Dividing to Conquer.

Dividing to Conquer. April 20, 2014

Welcome back. We’ve talked here before about Doug Phillips, uber-patriarch and onetime leader of the now-somewhat-defunct Vision Forum (I wonder if Kirk Cameron still associates with them?); onetime rock-star of the homeschooling movement and mentor to countless right-wing slavering-at-the-mouth fundies all over the world including the clown-car Duggar family; onetime advocate of the death penalty for adulterers and ferocious defender of the Bible as the source of all morality and attacker of non-Christians as not having any morality at all…. and his fall from grace as a longtime adulterer. Whoopsie, oh yeah, that guy. And we talked last time about how abusers often set up rules for how victims are supposed to act and react to their victimization. Today we’re going to talk about some other folks who didn’t follow the script.

Christ and the Woman taken in adultery
Christ and the Woman taken in adultery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like most fundie leaders who get caught doing something hypocritical, Mr. Phillips’ response to those who dared criticize him has been to cry crocodile tears about his sin, then try to silence anybody speaking out against him so that he can continue his predation; he’s filed a lawsuit against three of the five men who initially confronted him on his doorstep last year, saying that with their talk against him they were threatening the Vision Forum business he’d built. So that’s one silencing attempt, on the part of the perpetrator himself against those who dared break the rule he’d set up for how abuse victims must behave.

At the time I heard of the scandal, the identity of his victim was not noised about, though it sounded to me like one of those open secrets that churches often ignore to maintain their cherished illusion of having a Happy Christian Community. As one blogger theorized in a downright fascinating post, the timing of Mr. Phillips’ revelation did not in the least seem accidental or random; it sounded a lot like he was moving pre-emptively in response to a threat of being outed.

Well, whatever he hoped to accomplish, it failed, because he’s been outed quite grandly now: his victim has filed a lawsuit against him. Now the rest of the world knows what Mr. Phillips’ church undoubtedly knew for quite a while: that the young woman he’d used as unpaid labor to be a nanny for his children was the young woman he’d targeted for his attentions.

In her lawsuit, among other disturbing details, Lourdes Torres-Manteufel revealed that he had been grooming her for sexual service since she was only fifteen and that even after she’d left the service of his family, he continued to contact her and try to use her as a sexual outlet for himself. Her experience sounds like a nightmare in every single direction, but one of the weirder directions is this one: that just a couple of months before that aforementioned confrontation on his doorstep, his wife, Beall, wrote Lourdes a bizarre, vaguely threatening letter advising her to shut up about her accusations.

Now, Lourdes’ abuser had told her repeatedly that Beall Phillips was going to die any day now and then he could marry her as his next wife. Lourdes–like every other member of Doug Phillips’ church–knew that their organization did not allow divorce except in cases of adultery or death, and she would have known, just as Doug Phillips himself certainly did, that a known adulterer would lose his position in the church leadership. So death was the only way that he could be freed to remarry and still keep his position intact. I’m not the only person who found it downright chilling to hear that he’d repeatedly told Lourdes that his wife would be dying any day now. More than a few folks were worried that he meant to do his wife some sort of harm to free himself up faster.

So imagine my surprise at hearing that Beall was actually joining her husband in condemning Lourdes’ accusation. Well, for a little bit. After I thought about it, I wasn’t all that surprised at all.

This letter has gotten outsiders to Christianity completely confused. How can an abuser’s wife hear that he very likely meant to harm her and then turn around and defend him to the skies?

People who’ve been through manipulative relationships understand, though, that one of a predator’s main skills is being able to turn people against each other and sow dissension and strife through groups and families. People who normally would be allies see each other as enemies, thanks to that predator’s hard work and attention.

When Beall Phillips first met young Lourdes and saw how her husband took such an incredible shine to her, did she realize that this young woman was going to be her competition? Did she, like Catherine of Aragon long ago, realize that this young assistant was really there for her husband’s eye to enjoy? When somehow Lourdes ended up going with them on family vacations and speaking events, did she realize why? I think somehow, dimly, she must have known that her husband was going into this young woman’s bedroom at night to get his rocks off. Surely she’d have seen some sign in Lourdes that abuse was afoot. I mean, every single photo of the two of them shows an unusual degree of intimacy–and Lourdes was living with them for some time. Did she ask what was happening? Or was she grateful that her husband was leaving her alone? With eight children to raise and her own career to tend, she was very likely very busy.

Her career was in teaching other young women how to be properly submissive doormats, but make no mistake: Beall Phillips is no submissive doormat. I’ve read bone-chilling accounts of her behavior and have come away convinced that she is every bit as mean, as nasty, and as ambitious as her husband.

Around 2012, when Lourdes told her family at last what had been going on, they stopped allowing her to go near the man and stopped attending his church. Not long afterward, missing his little POA desperately, the predator showed up at her house and knocked on her window to get her attention–only to be chased away by her family. The very next morning, Doug and his wife Beall set up a meeting with Lourdes’ family to discuss why he should be allowed to continue contact with her. Beall was there. She would have to have known at that point why her husband was trying to gain access again to Lourdes. I find it hard to imagine she didn’t notice her husband leaving the house in the middle of the night. She would have to have known why the girl’s family was trying to keep him away from her. And she attended this meeting anyway. Was she the cowed wife just doing what her husband told her to do? Or was she, correctly as it turns out, perceiving that this family’s outrage was a major threat to her family’s “brand”?

The family went straight to Vision Forum to advise them of what was happening, and then stopped associating with the organization altogether. And then a weird thing happened: Beall wrote to Torres one of her typically arch, super-controlling letters to threaten her if she continued to speak to others about her abuse:

“Right now, you may have a perception of peace, but what you don’t know is that these bombs are about to explode in a manner that will change all of our lives forever. It will affect your life, your marriage prospects … your parents … and thousands of other people. It is far worse than you imagine,” she wrote. “The VFM board has encouraged me to let you know about these and to work with you to give you an opportunity to stop impending destruction.”

Does this sound at all like a cowed, submissive doormat of a wife? Or one complicit in her husband’s abuse of others? She was playing upon the indoctrination of her church and husband here, advising Lourdes–who, remember, is many years her junior–with a shattering loss of opportunity if she continued to speak out. In that church, a young woman’s only real aspiration is to get married and have children, and her only real wish before that is to make her parents happy. Beall is quite explicit here that if Lourdes keeps talking, she will never get married and make her parents unhappy. She demands that Lourdes keep silent to preserve her own abuser’s “ministry” and to keep up the illusion of the Happy Christian Community.

Thankfully, like most divide-and-conquer tactics, the abuser’s strength lies largely in his or her own head. Despite Beall’s shameless attempt to strong-arm this young woman, Lourdes’ parents seem to have been completely on their daughter’s side here. And far from rendering herself unfit for marriage, Lourdes is already married to someone who is also recovering from that church’s abuse. And her success is another raised middle finger to the Phillips’ control tactics, one that I hope others in that church see and understand.

But can you see the division being sown here? Doug Phillips got his wife on his side, on the side of an abuser and molester, rather than on the side of the person who suffered real harm at his hands. And I can see why: because the fallout of his abusive affair threatens his business, and Beall is part of his business.

And she has to be so.

Think about it. She’s middle-aged and in a cult that assigns no positive value whatsoever to “damaged goods.” She has eight children at this point, mostly daughters who have been specifically raised to have no job ambitions or skills that could garner them money, and she herself has only her “ministry” to support herself–a business that depends utterly upon her husband and her reputation as a godly Christian wife. The risks involved in joining Lourdes and the legions of others damaged by her husband’s “ministry” are beyond incomprehensible. She’d lose her home, almost certainly, and her part in his business. She’d be adrift with little means of support. She probably won’t be able to attract another husband, not with eight kids to feed. Her very reputation would be in tatters for speaking out against her own husband. But the risks involved in defending him are much lower. She’ll alienate other abuse victims, but her church will see her as an even more godly Christian wife, and she’ll possibly help her husband keep his business alive and supporting her and her kids. The math is not only clear but inescapable.

So hell yeah, she’ll try to manipulate and control his accuser to shut her up.

So hell yeah, she’ll go and sit beside her disgraced husband to try to spin-doctor the lawsuit against him in an interview.

Her allegiance is both clear and self-serving.

And it’s hard for me to completely condemn her, because I know personally how someone might get that twisted around.

I wish I could say I’m above such behavior, but when I was with Biff, I acted very similarly. I always believed him over the people who claimed to feel frightened or abused by him. I always took his side. I even–at his suggestions and requests–contacted victims who’d requested he leave them alone to “get their side of the story” (read: make them listen to his abuse through a proxy). I am ashamed that I did these things, but it does make me feel a bit more compassionate toward her. Beall is almost certainly being abused by this man, at least emotionally, and I bet she (and his children) have some stories they could tell about stuff he’s done to them. But they may well perceive themselves as helpless to act or speak out about him, and that’s only if they can get as far as realizing that someone they consider a holy authority figure is actually an out-and-out abuser and conjob.

Thankfully, it doesn’t look like Doug Phillips is going to continue to be a huge mover and shaker in the right-wing crazysphere of Christianity. His “ministry’s” big money-maker besides homeschooling stuff was its annual Christian movie festival, and someone else is doing one of those now. The Homeschooling Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which he used to work with, has distanced itself mightily from him because his patriarchy nonsense has even the rightest-wing of Christians there rattled, and nobody else seems to be welcoming his attempts to re-insert himself into the halls of power.

Once again we see that there is no god informing the behavior of Christians. An abuser and manipulator continues to be one long after saying the Sinner’s Prayer. Someone who desperately craves control and power is going to go to any lengths whatsoever, even lengths that are very obviously not in keeping with Christian values, to keep it. I still feel bad for Beall in a way, for what that’s worth; she got involved with a really bad man, and like a lot of abuse victims, she’s bought into his power-mad behavior–very likely to protect herself and her family. Even knowing that he almost certainly meant to hurt her, even knowing beyond all shadow of doubt that he was absolutely abusing this young woman in his care, even knowing that her church damages and hurts people all the time, she’s got to buy in one-hundred-and-crazy percent.

And once again we see that patriarchy just does not work on any level, not even for the men at the very tippy-top of its hierarchy of power. It does not produce Happy Christian Families. It does not produce Happy Christian Marriages. It does not produce Happy Christian Communities. It is a failure of a philosophy and lifestyle in every single direction possible.

So… WWJD?

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