Doug Phillips, Leadership Journal, and Accountability

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on June 12, 2014 with the title, “Doug Phillips Made This About Accountability, Too.”

Trigger warning: vivid descriptions of sexual assault.

Last year we learned that Doug Phillips, well-known homeschool father and homeschool business leader, had been involved in what he framed as a consensual extramarital relationship with another woman. Later on we heard the other side of the story, this time from the victim herself. Phillips had groomed a girl since she was minor, preyed upon her, and assaulted her for a period of years once she had reached adulthood. He would masturbated on her, and she cried, begging him to stop. Philips still has not admitted, to my knowledge, that the victim is not even partially at fault.

The curious part is that Philips framed a lack of accountability as part of the cause of his relationship sick action. Phillips wrote:

There are no words to describe the magnitude of shame I feel, or grief from the injury I caused my beloved bride and children, both of whom have responded to my repentance with what seems a supernatural love and forgiveness. I thought too highly of myself and behaved without properaccountability. I have acted grievously before the Lord, in a destructive manner hypocritical of life messages I hold dear, inappropriate for a leader, abusive of the trust that I was given, and hurtful to family and friends. My church leadership came alongside me with love and admonition, providing counsel, strong direction and accountability. Where I have directly wronged others, I confessed and repented. I am still in the process of trying to seek reconciliation privately with people I have injured, and to be aware of ways in which my own selfishness has hurt family and friends. I am most sensitive to the fact that my actions have dishonored the living God and been shameful to the name of Jesus Christ, my only hope and Savior.

I wrote last fall that I do not think accountability groups work. I am writing today because this line has been repeated by yet another predator in leadership. Christianity Today allowed a predator who is currently in jail to write an article detailing the cause of his fall, and they published it.

I probably do not need to say much because the outrage has been soaring across the internet. But I’ll briefly mention that the man was a youth pastor and preyed upon a minor student, a TEENAGER, by texting, flirting, and eventually raping her. Like Phillips, he does not admit that it was rape, nor, to my acknowledge, that the greatest damage of the rape is not that he lost his family, his job, and went to jail. The greatest damage was to the victim, his wife, and his children.

Again, curiously, he advises others in his situation to have an accountability partner. He writes:

You know your own area of selfishness. Maybe it’s dangerously close to mine. Are you flirting with a student, playing favorites or struggling with lust? Whatever it is, stop now. Repent of your sin and make it known to those who need to know: your spouse, your boss, your accountability partner. Deal with your sin before it destroys your life and brings down your family and church in the process.

Submit your ministry, marriage and life to the Lord. He is faithful. He will establish you and guard you from the evil one. Put to death in you what is earthly, so God can get back to using you for His glory.

Similar comments were left on Christianity Today, urging people to submit themselves to accountability partners.

This is a warning to us all on how we need to support and keep our leaders accountable. to the writer, I hear the pain in your story. yours is a good warning to all people including Christians. May you be a great witness to the people around you.

There is only one kind of accountability that needed to take place here: accountability with the laws. This man needed someone to watch him more closely for the sake of all the kids who had everything to lose when he screwed up. Accountability is not about the rapist, and it’s not about protecting his reputation. It’s about protecting kids from becoming victims. A good accountability partner would turn him into the law and remove him from ministry, and that’s all there is to this.

If a person wants to rape someone, he or she does not need a secret accountability partner or boss to watch their every move and assure that they do not act on their animal impulses. Sexual predators do not accident rape people. They need professional help and professional care. I do believe in mental health care and professional counseling. I do not believe in enabling abuse. An abuser cannot stay in a position of authority or maintain contact with children.

No, Doug Phillips and this anonymous person did not have an accountability problem. I am not sure what comforts me more: the idea that this is a cover-up line or that they are partially serious.

The only redeeming part of the article in Christianity Today is that unlike Beall Phillips, this predator’s wife packed up her kids in the middle of the night she found out and left town immediately. I hope that Beall gets the courage to leave. When she does, I have her back.

7 comments

  • It seems to me the word “accountability” has lost its intended meaning. Being accountable, to me, is bearing the consequences of your wrongdoing. Prison for a rapist is the consequence of breaking the law, for example. If I keep seeing “accountability” a la Phillips, I’m going to scream.

  • Good article, however it appears you conflate of ministers who have raped/assaulted with people who are thinking about doing so, and/or grooming someone toward that end. In that cases a crime may not have been yet committed, even if the thoughts and/or behaviors are wildly immoral and wrong. In that case, the person should immediately remove himself (herself too, but significantly less likely), from ministry and seek professional help. I would add the minister should also tell the parents of the child involved, so the parents can take steps to protect and assist the child.

    Secondly, ministers need to be counseled to get the right kind of help. A general counselor is probably not equipped to help someone thinking about assaulting a child. Ministers in this position need to seek help from someone who specializes in helping people who engage in sexually offending behaviors (regardless of whether the person has committed a crime).

  • I think that one of the most disheartening take aways from the articles I read on HA and other related sites is that so many ideas that are good in their basic principals and implementations have been twisted by so many into grotesque aberrations:

    encouraging people to think of sexuality as special and something that is better explored in an emotionally & physically safe relationship and that self-respect usually leads to a certain amount of modesty – good. creating a legalistic, blaming, shaming, abusive, rape culture – BAAAD. RIDICULOUS. horrific.

    admitting that people struggle with sexual urges they shouldn’t act on (adultery, for example) – easy enough. acting like there is some ‘system’ which could have saved a ministry leader from their misogynistic, abusive, violating tendencies – BAAAAAD! REALLY FREAKIN BAD.

    the idea that having a friend you can trust completely who confidentially helps you live the life you hope to and hold yourself to the standards you choose to live by even when you are struggling – GREAT. (Well, it can be great…) having people who you can tell your deepest darkests to that keeps you from actually BEING accountable for your actions in the real world – BAAAAAD!!!!

    it is just devastating. all these things that brought me so much goodness in life have been taken to levels that are crazy and abusive and insane.

    please know that, as in many areas of life, many people can use the same phrases and NOT mean the same thing.

    i’m glad i know.

    as for christianity today publishing these articles. i don’t read that magazine, so i don’t know what is up with that… but, eeeewwww… i hope they retract.

    • “I hope they retract”

      I hear that they did, thankfully–after first posting an inadequately altered version, they then took it down completely and posted a full apology.

  • The discussion around the article published in Leadership Journal, as well as after it was taken down, continues to fall into opposite camps, divorced from each other. One camp knows that predators have already shredded the evangelical church & are now mostly trying to defend people *from* it. The other camp had a long involved discussion about the Age of Consent. “The victim is probably a little bit at fault. How much is she at fault? Age of consent is just a social construct.” They don’t get it. They don’t get it AT ALL. As Friendly Atheist put it, “The idea of total depravity has completely desensitized Christians from recognizing actual depravity.”

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I hope that Beall gets the courage to leave.

    And lose all her Rank and Privileges?

  • Pingback: For self-identified U.S. Anglican priests not recognized by Canterbury, a fundamental question remains | Public Work

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