A Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Is Rattling Christian Homeschoolers
Last fall, Douglas Phillips, a fundamentalist Christian homeschooling guru and leading proponent of the “Biblical Patriarchy” movement, shocked his followers by publicly admitting that he had a relationship with a woman other than his wife, and subsequently shuttered his popular—and lucrative—Vision Forum ministries. Given that philandering religious leaders are a dime a dozen, the story seemed pretty unremarkable at the time. Sure, it was sad news for Phillips and his fundamentalist friends, an illustrious circle that included Kirk Cameron, Creationist talking head Ken Ham, and the Duggar vagina militia. But mostly, it just looked like another minister getting a taste of forbidden fruit.
“There has been serious sin in my life for which God has graciously brought me to repentance,” Phillips said in a statement posted to Vision Forum’s website. “I engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman. While we did not ‘know’ each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate.”
Then, last week, the bomb dropped. The woman with whom Phillips was involved, 29-year-old Lourdes Torres, slapped both him and Vision Forum with a lawsuit that indicates Phillips dramatically understated the nature of their “inappropriate relationship”—not least by implying that it was consensual. In the suit, Torres accuses him of sexual battery, exploitation, assault, and fraud, among other charges, and claims he used her as a “personal sex object” over the course of several years, including while she was working as a nanny in Phillips’s home. Torres is also suing Phillips’s now-defunct Vision Forum Ministries, and its for-profit arm, for negligent supervision and retention—in other words, for knowing about the abuse and not doing anything to stop it or remove Phillips from his leadership roles.
According to the lawsuit, Phillips met Torres and her family at a homeschooling conference in 1999, when Torres was just 15. It claims that Phillips then proceeded to “methodically groom” the teenage girl, inviting Torres on family vacations, taking her on as a nanny for his kids, and showering her with compliments, money, and spiritual advice, until eventually she moved into the Phillips’s home as a nanny in 2007.
That’s when the allegations get gross:
While Ms. Torres was living with Douglas Phillips and his family in October of 2007, Douglas Phillips entered Ms. Torres’s bedroom and without her consent began touching her breasts, stomach, back, neck, and waist. Phillips then began to masturbate and ejaculated on her. Ms. Torres asked Phillips to stop and broke down crying. Despite Ms. Torres’s repeated requests for Phillips to stop masturbating and ejaculating on her, Phillips proceeded to return and repeat this perverse and offensive conduct. Each night that Phillips returned, Ms. Torres requested that he stop. Defendant blatantly disregarded her requests but continued to masturbate and ejaculate on her each night.
The 30-page complaint goes on to sketch a devastating picture of Phillips and his ministry, offering a glimpse into the darker side of the Biblical Patriarchy movement that has taken root in some corners of Christian fundamentalism. In the belief system advocated by Phillips and Vision Forum, men have spiritual authority and dominion over church and family, while women are expected to submit absolutely to their fathers and husbands in all aspects of life.