We may never know the full story of the marital infidelity of Doug Phillips, a San Antonio, Texas-based, theocratic homeschooling entrepreneur of national significance. But one thing is clear: The ripple effects of his disgrace and the dissolution of his Vision Forum ministry will be felt for years to come. This is because his worldview hinges on the absolute integrity of the marriage bond and in this way he sought to model a vision of contemporary Biblical patriarchy. But the model he has now offered to the world is what the late Calvinist theologian R.J. Rushdoony would have called "treason" against the God-ordained institution of the traditional family.
It is not clear how closely Doug Phillips adheres to Rushdoony's notions of Biblical Law. Suffice to say that Rushdoony and his followers assert that the laws of Old Testament Israel are applicable today -- and that adultery was a capital offense. While not everyone in the Christian Reconstructionist orbit embraces the list of biblical capital offenses, and adultery is not a crime let alone a capital crime in the U.S., the gravity of this offense against Phillips's own view of the family is nevertheless profound.
The fall of Phillips's ministry comes less than a year after the death of his father Howard Phillips, a founder of the contemporary Religious Right, a leading Christian Reconstructionist political leader, and founder of the Constitution Party. The senior Phillips had also served as vice-chairman of the board of Vision Forum. (Doug Phillips' brother Brad Phillips remains involved in theocratic politics internationally via his Persecution Project Foundation and as Sudan country director for Voice of the Martyrs.) Doug Phillips has been a leading figure in the Christian homeschooling movement, conservative Christian film making, and a fixture at state homeschooling conventions for many years.
Abby Ohlheiser of The Atlantic Wire has an excellent summary of the Vision Forum situation and what it means.
Vision Forum's work centered around the "restoration of the Christian household." In short, the organization enforced what it would argue is a Biblicly-based family structure where the husband serves as the spiritual and practical head of the household. His wife and children, especially any daughters not yet of marrying age, live under his dominion. Phillips's family, like the well-known Duggars, were also practicing Quiverfull adherents. That movement holds up procreation as the highest calling for (properly married) women, meaning that Quiverfull families grow quite large. Phillips has eight children, and the Duggars have 19 kids. Adherents usually home-school their children, rejecting the notion that anyone but the family and God should have input into a child's education. Family is central to, and the mission of, Vision Forum's entire reason for existence.Indeed. Phillips writes that he is turning his personal blog into the Vision Forum blog, and will publish the writings of others, undoubtedly to draw traffic to the site to sell books, tapes and videos -- for example, novels for boys by neo-confederate theocrat, Douglas Wilson ("three-book treasure chest is packed to the bulwarks with adventure, history, and strong Christian morals"). Whatever else his ministry has been, and no matter how far his fall from grace, he has still got a business to run, providing theocratic products for the Christian homeschooling market.
But that doesn't mean that the movement itself is down for the count, nor does it mean that Vision Forum and Phillips will disappear completely. Vision Forum is actually comprised of two companies: the non-profit Vision Forum ministry, which had about $3.3 million in revenue in 2011; and a for-profit with a very similar name. In resigning from the ministry, Phillips announced that he would retain control of the for-profit company. The ministry paid Phillips a salary of $44,000 a year, and gave an additional $193,176 for "labor and services" to the for-profit company in 2011. Likewise, Monday's announcement of the closure of Vision Forum applies to the non-profit ministry only. The for-profit wing of Vision Forum is still selling downloads of Phillips's speeches and sermons.