Toxic (TBB)

The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what the Big Box is all about.

Last April, I attended MASSHope, New England’s largest homeschool convention. The convention began on a Friday morning, and I scheduled my Big Box article, A Home School Vision of Victory, to post automatically after I left my hotel room in the morning. When I returned from a long and tiring day in the indoctrination room teen track (read more about that here), I found that Scarlet Letters had received over a hundred hits, which at the time was a new high. A Home School Vision of Victory continued to receive large numbers of hits, and almost a year later remains the third most popular post in the Big Box.

It struck me as a little odd at the time that A Home School Vision of Victory skyrocketed so quickly to the top of Scarlet Letters’ charts. What was it about the post that still struck a chord with my readers, since the talk was given in 1997 and thus, fourteen years later, has little to do with the current state of the homeschool movement? I believe I may have discovered the answer to that question in Toxic – because Toxic, even though it was given in or around 2009, was essentially almost identical to A Home School Vision of Victory. It had a few updates here and there to reflect current issues, but by and large contained the same themes and exactly the same message. Thus, perhaps A Home School Vision of Victory remained relevant to Scarlet Letters’ audience, because Doug Phillips has not said anything really new about homeschooling in almost twenty years!

The times, they are (not) a-changin’

To give you a taste of what I mean, here’s a quote from A Home School Vision of Victory:

In this best-of-times, worst-of-times world, in this time when on the one hand the world is aborting their children, and you are bringing forth godly children. On the one hand, the world is getting more and more in debt and more and more Christians are saying no to debt, that we want to be free men to serve Jesus Christ, free from the bondage of debt so we can do what’s right. It’s a time of great contrasts, and I believe God is working through faithful families, fathers and mothers who are committed to seeing a righteous generation rise up, that if there is a hope we are going to find, if there is to be a generation which will be part of helping America regain the glory that we once had, that must come from the homeschool movement.

And now somes quotes from Toxic:

The world is changing and it’s changing rapidly, but I believe that you and I have been born for a very unique moment in history, and this is a moment of profound antithesis. This is a time when the dark is getting darker, when the light is getting lighter, and between the two there will be no fellowship. We are on the precipice of cultural, national and global suicide and the road before us may be filled with bitterness, it may be filled with horrors the likes of which we have been spared as a nation up to this point in time.

You and I are observing, not only the worst of times, but we’re also observing one of the greatest internal reformations of the last two hundred years. In the midst of all the catastrophe, we’re also witness to a small, but nonetheless potent, reformation and revival which is taking place in the very place God declared this should be the place, this most strategic location when it comes to preparing the people of God for the most significant kingdom work imaginable. Do you know what that is? It’s the family. … The sign of making a people prepared for the Lord is the turning of the hearts of parents to their children. Where is that happening? Right here. Over there, in this building. It’s happening in the homeschool movement in America.

As you can see, the theme here is identical: homeschooling families will rise up to save America from her decline into abortion and financial ruin. Even the words are the same (notice that the “best of times, worst of times” phrase borrowed from Dickens appears in both excerpts)! If anything Phillips has ratcheted up the rhetoric in Toxic. There are probably several reasons for this, one of which, depending on when the lecture was actually delivered, may be an attempt to play on the palpable national fear in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Mostly, however, it probably springs from the fact that by 2009, it had become readily apparent that conservative Christians had to share the homeschooling playground with parents who did not share their religious convictions. And as expected, the insular streak from A Home School Vision of Victory has also been intensified:

Now imagine that you were out there trying to restore the walls of the city and the breaches. And I want you to imagine, for example, what it was like for Nehemiah, as he sought to rebuild the walls of the holy city of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, gossips, railers, troublemakers, scoundrels, the Tobiahs and the Sanballats of his day, are hurling invectives at him, questioning his motives, accusing him falsely, as he seeks to rebuild that particular wall. Now imagine Nehemiah speaking to his constituency. He’s speaking to a scared and frightened group of faithful, and he’s reminding that they would be most effective if they stood together as families. … In other words, in the midst of catastrophe, in the midst of heartache, in the midst of criticism, in the midst of railers and gossips and everything else, fight on and do it as a family and don’t quit.

528px-Building_the_Wall_of_JerusalemChristian homeschoolers are the faithful exiles returned from Babylon to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Their critics are “gossips” and “scoundrels” like Tobiah and Sanballat, who tried to prevent the Jews finishing their work (Nehemiah 4:1-18). The picture Phillips paints is thus one of a small, beleaguered band of homeschoolers, working tirelessly to rebuild the kingdom of God while surrounded by vicious secularists, who mock them and turn them in to social services on false charges. Frankly, as a homeschool graduate, this makes me laugh out loud. How Phillips can keep seriously peddling this image today, when homeschoolers are accepted, marketed to and widely praised for their accomplishments, is beyond me. The world has changed drastically since 1985. Phillips is apparently behind the times. (What makes this even more incongruous is that Phillips later chastises homeschoolers for complacency, now that they no longer have to pull the curtains to hide their children during school hours.)

Another element in A Home School Vision of Victory that was harped upon even harder in Toxic are the allusions to impending persecution and possible national disaster or collapse:

We are on the precipice of cultural, national and global suicide and the road before us may be filled with bitterness, it may be filled with horrors the likes of which we have been spared as a nation up to this point in time.

…ladies and gentlemen, when things get tough, the fingers get pointed at certain groups that the elites do not like and it’s always been that way, and you may be on that hit list. We don’t know what the future has to hold, and I don’t know what that looks like and I don’t know what that completely means. All I want to tell you is the future is not for the faint of heart, but the future is for bold Christians.

I pointed out back in April, in my review of A Home School Vision of Victory, that Phillips has many things in common with Christian survivalists, and could be one himself. The above quotes only make me more suspicious on that point. Also of interest here is R. L. Stollar’s excellent report on the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit. I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety, as it touches on most of the same themes as Toxic. Of interest to us today, however, is this remark made by Phillips at that summit:

If we ever find ourself [sic] in a state of martial law; if somebody puts anthrax in one of our major water supplies; if there is a suitcase nuke, which is opened up in a major city, we could very well see panic break out.[1]

This is almost identical to a thousand different things you could read on Christian survivalist sites like this one. Also advocated are practices that mesh perfectly with the kind of home-centered living advocated by patriocentrists like Phillips – getting off the grid, animal husbandry, making your own clothes, etc. And indeed Vision Forum, before its sudden demise, used to sell a series of DVDs about, essentially, home economy – gardening, candlemaking, and soapmaking were only three of the activities covered. I know this because I own those DVDs, purchased as part of a brief and largely fear-based interest in survivalism around 2009-2010 – the exact time frame in which Phillips delivered these two speeches.

Now I am not saying that any of the activities I listed above are bad on their own. If you want to live off the grid and raise your own beef, great – more power to you. What I am saying is that portraying this lifestyle as mandatory for Christians – especially when joined with the implication that it is the only way they will survive some kind of impending societal catastrophe – is out of line. Phillips hasn’t done this directly, at least not that I have seen. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at what he’s promoted, and what he’s said, and at least be open to the possibility that it may add up to something substantially less innocent than encouraging Christians to learn old-fashioned skills and spend more time with their families.

The cone of silence

As I mentioned above, there were a few updated elements in Toxic. One of these was Phillips’ undisguised disdain for Kathryn Joyce’s book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. He didn’t mention it by name, of course, but a quick check on Amazon for the publisher’s name made it crystal clear who he was referring to:

Meanwhile, there are books being published by Gaia-worshiping, transgender, pro-homosexual, lesbian, feminist publishing houses like Beacon Press on people they call ‘Quiverfulls,’ home educators, whom they now are claiming are responsible for racism and are part of a vast conspiracy to take over America.

I haven’t read Joyce’s book, so I can’t comment on whether his characterization of it is accurate. I suspect, however, that he’s using a great deal of hyperbole here. Also, I didn’t know that an entire publishing house could have a gender identity crisis, and I thank Phillips for informing me of that fascinating fact. 🙂

What’s even more telling than Phillips’ condemnation of Joyce, however, is his discussion of bloggers and blog commenters near the end of the lecture:

We don’t go from house to house anymore, we go from blog to blog, saying things we ought not to. Gossips and busybodies, and the Scripture says a perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.

Where did you read such a thing? Well, I went to,, I went there, and on all those different sites I noticed that you believe that you wife should be executed. Friends, I’m not making that up, and this sort of behavior is continuing through the homeschool movement. It will be our destruction. It will be the end of us. It has to come to an end. We have to be self-governing, we have to reclaim civility and begin to act like Christian men and Christian women. We need to be kindly affection [sic] one to another, and watch our words, and recognize that just because someone has the ability to press a button, doesn’t make it so, and we may become culpable in the problem.

467px-%22DON'T_1._Talk_loosely_to_strangers_2._Spread_rumors%22_-_NARA_-_514127Now Phillips is certainly right that we can’t believe everything we see on the internet. But it would be easy to read the above and come away with the idea that all blogs – at least the ones run by women – regardless of quality, content or anything else, are just rumor mills filled with gossipy housewives. He also characterized gossiping via blogs as “the female sin of the internet” at the Men’s Leadership Summit referenced above:

We will lose this movement and this work of God, men, if we do not govern our households. And that means lovingly shepherding our wives. The less you love your wife and the less you shepherd your wife, the more you create an open door for the female sin of the internet. The male sin of the internet is pornography. The female sin of the internet is gossip-mongering. …

The world is watching. When the lesbian, feminist, transgender publishing house Beacon Press decided to release their expose this month on families that believe in large households, they knew exactly who to go for. Go to the internet assassins. Go to the blogosphere gossips and get the information to denounce and divide the homeschool movement directly from the wives who live on the internet, 24/7.[1]

Phillips, then, seems to really believe that all blogs criticizing the homeschool movement (and probably patriarchy in general) are just repeating unproven and unprovable things. Even a cursory examination of the “discernment blogosphere,” however, will reveal that this isn’t true. For instance, is it unfounded “gossip” to obtain official statements from the National Institutes of Health and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute about whether a certain naturopath, connected to a prominent megachurch pastor, is really as qualified as he says he is? Am I “slandering” Phillips by reviewing his lectures, i.e. words which proceeded from his own mouth and for which my mother paid him good money? And certainly the bloggers at this horrible site are just encouraging women to “publicly shame” their abusive husbands, and opening the doors for more wifely rebellion by providing information about how to spot abusers. What a blow to Christendom.

I’d also like to point out that until quite recently, Phillips himself had a blog, which vanished from the internet with the rest of Vision Forum and is thus inaccessible at present, except perhaps through the Wayback Machine. Clearly, then, blogging itself cannot be the problem here. So how are we to determine what is a “good” blog and what is a “bad” blog? Is it “good” only when it agrees with Phillips, or perhaps when it is run by a man? Frankly, it sounds to me as if Phillips doesn’t want his listeners to read anyone who doesn’t agree with him.

Before we close this section, I’d like to draw attention to one of Phillips’ remarks above:

…this sort of behavior [gossiping via blogs] is continuing through the homeschool movement. It will be our destruction. It will be the end of us. It has to come to an end.

As it happens, Phillips’ concern here may be warranted. Story sharing and high-quality investigative blogging, like that done at Homeschoolers Anonymous, may indeed destroy patriarchal homeschooling by exposing its nasty underbelly of abuse, control and neglect. But as I’ve said before, homeschoolers should be the first to rejoice when abuse is rooted out of their community. Why they often do not, remains an enduring mystery to me. What I do know is that I, as a homeschool graduate, do not want my name or my movement associated with the kind of wrongdoing that has gone on in patriarchal homeschooling culture, and will not be lining up to mourn at its funeral.

Suffer the little children

During the course of the lecture, Phillips made this statement about children’s rights:

If the Christian community were not tolerating the evils of feminism, there would be no toleration for the evils of children’s rights. Why is the children’s rights movement propagated so widely? Because we’ve accepted the fundamental assumptions that the hierarchies and structures that God has established in love for our benefit, do not apply to the modern world.

Since I’m neither qualified for, nor interested in, a policy discussion about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which is what Phillips was referencing), let’s just examine the general logic of Phillips’ statement here. He equates feminism and children’s rights, since he sees them both as violations of a God-ordained societal hierarchy in which, presumably, wives are below their husbands and children are below their parents. Thus, his real reasoning here appears to be, essentially, that only the superior party in the hierarchy has rights. This is, of course, in complete and total violation of the (amended) Constitution.

So I suppose after reading this, I have two questions. Are there any Constitutional amendments Phillips would want to remove? And what are his views on slavery? The first question is easy enough to answer – I’ve already shown here that Phillips doesn’t think women should vote – but the second is a little thornier. It was not uncommon, before the Civil War, for emancipation to be viewed as a violation of the God-ordained “natural order” in which slaves were inferior to their masters. So would Phillips extend his logic this far? And if not, why not?

(Another related topic is that Phillips apparently believes CPS should be dismantled entirely – see R. L. Stollar’s report for more detail.)

Cutting the irony with a knife

Finally, as we near the end of this post, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the obvious – that, in a post-Vision Forum world, it’s hilariously ironic to listen to Doug Phillips, the long-term adulterer, lecture homeschoolers about getting their moral houses in order, lest they miss being blessed by God:

Some of you are not the heads of the home, men. You cannot expect to have true blessing unless you take up the mantle of sacrificial, loving, understanding – because you dwell with your wife according to knowledge – leadership. Some of you men and some of you ladies are gossips. You are dividing churches. You’re dividing friendships. … Some of you are dealing with perpetual bitterness. Some of you are angry at your fathers. Some of you men are porn addicts. Some of you have lost your love for Christ and are content with the emotions, but do not talk to the Lord as if He’s your Father. …

We need to get our house in order if we are going to move forward. All of us have sinned, hypocrisy, all of us have played the parts of hypocrites. We have done wrong. All of this is true. We must turn and give all glory, honor, fidelity and obedience to God alone to whom all glory and praise is due.

Since most sources I have read indicate that Phillips’ affair lasted about six years, and Toxic was copyrighted in 2009, Phillips was likely already having the affair when he delivered the lecture. But if we could go back in time and propose such a thing to the audience that day, how many would have seriously believed it – even though they just heard Phillips himself say (rightly) that all of us can fall victim to hypocrisy? How many would have thought that Doug Phillips, the wise homeschooling guru, would truly be capable of something so horrendous? My friends and their parents certainly wouldn’t have. Even I might not have – even though I found Phillips to be annoying and legalistic, I always hoped he was a decent man at heart and just profoundly misguided. In the end, then, I suppose sometimes the scales simply must fall from your eyes – whether or not you like what you see when they’re gone.

6 comments on “Toxic (TBB)

  1. Kay says:

    Just wanted to say that it was finding Kathryn Joyce’s book on the shelf (quite by accident–just browsing) at Barnes & Noble one Saturday afternoon in 2009 that gave me hope that yes, there were other people out there that thought the Quiverfull nonsense was harmful and dangerous to women and families. It struck a chord with me because I have known so many of those people personally. I had never seen any pushback, though, maybe due to the area in which I live…then I found the Blogosphere and my life has changed for the better! Write on, Hester!

  2. fiddlrts says:

    I think we can at least make a stab at what Phillips thinks about slavery from his past statements about Robert Lewis Dabney. For example, this book: Robert Lewis Dabney: The Prophet Speaks

    (Dabney warned of the dangers of women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery. Also about the evils of spending public tax funds to educate “negroes.”)

    Alas, since VF’s website is defunct, you will have to take my word that it contained this poetic ode to Dabney, written by Phillips:

    We must remember Thornwell, Palmer, Girardeau —
    All Southern men who preached with power, unity, and flow;
    But when it comes to logic pure there’s one that tops our list:
    Hail Dabney, prophet of the South, our great apologist.

    Geneva had its Calvin, Rome its Augustine,
    England had is Cromwell to fight the libertine;
    But in our land there was but one who dared to turn the tide
    Of reconstructionistic zeal and yankeedom’s foul pride.

    The feminist, the plutocrat, the wiley carpetbagger,
    The Darwinist, the bureaucrat, and transcendental braggart;
    The scalawag, the suffragette, the surly Statist simp
    Were by your pen defrocked, exposed, and wounded, left to limp.

    The solomonic wisdom from your pugilistic pen
    Has rendered impotent the creeds of far less noble men;
    And with a keen, perceptive flair that exceeds Nostradamus,
    Your prophesies have proven wrong each foolish doubting Thomas.

    You make us leave our comfort zone and re-engage the battle,
    Content no more to tolerate the sophomoric prattle
    Of Socialists, Republicrats, and those who compromise;
    No longer may we coddle them or listen to their lies.

    And so with joy we doff our hats and shout from every mouth:
    Hail Dabney, wise apologist, defender of the South!

    You might notice his references to the evils of suffragettes…

    • Hester says:

      I knew about the Dabney connections before. I haven’t studied the issue closely enough yet to start making public pronouncements about slavery/kinist issues, but I think it’s pretty obvious what I’m gonna find when I finally do go down that rabbit trail. And as for the poem, man oh man does Doug have an addiction to purple-prose adjectives and overcooked alliteration! 🙂

  3. Phillips reminds me of Arthur Dimmesdale who kept referring to himself as the worst of sinners from the pulpit–without actually confessing. Only Phillips is much more arrogant. And a much bigger jerk.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Kathryn Joyce’s book is AWESOME. Not only is it well-researched, but she’s very calm and never gets as heated as many authors do when writing on controversial matters they disagree with. Which makes it very, very hard for Phillips to accuse her of hatred or name-calling, which he does anyway.

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