"Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world, but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son. How can you talk about peace and love and have a family in bits and pieces – no communication, adultery, divorce? You can't do it, not if you're being true and honest with yourself."– Julian Lennon link
(updated a few dates-8 pm)
Gone Girl-*Spoiler alert*
Last night we watched the movie Gone Girl. The basic plot revolves around a man (who is a cheat)who is married to a probable sociopath who disappears and then reappears. Ms Sociopath set up her own disappearance to make it appear that her husband killed her, hoping he would go to jail for life or get the death penalty. Then, in true sociopath form, changes her mind and returns home. Her husband, who now fears her, decides to divorce her but discovers she is pregnant with their child. He sacrifices his own peace of mind to stay with his wife in order to protect the coming child. He knows that the commitment will last at least 18 years.
Allegations of spousal abuse and whacked theology by Tony Jones, a well-known progressive, Emergent leader.
On September 5, 2014, the Naked Pastor published Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What came first, the thug or the theology?. In the course of the comments, Julie McMahon, former wife of Tony Jones, joined in on the discussion, alleging that she had been abused by Tony Jones. This thread received over 1,000 comments. Such claims have circulated throughout the internet for some time.
Stuff Christian Culture Likes posted this synopsis:
allegations have been made in various social media for some time concerning aspects of Tony Jones’ behaviour towards his ex-wife Julie and their children at and since the time of their relationship breakdown, specifically assault, incorrectly claiming that Julie was mentally ill and his and Doug Pagitt’s alleged theological justification for Jones’ affair with his now-wife. Strong feelings have been raised this week by the discovery that JoPa are facilitating a conference with a strong diversity/feminist agenda, that this attempts to present an image of supporting women while major personal issues are still unresolved. Leaders involved have refused to discuss the issue, referring to it as ‘gossip’, and some saying they have investigated the events and are satisfied. Yet Julie continues to claim that no one from the Emergent community has even spoken to her about the events since they occurred.
Let's sum up the basic allegations:
- Tony Jones divorced his wife in 2009. Julie discovered the affair in 2008
- His BFF, Doug Pagitt, knew Tony was having an affair and came up with a theological argument to justify Jones' actions. Jones allegedly told Julie that he had a spiritual™ wife which took precedence over their marriage because their marriage was simply a legal matter. (2009- one month before official divorce).
- Julie claims she was assaulted by Jones.
- Rumors circulated amongst their Emergent group that Julie was mentally ill. She claims that the leaders tried to get her committed to a mental institution.
- Julie was awarded custody of the children and Jones was given visitation rights.
- Tony Jones sacramentally (his term) married his new wife in 2011 and legally married her in 2013. They refused to get legally married until gays could get married.
A thoughtful comment on this blog post by Rachel Held Evans was followed by this response by RHE.
Danica Newton • 20 hours ago
Hi Rachel, I posted this on your Facebook but also wanted to leave a comment here because it seems that you interact more here on your blog, and I wanted to make sure you hear me.
I saw your upcoming conference featuring women and got super excited … until I saw that you're partnering with Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt for the event. This is surprising to me because you've always been an advocate for the abused and for victims, but Tony Jones had been accused by his ex wife of some serious things, including throwing her against a wall and dislocating her shoulder from its socket.
This happened many years ago (probably six? ), and his ex wife tried for a long time to tell her part of the story, but was shut down every time by Jones' pressuring of blog hosts, etc, every time she tried to talk. He even threatened law suits when the pressure of his position in the Emergent community didn't work to make them delete her comments and block her participation.
A few months ago Julie left a comment on Naked Pastor's blog, but instead of censoring her, he let her tell her story … for the first time ever. The comment thread on that post is very long, but worth the read, especially if you are familiar with the silencing tactics commonly employed by men in power against victims of abuse.
I'm hoping you are not aware of Julie's story, and that is why you agreed to partner with her abuser. I also hope that this comment will be left up, and not taken down, because if it is (taken down), then although it pains me, I will have to assume knowing of Julie's allegations, you are continuing to work with Tony Jones, which means you would be taking sides with the abuser (who wields a lot of power, I know – he's giving you and others a platform to speak, after all).
Below is the link to the conversation. I truly hope you read through, and at the very least allow Julie to tell you her side of the story (since Jones denies it, and labels her as having a mental disorder)
RHE I take abuse allegations very seriously, and if I had good reason to believe Tony was an abuser and these allegations were credible I wouldn't work with him on a conference. But my personal experience with and diligent investigation of this situation has given me reason to doubt that this is the case. (The fact that I too was accused of being part of a massive EV coverup when this all happened before I was even published and not even remotely connected to EV raised some red flags from the start.) There's always the chance I'm wrong, of course, but I've made the decision to continue participating in the conference with Nadia. To debate the circumstances of another couple's divorce further, in this forum, would be unwise – legally and ethically – so I'm not going to comment on it again, and I'm going to have to moderate comments so that the comment section isn't inundated with rumors, which I also take very seriously. There are other forums for such conversations. Part of advocating for abuse victims is to encourage them to work through the proper legal channels to achieve justice. I have done this consistently.
So Rachel Held Evans appears to say that the accusations against her friend, Tony Jones, are not credible. From that point forward, any comments about this subject were deleted and the post was eventually closed to comments. Here is a screen shot taken by one of our readers who attempted to comment and had it deleted. (Good comment-Sensible!)
Twitter/Email Food Fight
Naturally, abuse advocates began to speak out about Julie McMahon's claims. There appeared to be a feeling that Julie did not have a platform for her concerns in the past and that she was finally able to express herself in a public forum. In fact, one person who claims to have known Julie in the past wrote the following comment on the Naked Pastor's comment thread. This comment seems to corroborate Julie's allegations and offers an insight that I will get to in a minute.
I come in peace. I am a former member of Solomon’s Porch (I moved out of state in 2007). I am an anthropology professor, wife, and mother. I was raised in a church pastored by a pedophile (Al Magnuson, Redeemer Covenant Church, Brooklyn Park, MN. I have experienced spiritual abuse.
Solomon’s Porch was a haven, a rescue, and a healing balm during difficult years. The dreams of the church continue to be my dreams, and my friends there, including Doug, are still my friends. I spoke on Doug’s radio show, promoted my book by speaking at Christianity 21, and so on. I am not an emergent figure, but I benefited by association.
I have met Julie only briefly (in person), and have never interacted with her children. I have interacted with Tony several times, but not socially or extensively. I was not present for any of the incidents described by her or anyone else, but I did follow things on-line.
This comment thread makes me sob. No voyeuristic glee; only heart-rending pain at my repeated role of by-stander, and at times victim, in religiously abusive situations. I am speaking up to satisfy my conscience.
I saw Julie’s reputation smeared, and her attempts to speak silenced. At Christianity 21, an emergent insider told me that the evening was very difficult for Tony and Courtney, because they were coming out as a couple, and the expectation was that people be kind to them. When I questioned, “What happened to Tony and Julie?”, the answer was that regardless of the “official” divorce, their marriage had ended long ago, so Tony was free to be with Courtney. The marriage ended, so I heard, because Julie was destructive and mentally ill. It didn’t add up – why is the crazy person doing all the child care? You try caring for three little kids even just for the duration of a C21 conference…if Julie really was that crazy, people should have been intervening on behalf of the children at that very moment, not standing around drinking wine and talking shit about her.
(Side note: so what if she, or anyone else, is, in fact, mentally ill? I interact regularly with people who have autism, OCD, bipolar, anxiety, depression, and so on. Every single one takes responsibility for their behavior, and is capable of accurately describing abuse. Even a psychotic person in a psych ward can speak up and say they are being abused, and their claims will be investigated. American law doesn’t allow us to write off someone’s testimony because of their mental health.)
Then, another comment.
Steve K @Becky – I just want to add that the rumor about your mental health was spread by Jeff Kursonis, who I (and the rest of us in Emergent at the time) later learned was not someone who was trustworthy. (That's a whole other story that is being conflated here, I'm afraid, with the accusations of mental illness by Tony towards his ex, Julie. Two different situations entirely.)
Anyway, it was a hard lesson learned, and I apologized directly to you for my complicity in spreading that rumor — and I made every effort to correct that and connect you with the board of Emergent Village at the time so they could offer an "official" apology directly to you as well, but you refused to speak with them.
Brian McLaren, another well-known, Emergent BFF of Jones, also appeared on the comment thread.
September 24, 2014 at 11:19 am
Last Friday, I received an email from Julie McMahon requesting that an apology to her be posted on this thread. I was one of several people who had been asked by both Tony and Julie in 2008 to help them in a time of marital crisis. We tried our best to help, but the marriage didn’t survive.
I read through all the postings on this thread and checked back as the list grew. I saw significant discrepancies between the version of the story that was being told on this thread and my experience and understanding of what actually happened.
However, I was at a distance and was only peripherally involved because I extricated myself from the situation early on. Because I take accusations of spiritual abuse seriously (as, I’m sure, do all the people named in Julie’s email), in recent days I’ve gone back in my email archives and reread the many emails Julie sent or forwarded to me during and since 2008.
I have come to see a few things that could have been done differently, especially with the benefit of hindsight. I also see areas where, if the counsel given to Julie and Tony had been followed more fully, outcomes could have been better. But I have never witnessed or observed anything even close to abuse by any of the people named; in fact, I have only witnessed sincere and solid pastoral care in a tragic and volatile situation, right up to this moment.
I think that someone on this thread made a good suggestion. She shared that she was once accused of something. A group of qualified and mature people reviewed the evidence in a responsible way. She suggested taking what has been shared on this thread, along with information that can’t in good conscience be shared in public, for private professional review, making use of structures developed by denominations over many years of dealing with situations like these.
I think that is a good idea, and I will do my best to see it is done. Because I have some idea of the legal dimensions of situations like this, I do not believe it is wise or appropriate to say anything else at this time.
Counter attacks begin
As folks expressed concern for Julie's situation on Twitter, counter attacks began. The best example of this is one received by Amy Smith. As you know, Amy is a tireless defender of the abused. She had retweeted a comment about Julie's allegations and received the following email which she placed on her website. When a retweet is described as perpetuating the violence: Tony Jones and the Sonoran Theological Group
From: Amy Jacober <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: January 14, 2015 at 10:19:34 PM CST
Hello! My name is Amy Jacober. I have referenced your blog many times and recommended it to many readers. I have written about you when you were egregiously treated and prayed for you.
I was a professor at Truett Seminary. It is a long story but the abuse that takes place in and around Baylor and the seminary is rampant. I had my fill. Upon leaving to care for sick parents, I am part of a small group trying to offer affordable theological education. I spend a lot of time with those abused by churches, academic institutions, and systemic financial problems. It has cost my family in ways that are far too great to detail here.
Our small start up training the poorest ministers was asked to be a part of a conference where we might meet some people in our community to better serve the needs of untrained leaders. I consult and help churches with things like back ground checks and writing safe sanctuary policies. My world for twenty years has been advocating for the least of these, including spending a great deal of time with friends with disabilities and crying out to my teaching colleagues to address the spiritual and physical needs of these friends so that further abuse does not continue. The name of that conference is C21.
Today, one of my colleagues at our small start up responded to an accusation that we (STG) support abuse. You retweeted it. We had never heard of any such allegations and were taken by surprise. Within moments, it was misquoted, edited in multiple variations at this point. We should never have responded to the bait. What you have taught me is that speaking up for what is right brings violence, unless you are the person in power. Today, you are the person in power. It has grieved me to my very soul. It has been like living with the abuse of Baylor (your alma mater) all over again. People in power, who do not fact check, sling mud and then think nothing of the lives they are destroying always stun me. Mostly they stun me because I honestly don't think they realize what they are doing. I know, you know this pattern well. I assume you did not do this maliciously, rather it was an easy sound bite and you bought into it.
I know you have done good work in the past. I have been an advocate and ally. Please, in the future, do not do this to others. You have just become the very thing you fight against. I have spent much of the day dying inside as I think through all of the young women I have ministered to over the years assuring them that there are responsible, non-reactionary advocates out there and they can be brave. I wonder if I'll have that chance again. I wonder about my very reputation as the retweets keep flying. You are powerful, whether you realize it or not. Please, please, please, before you ever retweet something where a person or organization is being accused that you do not know, do your homework before you perpetuate the violence.
Perpetuate the violence? Seriously? Here is another twitter exchange that you might find interesting.
Then, Dave Hayward, Naked Pastor, left this comment on the original comment thread.
4. I have been contacted outside of this conversation by many, mostly leaders, who have provided advice to me on how to manage this blog post and comments. I'm sure, for the most part, their intentions were good. But at the same time this indicates how those with authority or a reputation enjoy other ways to control or influence conversations. Maybe this wasn't always done to silence me or others, but it does tell another story about how influencers assume various methods to manage information that the silenced cannot.
5. The alleged abused invited the accused into this space to respond to their demands for apologies. As unsettling and uncomfortable as this would be, some risked it and graciously met their demands. As far as I know, there has been healing in those relationships. On the other hand, some didn't. Those who didn't have their own reasons why, from good to suspicious to bad.
Tony Jones responds in Some Hard Truth
In this post, Tony makes it clear that he is the one who filed for divorce. He also alludes to some conduct of which he is regretful.
Unfortunately, during this same time, my marriage suffered and eventually collapsed. When I filed for divorce in August, 2008, it caused ripples of pain that are still lapping up on the shores of many lives. My former spouse, my three kids, and many relatives and friends were affected.
Divorce is a tragic event in the life of any family, and our divorce was particularly hostile. While I tried to conduct myself with compassion and grace, I didn’t always succeed. I made many mistakes along the way. I said things that I now regret, and I often thought of myself and my own pain before that of others. I have grieved these failures, I am profoundly sorry for them, and I will carry regrets with me the rest of my life.
1. Tony Jones had to get away from his wife but he had no problems leaving his kids with her.
This jumped out at me immediately. Tony could no longer stay married to his wife, allegedly because she was mentally difficult. I have heard this excuse from others before and I don't buy it. Why? It appears that it is OK for the children to stay under the care of his wife and allow them to endure the supposed mental illness but he can't. Does this make sense? He leaves the most vulnerable members of his family with his wife while he takes up with his spiritual™ honey.
A father who is really concerned for his children would have stayed put, enduring difficulty for the welfare of his kids. Not only that, he removed himself from the home and immediately got a new *friend.* That is just what his kids needed. Their father is now absent from the home, they are living with a mentally unbalanced mother, and their daddy now takes time to court the new "love of his life." Oh yeah, the court gave the *mental case* custody.
Unless… that mentally unbalanced thing gave him a good excuse…Neither of these two possibilities speaks well for Jones.
2. Stanley Hauerwas' example: Since when does *mentally ill* qualify as a good reason for divorce?
Recently, I read Stanley Hauerwas' autobiography Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir. Here is how Amazon describes the book.
With genuine humility, he describes his intellectual struggles with faith, how he has dealt with the complex reality of marriage to a mentally ill partner, and the gift of friendships that have influenced his character.
Hauerwas is considered one of the greatest theologians in America. He tips progressive but manages to miff off all sides of the theological debate. From Wikipedia
Hauerwas is known for his outspoken advocacy of pacifism, as well of his fierce criticism of liberal democracy, capitalism, and militarism. He is also a critic of both Christian fundamentalism and liberal Christianity and American civil religion. Among his most important contributions to modern theology are his advocacy of and work related to virtue ethics and post-liberal theology.
The most poignant sections of the book dealt with his mentally ill wife. Her behavior was deeply troubling and, at times, profoundly embarrassing. However, Hauerwas stayed by her side and helped raise his young son. He adamantly refused to divorce her, even when his BFFs thought it might be appropriate. They only divorced when his wife insisted on the divorce. Then, he spent a great deal of money hiring her an excellent attorney to make sure that she received a fair and just settlement. He later remarried a wonderful woman and has had a successful and happy marriage along with a close and loving relationship with his adult son.
Hauerwas exhibited the Christian qualities of long suffering and humility. I think a lot of that is lacking in the Tony Jones story.
3. Progressives can play theological games just like conservatives.
I know that progressives, moderates and conservatives disagree on lots of theology. However, all three groups are equally capable of making up theology to justify bad behavior. At this point, it is not a theological argument. It has become a game of rationalization. You know the old saw. "Did God really say….?"
Here's the deal for me. That spiritual™ wife stuff was absolute codswallop! And anyone who played that game ought to be ashamed of themselves. Emergents are not the only ones who can call out baloney.
4. The Calvinistas aren't the only ones who protect their own.
We are all aware of the circling of the wagons that occurred when Sovereign Grace Ministries and CJ Mahaney were under the gun. Frankly, it is human nature to want to protect our friends. However, those of us who understand grace know that even our friends can disappoint us. I still remember a seminary professor going after the Deebs a few years ago for our concerns about SGM, Mark Driscoll and Gary Ezzo. His justification? Well known celebrity seminarians (himself included, of course) and pastors loved those guys. Since we were not theologically trained™ as they were, we were obviously wrong. Wonder what they think now?
5. We are positionally holy but functionally sinners.
This means we can all be wrong in our judgments of others and wrong in our behavior at times. Christians, above all, should be well aware that our heroes, as well as we, can hide our foibles. Why is it when the police finally catch the serial killer in a neighborhood, the neighbors will often say "He was a nice guy." "He shoveled our driveway." "He always came to the neighborhood pot luck." We are sometimes really screwed up in our judgements.
6. I tend to believe those who say they are abused which includes Julie.
This does not mean that I am always right. However, it is well known that most people find it terribly difficult to discuss their abuse in public. The vast majority of reports are true. I always consider the other side. But the other side is difficult to find when abusive behavior happens behind closed doors without witnesses.
Libel is a deliberate telling of a lie in order to harm the good character of another person. A person making false claims can be sued for such behavior. Most people will not risk making false accusations on a large public forum.
Why I tend to believe Julie at this point.
The spiritual™ wife stuff was such poppycock that it leads me to mistrust Tony Jones and his friends. If they are willing to make that up, they are probably willing to make up more stuff. Also, I believe that a good father( or mother) would not leave their kids in the hands of a mentally deranged individual.
And now, I shall go curl up in a fetal position and wait for the spiritual™ input to begin…
Lydia's Corner: Exodus 13:17-15:18 Matthew 21:23-46 Psalm 26:1-12 Proverbs 6:16-19