayed for a spirit of forgiveness every day toward both Doug and Beall Phillips and Mark, because I did not want to have any unforgiveness or bitterness in my heart.}
Lack of love {I loved Mark through the good and the bad, but it was hard.}
Jurisdictional abandonment and/or usurpation {Doug Phillips is saying that I did not fulfill my duties as a wife and mother. I certainly tried my best to do so in a very difficult situation.}
Using children as weapons against each other {Not only did I not use my children against my husband, but I taught them every day to honor their father, no matter what he did.}
1. Rebellion against authority
a. A rebellious and unsubmissive attitude and response to the authority of your husband. {I was as submissive as I knew how to be under the circumstances.}
b. A rebellious and unsubmissive attitude and response to the authority of the local church. This includes open hostility to the church leadership and those assigned to work with you, as well as ongoing, substantive rejection of attempts by the church leadership and their delegates to work with you. {Again, I asked Beall Phillips not to come to the meeting and I asked to bring a friend to the counseling sessions.}
2. Covenant breaking
a. Willful and constant disrespect for authority, non-responsiveness to appeals for honorable behavior in the body of Christ, gossip spreading, and efforts to wrongfully manipulate facts and individuals, contrary to the terms of the BCA covenant. {Other than telling Kathleen about Doug Phillips refusing to help protect us, I don’t have a clue what all this is about.}
b. Dishonorable and mean-spirited treatment of the your brethren in Christ, contrary to the terms of the BCA covenant. {When Beall Phillips informed me that she purposed to point out all my sins, after she refused to speak to me for two years, I requested that she refrain from further contacting me unless she had something kind to say.}
3. Unrepentance
a. Habitually refusing to acknowledge sins when confronted for them by your brethren and church leadership. {My voting letter to Doug Phillips again.}
b. Unbiblically claiming a near-sinlessness in your marriage in the recent past, and justifying such a claim by various attacks on the confessional understanding of the doctrine of sin and depravity. {Again, I never claimed any such thing as near sinlessness, nor did I attack the doctrine of total depravity. I merely requested that we read Romans 6 and 8.}

In Section VII, Doug Phillips states that “biblical efforts at loving confrontation have proven unsatisfactory.” {At no time did I ever feel that any of this confrontation was loving. I have since been confronted by elders and friends on other issues, and not only were these confrontations done in love, but I repented and changed my ways because of the Christian love that was shown in a rebuke. Maybe one of those friends will testify to that here.}

Section VII details the discipline that we were to receive at this point. We may not take communion; we are to attend the meeting of the church (Sunday services), but we may not fellowship with anyone; and all membership privileges are suspended. The only interaction we are to have with anyone from Boerne Christian Assembly is for them to tell us to repent. Some have excelled at that.

We were given six months to formally repent, accompanied by a formal request for restoration, or we would be excommunicated.

“Evidence of repentance would include an acknowledgement of specific sins for which you have individually been confronted, a fundamental heart turning which is proven over a season of time, a willingness to make restitution for wrongs done, and public (supervised – ie, in consultation with the church leadership) repentance before the Church.” {It is interesting that while Doug Phillips mentions no specific charges or sins in this entire document, that he fully expects us to tell him what they are.}

This document was read to us immediately before church. We were then asked if we wanted to plead “guilty” or if we wanted to “appeal.” Those were the only two options afforded us. Mark, realizing his guilt, chose to plead guilty. I asked to appeal. I was told that I would have an opportunity to speak right after the service, which was to begin in a few minutes. Even though Doug Phillips had taken weeks to prepare this document, I was given a few minutes to prepare my “defense,” and I was not afforded the opportunity to bring any documents or witnesses with me.

We immediately went into the service and, after the sermon, all the men and women and older children listened to Bob Sarratt read this entire document. Mark was then given a chance to speak first. He confessed his sins and asked for forgiveness. He then explained that he had falsely accused me and that I had done nothing wrong at all. Apparently, that admission wasn’t good enough, so I had my opportunity to speak. I told my story, much as it is on this website, although I didn’t have dates or documents with me. At the end, I asked, “What sin have I committed? How can I change if I don’t know what I’ve done?” No one answered.

After that Doug Phillips called forward some witnesses who had prepared statements. Bob Sarratt lied and said that I had been the first one to suggest that Mark might be bi-polar. Kathleen Turley told the story of our conversation about Doug Phillips not protecting me. She told the exact same story as I did, but it was told in a derogatory manner, making it seem as if I approached her solely for the sake of gossiping, which simply wasn’t true. Beall Phillips then proceeded to read all six hours of counseling notes, which any professional counselor would never dream of doing, ethically or legally. I believe Doug Phillips made a denial of one of the names I accused him of calling me, but I cannot remember which name.

Richard and Reba Short then got up and spoke about how they would come over to our house every Friday night for dinner, but before they would leave home, they would always pray that I would ask Reba how to be a submissive wife. This was their testimony against me. Since I knew that Reba believed that almost all problems in a marriage were the wife’s fault, she was the last person I would have gone to with marriage difficulties.

That was all the evidence that was presented against me. Nothing substantial. Nothing specific. Certainly nothing to be disciplined for. I was not given a chance to ask any of the “witnesses” any questions or to respond to what they had to say.

The men in the congregation were then given a chance to say something. Several of them stood up and said how surprised they were to hear this, that they had good memories of time spent with me. One man stood up and questioned if they were doing the right thing; he wondered if maybe I hadn’t done anything wrong after all. Doug Phillips immediately put him on the spot and made him take sides. I understand the pressure he faced when he decided to side with Doug Phillips after all.

But this discipline was nothing in comparison to what was to happen next.

Doug Phillips: “You’re Going to Pay For This”

Voting For Republicans is an Excommunicable Offense

(Start with chapter one, if you are new here.)

Knowing that I was at a loss as to how to biblically respond to Mark by this point, a friend had loaned me a book about submission and how it relates to wives who are abused, either emotionally or physically. Ironically, the foundation of the book was the story of Abigail and Nabal when David and his men wanted food. The book clearly exposited, verse by verse, how Abigail was still a submissive wife to a very angry husband. It was ironic to me because about one year earlier, Doug Phillips had preached on that very passage. In our ladies’ meeting after the service, I had asked if we should emulate Abigail’s behavior if we ever found ourselves in a similar situation. Beall Phillips immediately responded that this was a non-normative situation and that Abigail was not being submissive.

Greatly encouraged by this book, however, I shared it with Kathleen at church that Sunday after the second meeting with Doug Phillips, since Kathleen worked for Vision Forum and often counseled women with abusive husbands. In the course of the conversation, Kathleen stated that we were so blessed at Boerne Christian Assembly because if we ever had problems like that, Doug Phillips would help us. I didn’t know how to respond to that. I couldn’t agree with her because I knew it wasn’t true. Yet, I didn’t really want to tell her what was going on either, since I was forbidden to talk about Mark with anyone (other than Beall, who refused to speak to me anyway). Sensing my hesitation, she kept pushing for an answer. Thinking that someone finally cared, I eventually told her a bit of my situation, explaining that Doug Phillips refused to help us even when our lives were in danger. After listening for a while, she informed me that she was going to talk to Doug Phillips. I thought that she meant she was going to ask him to help, and pleaded with her not to talk to Beall about it. However, Kathleen told both Doug and Beall Phillips about it, not in a way that was helpful to me, but rather accusing me of gossip.

The next day, I received an email from Doug Phillips accusing me of broad sins again such as being unwilling to be under authority or counsel (requesting not to have Beall present in the meeting), to repent for sinful attitudes and spreading of untruthful gossip (Kathleen). I had asked repeatedly at that second meeting: “What exactly have I done? How can I change if I don’t know what my sins are?” I was accused again of being unsubmissive, disrespectful, and unloving. These seemed to be catch-all terms Doug Phillips often used in dealing with women. Then I was told that I was building a public case against my husband, when all I was doing was practically screaming for someone to help us!

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Mark was working behind the scenes with Doug and Beall Phillips to discipline me. Now their plans included three mandatory counseling sessions at Vision Forum, two hours each, with Beall Phillips and Reba Short, the two women who had already made it known to me that problems in the marriage were almost always the woman’s fault. They were going to help me work on the sin issues in my life in regard to my marriage. Beall Phillips had not spoken to me for two years, so I knew she didn’t know anything about me personally. Reba Short came over to my house nearly every Friday, but I don’t recall ever talking to her about our marriage, except for that one hour phone call, in which she attempted to get me to take all the blame.

Not trusting the motives of these two ladies, I asked if I could bring a friend. Beall Phillips replied to my request that “the terms of the meeting are not subject to debate. If you are formally refusing to follow the direction of the church leadership, then I will communicate that to them and they will take appropriate action.” I agreed to meet on their terms.

Nothing was done regarding Mark after that second meeting.

At the first counseling session with Beall Phillips and Reba, Doug Phillips had written a memo of understanding that Beall read aloud to me first, outlining why I was in breach of the covenant of the church for talking to Kathleen. The second document I was given was called:

Ways to Make My Husband Successful
Ways to Demonstrate a Submissive Heart
Ways to Bless My Husband

I was not told at the time that these fourteen items were mandatory, but rather I thought they were suggestions for how to be a submissive wife. Nevertheless, I took them home and read them aloud to my children, asking them to please evaluate me honestly in light of each of the fourteen items. I asked them to tell me whether or not I did each of those things on the list and to give me specific examples of how I was either submissive or unsubmissive according to this list. I did not have the conviction that women couldn’t speak to men about theology, and told Beall Phillips and Reba Short this in the first counseling session. Other than that, my children both agreed that I already did everything on that list anyway, to a degree. Although it was not clear to me at the first counseling session, by the third session I was told that it was mandatory that I completed them exactly. Nevertheless, I had fulfilled them in what I considered to be the spirit of the matter, including not talking to men about theology for the duration of the three counseling sessions.

Another issue that came up in the first counseling session was the doctrine of the total depravity of man. It soon became apparent that Beall Phillips and I did not agree on this point. In talking about sin in the marriage, Beall Phillips kept insisting that I must be sinning rather constantly. I explained to her that I believed in verses where Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” I don’t believe that Jesus would have told us to do something He didn’t expect us to do or that was impossible to do. I found this pattern to be consistent all throughout Scripture. These verses impacted my life greatly and I tried to obey the Lord daily, with the Holy Spirit’s help. Beall Phillips, on the other hand, said she believed that we couldn’t help but sin, and that she sins at least every 30 minutes, or more, in her own marriage. This was quite confusing to me, as I couldn’t understand why we were bothering with marriage counseling then, if we couldn’t help but sin all the time anyway. In fact, why we were bothering raising our children in certain ways if they couldn’t help but sin anyway. This defeatist attitude about life made me feel real sorry for Beall Phillips. I cannot imagine going through life as a Christian, thinking that I am doomed to sin every few minutes, whether I want to or not. What is the point of salvation then? Eternal security? We left that counseling session with me volunteering to go home and study this in the Scriptures.

I spent about 20 hours that week studying certain words and seeing what the whole Bible said about this subject. I also studied what Boerne Christian Assembly’s statement of faith said about it, and finally I looked at a commentary by Matthew Henry that I know Doug Phillips uses as well. I discovered that Beall Phillips seemed to be basing her beliefs on Romans 7, so I looked extensively at Romans 6 and 8 as well, to put it in context. While Romans 7 explains our fallen nature, Romans 6 and 8 give us hope as Christians, clearly showing that we are no longer slaves to sin, having victory through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. Excited, I went to the second counseling session eager to share several hundred verses on this topic, and firm in my convictions that we no longer have to sin as Christians, with the power of the Holy Spirit, although we are still fully capable of choosing to sin. After listening to several verses on the topic, when I came to Romans 6 and 8, Beall Phillips absolutely refused to listen to me, stating that I was preaching a new doctrine of “sinless perfection.” At no time did I ever claim that I had never sinned or that I was perfect.

Beall Phillips then began to question when was the last time I had sinned in my marriage. In the last 24 hours? 48 hours? Week? Month? I only answered that I didn’t remember sinning recently in my marriage, with the power of the Holy Spirit in my life. While I do still sin, I emphasized that I do not have a pattern of sin in my marriage.

After the first counseling session, Beall Phillips wrote me a summary email of her perspective of how it went. It was filled with many exaggerations or total falsehoods and was quite harsh. Here is an excerpt of that email:

“You said that this new belief in sinlessness might change. I pray that it does. If it does, will you still emphatically assert that you have not sinned recently in your marriage and that you did not sin in the meeting with the men last week? You must realize the implications of the beliefs you espouse. If your doctrine changes, will you start to sin again? Will you then realize that you did sin during the time you held to this doctrine of perfectionism? Or will you have stopped sinning only while you held to this doctrine?”

By the third counseling session, I was getting tired of being treated like dirt, so I read the verse in Galatians to Beall Phillips that says, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” I asked her how I could respond cheerfully when she was constantly backing me into a corner. She softened up for a few minutes, but still continued to insist that I was preaching “sinless perfectionism.” I tried to explain that I had to walk on eggshells in my marriage anyway and that I would do almost anything not to invite more anger, that I tried very hard not to sin in my marriage or in life. We were at an impasse by the end of the third counseling session.

The next day, October 29, 2004, I read on Doug Phillips’ blog about a voting scenario that he had written about candidates A and B in the land of Baal, actually inviting his readers to respond, which he normally doesn’t request. He also had a voting debate going on between Dr. Ken Gentry and William Einwechter. These two articles were designed to show that voting for either Kerry or Bush was a sin for a Christian. Since this was just days before the Presidential election, and since I was growing tired of hearing from the pulpit each Sunday how we needed to vote for Peroutka, the Constitutional Party candidate, I was glad for a chance to respond. Since Doug Phillips sometimes points out logical fallacies of other Christians, I took this opportunity to carefully point out seven logical fallacies in Doug’s little voting scenario as well. While I was at it, I responded to Bill Einwechter’s article on why we should vote for Peroutka as well. Not wanting to embarrass Doug Phillips by sending it to his personal assistant, I sent it privately to Doug’s own email instead, with my husband’s full blessing. This did not go over real well, starting with Beall Phillips immediately sending me an email in which she said, “I purposed to bring to your attention those areas of continual sin about which we have appealed to you.” She then listed my five sins in writing this letter: Doug did not give me permission to write to him (?); I had been formally directed not to rebuke or instruct men (not true); I had a mean spirit; I was rebuking my elder; I have a hard heart. The email was so harsh and critical toward me that I simply asked her to refrain from contacting me any further unless she had something kind to say. I also stated, “I sincerely hope that the people in our church do not have to agree with the “elder’s” position in politics; if so, we are no longer a church, but a cult.”

Two days later, we went to church. In the three counseling sessions, Beall Phillips kept stressing that I had sinned by gossiping about Doug in my conversation with Kathleen. Although I hadn’t considered it gossip, I was willing to apologize anyway. Doug Phillips is hard to get hold of, so this particular Sunday was the first time I had seen him since I spoke with Kathleen. I wanted to take care of the situation before church, but Doug Phillips arrived late, so I went up to him when he came in and asked if I could speak to him before we took communion, as was our practice at Boerne Christian Assembly. He did not want to talk, but I insisted, so we went outside. I apologized for gossiping about him and asked his forgiveness. Doug Phillips wanted to know if I was going to apologize for writing the voting paper as well. I explained that I didn’t see that I had sinned in doing so, so I didn’t see anything to apologize for. He then said that he would not forgive me for gossiping either and, glaring at me, said, “You’re going to pay for this.

After we went back inside, Doug Phillips began to preach. His two hour sermon that day was to read my voting paper, refuting it point by point. Although Doug Phillips and I did not see eye to eye on voting ethics, his main concern seemed to be that a woman in his congregation had written him this paper. I looked on his blog and could not find anything that said women couldn’t respond or that Boerne Christian Assembly women couldn’t respond, but Doug Phillips made it clear that if Mark had written that paper instead of me, it would have been all right.

Two months later, Doug Phillips decided to preach about me again, although I was home sick that day. Doug Phillips began talking about an unsubmissive woman in the church who was under church discipline (if I was, I didn’t know about it) and her repentant husband. My daughter, Natasha, then 17, was so frustrated by the lies emanating from the pulpit, that she got up and left in the middle of the sermon. When she told me about it afterward, I wrote Doug Phillips and asked him if he was preaching about me, knowing full well he was. Doug Phillips replied, “The Bible says that if any woman has a question about the preaching of the Word she is to ask her husband at home.” Doug Phillips then stated that he had already talked to Mark about this, but Mark denies talking about this subject with Doug.

Wanting to hear this message, I asked for a copy of that day’s sermon and I was told that everyone at Boerne Christian Assembly would receive it in the mail. While this was odd, I waited, but it never came. I called and asked for it several times, but although it was promised, I was never given a copy of that tape.

I was soon to find out just what “being under discipline” meant.

Doug Phillips Refuses to Protect Woman and Children

Former HSLDA Attorney and Founder of the Christian Boys’ and Men’s Titanic Society Knows What His Duty Should Have Been

(Start with chapter one, if you are new here.)

Reserving Matthew 18 for only very serious offenses, I had only officially used it once, with Doug and Beall Phillips. Things were becoming so bad at home, however, as the emotional abuse escalated to new heights and we began fearing for our physical safety, that I decided to formally approach Mark in March 2004 in the spirit of Matthew 18 as well, pleading with him to repent from his anger and to turn his heart toward his family again. My words fell on a cold heart, however, so about six weeks later, I asked two witnesses to stand with me while I asked him again to repent. Richard and Reba Short, close friends with Doug Phillips and who both work at Vision Forum with their children, agreed to stand by and listen.

This attempt backfired as well, though, when Reba called me the next morning, strongly pressuring me to admit that it must all be my own fault, since problems in a marriage are almost always the woman’s fault. Although Richard agreed to counsel Mark after that, I later found out that his counsel was mostly along the lines of: “If you show Jen that you love her, then Jen will see how wrong she is and she’ll stop sinning.” Again being given an opportunity to blame the wife, Mark only continued to grow even worse.

By August, 2004, he had moved into the spare bedroom. Since Mark came to church every Sunday when he was in town, one family noticed that he wasn’t there that particular day and asked me where he was. Still not wanting to violate the rules laid out for me in that first meeting, I evaded answering them, several times. Finally, grateful that at least someone cared, I replied that Mark didn’t want to be a part of our family anymore.

Somehow this got back to the deacons, who pulled me aside to talk to me after church, reminding me that I promised not to say anything negative about Mark. By this point, Beall was refusing to speak to me at all, Doug Phillips was totally inaccessible, and I felt like no one cared. The deacons began asking some questions about the situation, apparently not realizing that anything was wrong. In a small church like that, when we would spend ALL day together every Sunday, they didn’t know anything was wrong. Although it took us an hour to drive to church, as it did most everyone when Boerne Christian Assembly moved to its third location way out in the boonies, not one person asked why Mark and I started driving in two separate vehicles each week. After almost one year of Mark leaving early after the service, one man did ask where Mark went after church. I replied that he went to the same place Doug Phillips did each Sunday after church.

But I digress. Upon finding out about Mark’s anger, Bob Sarratt, one of the deacons, asked me if I thought Mark was bi-polar. Not being fond of pop-psychology myself, yet being at a total loss for what to do, I had asked the other deacon, a medical doctor, if he knew if the term “bi-polar” was accurate biblically. He did not know. I told both deacons that I did not know what was the source of Mark’s anger: if it was mental illness, if it was demonic, or if it was just plain sin. Bob Sarratt then suggested that we get Doug Phillips involved. Not wanting a repeat of that first meeting, I declined. The deacons persisted, however, so I agreed as long as Beall Phillips was not going to be present. They both agreed to those terms. When they asked Mark to attend the meeting, he also emphasized that Beall Phillips not be present.

In the interim, however, two weeks before this proposed meeting, Mark nearly killed his whole family, late one Saturday night. Screaming for Mark to stop, my children were absolutely terrified. At church the next day, we attempted to ask for help. One man was greatly concerned and tried to help both my daughter and me, although since he was not in “leadership,” there was nothing he felt he could really do. When my daughter went to ask Doug Phillips for help, he did not believe her and laughed it off. Bob Sarratt merely suggested that we not get in the car with Mark for two weeks (the situation involved road rage, of sorts). Even when our lives were in danger, nothing was done.

Six weeks after suggesting a meeting, on October 7, 2004, Doug Phillips agrees to meet with us for precisely two hours in his office at Vision Forum. After greeting the two other men in attendance, we walked into Doug Phillips’ office and saw Beall sitting there as well. I did not say anything until Doug Phillips gave me an opportunity to speak. Then I kindly asked why Beall Phillips was present, when it was made clear all around that she would not be in attendance at this meeting, because of her refusal to speak with me for the last couple years. Doug Phillips assured me she was there to help me, so I asked Beall what her intentions were. When she assured me she only wanted to help me, I agreed to let her stay. Sensing the tension, Doug Phillips asked Beall to leave anyway. Not off to a very good start, I was then given an opportunity to talk. Knowing that I wasn’t prepared for the first meeting, I had taken the time to gather some evidence for this meeting. I shared with Doug Phillips about how Mark had nearly killed his whole family two weeks prior, but he just laughed at me. I brought an email where Mark was describing in detail how he would kill someone in a particular group. I brought the lyrics to a song Mark would sing about killing people, but Doug Phillips refused to let me read the lyrics. I described how he would attempt to teach the children specific methods for killing “enemies,” which had nothing to do with war. I described his constant talking of killing, especially around the children. I told how we each would greet Mark at the door when he came home from work, only to have him shove us out of his way. This was all in addition to the tremendous amount of screaming and yelling and constant false accusations we endured. I also told Doug Phillips of my attempts at following Matthew 18 so far, and asked for the church to please step in now. Doug Phillips listened, but he didn’t say anything.

After Mark spoke, Doug Phillips started asking Mark why he thought there were problems in the marriage, giving Mark plenty of opportunities to put the blame on me again, even though Mark was extremely angry in this meeting as well. I was not given another chance to talk. In the end, Doug Phillips said, “Mark is an angry man, and that is wicked; but you, Jen, you are very wicked, you are rebellious, and you are a Jezebel.” I still couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

There were no decisions made, no instructions given. No plan was discussed, no protection offered. I went home with no hope left, fearing for my life.

Doug Phillips in the Eye of the Storm

Lulled into a False Sense of Security

(Start with chapter one, if you are new here.)

The first meeting with Doug Phillips seemed to only make things worse at home. Mark did not leave us, but still threatened divorce nearly every day. Outbursts of anger were frequent and prolonged. Adding to all this, Doug Phillips’ suggestions to Mark that I had never repented just fueled the fire all the more.

Always trying to be a peacemaker, I asked a friend for help in knowing what true, biblical repentance was. She told me of a sermon by Dr. SM Davis about true repentance, so I bought the tape and listened to it several times, praying for wisdom. Concluding that I had already done everything possible, I determined to write Mark a letter of repentance. Although there was nothing new in that letter of February 2003, it seemed to salve his wounds at the time. Delighted, he brought the letter to church and showed it to Doug and Beall Phillips, who were both so moved by its contents they had tears streaming down their faces, assuring Mark that this was truly evidence of full repentance. I thought things might be on the mend; surely I could take communion now. But communion was not restored, and within a week, life was back to extreme anger again at home.

That June, 2003, Mark had been talking to Beall Phillips about something that bothered him. Wondering if something she’d done bothered me as well, Beall emailed me asking me that very question. I replied that, yes, she had offended me (at the first meeting) and requested that we get together that day, if possible, to talk about it. She did not think that was possible, so I suggested getting together as soon as possible, even offering my oldest daughter to watch her children so we could go out somewhere together. Beall Phillips then professed to be “afraid” of me, although I had never given her any reason for that, so Doug decided that both couples should meet. Feeling that the situation was getting out of control, I finally agreed to meet with both Doug and Beall Phillips after church one Sunday, which meant that my severely disabled daughter would need to be with me.

It was six to eight weeks later, however, before we finally met, which, you will see, is a pattern with Doug Phillips. Knowing that she offended me, I began the meeting by asking Beall Phillips why she had continued taking communion during this time. There was no answer. Doug Phillips did give me an opportunity to say whatever was on my mind, then, so I confronted both Doug and Beall about their behavior toward me in that first meeting. I asked them why they called me names such as “whore,” “Jezebel,” a liar, churlish, wicked, disrespectful, and unsubmissive, when in fact, there was not only no basis in fact for those terms, but they were also totally unnecessary in a counseling setting. I also confronted them for their three lies about me in that meeting and asked that they consider using a gentler counseling technique in the future.

Doug and Beall Phillips’ first reactions were quite vehement in denying everything, but Doug soon regained his composure and calmed down. Although we had a pleasant talk for the most part, in the end, we agreed to disagree. Not realizing at the time that this appeared to be a pattern for Doug and Beall Phillips, I didn’t think any more of it. Doug Phillips continued to greet me when he saw me, but Beall Phillips refused to speak to me at all after that meeting.

Since the Lord’s Supper is a weekly ordinance at Boerne Christian Assembly, the minor excommunication (being denied communion) was ever before me. I really had no idea how I was to prove all those things in the “Guidelines for Accountability” document, but I just continued trying to be a godly wife. Some people might think that in a small church, I could just ask Doug Phillips any Sunday about it, but that was not the case. Each year, Doug Phillips’ speaking schedule took him away from church on Sunday more and more often. By this time period, he usually showed up about once per month, and when he did, he rarely stayed for the fellowship time, often leaving even before the service was over. Since he usually arrived just when the service was starting, this didn’t leave much time to talk to him, and there was usually a crowd vying for his attention anyway. As a woman, I had no opportunities to speak to him, about communion or about much else.

However, Mark did have a relationship with Doug Phillips and had a long walk with him one fine autumn afternoon. Mark came home one Sunday in the fall of 2003, just over one year since that first meeting, and told me I could take communion again. There was no proof of my “repentance” (other than my letter nine months earlier), no meeting to settle the matter, no questions, no anything. Just, communion restored. Although the situation appeared dire enough to Doug Phillips initially to warrant a minor excommunication (suspension from the Lord’s Supper), and although there was no proof of any change whatsoever, communion was just restored. In reality, things were no better at home and in the next few months even grew drastically worse.

Doug Phillips’ Kangaroo Court Cancels Communion

Convicted of Pleading for Help

(Start with chapter one, if you are new here.)

When Mark and I arrived at Boerne Christian Assembly in 2000, our marriage was the best it had ever been. We had seemingly put the past behind us and were spending a lot of time praying that God would show us all the sin in our lives, both individually and together as a family. We were listening to dozens of sermons on topics that related to family life and theology, repenting together as we learned so many new things. When we arrived at Boerne Christian Assembly, Doug Phillips continued teaching us many incredible things about what the Bible says regarding families and daily life.

And while I appreciated much of what he taught us, I began to notice that he used very little Scripture and a lot of “vision,” very little practical application, but lots of theory. Some people can easily translate vision into reality, but in my own teaching experience, I’ve found that most do much better learning from actually doing it themselves, from demonstrations, and from stories or examples. For example, Doug Phillips often preached about men leading their families in “family worship.” I am in full agreement with that, and think it is a vital teaching. However, in my five years of listening to Doug Phillips, I cannot recall one specific example, one demonstration, one story about the specifics of “family worship.” I know there are many different methods and ways of carrying that out, but if you have never seen it done, it is a scary step for a man to attempt to try something he’s not only never done, but really has no clue about how to do it anyway. Mark described this as “frustrating.”

While much of what Doug Phillips teaches regarding Patriarchy sounds biblical, because of the lack of practical application, his teachings are often taken to extremes. Sometimes, men just hear his vision of men always “leading,” and they become domineering and demanding, causing undue stress on the wife. I know of one family that divorced precisely because of hearing this teaching and not understanding what it really should be. Sometimes, men will try to emulate what they see in Doug Phillips, and start requiring their families to have all the same rules as the Phillips. Unfortunately, if there are no personal convictions behind the rules, they soon become extremely oppressive and smother the family. Some men just have no clue about how to “lead” their families; they just know that it’s being constantly preached at them from the pulpit. Having come from a home without a godly leader, these men need lots of practical examples.

As Mark sat under this teaching, knowing the right thing to do, but not knowing how to do it, he began to get frustrated and angry. Our marriage began to deteriorate. I went to Beall Phillips on three occasions, in their new home now, asking her help in how I could be a submissive wife to an extremely angry husband. She reminded me of a gentle answer turning away wrath and how wives can win their husbands without a word. On each occasion, I went home and tried even harder, but to no avail.

Mark continued to grow increasingly angry, threatening divorce almost daily, until one day it seemed as if it would become a reality. Retiring from 20 years in the Army, he had a job offer in another state and decided to leave us for good. Standing by the pool that Sunday at church, I briefly closed my eyes in prayer, asking God for help. When I opened them, Doug Phillips was walking past me at that moment so, sensing that this was from the Lord as I never had occasion to really speak to him before, I asked if I could talk to him for a moment. Explaining that Mark was going to leave us the next day, I asked if Doug Phillips would be willing to talk to him. Doug Phillips then started asking me if I was fulfilling I Peter 3: “Are you submissive? Are you trying to win him without a word? Do you have a gentle and quiet spirit? Do you obey him?” Why was I getting the third degree when all I did was ask for help? Assuring Doug Phillips that I was doing all these things to the best of my ability, Doug then went outside after Mark.

Finding Mark just getting ready to leave, Doug Phillips approached him by his car and started peppering him with questions as well: “Is Jen a nag? Is she a dripping faucet? Is she disrespectful and unsubmissive to you? Is Jen rebellious and churlish?” Desperate to justify his own actions, Mark clutched onto these inappropriate adjectives and agreed with Doug. Rather than trying to find the root cause of Mark’s obvious anger that day, Doug Phillips immediately jumped to the conclusion that it must all be my fault for causing Mark to be so angry. Then when Mark starts spewing forth bitterness and unforgiveness about my past sins before I was a Christian, Doug Phillips suggested that maybe I hadn’t fully repented after all, and that must be the problem. Although Doug Phillips convinced Mark not to leave the next day, he did not use this occasion to even speak to him about his own sin in threatening divorce.

Doug Phillips is highly inaccessible, even to his own small congregation, but I did think that imminent divorce and abandonment might be cause for at least some quick intervention. Six weeks later, however, in October 2002, Doug Phillips was finally available to meet with us. Bob Welch was also there, but I believe it was his last official duty as an elder because he left right about that time, if I remember correctly. There was also one deacon present, as well as Doug’s wife, Beall, and Bob’s wife. When I entered this meeting, I had no clue that Mark and Doug had this conversation previously, so I came with hope that someone was going to be able to help us.

After giving an appearance of being fair by letting us each tell what was going on, Doug Phillips then quickly turned to an obviously prepared line of interrogation, bombarding me with questions about my pre-Christian behavior thirteen years earlier and from which I had already fully repented in 1990, when I came to know the Lord. Doug Phillips kept wanting to know details about what had happened, (which he has since told some of his supporters, who have posted them online for everyone to see – although the online versions are greatly distorted and untrue). Doug Phillips kept pressuring me to admit that I had not repented from my sin, behaving very much like a prosecuting attorney trying to get the witness to plead “guilty,” calling me a “whore” and a “Jezebel” (which to Doug means a woman who tries to rule over her husband in rebellion). Beall Phillips chimed in by totally misrepresenting our three conversations in which I asked her for help in being a submissive wife, and instead she said that I was disrespectful and unsubmissive in my attitude toward her. Shocked at her total change of attitude, I could hardly believe it when Doug Phillips joined her in calling me name again and added his own terms of endearment such as “churlish.”

Doug Phillips then proceeded to tell three outright lies about me as he totally ignored Mark’s extreme outbursts of anger right in the middle of the meeting turned Kangaroo Court. Doug Phillips stated that I said no one was counseling me; no one was, although Bob Welch was counseling Mark at the time. Doug Phillips stated that I said no one was holding Mark accountable; although Bob was counseling Mark, he was clearly not holding him accountable in any way. Although I cannot remember the third lie, I clearly remember Doug Phillips calling me a liar while he sat there and falsely accused me himself. Although Doug and Beall Phillips accused me of being unsubmissive and disrespectful, they could not give me any examples of that in my life when I asked for them. The truth was that because of Mark’s extreme anger, I tried extremely hard to do my best at all times to be a godly wife. I had enough anger from my husband as it was; I didn’t need to invite anymore.

As if playing the role of prosecuting attorney instead of shepherd and counselor wasn’t enough, Doug Phillips then declares himself to be the judge as well, deciding that it must be all my fault, and pulls out my sentencing papers, which he already prepared before the “court” began. Although Mark is listed on the “Guidelines for Accountability,” this was mostly a sham, as Mark was never held to these standards. Because there are so many spelling errors in the paper, I will list my requirements here for you, but you may see the original document with all signatures here as well to verify it.

Jennifer may not:

1. Ever question, contradict, criticize, correct or end-run any communication or decision by Mark to Mark or to anyone else.
2. Speak ill of her husband or family matters to third parties.
3. Speak critically of Mark to the children.

Jennifer must:

1. Agree to submit to the guidelines for accountability of the leadership of the local church with a full heart as unto the Lord, recognizing their goal is to facilitate obedience to the Lord and help rescue a marriage.
2. Demonstrate genuine reverence and submission to her husband in all things as unto the Lord.
3. Examine herself for unconfessed, or inadequately confessed, sins against her husband from any time during their marriage.
4. Not take communion until love is once again restored in the family, or on an individual basis, until the spirit and letter of the above is followed, and deemed such by the leadership of the local church. (Minor excommunication)
5. Forgive and love one another.

Accountability:

In the case of violations of the “may not” guidelines listed above, Jennifer will be willing to submit to reasonable accountability reporting guidelines to be determined.

These “reasonable accountability reporting guidelines” consisted of each of us being assigned people to whom we could call 24 hours a day to “tattle” on each other if there was a problem. Mark was told he could call Doug Phillips on his cell phone, although Doug never answered. Mark did talk to Jeff, the deacon, a couple times. I was assigned to call Beall Phillips, but since I don’t let my children “tattle” on each other, I did not feel it was right to “tattle” on my husband either, so I never called her. In turn, Beall Phillips never once asked me how my marriage was going or why I hadn’t called her.

Making himself prosecutor, judge, and jury, Doug Phillips orchestrated the whole Kangaroo Court in a fashion that seemed designed to be a quick fix to a serious problem. As one friend commented, Doug Phillips liked putting bandaids on open, oozing wounds. The outcome of this Kangaroo Court was that Doug Phillips determined that I had not fully repented for sins committed thirteen years earlier, before I was saved; that it must be my fault that Mark was so angry and wanted a divorce; that I now had strict “rules” to follow; and that I could no longer take communion each Sunday — indefinitely.

These guidelines were not temporary guidelines, something that would go away when communion was restored. These guidelines turned out to be what is generally expected of every wife according to Doug Phillips’ hyper-Patriarchical view. Men are in charge, and as such, wives are never to question them. There is the occasion for an appeal, as if we were little children, but these guidelines were never intended to be temporary in nature. Even after communion was restored, and even though my family was in danger, I was reminded that I could not speak ill of Mark to anyone. But that’s another story for another day!

Doug Phillips: Muzzling Women

Well, most of the them, at least.

(Start with chapter one, if you are new here.)

On our second Sunday at Boerne Christian Assembly, Doug and Beall Phillips introduced us to a special guest – Jennie Chancey. After the meeting of the church (the worship service), Doug invited Jennie Chancey to formally meet with all the women and talk to them about college. Jennie Chancey began relating why it was so evil for women and girls to go to college, especially outside the home. She related some of her own experiences at King College, where she received a BA in English, but in a way that was intended to warn others not to let their daughters attend institutes of higher learning. On her bio page, (since removed) very near the top, Jennie Chancey lists her educational qualifications for the business she runs out of her home. I guess that degree wasn’t so bad after all!

I was bold enough to ask the obvious: “What do unwed young ladies do all day?” Jennie’s answer, and the answer of every young lady in that congregation was, “Serve her father.” Some had family businesses and that was a great answer. They were working hard all day, learning skills, and helping the family to earn a living. But I know many that don’t fall into that category. Don’t get me wrong, nearly all the young ladies at Boerne Christian Assembly are wonderful young ladies, and would make great stay-at-home wives. But are they prepared to homeschool sons someday? How are their sons going to learn to do great things for the Lord if the moms aren’t educated enough to be able to teach them?

Beall Phillips also has a bachelor’s degree in education from William and Mary College, where she met Doug. From there, she attended law school classes with Doug Phillips at George Mason. I understand she did quite well. I asked her once if she ever regretted her higher education and she said that God can use every experience we have in life. I am grateful for my degree and am currently studying (dare I say it?) to be a naturopath. Doug did tell me once that I would make a great lawyer; maybe I’ll take him up on that suggestion as well!

Several months later, we had another guest, Jeff Pollard, come to speak to us about his new book, “The Public Undressing of America.” Since I was very new to the study of modesty, I asked Doug Phillips if the women of the church could meet together after the service to discuss the practicalities of the sermon and how it related directly to us. Doug’s terse answer was, “That would not be biblical. Women are to be silent in the church.” As some of you may have guessed by now, I wasn’t satisfied with that answer, so I reminded him that it was going to be after the service, like Jennie Chancey had done earlier. But, no dice.

(Some of these stories will be repeats for those who have read Ministry Watchman, but I want to put it all together in one place, so bear with me as I retell my whole story.)

Boerne Christian Assembly tends to have some extreme views regarding what it means for women to be silent in the church. I’ve had several occasions where I wished I could introduce visitors who were friends or family. When my mom came to visit once, and my husband was out of town on business, another man tried to introduce her to the congregation, except that he didn’t know who she was. He couldn’t ask her, because women are to be silent in the church. Flustered, he finally introduced her as “Jen’s mother.”

A similar situation happened when my dad came from Scotland, and since he was wearing a kilt, and one of the men tried to introduce him as one of the Scottish Covenanters. My father used to be a Baptist pastor before he turned atheist, and he knows both church history and Scottish history extremely well, so he was not at all pleased by that label.

On another occasion, I had some friends come to visit. Although I was friends with the whole family, but Mark had never met them. Mark was there that day, however, so he introduced them (leaning over to ask me their names). Afterward, the husband (friend) told me how uncomfortable he was when Mark introduced them and he didn’t even know them.

Prayer requests are also a time for women to be silent in Boerne Christian Assembly. This was a major chunk of the service, sometimes lasting up to an hour. The men give all the prayer requests. If my husband wasn’t there, my son could give it, even though he wasn’t old enough to take communion. If you don’t have a husband or a son there, you can write it out and give it to another man to read to the whole congregation. After a few attempts at that, I finally just gave up and would tell my friends about my prayer request privately. It wasn’t worth the humiliation.

So, women being silent in the church at Boerne Christian Assembly includes not being able to introduce your own guests, not being able to ask for prayer yourself, not being able to have a discussion after the service, and not being able to make announcements – unless your name is Jennie Chancey.

Join me tomorrow for the first Kangaroo Court.

(For a humorous version of this episode, watch this video.)

The Search For the Perfect Church

Beginning at the Beginning

When Mark and I met, we were both living quite wicked lifestyles as unbelievers. We were both soldiers in the US Army stationed in Germany and we ran off to Denmark on a “Darling Denmark” tour to get married in 1985, just four months after we met. Getting married does not change a wicked lifestyle, however, and we continued on in our wickedness. One of the ways in which I was wicked was in committing adultery against my husband, and that sin led to a child, who was given up for adoption. Still, our marriage survived, and I repented of my adultery when I became a Christian not long afterward. It was in the midst of all this wickedness, at the bottom of the barrel for both of us, that God reached down and saved us both in 1990, Mark first, and then me six months later. Although Jesus’ blood atoned for all our sins, there were still many consequences, some of which are life-long, that needed to be dealt with.

During most of the 1990s, we were stationed in Germany for the second time. Although there were a few difficulties here and there, for the most part our marriage was very sound. We were in a wonderful church there for over six years, and it was there that God taught us to be Bereans and search His Word for ourselves.

We moved to San Antonio in 1999 and searched for a similar church, but there is nothing like a military church, and only those who have been in a military church can understand the closeness of the family we had in our church in Germany. We so desired those close relationships again, but we ended up in a mega-church instead. After only a few months, not being able to tolerate the rampant sin in that church, we left and began an intense search for the “perfect” church in 2000.

I had never heard of a home church before, but for some reason, that term kept coming to my mind. I started asking around everywhere I went if anyone knew of a home church in the San Antonio area. I asked people at the grocery store, on the street, friends, everyone. We were desperate. Finally, a friend of a friend of a friend told me about a “home” church an hour away. I called, but was told simply, “No.” Crestfallen, we continued visiting various churches in the area, but – nothing.

Several weeks later, I called this lady back, practically begging to be allowed to visit. She was immediately apologetic, explaining that she had met several friends of mine in the meantime, who all vouched for me. (I later learned that another lady, whom I did not know, in a homeschool group I belonged to had attended one of these two home churches — the Wednesday church — for a while and caused lots of problems, so she was hesitant to invite others from that homeschool group.)

As she was describing the church to me, she let me know of their conservative values. “If they insist that I can’t wear colorful clothes,” I thought, “I’ll be content to wear tan and gray. If I can’t wear make-up or jewelry anymore, I’m willing to give them up, if only I could find the right church. I might even be willing to wear one of those “head coverings” if it came down to it. This church was such a well-kept secret, it must be quite remarkable!” Desperate enough to give up just about anything, we wore our most conservative clothes that Sunday, arriving at this country home way out in the Hill Country of Texas. With goats and chickens in the front yard, as well as swings, a large wooden deck, and lots of grassy areas for the children to play, it seemed an ideal location for a family friendly church.

A bit anxious, we arrived early while Beall Phillips was still painting her nails red. She greeted us warmly and asked, “Do you home educate? Do you belong to HSLDA? Have you heard my husband speak?” It was a bit unusual, I thought, but we settled down in our seats for the service. After some worshipful hymns, Doug Phillips began to preach. And preach and preach. We took an intermission after two hours and came back for more. Even though it was long, we loved every minute of it and the hour-long discussion of the men that followed.

As we had a “pot-providence” meal and fellowshipped for hours afterward, we knew this was home. The perfect church at last! Beginning this church plant with a series on “one anothering,” the fellowship was indeed sweet our first year there. I do not recall any bickering or gossip amongst the fast growing group of believers, all like-minded in so many ways.

Shortly before we found Boerne Christian Assembly, Mark and I had been praying together that God would show us all sin in our lives, as we desired to be pure before Him. God was so faithful in answering that prayer, bringing several preachers into our lives through audio tapes and radio. After every sermon we listened to, God refined another area in our lives. On a long trip, sometimes we would listen to several a day. Feeling purged, we returned to Boerne Christian Assembly only to have God use Doug Phillips and Bob Welch to reveal more areas in our lives that were not pleasing to the Lord.

By the time we started attending Boerne Christian Assembly in 2000, our marriage was the best it had ever been. But that was soon to change.

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