(Warning: This story contains explicit descriptions of alleged sexual conduct described in a lawsuit and may be offensive to some readers.)
The former leader of a popular Christian ministry – who resigned from his position after confessing to an “inappropriate” relationship – is now the subject of a lawsuit that claims he “methodically groomed” and made unwanted sexual contact with a young woman after serving as an authority figure in her life for more than a decade.
Doug Phillips, a husband and father of eight children, had been a popular and controversial figure in the homeschooling movement and a leading advocate of “biblical patriarchy” before his resignation from Vision Forum Ministries and Boerne Christian Assembly, a Baptist church outside San Antonio, Texas, at which he had served as an elder and preached hundreds of sermons.
Phillips was also founder of the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival and of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches.
According to the teachings of the patriarchy movement, also known as the stay-at-home daughters or quiverfull movement, young women remain at home under the protection of their fathers. They’re generally expected not to work outside their home or go to college, and they’re taught to abide by strict gender roles in which men have authority over women.
‘A personal sex object’
In the complaint filed in Kendall County District Court in Texas Tuesday morning, Phillips is accused of using a woman named Lourdes Torres, now 29, as “a personal sex object” over a period of five years.
Asked if she ever believed she loved Phillips, Torres, who was over the age of 21 at the time of the sexual contact, told WND, “Oh, yes, definitely.”
Torres said she met Phillips and his wife, Beall, at a homeschooling conference in November 1999 when Torres was 15 years old. Torres spent many hours in the Phillips home, cared for their children and helped run the family farm. She was invited on trips with the family to Hawaii, Virginia, Mexico, Florida and other states.
By 2007, according to the complaint, Phillips began “to pay special attention” to Torres, complementing her beauty and devotion to his family, giving her money, touching her, asking her personal questions about her thoughts and life plans and telling her he would take care of her.
By October of that year, the lawsuit states, Phillips invited Torres’ family to live with him as they were moving into a new home: “Phillips entered [Torres'] bedroom and without her consent began touching her breasts, stomach, back, neck, and waist.” Torres alleges she began to cry and ask Phillips to stop as he rubbed his genitals on her and “masturbated and ejaculated on her.” She claims the behavior continued, and Phillips told her he loved her and intended to marry her and “blatantly disregarded her requests” that he stop.
“Douglas Phillips, on the evenings he visited Ms. Torres, persuaded her that he was not doing anything wrong, that he intended to marry Ms. Torres, and that his wife would die shortly and enable him to marry Ms. Torres,” the complaint states. “He further repeatedly told Ms. Torres that he loved her, that he would take care of her, and that what they were doing was not wrong. He also stated that if it was wrong, it was completely her fault.”
Attorney Jason Jakob, who represents Phillips and Vision Forum, Inc., issued a statement to WND on behalf of his client, claiming, “To date, a media campaign has been architected to destroy and demoralize Doug Phillips, his family and his message, without justification and instead with conjecture and disinformation.”
He said Torres’ allegations are “false, defamatory and made with malicious intent to destroy Doug Phillips, his family and his ministry.” Concerning the relationship between Torres and Phillips, he wrote:
“While it may be true that Mr. Phillips had an intermittent relationship with Mrs. Lourdes Torres-Manteufel, they never had the physical intimacy of touching and/or the exposure of genitalia, nor did the intermittent relationship escalate to sexual intercourse. Furthermore, the evidence demonstrates the relationship was consensual and often initiated, encouraged, and aggressively perpetuated by Mrs. Torres-Manteufel. It was welcomed, consensual and one in which Mrs. Torres-Manteufel repeatedly requested money, trips, jewelry, and numerous special favors from Doug Phillips. This relationship occurred well after Mrs. Lourdes Torres-Manteufel reached the age of majority, as has been confirmed by Mrs. Torres-Manteufel to have begun at the close of 2007.”
In the following video, Doug Phillips can be seen in the Dulles airport in Virginia with his family and others as they wait for their flight to Rome. Torres appears at the 4:10 mark:
By the beginning of 2008, Torres said she was no longer invited to the Phillips' home to help with the children and household chores. She said he continued to contact her, asking her to help him with his business, take photographs at Vision Forum events, visit his home to work on a radio drama series and judge movie competitions.
"He also began texting, calling, and emailing her about his daily activities, his hopes and dreams, and often including in his communication his love for [Torres] and his intent to marry her," the filing states. "[Torres] – not wanting to disappoint the man that controlled every facet of her life – was manipulated to serve Defendant Doug Phillips in his business endeavors between years of 2008-2012."
Torres alleges the unwanted sexual contact began again, and she said she repeatedly asked him to stop.
"Ms. Torres did not tell anyone about [Phillips'] conduct because he manipulated her into believing that it would ruin his reputation, destroy his ministry and get her in trouble with the church," according to the lawsuit.
Torres' attorney, David Gibbs, told WND, "Because of Doug's position of trust, Lourdes had no ability to consent. When you look at the absolute control that that man had in her life, he was her pastor, he was her teacher, he was her employer, he was her patriarchal head of the home. In a sense, he was her counselor. Doug established the system where obedience to God required Lourdes to obey him and fully submit to whatever he wanted to do."
But Phillips' attorney responded, "In no way did Mr. Doug Phillips use his position to 'manipulate, brainwash and [or] coerce' her as alleged by Mrs. Torres-Manteufel. Mr. Phillips was an elder in the church she attended, but he was not her personal pastor, counselor, or ever her landlord. It is now evident that Mrs. Torres-Manteufel's intent is to seek financial benefit and/or personal gain."
Jakob questioned "her credibility and motives for bringing forth these claims in the media rather than the courts," claiming she has offered "conflicting and contradictory accounts to many individuals in her community."
He said, "What has been confirmed is that her initial claims were wildly exaggerated and have often changed to such an extent as to raise great question to her credibility and motives for making the initial claims from the onset."
A consensual relationship between adults?
Gibbs said this was not a sexual affair between two consenting adults.
"This is someone who took all of those positions, all that trust, and in an abusive manner, irreparably injured my client," he said. "Lourdes is an intelligent woman, but she was being perpetually promised things that Doug never intended to do, or at least, if he did intend to do it, he didn't do.
"In that patriarchal quiverfull culture, the ultimate and the highest ideal is then becoming married. What Doug did as the leader of the movement was take the ultimate ideal and perpetually promise that fraudulently to Lourdes to manipulate and control her to do things that she would otherwise not have done."
By the end of 2012, Torres stopped working with Phillips and attending his church. She told her parents and a friend about the relationship.
Though Phillips resigned from his position as an elder of Boerne Christian Assembly in January 2013, claiming he wished to devote more time to his family, it would be nearly nine months before Phillips would resign from Vision Forum Ministries.
Torres said she had received threatening emails around August 2013 from Phillips' wife, Beall, saying she "had better keep her mouth shut" about the interactions. When asked about the email, Phillips' attorney didn't respond to the allegation.
In his Oct. 30, 2013, resignation statement posted on Vision Forum's website, Phillips said, "There has been serious sin in my life for which God has graciously brought me to repentance. I have confessed my sin to my wife and family, my local church, and the board of Vision Forum Ministries. 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."
Three days later, Phillips added a clarification to his statement, which included the following: "Some reading the words of my resignation have questioned if there was an inappropriate physical component with an unmarried woman. There was, and it was intermittent over a period of years."
Upon reading Phillips' resignation statement, Torres said, "I had no doubt or question that he would never own up to anything that he has done. He never had before. He was actually backed into a corner to do that because I had opened my mouth in the first place to the right people."
Phillips' attorney, Jakob, said, "Mr. Phillips resigned voluntarily out of personal choice – after much prayer and counsel. His silence should not be misconstrued as an admission of any kind but instead as a desire for privacy. Mr. Phillips' resignation letter was made as a servant of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to preserve the integrity of his family and that of the Message of Christ which was received by and through his ministry."
Torres says she still has anxiety that Phillips will contact her and that she's been forced to leave her home and many friends behind. She is now being counseled through her trauma.
Asked if she believes the same abuse could happen to another young lady in the patriarchy movement, Torres, responded, "Yes, definitely without question."
Phillips had headed up the nonprofit ministry, which generated about $3.3 million in revenue in 2011 and paid Phillips a salary of $44,000 a year. In 2011, the nonprofit ministry also gave $193,176 for "labor and services" to the for-profit company Phillips founded 15 years ago, Vision Forum Inc., which sold books, toys and teaching resources. Vision Forum Inc. no longer sells products on its website, but Phillips retains control of the company. Both the nonprofit ministry and the for-profit company are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims Vision Forum Ministries' board was made aware of Phillips' behavior in January or February of 2013, but continued to keep Phillips in the highest position of leadership until "it was apparent that Phillips' behavior toward Ms. Torres could no longer remain confidential." Also, it states that the board strategized "how it could bring Phillips to a place where he could make a 'comeback' and regain public leadership of the ministry."
'Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy'
In its posting titled, "The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy," which has since been removed since Phillips' 2013 resignation, the Vision Forum Ministries website explained, "Since the woman was created as a helper to her husband, as the bearer of children, and as a 'keeper at home,' the God-ordained and proper sphere of dominion for a wife is the household and that which is connected with the home, although her domestic calling, as a representative of and helper to her husband, may well involve activity in the marketplace and larger community. …
"While unmarried women may have more flexibility in applying the principle that women were created for a domestic calling, it is not the ordinary and fitting role of women to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion (industry, commerce, civil government, the military, etc.). The exceptional circumstance (singleness) ought not redefine the ordinary, God-ordained social roles of men and women as created."
Phillips has called "the problem of women in the military" "an abomination" and condemned the "breakdown of moral discipline and the rampant problem of promiscuity and adultery between American male and female soldiers stationed together overseas."
He spoke at Torres' graduation and posted the following entry on the Vision Forum website, speaking highly of Torres' character and rejoicing in her "journey of mature Christian womanhood":
Torres made an appearance in the 2007 film, "The Return of the Daughters," which focuses on how a woman spends her "in between years" from the time she is in the home until she gets married.
It explores the lives of "unique young women who are rejecting the unloving demands of modern culture" and emphasizes "drawing close to family members, living productive lives in their father's home until marriage." The movement, according to the film, seeks to prepare women to be "helpmeets" for their husbands, "submit to a man" and be a man's "Proverbs 31 woman."
As the film explains, "Lourdes and her family have earned a widespread reputation in the San Antonio area as invaluable assets to the community. Many unmarried girls like Lourdes have been able to make the same kind of investments in their communities and are becoming known nationwide as the secret weapon of the church. In addition to missions work with her family, Lourdes cares for the sick, visits the needy, helps young mothers, encourages the elderly and disciples younger girls."
Torres, then around 23 years old, tells viewers, "I want to encourage the young ladies in our church, in the spirit of Titus 2, I want to encourage them to obey their parents. I want to exhort them in the various things that they as daughters need to be doing in their home and with their family and their siblings."
She continues, "Even though I'm not married, I would not call myself single because I'm part of a family unit. I'm so grateful for my father because he finds things for me to do to serve the Lord and to work for him. And I always feel like my life is full of purpose and I'm not sitting around, waiting. I'm an unmarried young lady, but I'm serving God and my father. Then that will transition one day if God wills. I'm very grateful and satisfied with that.
"I realize that my lifestyle is counter-cultural, and I don't care because God's word is my standard, and that's what drives me, not the culture around me."
Homeschool movement and Christian ministry
Before Phillips founded Vision Forum, he spent six years as an attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, or HSLDA, a nonprofit advocacy organization that defends the right of American families to homeschool their children.
HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris told WND, "The reason Doug left HSLDA is because [President] Mike Smith and I, who were his bosses, were growing more and more uncomfortable as he started developing his patriarchy theory. We started limiting his ability to speak on those things while traveling on our behalf. We basically made it clear that he could not pursue those things with his HSLDA hat on. So he eventually chose to leave us so he could do those things because we were not comfortable with where he was headed."
As for the patriarchy movement, Farris said the teachings are not widely accepted in the broader homeschool community.
"It's a minority of homeschoolers that believe in it," he said. "But unfortunately, until very recently, they were getting a lot of visibility in certain places. We have sought to avoid inviting any patriarchy speakers to speak at our national conference."
While state homeschool organizations run their own events and may choose to have such speakers, Farris said HSLDA has never promoted them.
"Doug has never been invited to speak at our national conference since he left," Farris said. "We have tried, by example, to keep this stuff outside the mainstream of the homeschooling movement."
He added, "Frankly, we think it's time for us to stand up and publicly say this is just wrong."
Farris, who said he has known Phillips for two decades, expressed concern that Phillips could re-emerge in the homeschooling movement and as a leader in a Christian ministry.
"I think it would be one of the greatest tragedies for the homeschooling movement if Doug Phillips was allowed to be rehabilitated and go right back into leadership," he said. "This kind of behavior is so bizarre – no matter which version of the story you believe, even if you take Doug's own version of the story – it's so bizarre and inappropriate that he needs to get his life in order and not be thinking about how quickly he can come back into leadership."
Farris added, "Knowing Doug for 20 years, I'm confident he's going to try to come back quickly. I'm also confident that would be an absolutely horrible outcome if he does."
WND asked Phillips' attorney, "Does Mr. Phillips ever plan to return to serve the Vision Forum Ministries nonprofit or further the patriarchal movement through his company, Vision Forum Inc., in the future?" However, WND wasn't given a response to that specific question.
Others who knew him continue to wonder if Phillips will return to his previous work.
While Gibbs said he's unsure of Phillips plans today, he added, "From our vantage point, there's no question that the original plan was to let Doug take a little time off and then go back into being the leader of [the Vision Forum Ministries'] movement and continue moving forward in public ministry."
Asked for her thoughts on whether Phillips might come back, Torres told WND, "I don't even want to think about it."
Starting a new life
Even after everything she says she's endured, Torres told WND her faith hasn't been shaken.
"I am so humbled by how God has really just directed my every step because I feel like I've been walking on water," she said. "I've had to make choices and decisions like an adult. I realized I needed to get a job and make sure that I can provide basic needs and bills. God has totally provided for that and given me opportunities."
Gibbs said when he met Torres, she was afraid to leave her church because she feared retribution and was concerned for her own safety.
"I have watched her have to make some very difficult decisions because coming out of that culture – where they did not want her to speak, to be educated, to make decisions, to be self-reliant – leaving the church was a huge step," he said. "She has broken away from the religious ideology. But I would add that she continues in some pretty intensive counseling and also is learning a lot about herself. You don't live in this culture for 10 to 15 years and escape unscathed."
On April 11 of this year, Torres married Nolan Manteufel, a man who had also left the church and who is supporting her through difficult times.
"Even now, I'm currently looking for a different job and praying about what else is in the future because I might be willing to do a lot more, like maybe even going to school," Torres said. "But we'll see. I'm excited about having a new life. I just got married. There are possibilities, and it's exciting."
As for the lawsuit, Jakob indicated Phillips intends to sort out the matter in court.
He wrote, "In the absence of any serious interest from Mrs. Torres-Manteufel for Christian conciliation, and rather than trying the case through the media we intend to rely on justice through the courts for our clients' vindication."
Concerning the lawsuit, Torres told WND, "I just know it's what the Lord wants, and I'm ready to move forward with it."
In telling her story, Torres hopes to inspire any girl, wife or family in similar situations to find the courage to escape and discover freedom, rather than continuing to suffer at the hands of an abuser.
"Lourdes had the choice to either retreat quietly and kind of disappear and recover, or she could make the decision to go public and try to help others," Gibbs said of Torres' decision to tell her story.
"I really admire her decision to step forward – not trying to hide her identity – but to step forward and tell her story and let people know there is hope, and they don't have to live under that oppressive type of abuse."