Preeminent evangelical WORLD magazine has now weighed in on the lawsuit against Phillips, and I have to say, their focus is sadly misplaced.
Beyond the messiness for the families and the local church involved, the case also has implications for the broader church, and it’s likely to draw attention from those outside the church as it gains traction. Without a careful understanding of Christian teaching, a tragic situation could bring derision on Christianity more broadly.
It’s certainly happened in other cases. Media outlets lampooned Christians in the 1980s during coverage of the scandal surrounding Jim Bakker at PTL Ministries in Charlotte, N.C. Other scandals have followed, and have ensnared ministry leaders across the theological spectrum.
In this case, the Torres-Manteufel complaint singles out the patriarchy movement that Phillips ascribed to in his teaching and ministry, and contends this system suppressed Torres-Manteufel from speaking out against Phillips. It also notes a thread of the teaching that discourages women from attending college or leaving their fathers’ homes until they marry.
That’s different from the complementarian view of Scripture that’s far more predominant in broader evangelical circles. This view affirms the importance of the Christian family, and it affirms that the Bible establishes men as authorities in their homes and churches, but it also allows far more liberty in the opportunities women pursue in their lives and callings. (Clearly, many Christian women at some point go to college and have jobs.)
For evangelicals, these may seem like obvious distinctions, but they’re important to emphasize when a scandal erupts within Christian circles that grabs the attention of those outside the church.
In other words, WORLD magazine’s concern is to say “no no, don’t get us confused with those people! we’re different!” Really? That’s the lesson they take away from this? Might this not be a good time to examine just what led to Phillips’ downfall and to draw some lessons from that? Or might this not be a good place to warn people against the dangers of the patriarchy movement? It seems not. No, instead it seems it’s a time to lament “woe is us, they will tar us with the same brush, we are victims here.”
Look, I grew up in a family under the influence of Vision Forum. I also grew up in a family that read every single issue of WORLD magazine thoroughly. In fact, it was a bit of a joke that every family in our homeschool community had the same magazines on their counter or in their bathrooms—the annual Vision Forum catalogues, WORLD magazine, Citizen, Credenta Agenda, Above Rubies, etc. My parents subscribed me to WORLD magazine after I left home, and I read every issue until recently. I don’t recall WORLD ever drawing this distinction before or ever speaking a bad word against Phillips or other leaders of the patriarchy movement.
There are plenty of homeschool families out there, including the Duggars, still reading from the same basic collection of magazines, still under the influence of this loose tangle of organizations and ideas. These families stand to benefit by WORLD magazine calling out the problems of the patriarchy movement and warning against them. And it’s not just they who stand to benefit. It seems that at least a few WORLD magazine writers have been fans of Vision Forum, attending major Vision Forum events, etc. They, too, need to hear these things.
Also . . . wait a sec, let me check something . . . and, that would be a yes.
WORLD magazine published an article by Doug Phillips in 1998. Also in 1998 WORLD magazine also praised one of Phillips’ books and spoke positively of Vision Forum’s publishing wing. It appears that WORLD only allows people to search articles from the around 2011 to 2014 or from 1998, and only allows readers to see full articles for 1998. I have no idea why this is, but it means I can’t even see the titles of articles between these years and I can’t see full articles for any year but 1998. Not surprisingly, there is reason to believe that Phillips wrote multiple articles for WORLD, though on what topics or during which years I can’t say.
What I can say is that I’m sick of this, absolutely and thoroughly sick of this.
I’m not saying that the editors of WORLD magazine hold the same beliefs as Doug Phillips, I’m really not. WORLD magazine, thankfully, generally charts a less extreme course. But they distinctions they may think are so obvious can sometimes blur, creating a bit of a problem. After all, WORLD magazine did promote the recent patriarchal Vision Forum—related movie Courageous up and down. If WORLD magazine is serious about having nothing to do with the patriarchy movement, they need to be more proactive and less ambiguous.
I guess I thought being grown up was about taking responsibility, and doing the right thing, and protecting those who are weaker. I guess I thought being Christian was supposed to be about that, too. I didn’t realize that it was mainly about finding any way possible to extricate yourself from any part of the blame when something goes wrong and people get hurt.
More than anything else, I’m disappointed and a bit more disillusioned.