Tony Jones and the twitter court of justice

Tony Jones and the twitter court of justice January 28, 2015

[Trigger warning: genuinely confused but well-intentioned dudebro asking honest questions that may be offensive and/or ignorant]

I refrained from writing about this topic for a long time, but I’m troubled. I have three different conflicting ethics when it comes to assessing Tony Jones Rachel Nadia conference-gate and the twitter court of justice that’s been in session adjudicating it. 1) I believe that we need to listen and take seriously the stories of alleged victims of abuse because they are usually ignored, silenced, and discredited. 2) I also believe that every nasty divorce has two sides of the story and there is no greater devil than one’s ex-spouse. 3) I also believe that it’s presumptuous and inappropriate for me to participate in the online adjudication of the ugliness in other peoples’ personal lives with whom I am not connected in any kind of real covenantal relationship.

In addition to my ethical conflict, I have some personal disclosures to make. First, I’m a fiercely loyal Rachel Held Evans fanboy since she inspired me to start blogging which doesn’t mean that I don’t think she can do any wrong but does mean that I get angry when I think she’s being judged unfairly. As a pastor, when people in my congregation have had relationship problems including abuse and infidelity, I have had to navigate these matters with tremendous discretion and delicacy. It would have been tremendously harmful to the fabric of our community if the dirty laundry I encountered were tossed out into the public square for the sake of accountability and justice.

When I’m wearing my activist hat, I understand the concept of holding public figures accountable and standing in solidarity with people they hurt who haven’t had a voice. But not everybody has the same role. People in positions of influence like Rachel shouldn’t be expected to pull out a bullhorn to yell at another public figure with whom they have a relationship in order to satisfy the crowd. That would be a clumsy misuse of their power and influence. I can think of a lot of reasons that I would be very neutral and cautious in my public statements about a scandal involving someone with whom I have a business agreement and dozens of other intersecting relationships. So it doesn’t seem fair to me for thousands of strangers to farewell Rachel from progressive Christianity forever because her public statements haven’t measured up to their standards (which obviously means that she secretly loves patriarchy!).

A second personal disclosure is that I recently got invited to an emergent Christian leadership gathering by Doug Pagitt, the other half of Tony Jones’ JoPa. I’m not willing to demand a refund for my registration in order to engage in the compulsory shunning that would make me ideologically acceptable to Christian twitter. When I was at Wild Goose two summers ago, I was playing my electronic music in the open mic tent because my on-stage set had been cut off in the middle. I felt devastated and betrayed and very lonely. Nobody stopped by to listen until Doug Pagitt did. He stayed for the entire 25 minute piece and engaged me with a bunch of questions about it. The lyrics were super-nerdy and esoteric, but he actually got it and appreciated it. When people are kind to me, I have trouble dismissing their humanity later. Whatever mistakes Doug did or didn’t make as a pastor in his response to the failure of Tony Jones’ first marriage, I can’t reduce the whole of his personhood to “abuse apologist” and I’m not willing to shun him and boycott his events if that’s the requirement for me to keep my progressive Jesus card.

So maybe I have a messy set of biases and hidden agendas in talking about Tony Jones Rachel Nadia conference-gate and maybe you do too. Maybe it makes you feel good to take down another one of those #whitemaleChristianleader bastards because you’re the one who should be a Christian celebrity instead of him. Maybe you’re a wannabe progressive #whitemaleChristianleader like me and you want to “out-ally” every other wannabe progressive #whitemaleChristianleader by being the loudest voice condemning abusive #whitemaleChristianleaders. Maybe you’ve been silenced or abused by a #whitemaleChristianleader and this situation triggers memories of that and fills you with understandable anger. If you’re a victim of abuse, please don’t take anything I say here as a “Yes but…” to the evil injustice that you suffered. Nothing I say can do you justice or delegitimize your pain.

Right now, for better or worse, Tony Jones Rachel Nadia conference-gate seems like a laboratory of Rene Girard’s theory of mimetic rage and the scapegoat. Tony Jones is functioning as the scapegoat for every ex-fundamentalist victim of spiritual or emotional abuse on the Christian internet whose story wasn’t believed. This doesn’t make him innocent (he actually doesn’t claim to be innocent). It does mean that the actual truth of his and Julie McMahon’s particular story doesn’t matter, which is precisely what a number of commenters have said. What matters is that Julie’s testimony sounds like what other abuse victims remember saying themselves and Tony’s words sound like what other abusers have said to discredit their victims, so Tony has become the symbolic representative of every abuser everywhere. And raising any objection to this mimetic rage is equivalent to replaying every denial that every victim in the “twitter pitchfork mob” has experienced. To be fair, a woman I was talking with also made the point that people who have been victims of abuse have a greater expertise in discerning the communication patterns of abusers than I have. That’s absolutely true.

I’ve read the stories of abuse of several individual people in the “twitter pitchfork mob.” I can’t say anything in response to the evil that you’ve gone through. I definitely don’t want to say, “I’m really sorry about what happened to you, but can you understand why it’s unfair/irrational/whatever to scapegoat Tony for it?” Because your experience is real and the trauma you relive in reading what Tony and Julie write online is real too. There’s no “but” that comes after that. I don’t know what it’s like to be triggered by things I read on the internet, and it doesn’t make me a better person with greater “objectivity” that I’ve been sheltered from abuse.

Let me tell you what troubles me which is in no way a retort to whatever your story is. One of the few #whitemaleChristianleaders whose intuitions I trust almost absolutely is my friend and favorite podcast-preacher Jonathan Martin. One of the things that Jonathan named for me is the fundamental difference between Jesus and Satan. Jesus is the advocate. He stands up for the guilty. Satan is the accuser. He stirs up crowds to stone the guilty. I think most progressive-ish Christians like me would holler amen to this basic assertion if we’re talking about a guilty sinner who’s like the woman caught in adultery in John 8.

But what if the guilty sinner whom Jesus stands up for and Satan incites a crowd to stone is the oppressive #whitemaleChristianleader target of the month on twitter? Accusation is deliciously intoxicating, and that’s what troubles me. I’m not debating the guilt or innocence of Tony Jones himself. I’m troubled by what seems like an inherent tendency for the twitter court of justice to relish accusation and enjoy the feeling of power and righteousness that it provides. I recognize that twitter creates a unique space for marginalized people to talk back that they don’t have in physical conversation space shaped by white male privilege. I think that this empowerment is vitally important. But I also think that there’s something about the fury of hashtag wars that really does stoke an ugly appetite within us.

Christian twitter has started to feel like the end of the French Revolution when the revolution cannibalized itself through the absolute righteousness of Robespierre and his guillotines. Our internet conversations seem more Robespierrian than Christian with their absolute “Are you with us or against us?” demands. It’s true that amidst the roar of the crowd, there are many individual people saying very patient, thoughtful, compassionate things. It’s also true that social movements have to speak in very black and white, uncompromising terms in order to gain traction and compel change to occur. So how do I reconcile this with the principle I learned from Jonathan Martin that remains true? Jesus is the advocate for sinners and Satan is their accuser. Do I say this doesn’t apply to alleged oppressors and abusers because that would be “centering” them? I’m not sure that I’m willing to exclude oppressors from the category of sinners whom Jesus would have stood up for, because the tax collectors he defended were absolutely evil, manipulative, exploitative bastards. Now you might say well forget Jesus and his stupid bankrupt religion then, but I’m not willing to do that.

Maybe Tony Jones is an official narcissist as opposed to just being self-absorbed and self-righteous like every other human being. Being someone who lives with mental illness, I tend to be very skeptical about the infallibility of diagnostic labels. I’m a narcissist if what that means is that I’m overly obsessed with manufacturing my image and words toward the purpose of making myself look brilliant. I’m also emotionally abusive if what that means is that I’ve at some point yelled at my wife and my kids in a way that caused emotional damage. I’m not proud of either of these things and I constantly ask God to make me a better husband and daddy.

But if you took the last three sentences and cut and pasted them on Tony Jones’ blog, would they be deconstructed as a typical devious narcissistic strategy for trying to win sympathy through calculated self-deprecation? Don’t we all try to win sympathy with our public apologies and gestures of vulnerability? In completely different circumstances, don’t we caution ourselves not to overinterpret disembodied words on the internet? Is offering any charity or benefit of the doubt to our enemies a betrayal of solidarity for the people they’ve hurt? I’m not sure if Tony could write anything that would not be automatically stamped as a devious manipulation. If he said, “I confess that I am an abusive narcissistic asshole!” then he would be engaging in hyperbole to try to win pity.

I’m not saying that Julie McMahon is lying. It sounds incredibly awful how she has been treated, regardless of what she did or didn’t do herself. I’m not willing to say she has to be 100% right on the basis that people who say that they’ve been victimized are always 100% right. I’m just troubled that so many strangers are making confident assertions about other peoples’ lives based upon the infallibility of a psychological label and their clairvoyant ability to deconstruct disembodied words on the internet. Independent of what is or isn’t true about Julie and Tony’s relationship history, the Christian internet’s need to be all up in their business is not motivated by a pristine concern for seeking justice any more than fundamentalist Christians are motivated purely by the glory of God in their love of culture war.

By the way, Rachel and Nadia have officially dissociated their conference with JoPa if that even matters anymore. I’ve seen people shaking their heads with disapproval at them because they didn’t explicitly condemn Tony Jones in the statement explaining their decision. Like I said, I’m their obnoxious fanboy so I’m probably blinded with irrationality but I don’t think that refusing to play to the Christian internet’s demands with their public statements should require their excommunication. And I also think that much of the Christian internet’s rage against them is a manifestation of our strange, obsessive love/hate relationship with Christian celebrity. Whatever is or isn’t true about what’s going on inside of Tony Jones’ head, I think the Christian internet needs to pay a visit to the psychiatrist too.

It’s okay if you disagree with me. You don’t have to polite. If I’m being an irritating white male, it’s fine for you to say that. I just want for this very ugly situation to result in some kind of learning and healing instead of only provoking a bunch of self-satisfied “This is why I quit Christianity” comments. I am glad that Julie McMahon has received support and vindication for her side of the marital conflict that she didn’t have six months ago. I hope that Tony Jones has both fiercely loyal friends who give him unconditional support and brutally honest friends who challenge him. I think all of us need both to stand in the grace where healing and wisdom can emerge out of our past sins. As Paul says in Romans 14:19, “Let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual edification” because that’s what this whole Christianity thing is supposed to be about.

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  • Chris

    This kind of outrage is why I quit blogging for the moment. The “social justice” blogging scene feels more like a series of self-congratulatory bursts of moral outrage, justified by a conspiracy theory-like tendency to see every last thing on the face of the earth as being part of patriarchy/classism/racism/etc. It makes fighting actual problems with patriarchy, classism, racism, and so forth immensely more difficult.

    FWIW, I have seen the kind of neurotic behavior as described by Jones about his ex, and at first glance, it sounds much more plausible than her story, especially given his willingness to provide documentation. I also have seen first-hand the craziness that people will perform when they think someone is violating someone’s concept of religion, which her accusations of him being part of a “cult” seems to indicate took place. So if I had to bet that one side was more primarily at fault, I would say it is her side, though I’m sure Tony also had his mistakes.

    • You know I think how we view this depends on how we see parallels in our own story.

      • Chris

        I agree, which I think should temper the overall tendency of people to try to weigh in on the controversy. People try to form conclusions based on insufficient evidence as part of the ongoing social justice narrative. Everything has to fit into those pre-established categories, which in this case means the patriarchy/feminism/abuse narrative.

        My “FWIW” part is just my opinion given what I know, which is limited. And indeed it is quite admittedly based on what I’ve seen personally. Regardless, speaking generally and not to Tony’s case, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to take what I think is most likely and run with it to make accusations that someone ought to lose their job or ministry if what I perceive as most likely has only a scant amount of evidence — and let’s face it, Internet reports and blogs have very little substantiating evidence.

  • Andrew

    I think what you have to say is helpful and thoughtful. And your introduction to Jonathan Martin’s “Jesus stands by the accused, Satan is the accuser” perspective is particularly relevant. After reading your post and commenting briefly on twitter regarding the Tony/Julie thing, I wanted to mention a few things:

    – I think that you are right, for some people, vilifying Tony comes from a place of desire to see Christian Celebrities taken down. But coming from someone who’s experienced similar people as what has been described multiple times in my life, I feel that many people also have a longing for justice that has been sadly absent in their life – either for themselves or for those close to them. That longing creates a vacuum, and seeing Tony held accountable/Julie’s story heard and validated/etc does something to fill that vacuum, however tangental that sense of justice is. I am sure there is a bunch of projection onto Tony of their own stories, and I know because I’ve caught myself doing it too. But I do think what is key is the notion you bring up “that people who have been victims of abuse have a greater expertise in discerning the communication patterns of abusers.” What’s disconcerting for me is that the language/methods used by some parties sounds uncomfortably familiar, as do many of the responses “defending” said parties.

    – Another aspect of this whole debacle is that tension between suffering and the Christian faith. Jesus my not save us from suffering, but he will save us in it (NTW, paraphrased) – the notion that Jesus enters our suffering. I think for many victims of abuse like Julie has described, they feel that Christians whom they looked up to/admired are now saying, “I’m not willing to enter that place, it is too costly for me.” Perhaps that is a misidentification on my part, but I do think that there is a significant aspect of that.

  • Ivy Beckwith

    People should stop writing about things that are none of their business. I have first hand, up close and personal knowledge of much of that time in Tony’s life. People should be ashamed.

    • I agree. So much presumption and projection.

    • BradC

      I agree with Ivy and I can validate she knows this situation well.
      Commentary without connection seems exploitive to me! It appears to me commenters are taking advantage of these peoples painful journey with no relational requirements or consequences. I haven’t observed justice – just exploitation!

  • Michael Reaves

    I have problems with Christian celebrity whether it is Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Tony Jones, Mark Driscoll (he’ll be back soon), Rachel Held Evans, Len Sweet, or Adam Hamilton. And I enjoy the work of Sweet, Evans, and Hamilton. When pastors become celebrities with their own brand to promote and protect, it can lead to the same pressures that any business faces when so much depends on one charismatic and/or brilliant person. If Tony Jones was having an affair while he was married to his first wife, he should not be in a position where anyone in the Christian community takes him seriously as a leader in the church, emergent or otherwise. And if he focused his energy with the help of others on destroying the character of his first wife in order to protect all that he had worked for, then shame on those who ride his coattails. Granted, we don’t know the truth but Tony is either an asshole or his wife is “bat-shit crazy” so it’s not really surprising that this thing has gotten so many people up in arms on both sides. There is too much at stake for both sides.

  • danbrennan

    Appreciated your thoughts on this, Morgan.

  • Phil LaBelle

    This is really helpful. As a priest I’ve seen the pain experienced in the breakdown of a marriage much too often. What is painful in this is the way it is playing out for all of us to be the judge and jury. Many thanks, Morgan.

    • I think those of us who have walked with people in broken marriages as pastors have a different perspective. When you’re pastor and you love both people, you can’t demonize no matter what’s going on. It goes against everything I’ve seen firsthand to make the blame 0/100 between the two parties in a failed marriage.

  • I feel like these episodes may start with good intentions, but quickly become more about winning than justice.

    Early in this particular conflict, there were a number of people saying, in effect, “We just want RHE and NBW to end their involvement with JoPa.” But once Rachel and Nadia did just that, suddenly it wasn’t good enough anymore, because it didn’t come with a public repudiation. New conditions were added.

    Same thing happened when another well-known blogger apologized for comments he made. His apology was nothing like the typical Christian celebrity non-apology. Yet that wasn’t good enough either. New conditions were added. Next he was told he should apologize directly to certain people one by one, including everyone who may have felt dismissed or disrespected by his original comments. In other words, the added conditions were designed (whether consciously or not) to be impossible for him to meet. Which suggests the primary motivation was not reconciliation or justice, but winning—taking down someone perceived to be yet another Christian celebrity.

    None of which has any bearing on whether the original allegations against Tony Jones are true or not. Which is the whole point. Sometimes in our advocacy, we lose sight of the very thing we were advocating for. Sometimes we undermine it in advertently.

    Thanks for your post, Morgan. You put into words much of what I’ve been thinking and feeling over the last few weeks.

    • Nancy

      Ben – You are right on target with this comment (as is Morgan in the post). But the irony is this: the ones who are treating RHE inappropriately are responding in the way she normally responds to others. She assumes any cry of “abuse” must be believed. She adjudicates by blog/twitter. Then she retreats to her fan club to reassure her that she’s done no wrong while all the mean people are out to get her because she’s a progressive feminist. I’m a progressive feminist and I’m just weary of it all. We don’t know what happened in this case. I have no idea if Tony is mostly true, if Julie is mostly true, or what. I don’t pretend I do. Relationships are messy. Those of us who live in the midst of real pastoral care know that very rarely is one side’s story the completely correct story. (That’s not to say this is never true.) But to even suggest this is to bear the charge of RHE and others that you’re using a bullying “silencing technique.” So, yes, thank you for this. Now, let’s ask those progressive superstars to quit complaining and to start treating others the way they want to be treated.

      • Social media is like playing with fire. But I wonder if there is an appropriate role for “the mob” in situations like this. That’s what I’ve been thinking about today. Is it just that different people have different roles in dealing with injustice and we shouldn’t expect everyone to play the same role?

        • No_6

          Morgan, jumping in uninvited–yes, different people have different roles in dealing with injustice. Even as an assault survivor, I’ve had to wear different hats depending on the entity I talk to about my assault: the police, family, friends, health care workers, other assault survivors in person or on the web. I’m me. Each and every person has a different dynamic and a different angle that they will work from, upon hearing about abuse. The whole idea of being a community is that we can become aware of a problem, and then fight that problem from our own unique vantages. Apart, yet together. Which I realize is over-simplistic and idealized, but that’s sort of how it works.

          Unrelated to your question, you nailed this in terms of understanding what is going on in the “twitter court of justice”. FWIW, I stay away from talking about my own assault, because I am not responsible for other peoples’ reactions to my story–supportive or not–just like I was not responsible for being assaulted.

          Lastly, laughable metrics are being used to compare how much of a “voice” or “reach” Julie has vs. Tony, or RHE, NBW, etc., based on FB friends/followers. Stollar is just one person who has done this. I have under 100 FB friends. Julie reportedly has 167. What of course is conveniently ignored is that I as an individual control and set how many FB friends I have. Julie’s in the same boat. Even people with more of a media presence are in that exact same boat. It’s a terribly arbitrary metric. Prior to September, I had heard nothing about Tony and Julie’s marriage. If anything, the fact that Julie’s story sprang open in Hayward’s comment section brought both (not just one) sides to light for the majority of readers and web commenters. Which means that this has never been a situation where spreading the word about one side via social media while slamming the other side levels the playing field, shifts the power dynamic, rights a wrong, or comes any closer to anyone knowing the full story.

          In closing, you nailed this. Thank you for writing.

          • Thanks for the affirmation. As you might imagine, I’ve caught hell from a lot of people for this.

    • jtheory

      Those conditions that he should personally apologize were always there. What the heck do you think people should do when they’ve personally harmed someone?

  • wow, that’s a lot of feelings, projection, and hyperbole. the Jesus i know doesn’t ever just advocate for the guilty. he’s kinda big, too, on the least of these, the truth, and the kind of communal shalom-wholeness that rarely looks like baptized power, “civility”, or making light of harm.

    these allegations blew up months ago, and tony’s sexism reaches so much farther than one bad divorce. it hard to imagine his involvement in WX as something other than an intentional personal rebranding campaign to women/feminists/progressives, and critiquing that–or desiring consistency and accountability from leaders–is hardly irrational or unChristlike. tony is nobody’s scapegoat, and the idea of him (or nadia or rachel) as a sacrificial Lamb is repellent.

  • My favourite post on this was Samantha Field’s “There’s a difference between criticism and bullying.” I think that’s basically what we’re talking about here.

  • Scott Paeth

    And here I thought the whole point of the incarnation was that Jesus advocates for the guilty.

  • “Christian twitter has started to feel like the end of the French Revolution when the revolution cannibalized itself through the absolute righteousness of Robespierre and his guillotines. Our internet conversations seem more Robespierrian than Christian with their absolute “Are you with us or against us?” demands.’

    De-americanising my input a while ago was not a bad idea, so it seems every time. I’ve missed most of the twitter tribunal in this story (at least on twitter
    itself) but from what I’ve seen I really get the idea it’s getting out of hand and turning into an animal farm revolution with the whole anti white cishet dudebro activism stuff…
    I saw Robespierre’s reign of terror already being paralleled in the Islamic State in other ways (if you exchange their babble about ”reason and scienc’ by ‘the real Islam’ you get something very close, but more postmodern in their communication style that’s very effective for instilling fear) but the state of twitter activism might indeed have its comparisons with one the most barbaric periods of early modern Europe…
    Reducing anyones personhood to ‘foreigner’; ‘illegal’, ‘abuser’, ‘terrorist’, ‘X-phobic’, ‘bigot’, ‘heretic’ or ‘white cishet dudebro” or whatever to the dismiss anything that person has to bring or say is never compatible with Christ. No matter what side I’m on. I really see an animal farm revolution here..

    I actually do believe Julie (and accidentally know about the story for years now) but those online fire peletons do scare me…

  • danbrennan

    I have been watching this from afar through my own lens and experience. After publishing a book on male-female friendship five years ago, one of my friendships met relational challenges we could not overcome. Friendship, like all other human relationships holds the potential for the richest of relational blessings and fruitfulness. But it also has a dark side to it, too. I did want to keep the friendship but I needed space and rest. My friend then spread all these allegations about me online. Whenever my name or book came up on a popular blog, she was there with the allegations. 
    This experience has profoundly blessed me with the deep wisdom that serious allegations must be addressed seriously, but also wisely. Her allegations are such that if they were true the way in which she described them, I should never have any friends or be trusted. My friend went online to my church’s website and she shotgunned an email full of allegations to everyone she could find on the website, including lay leaders. This was two years ago. Although I’m not perfect, I certainly wasn’t the man she has portrayed in her language of allegations. 
    Our church leaders took her allegations very seriously. They formed a mixed gender team which spent about 100 hours–all total–investigating her allegations. I temporarily stepped down from leadership. I submitted to their questions and was completely transparent with them. While it was an extraordinarily vulnerable experience, I saw their wisdom, their maturity, and their diligence. While my friend had her narrative of alleged accusations, there were also other narratives to weigh in. Not only my own, but also several others who knew her, too. We essentially went through the New Testament process. And, I’m deeply thankful for that process on this side. I was restored to leadership. The leaders of the church blessed me with a fresh sense of my own leadership in the male-female friendship conversation. Going through that process in total transparency and vulnerability not knowing the outcome actually created a greater sense of trust and credibility between me and the church leaders. 
    Her narrative is still out there online. She still shows up. I have no control over who believes it. To those in the online world they can make their judgements pro and con about her allegations. I have learned to trust in God’s goodness and leave the outcome of the online world in God’s hands. But I’ve also learned something about online allegations and quick, knee-jerk judgements. Saw one individual say online in regard to Tony-Julie that he will believe victims allegations until there is evidence beyond all shadow of doubt. Okay, but in many scenarios that evidence is not going to appear and if that is the criteria he (and all others) with that standard will create even more victims. 

    • jtheory

      99% of the time victims aren’t lying. maybe you’re the 1%, maybe Tony is too. But what does it say to those 99% other victims if I don’t completely believe them til proven wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt?

      How you handled those accusations is exactly how Tony SHOULD be handling it. He hasn’t though, and those in power with him, those who have been approached by Julie have continually silenced her while believing him. They’ve heard his side of the story, they’ve read his documents, they’ve believed him. This guy who unlike you won’t even step down from leadership til doubt is gone. Who continues to sponsor events and profit off the progressive Christian blogsphere instead of humbly submitting himself to the trial he needs to face.

      She comes to us, she asks us to stand for her and we are the ones being told we’re wrong to do so.

      You’re right, many times that evidence will never appear, but for all those who have not been lying I will always believe the ones claiming abuse. Period.

      • danbrennan

        Jtheory, thanks. I’m not close to either Tony, Rachel, or Nadia. I’m just one small voice in this but from my experience as an author who has a public voice, I’m well aware of several layers in this messy scenario. I’m glad that Julie’s voice has been heard. That said, I’ve pretty much only read and heard one side of the story (hers) with strong advocates pulling for her. I’m a strong proponent and advocate for those who have no voice. And, I’m pro-women and deeply desire we move past sexism in Christian circles. But I’m also very much aware of what it’s like for someone who has been the target of online accusations and with people having no clue about the entire narrative. Having gone through that experience has given me wisdom and patience; a deeper and healthier distance to what happens in social media. I went through the experience with my church and my former friend’s narrative is still out there. So when RHE used the phrase “Trial by Twitter” I really do get the emotional reactions that can happen in social media and how stories trigger deep hurt and pain. There are many layers to wisely consider. I’ve experienced some deep healing within my community. I’m hoping and praying for healing for all involved here.

  • Nancy

    Thank you for this. Blogs/Twitter/Facebook are not good places for the merciful processing on such cases. However…

  • Nancy

    …however…I, too, was a RHE “fangirl.” She is progressive, feminist, etc. She counters the smallness of evangelicalism without completely writing it off.

    But then I realized: she and Mark Driscoll aren’t that different. They’re both so sure of themselves; they both fire first and then aim; they both recoil with “UNFAIR” when anyone questions their methods and motives.

    This is, in many ways, a case of being hoisted on one’s own petard. RHE has consistently used Twitter and her blog to bully, denounce, excoriate. She insists from a distance that any accusation of abuse (very broadly defined) must be right. “Perhaps the most effective silencing technique in Christian culture is telling those who challenge abusive or bullying behavior among church leaders that their objections are ‘gossip’ and ‘slander’ contributing to ‘disunity in the church.'”

    But the problem is that stories are messy. Not all accusations are true. Sometimes (not always!) the closer you get, the harder it is to make a Solomonic judgment. And I know of times when from a distance RHE has made judgments that weren’t as neat and clean up close.

    This happens to be one case where she knows the person charged. “But my personal experience with and diligent investigation of this situation has given me reason to doubt that this is the case.” She has done “diligent investigation” so she knows it’s not neat and clean.


    Then quit leading the charge from a distance on others when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    My problem isn’t with her position in this case. I don’t know who’s telling the truth. I’ve never met either of the people involved. So I don’t weigh in.

    My problem is with the culture of some of these progressive stars who bludgeon and then recoil to congratulate one another. In the meantime, they’ll unfriend and block anyone who doesn’t join in the self-congratulation.

    Check out RHE’s most recent tweets: full of regrets about trolls, online harassment, the devouring of one another, etc. Yes, it hurts when you’re the object of it.

    • Yup they’re sinful human beings which isn’t to dismiss your criticism. Social media life is confusing. I’m a hypocrite all the time. I hate being treated the way I’ve actually treated other people. Hopefully we’re learning and growing through these experiences.

  • Brent

    My question is simply, “What is the need to stay in the public eye?” None of this would be monumental news if Tony Jones simply would have starting ministering out of the public eye…in fact it would never have hit the blogosphere in any meaningful way. Once a high profile religious leader has a failing (no matter who is at fault), what is wrong with laying aside the mantle of mega pastor/speaker and simply ministering in your corner of the world to build the Kingdom?

    • davewarnock

      did you miss the part about Tony being diagnosed with NPD? People with that condition cannot stay out of the limelight. It is the air they breathe.

  • Brent

    I appreciate your humility, your admitting to interactions with some of the players, and your desire for a middle ground. Yet, you readily believed those who told stories of their abuse in the comments of other blogs. You said, “I can’t say anything to the evil you have gone through” and “because your experience is real…” Also, I didn’t see any words of comfort for their alleged abusers such as “I hope they have fiercely loyal friends who give them unconditional support.”

    Why are the stories of abuse of these commenters real and yet we should withhold judgment on Julie’s story? I don’t know you Morgan, but frankly this is a question as much for me as it is for you because I tend to stand with your conclusions.

    • I don’t know that I’m saying Julie is lying either. She experienced abuse. Perhaps Tony experienced abuse too as controversial as it is to even raise that possibility. I don’t think that people make stuff up. It’s just possible to have very different experiences of the same conversation or event. I know that I’ve behaved abusively before. Perhaps the Dalai Lama has never said or done anything abusive in his life but I suspect the rest of us have.

      • Brent

        I didn’t take it that you thought she was lying. It’s just that I wanted to immediately to stand with the women who told all those stories of abuse…and frankly stand against their alleged abuser. In the situation of the Jones’ I tend to want to say, “I don’t know what happened. It’s probably best to just step back without taking sides.” I probably projected my own thoughts on you.

        • Ah I experience the same confusion there. Not sure how to account for it.

  • Matt Rickman

    If I believe anything about God, it’s that He is on the side of both the accused and the accuser; the victim and the victimizer. In a sense to “take sides” is not in a sense something we can do quickly or capriciously.
    All sides of this story sound bad; and no one is coming out of this clean: not the divorced couple, not the kids, not Paggit, not Rachel or Nadia, not the twitters, no one. I wish that Jones came across more humbly and forthright (He sounds like a man not being honest). I wish others came across not as angry. I wish we could agree that no one is right; and that all of us need to seek forgiveness and grace where it might be found.

  • Very well said. I’m Presbyterian and not necessarily “emerging” but very interested in the conversation. I’ve just gotten sick of reading the attacks on Jones, McLaren, and others. With Jones specifically, it’s someone else’s divorce and I think those kinds of things are none of my business. If there were actual criminal charges against him, that would be a different story. But when it’s a “he said/she said” thing and I don’t personally know either of the parties involved, how can I legitimately take a stand or cast judgment? Tony Jones is a public figure, and I’d rather explore his published theology than try to parse whether his personal life is up to an acceptable standard. (because how many of our personal lives in all honesty can meet a purity standard? there’s a reason why it says “judge not lest ye be judged”)

    The thing that interests me in the emerging conversation is the free discussion and debate of Christian theology in a 21st century context. But when that debate descends into snarkfests, ideological purity tests, and personal attacks, that’s when I lose interest. Life is too precious and short to waste on such bitterness.

    • Brent

      Although I would tend to agree with your sentiment, the reality is that this all started a couple of months ago with Jones disparaging Driscoll and saying his bullying and pathological personal behavior lead to his hardcore Calvinist theology.

      I know two wrongs don’t make a right but that gives a bit of context.

      • Going after Driscoll’s personal life was no doubt a mistake on Jones’ part. Again, the verse on not judging lest ye be judged is good theology and good life practice. I have noticed that a few of the bloggers fanning the fires of this have had run ins and conflicts with Jones for some time now, and I think they seized on this as an opportunity to continue their feud with him. I find this whole spectacle of emerging figures trying to tear each other down and shame each other in public forums really distasteful and pretty unChristlike on everyone’s part.

        Again, the distinction for me is that public figures’ personal lives are their own business. I am interested in the theology published by Driscoll and Jones and feel comfortable engaging with and critiquing it. But I’m not interested in getting into gossip about their personal lives.

        • Brent

          In the end Jones simply proved Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 true…even in this world. We often just stop with the “judge not.” However there is a consequence to how we judge others. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Mt. 7:2).

    • So secular “criminal charges” is the new criteria to meet for “sin.” Thanks for letting me know.

      • That isn’t what I said, but thanks for the snark. I believe that all have sinned and fallen short. Outside of criminal charges or some other independent investigation of criteria, I don’t see a grounds in which to privilege Julie’s story over Tony’s or vice versa. Trying to figure out what’s true and what’s not in someone else’s divorce who I don’t know isn’t my place.

        Since there is seemingly no criminal case to be made here as of yet, I think the best mediators of this situation are professional counselors and Julie and Tony’s family and friends.

        (Ultimately I defer on this Morgan Guyton’s eloquent words above)

        • Gotcha.

          “If your brother or sister sins, first establish that there are criminal charges from the government. No official charges, no fault, thank go… government!” Matthew 18:15 [fixed]

          • Given that a cursory glance at your profile reveals you believe scripture is fabricated by poor God-deluded people, I’m not sure why you would use scripture as a reference point or trump card.

            Given that we could do an endless snarkfest over this, I will stop here:


          • Scripture as “snide remarks.” Thou hast said it yourself.

  • Carol Curry

    This was a really great post. I have been waiting for a well thought out and sane response to this mud fest and here it is. As a reader of Christian blogs…I wonder what the end game is for those who take up this cause of “expose and destroy”? I do not do the whole celebrity worship thing so I can enjoy and be blessed from many sources. Why would someone circle like a vulture to take out people who preach a theology that differs from their own beliefs? Why would anyone feel so entitled to make the world in their own image that they would make it their mission to eliminate the voices that bring hope and clarity to so many others? I honestly pray for mercy and justice to prevail in this soap opera. Love covers a multitude of sin. May love win!

    • Jeff Sylvester

      I don’t think those who are upset by this are people who preach a different theology; rather it is a lot of people who trusted the someone like RHE would not protect the powerful against the vulnerable, as she has called others to do in the past. These folks feel betrayed, and it’s understandable.

  • cy

    If, as you say, Rachel Evans should not “be expected to pull out a bullhorn to yell at another public figure with whom they have a relationship in order to satisfy the crowd,” then would you condemn her for using a bullhorn to protect and promote a public figure who has been credibly accused of abuse?

    Because she certainly did use the public bullhorn of her blog to claim that after a “diligent investigation” on her part, she did not think Tony Jones was an abuser, because if she, as she wrote:

    “had good reason to believe Tony was an abuser and these allegations were credible I wouldn’t work with him on a conference.”

    Is it a clumsy misuse of her power and influence to publicly exonerate Tony Jones?

    She has also used twitter to promote Tony’s response to allegations of abuse.

    She is using her power and standing in the community to promote Tony’s Jones point of view and silence the views of his first wife, Julie McMahon.

  • Abandon Window

    I’m an atheist who’s been trying to understand Christianity for a while now, and I gotta say after this whole episode it’s hard not write the whole thing off as a bunch of crap. I’ve been a longtime fan of Rachel’s, but she’s acting so hypocritically I have to wonder if I’ve just been straight-up fooled.

    The progressives are acting just like the conservatives. Rachel and her pals are circling the wagons around Tony Jones just like the conservatives circled the wagons around Mark Driscoll for years. Rachel’s being treated the same way I’ve seen her treat conservatives, and now she’s acting just like the conservatives acted: like she and the rest of Team Progressive are the ones being victimized.

    Because of religion is just like politics, which is to say it’s just like sports. You pick a team and your team is the good guys, and anyone not on your team is the bad guys. When someone on the other team gets criticized and questioned, they’re being called out and held accountable. When it’s someone on your team, they’re being attacked by a “social media mob” and it’s just people “[consuming] one another.”

    What a joke. I can’t believe I ever took this stuff seriously.

    • Jeff Sylvester

      Christians are all hypocrites- I am one and I know it. And not all who claim to be followers of Christ are. A pulpit is a great draw for those who would seek to use the name of Jesus to seek power.

      But in the end, if you place your hope in followers of Jesus, you will be let down at some point- great or small. It is Jesus who is beautiful and Jesus who is the only trustworthy one.

      If you want to consider the claims of Christ, consider this: it is the religion that teaches we all fall short and we don’t find meaning and significance through our good behavior. We believe in goodness, but we know that the only pathway to doing good is through the blood of Jesus.

      I can understand giving up on Christian leaders as corrupt and failing. But give Jesus a chance. While we hypocrites will inevitably let you down, Jesus will not. He left heaven to join us and participate in humanity at the ground level- that is a God you can put your faith in.

      • davewarnock

        “we know that the only pathway to doing good is through the blood of Jesus.”

        There is no evidence whatsoever that this statement is true. I was a Christian for 35 years, so I know quite well the default excuse that is pulled out when we are faced with yet another episode of “Christians Behaving Badly” (now in it’s 2,000th season). We’re all sinners; we’re all hypocrites; et al.

        I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to no longer have to make excuses or search for explanations for how Christians treat one another. (lawsuits? REALLY??). It’s good to be able to simply acknowledge that we are all humans. There is no evidence that an invisible deity as done anything- or ever will, to make some people nicer than others.

        Kindness and decency are clearly not owned by the Christian community. I know too many people who do good who would have nothing to do with the ridiculous notion of the blood sacrifice of God’s son; and too many examples of people who do bad that claim to be “washed in the blood of the lamb”.

    • I for one would be happy to dialogue with you. Don’t give up!

      honfatboy at hotmail dot com

  • Jeff Sylvester

    Please don’t equate how NPD’s behave to normal, average personality flaws. NPDs are evil and will destroy anyone who gets in their way.

    As for RHE, she was willing to call out other people now in her position before; it’s only fair she is willing to live up to that standard.

  • Jeff Sylvester

    My previous comment probably was a bit rushed and cold- I respect that you are wrestling with the topic here, and forgive how I may have come across.

    I’ve enjoyed some of RHE’s stuff in the past, but I’ve disagreed with her too. So I don’t really have a dog in this hunt. I didn’t even know who Tony or Julie were before this, and I’m not in this particular “tribe” of Christianity (I probably run more conservative, though not without some reservation).

    MY concern in this is how the church reacts to abuse, which has been notoriously bad. The typical response is to doubt the accuser and silence her (usually, it is a female, but not always), and often the abuser is a well respected and liked individual who no one can believe is capable of abuse. People tend to rally around the abuser.

    This is the very important part: when there are allegations of abuse, the abuser asks for a very simple thing: do nothing. He enjoys the status quo and would prefer for nothing to change. On the other hand, the victim asks for so much more: to get involved in a very messy and uncomfortable situation. To wrestle and understand. So be careful, because doing nothing always sides with the abuser.

    Does this mean we always take all accusations as Gospel? No, but it does mean we have to be very careful to not silence the weak. In this case, Tony has all of the power and Julie has none. At the very least, we owe her the chance to speak and listen to what she has to say. If her allegations are true, Tony was the first to use his position and power to silence her, and he was the one to deal with it outside of their family.

    Now we don’t know the allegations are true. And because of that, I can’t say I “side” with anyone. What I do know is that Tony is an admitted NPD, and that is a very, very serious thing. The church may not be aware of it, but NPD is not a small personality defect. It is the label of someone who is truly evil and completely untrustworthy. That so many are citing his defensive document in which he admits to this diagnosis as vindication indicates the do not understand what NPD means and what an NPD is capable of.

    Regardless of anything Julie has done, it’s hard to imagine that Tony is an NPD and him not abusing her or terrorizing her. No behavior on her part would make that OK (just as not behavior on his part would justify any abuse she might have committed).

    I don’t want to choose sides here- but I do not think it is appropriate for an NPD to be in a position of power, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to silence someone who is vulnerable and weak. Those are the real issues, and those are the places we have to make decisions as a body about how we are going to handle them. Because to allow Tony to continue to minister and to ignore Julie, even in the name of peace and “not getting involved”, is to allow a major power imbalance to continue, one where the known NPD has all the power.

    And don’t forget, there are children involved in this, and they have no voice at all.

  • Guest

    Abusers can always come from surprising places. But reading Julie’s comments on the Internet . . .honestly she doesn’t strike me as a mentally/emotionally stable person. Could be wrong . .my perch is limited. It seems clear Tony was unfaithful . .that is rotten of anyone. But physical abuser? Evidence seems flimsy at best. Divorces are often very nasty and bring out the worst in both participants.

  • Dean

    Am I the only one that thinks the fact that the blogosphere thinks this is big news is really bizarre? I will admit, I like salacious Internet gossip just as much as the next person, but the fact that there is blog after blog talking about the intimate details of “Tony and Julie” like they are household names strikes me as super weird. I mean seriously, get a life people. I guess now that Mark Driscoll is old news we have to move on the next Christian celebrity scandal, as if there people are even celebrities! They’re not folks! Do know how boring and irrelevant this is to the rest of the world!

    • CurtisMSP

      It is big news because any time someone uses the church to escape responsibility for their abuse of others, it should be big news, especially for those in the church. Whether it is Catholic priests, or Mark Driscoll, or Tony Jones, or whoever the next person using the church as a cover is found to be, it is going to be big news. People in the church should no longer tolerate the abuse of authority by its leaders. If it takes big news to get it to stop, so be it.

      • Dean

        Sorry Curtis, I stopped reading after “big news”. Ebola is “big news”. Tony Jones will never be “big news”. Get out of the house once in a while.

        • CurtisMSP

          Tony Jones is a public figure because he has thrust himself into public discussion about the 21st century church. The fact he is not as successful as others does not remove the fact that he is a public figure.

  • CurtisMSP

    It is hard to feel sorry for Tony when he has had complete control of the situation all along. From choosing to have an affair, to claiming his wife is insane as an excuse to leave her and his kids, to using his position of authority in the church to keep his wife from speaking up, all of the things that happened were preventable by Tony.

    After years of silencing his wife and his supporters insisting that there is no proof of wrongdoing, his wife has finally found a voice and produced proof of what transpired, but that is still not good enough. Now Tony wants to claim he is the victim of an internet mob releasing private information about him.

    The mob came about only because a person of power chose to cheat on his wife and suppress her voice. If Tony would have owned up to his mistakes and apologized six years ago, or even six months ago, it never would have come to this. Tony has had complete control all along. There is no room for sympathy for someone who harms someone and then uses his standing in the church to silence the victim and her advocates.

  • Loved Perfectly/Not Afraid

    I hurt for all involved. But the thing that has sickened me is the conspiracy of silence I have seen take place. I have no stones to throw. I believe what has prompted the mob outrage is the fact that one of the parties’ voice was not heard or validated. That outrages me. If you have nothing to hide, then there is no problem with bringing it into the light.

  • Nohm

    If you’re a “fanboy” of that brainless frumpy chub Rachel Evans, you have some serious mental and spiritual issues. She’s a cheap, no-talent publicity ho, she appeared on The View once and has never gotten over it, she’s a neurotic ex-Christian whose every word and act is to get non-Christians to accept her and tell her she’s smart and deep when in fact she’s a moronic and shallow. Her two books (marketed as THREE books) are the bottom of the barrel. Gaining fame for sitting on the roof of you house and including the V word in your “Christian” book shows just how empty the post-Christian left has become. The airhead doesn’t have another book in her, so the best she can do is tell homosexuals how much she adores them, which tells you a lot about her marriage. There is more truth in one sentence of a Christian author like C. S. Lewis or Tim Keller than there is an entire book of her drivel.

    Take your hat off in your pic, baldy, you should at least try to give the pretense of being an adult. Hate to break this to you, but the fact that you spent your entire life around shallow, sex-crazed college dipsticks (and pick up a little sex on the side, of course) does not make you YOUNG. Trashy clergy like you will have much to answer for when you meet God. “The college kids liked me!” won’t be much a an alibi. Lefty clergy are losers who could never hold down a real job, you’re stuck in Kum Bah Yah mode for a lifetime.

  • carter

    Thank you for this. I am an abuse survivor, and I find the idea that we should uncritically accept all claims of abuse absurd and dangerous. In doing so, we would only open up a new avenue of abuse! Everyone deserves a fair hearing.

    I am also very disturbed at how few people have picked up on the fact that in the documents and her blog comments, McMahon admits to grabbing and shaking her husband, threatening suicide, and making hundreds of calls/texts in a short time period. These behaviors are at best dubious and at worst, stalking and abuse.

  • Mark

    scapegoats are innocent victims. You mentioned Tony Jones is being scapegoated. It seems more like he may have scapegoated his wife.

    I know I am late to the party, just came across this today