Open Fields and Stones: Doug Wilson on Doug Phillips

Doug Wilson’s post about Doug Phillips, the disgraced Vision Forum leader is revolting to many, but he doesn’t mind. Doug Wilson enjoys being revolting. He is consistent in his cultural battle. His consistency is in fact one of the most interesting things about him. For instance: plenty of Evangelicals will stand against homosexual marriage on the basis of Paul without thinking once about Paul’s injunction to slaves not to leave their masters. If they do think about it, they will say oh well slavery in Greco-Roman culture was very different from American slavery. Without a twinge of conscience they would praise anyone who helped free American slaves in direct contradiction to Eph 6:5, Col. 3:22, 1 Pet. 2:18. Not Wilson, though. He sees the trap—if Greco-Roman slavery was different from American slavery, Greco-Roman homosexuality was too—and argues American slavery was pretty damn benevolent. Slavemasters had authority from God.  

So it’s no surprise that Wilson’s main concern in the Doug Phillips scandal is defending the benevolent patriarchy. Not that he’s pleased with Phillips; not at all. In an earlier post, he condemns Phillips’ use of patriarchy to continue in his ministry after his sin was revealed and differentiates between the abuse of authority (any authority) in lust and what he means by sacrificial, benevolent patriarchy. But the point of both posts is to address whether this incident undermines the patriarchal system he teaches. For this reason, most of what he has to say in the second post is about the victim—a term he explicitly rejects.

The facts of the case: the plaintiff moved in with the Philips in 2007, when she was 22 years old, to help with the kids. At some point soon thereafter Philips started a program of grabbing her breasts and crotch and masturbating on her over her protests. This developed into all manner of non-intercourse sex over a period of several years.

Wilson says hey you liberals are always clamoring that we treat women like children; now you’re insisting that a full-grown woman is really a child: “We can’t have it both ways. We cannot accuse Vision Forum of treating all women like little girls, and then turn around and treat all women as little girls who can’t be expected to say no to a cad at Vision Forum.” She should have made her voice heard in police sirens from the get go. Since she didn’t, this is a simple case of adultery; the only victim is Beall, Phillips’ wife.

Of course this deft parry doesn’t actually turn any tables. Patriarchal detractors are entirely consistent: treating people like children creates learned helplessness. Raising a girl to always obey authorities in a close-knit group that looks to these authorities as the highest examples of the good life, raising a girl in a community that does not allow women to speak, at all, for any reason, during church services, in a community that takes submission as the highest, self-consciously countercultural virtue a woman can display, and then saying to her you should have immediately reported the actions of the highest leader in your community, the famous, adored, believed, obeyed, Doug Phillips—you’re adult! and an adulteress!—that’s perverse. It is nothing but perverse.

How does Wilson come to this opinion?  Well, his position is biblical; it’s supported by Deuteronomy 22:23–29, a passage that puts the responsibility for rape squarely on the woman. Here are the rules:

1) If she’s betrothed to a man and she’s raped in an urban environment, she’s responsible along with him because she did not cry out, implying she’s complicit; they’re both stoned to death, she for not crying out and he because he violated his neighbor’s wife. This is all about the rights of the defrauded husband, not the right of the woman not to be raped. It’s an economic matter.

2) If she’s in the countryside, she’s innocent because no one can be sure whether or not she cried out; the dude must die but not the girl.

3) If she’s not engaged, the guy pays off the father and has to marry her—she has no say in the matter, but all’s ok because there’s no financial loss to the father.

Wilson doesn’t reference this passage (some in the comments do), but he’s relying on it. Since she didn’t call the cops immediately, Phillips’ victim is equally at fault. There are a host of things wrong with this from a liberal perspective that assumes people have rights to their bodies and rape is still rape even when a woman does not fight back or report it and so on, but Wilson does not share this perspective; he rejects liberal ethics of consent.

Wilson and Wilson’s daughter claim that the submission they teach is first submission to God, which should allow a woman to be strong against abuse of authority in this fashion. He says you have to prepare your daughter for just such an occurrence, and he does so. Perhaps that is true. I hope it is. I do not know the community in Moscow, so it’s hard to say.  But I do know the culture in San Antonio; does Wilson?

In my last encounter with one of these San Antonio families in the community (their own term), I sat in their living room chatting with them. The daughters, in their mid-twenties, still living at home and obeying their parents’ every word, did not speak unless I directly asked them a question. They looked down modestly when I spoke to them. The son, also in his mid-twenties, also living at home, ran a little website business on his own. During our conversation, his office phone rang in the back room. He looked at his mother; she nodded at him and said “you may answer the phone.”  Such was benevolent authoritarianism in that household. Later on, my family got a letter with the very sad news of the son’s rebellion: he moved out on his own, got a job, married a nice Christian girl, and started attending a mainstream Evangelical church. His mother was distraught at his fall.

I don’t know if the victim in this case was as naive, submissive, and browbeaten as these young adults. It doesn’t really matter: to expect a young woman to resist or report sexual assault by a powerful, charismatic, adult man who is her landlord, employer, and spiritual father all wrapped into one or else to accuse her of being complicit in adultery, even when by her testimony she tried to rebuff his advances, isn’t reasonable in any circumstance. But in this culture, it is a perversity. Wilson affirms in his first post that the wrong kind of patriarchy could be a virtue that needs confessing; he pinpointed the coverup. He is alarmed that the young woman was not moved to safety once the aggrieved parties—his wife and her parents (see Deut 22 again) were informed. But  he doesn’t connect the dots: the patriarchy that allowed the continuation of Phillips in ministry and left this young woman under his power is exactly the patriarchy that made crying out seem impossible to her.

Of course, it’s a truism in liberal culture that when a woman is raped, she is raped whether or not she cries out in the midst of it or reports it after. But even in the terms of Deut 22, an archaic, patriarchal law, this girl was out the open field of a patriarchy gone awry. When she finally did cry out, her accuser was not stoned; he was, as Wilson writes, wrapped in cotton against the stones to come. This girl was out in the open field all alone, with no one to hear her cries.  Wilson can’t see her there because he’s too busy defending his biblical patriarchalism against prophets of social justice.

Wilson wants a Christian society; in a Christian society the woman would know to cry out for help and the Christian authorities would come running all pure and strong in righteousness. The strong-jawed men would do the right thing every time with the ease of a clear conscience and true leadership. And right now Doug Phillips and his victim are undermining the kingdom, both of them. This is why Wilson keeps bringing up Clinton and Lewinsky: his is a niggling defensiveness. It is not just the patriarchs who abuse their authority with underlings, he says, it is your Bill Clinton. It is not just Beall who facilitated; so did Hillary (what evidence there is for that, I have no idea). The darlings of conservative homeschooling may be falling on every side, but so are the darlings of liberal politics. For Phillips’ actions, like Gothard’s, to be sexual assault aided by a patriarchal context rather than adultery—that is simply not convenient.

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