If you’re a supporter of Doug Phillips and patriarchy, you might suppose, based on the title of this post, that you’ve found a sympathizer here at Scarlet Letters. Well, I’m (not so) sorry to say that that could not be further from the truth. Hester, the local blogmistress, fully supports Ms. Torres and believes her allegations as put forth in the recent lawsuit filed against Doug Phillips, Vision Forum Ministries and Vision Forum Inc. (see here for full text). So I suppose I owe those of you who may have fallen for that deliberately provocative title up there, an explanation.
On the one hand, of course, Torres’ consent (or lack thereof) matters very much. On the other, however, I take issue with wagon-circling patriocentrists who seem to believe that if Torres consented at any point to Phillips’ advances, this somehow renders all criticism of patriarchy based on the Phillips fiasco invalid. In fact, “take issue” is far too weak of a term. They’re dead wrong, and desperately rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic as it sinks in a blaze of glory. That is because, when it comes to criticizing patriarchy, the question of Lourdes Torres’ consent is, quite frankly, completely irrelevant. Let me explain.
In this situation, there are essentially only two options. Either Phillips and Torres’ physical relationship was mainly consensual, or it was not. (And no, the question of whether Phillips had a physical relationship with Torres is not up for debate. Read his own words in his initial resignation and the clarification that followed.) Let’s explore the implications of each of those options.
Scenario #1: Relationship nonconsensual
In this scenario, Torres’ allegations against Phillips in the recent lawsuit are, in the main, true: he lied to her, manipulated her, and used her for his personal sexual gratification. Thus, we have Doug Phillips, figurehead of the entire patriarchy movement, cheating on his wife, victimizing a naïve young woman, and betraying his congregation’s trust – in other words, violating just about every single principle he ever preached to the evangelical public. So let’s weigh this harsh reality, against the teachings and promises of patriarchy.
Patriarchy teaches that husbands and fathers are prophets, priests and kings of their homes (in some cases, fathers are even allowed to decide which members of their family get to take communion). It’s also tightly linked to a heavily elder- and family-centric version of church government. Put these two ideas together, and what you have is a deep-seated belief that authority figures (who are almost always male) are fundamentally trustworthy in most situations. Men in general are entrusted with the leadership of society. Fathers are entrusted with their daughter’s hearts until marriage, and with directing her courtship process. Church leaders are entrusted with arbitrating disputes, instead of the secular authorities.
Doug Phillips’ fall calls this core belief into question, by throwing into stark relief the unpleasant reality that not all husbands, fathers, church leaders, or men in general, are trustworthy. If Doug Phillips, the great wise guru of patriarchy, can have a years-long extramarital affair, what’s to stop your husband from doing the same? If Doug Phillips, the model pastor of Boerne Christian Assembly, can abuse his congregation’s trust so heinously, then what about your pastor? This is not to suggest that all husbands and pastors are abusers in disguise – only to point out that the mere possession of authority, does not guarantee morality, character or ethical behavior, and we should never assume that it does.
Of course, patriocentrists will claim that they understand this. But quite frankly, I don’t believe them. If they did, they would give abused women more options than “submit more and tell the pastor.” They would have placed far more restrictions on the authority of fathers, husbands and church leaders. And most of all, they would not be acting so shocked at how far the mighty can and do fall.
A related belief to the above, is that the trustworthy authority figures provide protection and security to those beneath them in the chain of command. This is especially true when it comes to gender relations (for instance, I have documented on this very blog, a patriarchal speaker claiming that God designed the physical contact-free, parent-directed courtship process to provide women with “cradle to grave” security). Especially pertinent to Torres’ case is the concept of stay-at-home daughterhood (SAHD), which I’ve discussed extensively on Scarlet Letters. In essence, daughters are promised a safe, fulfilling life if they stay under their father’s roof and authority – and therefore protection – until marriage. Since there’s no denying that Lourdes Torres was living the life of a stay-at-home daughter – in fact she was featured on Vision Forum’s well-known documentary on the subject, The Return of the Daughters – what does this case tell us about the promises of SAHD?
Unfortunately, SAHD doesn’t fare any better than the aforementioned belief that authority figures are always trustworthy. It was supposed to provide protection and security to its practitioners, but did it deliver the goods? Clearly not. In fact, if Torres’ allegations are true (as they are in this scenario), SAHD actually provided a fertile ground for abuse by ensuring that Torres was almost completely isolated from a broader community where she could have found help. Thus, far from providing safety and security, SAHD has actually been shown to be potentially dangerous.
Scenario #2: Relationship consensual
Now, let’s suppose for a moment that Phillips’ supporters are correct: Lourdes Torres consented to an adulterous affair with Doug Phillips, and the recent lawsuit is her attempt to frame him for sexual abuse now that said affair has been discovered. (Note: from a legal standpoint even this may not matter, given Texas’ laws about clergy-parishioner sexual contact; see here.) Phillips’ supporters would have you believe that this somehow leaves their theology above criticism, squeaky clean, and still smelling like a rose. But does it?
The first problem here is, all the same criticisms of the idea that authority is fundamentally trustworthy, still apply in this scenario. This is because Phillips consented to the affair as well. He still, as a husband, father and church leader in authority, made a decision to step out on his wife, betray his congregation, and trample every lesson he had ever taught underfoot. This is hardly a trustworthy authority figure – and thus patriocentrists are still left with the same 800-pound gorilla staring them in the face.
Just like in the first scenario, the second problem with this one also lies in SAHD, and potentially also in the broader promises of the kind of Christian education and child training advocated by Vision Forum. Implicit in the idea of SAHD is that daughters will be taught sound Christian moral principles, and be self-motivated to live by those principles – and clearly, if Torres willingly had an affair with a married man (and pastor!), this promise has fallen flat on its face. Notice also, in this scenario, that Torres’ father apparently failed to prevent her from taking such a destructive course of action. Thus, all the empty promises of SAHD come crashing down around its ears and reveal it to be nothing but a sham.
And the damage may not stop there. I don’t know how long and to what extent Torres’ family embraced Vision Forum’s philosophy of Christian education, but if they embraced it from early on – i.e., when Torres was a young child – then in this scenario, its promise of instilling Christian values in children has utterly failed as well. And with this many of patriarchy’s promises collapsing in on themselves like a house of cards, why should we believe anything its proponents claim? They cannot protect women and children; they cannot instill Christian values via home education; and they cannot prevent ruination and heartbreak in families and churches. Except weren’t those most of their main selling points?
So go ahead, patriocentricity advocates. Continue to claim that Lourdes Torres’ (supposed) consent somehow saves your theology’s hide. It won’t change the fact that the emperor has no clothes.