As I said almost a week ago, Tony Jones posted a statement countering the allegations made by his ex-wife, Julie McMahon. Tony’s statement was filled with lies, innuendo, half-truths, horrible leaps of logic, and other miserable attempts to control the narrative. One of the few bits of truth in the statement is that he has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. R.L. Stollar has published documents which set the record straight in an evidentiary way; these can be compared with Jones’ statement to show his lies and misrepresentation. I was a little steamed at Jones’ blustery statement, but glad that I archived it because it disappeared from the site a few days later. I’m not surprised, and my links to that statement and several others from the “WhyTony” site on Scribd are all to my own local copies of the statements for this very reason. You can’t simply post something on the Internet and then remove it to pretend it had never been there. Not when people are watching, and the people who are watching highly suspect your motives and are onto your tactics. These tactics are simply means of attempting to control the narrative, to bend it and alter perceptions in one’s own favour.
That was followed up in the next couple of days with the posting of a number of statements of support for Tony at the same site, so that they were all there on January 31st. This week, John Vest had something of a change of heart, and in a long comment thread discussing his post, announced that he shouldn’t have written his support letter, and was asking for it to be removed. There’s some good discussion there, but in response to Vest’s assertion that “It is unethical (if not illegal) to post cherry-picked and out-of-context pages from six and a half years of divorce and child custody litigation and suggest that this proves wrongdoing.”, commenter “Eric” said, “You know, I think Nixon said pretty much the same thing about Woodward and Bernstein. I guess breaking a story of unethical and illegal leadership abuses with *only* partial (damning) information is unethical and possibly illegal now. Good to know.” That was a highlight for me — full marks for bringing Woodward and Bernstein into it!
It took a few days to get his letter removed, but when it did finally come down, so did all the other support letters. Now in their place, there’s a “Note About the Removal of These Posts“, which unleashes another load of hooey in a further attempt to control the narrative. The note begins,
We have come to understand that Julie filed a court motion at Hennepin County Family Court on Monday, January 26th. Since then, there have been two subsequent conferences between the court and Tony and Julie’s attorneys on Feb 3 and Feb 11
Watch the nuances. “We have come to understand” is the passive voice, here intended to vaguely imply “we’re not engaged in this, Julie is doing something that we found out about through the court.” It continues in this vein to imply that Tony got dragged into two conferences with Julie, lawyers, and “the court”. What actually happened was that on January 26, Julie filed a motion for Tony to return their son after scheduled visitation. As has already been reported, following a scheduled visit over a month ago, Tony returned two of the children, but kept the oldest with him and has refused to return him since that time. On January 28, Tony filed a motion requesting sole legal custody of all 3 children, apparently saying that they were endangered by the internet (basically by the conversation going on over their situation).
The document continues, saying,
Tony and Julie were urged by the court to remove all their posts and comments related to their marital issues and children. They were also urged to have their supporters and proxies remove posts and comments related to these topics as well.
Tony chose to honor the court’s request by removing his document that same day. At his request and to comply with the request of the court, the statements posted to storify and Scribd are being taken down as well.
So there you have it. Again, watch the nuances. Here we have Tony and all his proxies and supporters painted as being noble and obeying the court. The first problem is that there’s nothing noble about doing what the court tells you to do, as is implied here. The second problem is that the court made no such request. It’s entirely possible (and likely) that Tony’s and Julie’s lawyers each recommended to them that they not post online about the matter — that would be between each of them and their respective lawyers. It has not been ordered by the court. As David Hayward points out, courts are not in the habit of making “requests”. Judges don’t typically say, “Oh, it’d be awfully nice if…” when they are able to just issue a decree and have it be so. In this case, the court knows how absurd it is to make a suggestion that the entire internet might just comply with at will. I’ve been asked no such thing, nor has David, nor has anyone else I’ve spoken with about the matter.
This is an attempt to control the narrative. Rather than have Julie be able to point to how Tony has used his influence with public and semi-public figures to issue letters of support for him and against Julie, he just takes them down. “See, they’re not there! I’m the good guy! But look what she said!” That’s called controlling the narrative. Craft your statements carefully and control when and where they appear and disappear. Beyond the words themselves, be crafty about how you say something, and you’ll leave people with the particular impression you want to leave about the facts, whether or not they’ve even been stated accurately. Notice how I used the word “crafty” just now rather than the word “cautious”? That’s how it’s done. Subtle, until you point it out. This isn’t hard for a decent writer to do, but in the realm of manipulation and self-aggrandizement, it’s second-nature to a narcissist.
The truth of the matter is that it’s another attempt to silence Julie and those who speak in her support. It’s been seen through though, and it won’t work — in fact, one can expect the Streisand Effect to take hold here: the attempt to silence will only make the voices louder. For her part, Julie has all but disappeared online for a couple of weeks already — apparently she’s been silenced, probably by legal threats. But if that’s true, then others are speaking, and have taken note of what Tony has done and is doing.
And why does Tony need to shape the narrative this way? Because it’s part of his ploy to flip custody of his children (see above). The Christianity 21 conference took place near the end of January this year (22-24), but Tony couldn’t go — on the weekend before Julie filed her motion, he posted a video greeting for conference attendees telling them he needed to stay home because one of his kids needed him. I suggest to you that actual reason was that because he had not returned this child to his ex-wife’s care following scheduled visitation, Tony would have been guilty of a felony under Minnesota Statute 609.26, “Depriving Another of Custodial or Parental Rights” if he had left the state. Let me say that I’m not a lawyer, though I’m not intimidated by statutes, contracts, and legalese. But read the statute for yourself and see. Remaining in the state of Minnesota and filing a motion within 7 days of the one that Julie filed for the return of their son keeps him on the “clean” side of the line he’s skirting and gives him grounds for the dismissal of felony charges if they are brought. If you’re thinking it all seems very calculated, then we’re on the same page here. The video he posted online was taken down very quickly, but this isn’t the only lie it contained — remember, NPDs are pathological liars. They lie, even when they don’t need to.
Depending on the jurisdiction, failure to return a child to the custodial parent can carry a range of charges including but not limited to contempt of court, parental alienation, custodial interference, child concealment and even kidnapping, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time to revocation of parental rights to some degree. For example, the court can decree that future visitation must be supervised. And this is the stuff Tony is playing at now… this is the narrative he’s attempting to control. In most jurisdictions, the parent deprived of access to the child may also be entitled to sue for damages.
For the record, those who issued statements of support for Tony were, in no particular order, Sarah Cunningham, Phyllis Tickle, Phillip Clayton, Kathy Helmers, Joesph Edelheit, John Vest, Randy Buist, Pete Rollins, Courtney Perry, Rachel Swan, Troy Bronsink, Doug Pagitt, and Brian McLaren. All of these people have ties to Tony in one form or another which to some minds draws their objectivity into question. Tony has received statements of support from people whose books he’s “blurbed”, speakers he’s booked into JoPa conferences, people he’s co-sponsored conferences with, spoken with, shared a stage with, hired as an agent, editor, or other publishing connection, or worked with in some capacity. One might expect that these sorts of connections would be able to speak well to his credentials and character, however I suggest that this is not the case here. While some may be able to verify his professional capabilities, his personal character may be hidden from them in the context of their working relationship. Others may have a financial incentive to support him, say as a spouse or business partner, or working under contract with him. As I see it, most of these people have been duped into issuing support for Tony. That’s how a narcissist works. Thing is, they’re being used, and they can’t see it. They’re providing their own reputation as a character witness for someone who seems to be skirting the edge of a felony. How can they not see that this is damaging not just to the emerging church, but to the wider church as a whole? They’re risking their own careers by being willing to go down with Tony’s, and they just. can’t. see. it. Two exceptions here: Pagitt and McLaren, as directors of Emergent Village and pastor to Tony, should have been close enough to see what was going on. They were to have been providing professional, vocational, and spiritual oversight, and in the end they’re complicit in his actions.
Basil: Is there something wrong?
Elder Herr: Will you stop talking about the war?
Basil: Me! You started it!
Elder Herr: We did not start it!
Basil: Yes you did — you invaded Poland.
It may be tempting to fall in step and just not mention the war. So why would I be saying all this? Why would I want to call out the actions of someone within the emerging church, a movement in which I participated for a number of years and still share some affinity with, having continued in one or more of its streams? The reason is that those who should have called him on it — primarily Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren, but others around him as well — have failed to do so. Not only did they fail in 2008 and 2009, they have failed in this multiple times since then by covering up the decisions they made at the time to let it pass. And they continue to persist in covering for the evil actions of a confessed narcissist, even in the face of mounting evidence of the extent of the lies and abuses he has dealt out within his family. And they continue to work with him, presumably for financial gain, as they continue in the coverup. This is painful stuff, no doubt. And I’m pained to have to call out this kind of treachery within my own camp. It’s quite easy to look over the fence and call it out in someone else’s camp, but when it’s within a movement you were part of and spoke favorably about, it’s a different story. I’ve quoted Tony favorably on this blog, and have reviewed some of his earlier books with kind words. But these actions can’t be allowed to stand, or to go by without being called out for what they are: bullying and silencing the victim. And those of us who have seen it can’t just “STFU already”, because that’s just giving in to what the bully wants. And there are enough people doing that already.
David Hayward has a characteristically great post up on this matter: Tony Jones’ and company’s continued attempts to silence people and control the narrative, and Bill Kinnon has a post on narcissistic and psychopathic leaders in the church, in line with what I said last week about it. I have appealed to former EV leaders to stop supporting Tony’s behaviour, but they have not. I may be rather irked by that, but I think Jesus is too. And I just don’t understand why these people think it’s okay to piss him off.