First, a bit of housekeeping: Hello to the new readers! Hang out as long as you like. I for one welcome our new reptilian overlords. And mega shout-outs and thanks for linkage to one of this blog’s oldest and dearest buddies, Psycho Gecko, who is hands down one of the weirdest and zaniest fiction writers I’ve ever run across. Also, here, have yet another example of Christian racism, this time directed against–of all people–non-white Christians, coming on the heels of megapastor Rick Warren’s similar bouts of racism. Isn’t that just the weirdest thing? It’s almost as if.. as if.. I can’t put my finger on it.. I’m sure I’ll think of it. Okay, on to our regularly scheduled post:
I checked the news today and got this very clear feeling that my blog feels like it writes itself. I’m not kidding. I remember when I was starting the blog I was actually worried maybe I wouldn’t be able to keep momentum after a while, but that fear quickly evaporated when I really got into it. I’ve got a really nasty case of arthritis and typing doesn’t help, or I’d be posting daily. I could do this every single day, believe me.
Today we’re going to look at the fringe of the home-schooling movement. Now, not all homeschoolers do what they do out of a desire to brutally indoctrinate the innocent minds under their care. But most do; a survey found that 83% of respondents considered “religious or moral instruction” the reason they were homeschooling. And, more anecdotally, the secular or less zealous homeschoolers I know sometimes find it difficult to find resources for their kids and families that aren’t totally wackadoodle (thankfully, there are more resources out there now than there used to be).
Vision Forum Ministries is one of the more religious of the current crop of homeschooling organizations. It’s also one of the most influential. It is run by Doug Phillips, a rock-star in the movement who proudly puts up a photo of himself and his like eight kids and who I assume is his wife; his website’s mission statement according to Google is that it is “dedicated to the restoration of Christian family culture.” I guess by that he means the Mayberry fantasy–strong-jawed Christian breadwinner father, submissive little stay-at-home homeschooling mother, obedient little homeschooled kids.
HuffPo describes him as “an outspoken proponent of male “dominion” over women and a leading home-schooling activist.” HuffPo goes on to describe his war against birth control and his contempt for women’s rights. And of course he’s one of those “Quiverfull” types and a history and Constitution denier in the form of “Christian Reconstructionism,” a weird movement that wants to institute Sharia–er, sorry, Old Testament law for America, as in the death penalty for gay folks and adulterers. His Facebook page is loaded with threats against America on behalf of his mean invisible bully of a god, especially as touching our bizarre notions of women’s self-ownership and Americans’ right to consent over each and every use of our bodies (bonus: he seriously thinks–I know, I know, but stop giggling–that his god defined marriage as “one man and one woman” instead of “one man and as many sex slaves, rape victims, prisoners of war, and purchased women as he can afford to keep”). As conservative right-wing Christian men go, he’s about as bad as it gets, is what I’m saying. If I didn’t know any better I’d say he was some kind of elaborate troll or something. But no, he’s quite serious.
On his homeschooling group’s “about us” page, we discover this:
While the family is under attack from every side today, God’s sufficient Word provides clear direction and hope to rebuild the family. . . “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18). True happiness comes when we obey God’s Word, and it is our prayer that the Bible-affirming resources we offer at Vision Forum will help your family thrive with joy before the Lord.
So, all in all, that’s a pretty strong mission statement and definitive stance toward the world, isn’t it? Not a lot there about education or anything though. You’d think a homeschooling group would say something about education. The very little stuff their page says about education puts it firmly in the context of indoctrination into Christianity. (I’d say something about the weird dress code on display in the photo on that page, but it seems clear this is some kind of field trip, and people sometimes dress alike for field trips, so who knows why they’re all dressed so similarly. I’ll just say instead that the picture of the little girl off to the right in the long white skirt and blue striped shirt breaks my heart for some reason.)
But “God’s sufficient Word” didn’t stop Phillips from engaging in an affair. He’s weirdly over-disclosing and vague at the same time about just what happened, saying he and his unknown paramour didn’t “‘know’ each other in a Biblical sense” but that it was “inappropriately romantic and affectionate,” because you know, if an affair doesn’t involve penis-in-vagina sex, that totally changes everything. (This statement, incidentally, is how we know he’s really just sorry he got caught; he’s already trying to distance himself from what he did and to “spin” the facts so people feel more sympathetic toward him. Like I talked about recently, he’s got this image of himself as a non-cheater, and even though we now have categorical proof that his behavior doesn’t reflect that image, he has to do what he can to keep his self-image intact.)
So, uh, good thing he hasn’t managed to get Sharia–er, sorry, Old Testament law instituted for adulterers, huh?
Let’s look at this fall from grace, shall we?
First, as HuffPo has pointed out, yes, this story is a huge big deal. This guy isn’t just some lone nut, some bad seed, some aberration. He’s a very big name in the fundagelical homeschooling movement, the patriarchy movement, and of course that reconstructionist movement. His entire life revolves around forcing people to adopt a right-wing toxic-Christian fundagelical lifestyle even if they don’t want to do so. So when someone like him falls from grace, then yes, this is something folks need to know about and be paying attention to.
Second, while I have no idea whatsoever exactly what happened between him and this unnamed woman who wasn’t his wife, there’s a lot of hypocrisy up in this shiznit. He’s built his entire life on this idea that Christian patriarchy works. He insists that it does. He says that “true happiness” comes from obeying what he views as the Bible’s commandments. He says that not following it is treasonous and deserving of punishment. He puts forth the idea that his vision of the family is the best one and the one that all men and women should be following.
And he can’t even walk the walk himself.
How long do you suppose he was messing around with this other woman before he got caught? And do you seriously suppose this is the first time this has ever happened? I’ve heard from other ex-Christians that the man is treated like the rock-star I described him as a few paragraphs ago. People put him forward as what this religious-homeschooling lifestyle is supposed to produce and protect. He’s the ideal, and he is treated as a prophet. Do you seriously imagine this is the one and only time he’s ever “stumbled”?
Even if it is, why couldn’t his faith and his desire to follow the law he thinks his god has set for humanity keep him safe from an affair? I mean, this dude is 100% serious about thinking his god is going to destroy the world out of rage over humankind’s insistence on having unapproved sex, but apparently he isn’t really that worried about it. He’s the one person in the world who ought to know for absolute sure what’s at stake–and his actions demonstrate that maybe he’s not as convinced of what he’s saying as he pretends. For him, it really seems like we should do what he says, not as he does. And I really want to ask him: why wasn’t he “truly happy” where he was, instead of straying? I’m sure this affair made him happier than not having the affair, at least till he got caught. But how could a man who is already truly happy do something like that?
Third, this case highlights how powerless and puny women are in his world. His wife’s been shnookered into having eight kids or so for him, if the photo is anything to go by. And if he married a properly patriarchal Quiverfull wife, she has no job qualifications whatsoever and precious little education. What are her options at this point? Does she feel safe? Does she even know what her legal options are? How is her community treating her right now?
And for that matter, what were and are the options of the woman who was “inappropriately romantic and affectionate” with this woman-hating stud? I assume she went into the affair of her own free will, but was she also married with eight kids to think about? How much personal power did she feel she wielded in this relationship? How empowered did she feel to tell Phillips to back off? How was he even coming into contact with another woman, considering he thinks it’s immoral for women to work around and interact too much with men? As hard as it is for me to imagine a woman wanting to get busy with someone this categorically repulsive, how was this guy–with eight kids, remember–getting enough private time to carry on an affair? Most dads I know don’t have enough time between working and being dads to even have sex with their wives, let alone carry on intense emotional affairs. But he’s got eight kids and somehow between that and his job and all his outside interests, he’s able to have an affair he describes as long-lasting? Wow, must be nice to be a toxic Christian patriarchy dude. I wonder how much free time his wife has?
Cases like this are why the patriarchy doesn’t work. This guy has betrayed his wife in the worst possible way, and he had every reason in the whole world not to do it. He proclaimed how happy a Christian family was, and how people who obey what he thinks is Christian law are the most happy. He’s absolutely convinced that he knows just what his god is thinking at every moment (which I totally believe, because I think he is his very own god at this point), and he knows for dead sure that his god is going to punish people for not obeying (just as he probably wishes he could). Out of every human being who should be able to toe the line, out of every single person in the world who should be able to uphold the ideals of patriarchy, he should be that person. He should be the one person out of all of his peers who should be able to live the way he wants to force the rest of us to live.
And even he can’t hack it.
And he and his group have had not decades but centuries to demonstrate if their worldview is the one that works. For thousands of years, patriarchy has ruled, and all we’ve gotten for it are constant streams and litanies of betrayals and pain caused. But like with everything else toxic Christians push, they are convinced that if they just push it harder, if they just make it stricter, if they just drill down harder on the control and dominance, surely it’ll start working soon. Any day now. They’re sure of it. They just need to find the right way to do it.
My sympathies are with this loon’s wife and children, who are surely going through a really tough time right now. I hope that they know that the biggest problem isn’t that their husband and daddy failed, though that is a problem in a lot of ways, but that the system is designed from the ground up not to work for humans. He failed them and himself not simply because he was weak, though he certainly does sound weak to me, but because the worldview he holds is simply unworkable. It’s a Kodak moment worldview–it works for narrow applications for some folks for a short time, sort of like that 24/7 “total power exchange” bondage some people dig, but it’s not something anybody should be trying to do every minute of the day or buy into so much they forget how the world actually works. It’s just a fantasy, not reality. My fear is that his family and fundagelicals alike will continue to hold to the failed system and think that the problem was just that this one person in it was weak and not realize that the entire system is just a failed fantasy shoveled into them by once-dominant man-children who are terrified and infuriated by their sudden loss of unwarranted privilege.
From the not-pology offered up, it seems clear that Phillips himself labors under that delusion. With as much investment as he’s made into forcing his way of thinking on so many other people, he’s certainly got a lot to lose by seriously examining what he’s wrought. I don’t expect him to do the necessary soul-searching any time soon to figure out that his entire system is flawed. Like Biff long ago, he seriously would rather face this scandal and probably many more to come rather than admit that his philosophy might be wrong; the costs and personal changes incurred from beating the dead horse are much smaller. As long as those costs and personal changes are smaller, he has no real reason to change. Except that it’s the right thing to do, of course. But it’s so cute how we pretend like that ever mattered.
We have to keep talking about Phillips and the other prophets who have failed, utterly failed to walk the walk they want to force the rest of us to walk. We must keep pointing at these failures in the system. Sooner or later, just as happened with the laughable “family values” politicians, people will realize just how hypocritical these failed prophets really are, and the sooner that happens, the sooner this reconstructionist/dominionist/patriarchal craziness will fade.
You want more reading? Here ya go:
* Here’s a woman whose family got destroyed by Phillips’ teaching–and who, when she went public with her story, got totally lambasted by his buddies.
* This is a long series about Phillips and his vision of patriarchy that I thought was really insightful.
* I’d be hard-pressed to name one Libby Anne post about Phillips that is the best one, so let me just offer up her tagged posts about the guy. She’s an ex-Christian who bought into all the same stuff he pushes at one point, so you’ll probably get a lot out of reading what she’s said about him and his brand of family-crushing misogyny, especially this devastating post about how toxic Christians are reacting to the criticism of their Dear Leader.
To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Sister, when a culture’s god is male, then its males inevitably become gods. And oh! Now I know what I was trying to think of way at the beginning of this post: It’s almost as if white evangelicals love them some privilege and don’t grasp the finer nuances of treating people like people instead of cultural stereotypes for their own benefit and amusement–in the same way that Phillips treats the very real people around him as nothing more than props in the movie about himself he’s got running in his head.
That’s what I was trying to think of.