Cover Story

Set adrift

"Set adrift" Continued...

Issue: "Blurred Vision," April 5, 2014

Phillips wrote on the VFM website, “I have acted grievously before the Lord, in a destructive manner hypocritical of life messages I hold dear, inappropriate for a leader, abusive of the trust that I was given, and hurtful to family and friends.” (His full statements are still available online.)

The confession, though, didn’t include at least two significant details: The unmarried woman had been a member of his church, and Phillips had continued in his public ministry at VFM for at least eight months after he confessed to church leadership. 

PHILLIPS' OCTOBER RESIGNATION came the day after five men arrived at his San Antonio home to ask him about reports they heard concerning his indiscretions.

The five were all former ministry colleagues or friends: Joe Morecraft, a respected Atlanta-area pastor; Peter Bradrick, a former Vision Forum staffer who worked closely with Phillips; Mark Weaver, a close college friend; Jordan Muela, another former Vision Forum staffer; and Bob Renaud, the former assistant to Phillips. 

Morecraft, the Atlanta pastor, didn’t give me a formal interview, but he did confirm that he asked Phillips two questions at the meeting: (1) Did you have an inappropriate relationship with an unmarried woman? (Morecraft confirmed he identified her by name.) (2) Was it sexual? 

Morecraft confirmed Phillips answered yes to both questions.

Bradrick and Renaud confirmed the language of Morecraft’s questions, and said Phillips emphasized the encounters did not include sexual intercourse. The two other men—Weaver and Muela—remembered Morecraft asking about an inappropriate relationship as well, and confirming the woman’s identity.

Her identity is significant for at least one reason: Phillips had been an authority figure in her life for more than a decade. The woman and her family were members of the church where Phillips served as an elder until January of last year.

INFLUENTIAL: Phillips speaking on the Texas Faith and Freedom Tour in 2010.
Amanda Cain
INFLUENTIAL: Phillips speaking on the Texas Faith and Freedom Tour in 2010.
In 2003, Phillips wrote in a web post that he and his wife, Beall, had sponsored her high school graduation: “We consider her to be a member of the family, and her parents to be the dearest of friends. She has assisted my wife on more occasions than any of us could count and even traveled with us on adventures with Vision Forum.” It’s important to note that multiple sources say the woman, now 29, was over 21 when inappropriate encounters began.

IRS documents also show VFI paid her $4830 in 2008. VFM paid her an additional $1750 in 2009. 

In on-the-record interviews, three of the men at the October meeting—Renaud, Weaver, and Muela—said they were particularly dismayed about the dynamic of authority in the relationship, and said church leaders have a weighty obligation regarding the power they hold over congregants in their care.

Another dynamic also troubled the men: Phillips had continued in his public ministry without revealing his sin for more than eight months.

In January 2013, Phillips stepped down from his position as an elder at Boerne Christian Assembly (BCA), saying he wanted to devote more time to his family. By February, he had confessed his inappropriate relationship to the church leadership. At the time, the church had only one other elder.

The church and ministry communities are tight-knit, and it’s unclear how many others knew about the relationship and when they knew it. But the church didn’t publicly announce Phillips’ sin until November.

During the eight months before he resigned, Phillips continued with public ministry at VFM. At a “History of America Mega-Conference” sponsored by VFM in July, Phillips spoke about crafting a new culture for Christ and declared: “We are legacy-builders.”

In August, VFM encouraged early bird entries to its San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, then slated for February 2014. In September, Phillips spoke at the FORGE conference in Kerrville, Texas. (FORGE is an acronym for Families Obediently Restoring Godly Education.) Phillips’ teaching sessions included “The Secret of Happiness in the Home” and “Successful Habits of Multigenerational Visionaries.” (The group’s website still offers the sessions for sale.)

VFM continued to accept donations: $2.6 million in contributions and grants in 2011, and $1.3 million in 2012, according to IRS filings. But the waters were troubled: Scott Brown, a VFM board member and head of the NCFIC, said in a year-end letter to NCFIC supporters that he learned in September 2013 “of the infidelities of Doug Phillips spanning many years.”

Brown and other board members didn’t return calls seeking comment on how they learned about Phillips’ indiscretions or how they responded. But by Oct. 21 of last year, VFM announced it was postponing the 2014 film festival: “Due in part to financial concerns and for other reasons, the Board of Vision Forum Ministries is looking to bring greater accountability to our practices and events. …”

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