Tuesday, May 24, 2011

2011 CHAP Convention -- Doug Phillips

To read a previous post on Ken Ham at the 2011 CHAP Convention, click here. To read about another Doug Phillips workshop at CHAP, click here. To read concluding thoughts on the convention, click here.

While attending the 2011 convention for the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania (CHAP), I was particularly interested in the workshops of prominent Religious Right voices, including Ken Ham and Doug Phillips. Phillips, president of the Vision Forum (a Christian ministry devoted to the "Biblical family") is remembered for criticizing Sarah Palin's political career on the premise that she violated Biblical gender roles. Angie the Anti-Theist and Julie Ingersoll at Religion Dispatches have posted some amusing commentary on the Vision Forum, which will provide background on Phillips' worldview.

In a Friday morning workshop entitled "Developing a Biblical Worldview of Film and Media", Phillips argued that Christians need to approach film with Biblical principles in mind, while being wary of un-Christian messages in modern film culture. Because the Vision Forum hosts the San Antonio Christian Film Festival, it does not surprise me that Phillips would devote a workshop to modern film.

Phillips asked if any films or media are neutral in terms of content. He claimed that many Christians make media choices from subjectivity, that is, from the basis of feelings alone. The Bible, on the other hand, instructs Christians to look for patterns and teachings, and then apply them prudently, he argued. These patterns and teachings apply to all situations, and thus nothing is neutral, he claimed.

As an example, Phillips argued that Biblical principles are relevant to aesthetics, since chaos and cacophony are not part of God's creative plan. While different applications of aesthetics exist, there are such things as beauty, ugliness, order, disorder, etc., he argued. Art, then, is not about subjective feelings; rather, creative expression is only valid if it reflects the glory of the divine, he claimed. Nothing humans have to say through creative expression is truly original, as all things are derivative from God.

With regard to film, Phillips said that film-making is lawful, as it can be a tool to perform godly works. Phillips approvingly referred to the Hays Code (a set of film censorship guidelines that governed U.S. film making from 1930 to 1968), arguing that it embodied an understanding that film can be a powerful medium for values. On the other hand, in today's world, modern films are all about glorifying sin and evil, Phillips insisted. For example, an entire generation of females has been conditioned to be drawn to "bad guys," and an entire generation of males have been taught that the highest goals in life are to be athletic and get women, he claimed.

Phillips demonized modern film-making as a "pagan revival", embodying the human wish to be gods. Citing the movie Thor as an example of the film industry’s revival of old gods destroyed by Christianity, Phillips listed several allegedly “pagan” themes in modern film: worship of youth, worship of the body (supposedly a leftover vestige of Greco-Roman paganism), worship of nature, worship of the individual, “perversion”, and “child sacrifice” (abortion). Additionally, he criticized several "stereotypes" in modern film-making: fathers are stupid, cynicism is a virtue, feminism equals liberation, Buddhism is wise, Islam is a peaceful religion, the Religious Right is holding science back, etc. Finally, Phillips listed several priorities that he believed should be expressed in film: motherhood is noble, children are a blessing, families are strengthened by strong fathers, the state is accountable to God, etc. Isaiah 5:20 appeared on the screen as he concluded his talk.

In short, Phillips' talk revolved around his belief that a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible should undergird Christian approaches to film. His talk revealed not only his contempt for feminism and non-Christian religions, but also contempt for modern films that do not embody his fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity. This antipathy toward non-fundamentalist points of view, while glaring, is not exclusive to Phillips, unfortunately.

In a Friday afternoon workshop entitled "How to Think Like a Christian", Phillips stressed that Christians (and specifically homeschoolers) need to have a "correct" Christian worldview rooted in an inerrant interpretation of the Bible.

Phillips argued that the most fundamental question for a Christian is "by what standard?", by which he meant that people of faith must reflect on what standard they use to make educational, moral, and life choices. While Christians will insist that they use the Bible as that standard, Phillips claimed that many Christians do not fully do so. He emphasized that God, as the highest authority, has provided humanity with an infallible, inerrant revelation (the Bible) that is a sufficient standard for all practice and faith.

Phillips told the audience his personal story of attending "government school" as a young man, embracing evolution and the "lies" of that educational environment. One day, his father placed a Bible on the table and insisted that God created the world in six twenty-four hour days. His father gave him The Genesis Flood to read, and after being challenged by his father and a preacher, Phillips had a conversion experience that changed his worldview. Phillips used this story to demonstrate the vital role his father played in his personal education, asserting that he learned nothing of value from government school, a few things of value from private Christian schools, and many things of value from his father.

Regarding education, Phillips argued that the purpose of homeschooling is not to prepare children for college, good jobs, or financial success, although these are legitimate concerns that may well be part of God's will. Rather, the purpose of homeschooling is to train children to have the mind of Christ and to develop in the image of God. For this reason, he claimed, people who do not believe in God have no right or ability to train children.

Homeschoolers, he said, keep the greatest commandment by educating their children. Citing the story of Jesus telling Peter to feed his sheep as well as instructions for teaching children in Deuteronomy 6, Phillips stressed the virtue of homeschooling. "Get your kids out of Babylon. Take them home and disciple them," he told the audience.

Phillips shared with the audience the various prayers he prays for his children. First, he prays that God will save his children early in life and that his offspring will be faithful to the God of their fathers. Next, he prays that God will send Christ-loving spouses to his children, and that his family will be free of divorce. This element is important, he told listeners, because his life work as a teacher to his children is magnified through future generations. If his work were to die with the present generation, his efforts would be for naught. As an extension of this wish, he also prays that his children will someday homeschool their own offspring.

Finally, Phillips prays that God will bless his daughters and daughters-in-law with numerous godly children. As he shared an anecdote about a wedding he officiated over in Alaska, Phillips devoted special attention to the blessing he recited over the couple. This blessing, said over the marriage of Rebecca and Isaac in Genesis 24:59-60, prays that the bride will be the mother of multitudes who will "possess the gates of the enemy that hates you." Christians, he insisted, should be promoting a "victorious" message that includes having children for the glory of God and raising them to be "warriors for Christ."

Homeschoolers need to think like Christians, rather than "the world," Phillips said. He invited listeners to perform a thought experiment called the "desert island challenge," in which they imagined being stranded on a desert island with only the Bible as a guide. On such an island, he asked, would it be normal for half the islanders to get divorced, send their children to "government school", or train daughters to be soldiers? Would it be normal for islanders to take medical or surgical steps to "cut off the godly seed"? Phillips claimed that such ideas originate in society, which has rejected God, rather than the Bible.

Regarding homeschool curriculum, Phillips urged homeschoolers to reflect on two chief subjects: history (everything in the cosmos, including science and mathematics) and theology (the nature and character and God). He recommended Webster's 1828 dictionary as a must-have for homeschooling households, given that it provides a Biblical perspective to word definitions.

As with his earlier workshop on film, Phillips put forward a fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity as the only valid, normative form of faith. His antipathy toward public schools ("Get your kids out of Babylon.") and toward practices in mainstream society (i.e., contraception, divorce, women in the military) suggested an us-versus-them mentality toward aspects of society that do not conform to his worldview. Phillips commentary on reproduction, family, and gender roles, all heavily spiced with patriarchal attitudes, sounded suspiciously similar to Quiverfull thought, which emphasizes unhindered reproduction for the purpose of raising children to be "warriors for Christ." In short, Phillips' talk revealed much about the patriarchal beliefs, distrust of mainstream society, and fundamentalism that undergirds his worldview.

Stay tuned! More commentary on the 2011 CHAP convention is on its way!


  1. Loved how he called it a "government school." Also, the screed about films. I have a friend who is a former Holy Roller. He said that as a child he was taught that "movies" and "motion pictures" were evil. But "films" (referring to movies made by his church) were OK.

  2. Donna -- Some things never change with fundamentalists.

  3. " ... people who do not believe in God have no right or ability to train children."


  4. Cognitive Dissenter -- It gets worse. I have another workshop of his to share later this week.


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