A major conservative Christian organization shuttered its doors on Monday after its president, Doug Phillips, resigned from his position in the wake of an extramarital affair. Phillips is an extremely influential leader in the "Biblical Patriarchy" movement, a wing of conservative evangelical Christianity that believes men should have "dominion" over women. Phillips and his organization, Vision Forum, are enormously active in a cluster of related ministries, including the Christian homeschooling movement. The group also advocates against access to birth control and abortion. Even if you don't know Vision Forum, you know some of its friends: Kirk Cameron, for one; the Duggars (pictured below), for another.
Here's what happened. At the end of October, Phillips posted a stunning letter to Vision Forum Ministries's site, simultaneously confessing to a "lengthy" extramarital affair and resigning from the organization: "I engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman," he wrote, adding, "while we did not 'know' each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate." Phillips essentially promised to stay away from speaking engagements and public appearances as a representative of the organization while he sought forgiveness. But it looks like Vision Forum, an organization nearly synonymous with Phillips himself, couldn't see a path forward without his presence. Here is the frank statement on the closure:
In light of the serious sins which have resulted in Doug Phillips’s resignation from Vision Forum Ministries, the Board of Directors has determined that it is in the best interests of all involved to discontinue operations. We have stopped receiving donations, and are working through the logistical matters associated with the closing of the ministry. While we believe as strongly as ever in the message of the ministry to the Christian family, we are grieved to find it necessary to make this decision. We believe this to be the best option for the healing of all involved and the only course of action under the circumstances.
It is difficult to overstate how fundamentally an extramarital affair damaged Phillips's reputation in the short term. That's because 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.
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.