So it’s now public knowledge that the Golden Boy of the Emergent Village has lied about almost all of the facts surrounding his divorce from his first wife, Julie McMahon. R.L. Stollar bravely published excerpts of the documents, including those indicating the injury that Jones denies causing to McMahon’s shoulder. There remain two things which are not immediately clear. (1) Why certain leaders continue to support Jones; and (2) How the leadership of Emergent Village could have allowed an environment where this could take place while they feigned ignorance.
I’ll back up. There are a lot of summaries of this mess out there already, and even more commentary upon the matter. But I’ll recap some “highlights” with a few notations of my own, after which I’ll explain why this matter catches my attention enough to resurrect this blog and comment publicly, and I’ll pose some questions around what I consider to be the larger issues at play. As has been said all along, this is not just about the breakup of one family — as painful as that was and continues to be for them.
Back in 2008, Julie (then Jones) McMahon suspected an affair between Tony Jones and Courtney Perry (now Jones’ wife). She found evidence to this effect in the form of emails, phone calls, and photographs. She alerted her pastor, Doug Pagitt — founder of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Emergent Village Board-guy, author, and business partner to Tony (JoPa Productions). Pagitt initially reacted to the evidence he was presented, saying he had asked them about that many times, but he cut short his comments and Julie left the matter in his hands. Later on, he would deny this conversation took place and support Tony’s version of events. (Since there were no other parties to the conversation, this one comment is a he-said-she-said matter, but consider this in the context of the other evidence coming to light.)
During the summer of 2008, Emergent™ was running a “Church Basement Roadshow”, travelling around the USA to promote a number of books. Tony and a number of EV leaders were part of this tour. Tony was travelling a lot with Emergent at the time, and a distraught Julie reached out to EV leaders pleading with them to send Tony home to work at saving his failing marriage. Those leaders gathered together and formed what was referred to as a “discernment team”, conferencing a few other leaders in by phone. They reached a decision and phoned Brian McLaren for his advice on the matter, and he affirmed their direction. The group wrote Julie a letter telling her that she should admit herself to hospital for inpatient psychiatric care, and put Tony on a plane to Minneapolis with Mark Scandrette to deliver the letter. Jones had little to no contact with his then-wife during this weekend, and upon entering the family home without warning, Julie’s family demanded that Scandrette leave the premises. Julie did try to find a hospital to admit her, but was told she didn’t need a psych ward, she needed a good lawyer. When Julie informed Doug Pagitt of this, he said he’d find someplace that would admit her — another comment he later denied. As a point of clarification, I have seen the discernment letter, though it has not (yet) been released publicly. While it does not stipulate “inpatient psychiatric care”, this implication is strongly implied by the recommendation of specific hospitals with psych units, and the verbal discussion of finding Julie a [hospital] bed. There is a suggestion on their part that Julie had suicidal ideation at the time: she was certainly distraught. While this could point to concern for her well-being, it must be taken in context of the fact that Julie already had family with her, and that Tony was portraying her as crazy. Keep reading…
The context here was that Tony was telling people that his wife Julie was “batshit crazy” and insinuating directly or indirectly that she suffered from Bipolar Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder. A number of people within the EV circle of influence heard and repeated these unfounded rumours at the time, spreading the Julie-is-crazy meme which Tony was beginning to use as a defence against a variety of allegations Julie was making against him as well as to garner sympathy among his colleagues for the divorce for which he would file at the end of August 2008.
In late 2009, I and a few other bloggers (some well-known, some lesser-known) became aware of the situation and were in contact with Julie. We heard her side of the story, and for a variety of reasons were inclined to believe it. When some of us made reference to it — however obliquely — on our blogs, we were treated to vitriolic email exchanges with Tony and others who were supporting him at that time. Upon investigation, it turned out that an extremely small number of those supporters had ever met or been in contact with Julie, and many were supporting Tony simply on his reputation as an EV leader and on the basis of who else had voiced support for him in context of the Julie-is-crazy meme. In direct response to pressure from Tony, some of us, to our later regret, removed comments we had made. We discussed the matter between ourselves and though it seemed that while Tony should be called on his behavior, it was not then the best time to do so since the court was still considering matters of child custody. Based on what we knew then about the court-ordered psych evaluations, it seemed unthinkable at the time that the court would not consider those documents, or that Julie would not be awarded full custody as a result. With that in mind, it seemed best to drop the matter for a better time. We did not know when that would be, or what would bring it to the fore again.
Turns out, the answer to that question would lay dormant until September 2014, on the heels of the implosion of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill. In response to an observation by Tony Jones, David “Naked Pastor” Hayward posted a drawing and commentary on his blog, the title of which was Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What came first, the thug or the theology? David didn’t know what he’d just stepped in, but his point was that Driscoll became a focus not for his theology, but for his behaviour, and ideas to the contrary (i.e., ToJo’s point) were an illustration of how drastically the church has failed and continues to fail to understand spiritual abuse. What happened next is stuff that cannot be scripted or orchestrated in any way. Comments on the post hit 1,082 before being closed in December, and the post currently shows more than 1,100 Facebook “Likes”. Much came out of that discussion, but the most important is this: Julie told her story, and people believed her. Period. Some people apologized in that thread, and she quickly and genuinely forgave them. Others refused to say much of anything at all.
Enter Rachel Held Evans, who upon being challenged about being involved in a JoPa-sponsored conference, took two actions. The first was to issue statements in support of Tony, claiming to have done diligent investigation into the allegations — this was later clarified to say that she reviewed some documents or some such thing, but did not speak to Julie or Tony directly about the matter. The second thing she did was to take on, with Nadia Bolz-Weber, the sponsorship or facilitation (precise role unclear) of the conference so JoPa would no longer be associated with it. (At least not publicly.) Even after the release of documents confirming Julie’s story, she has failed to rescind her unqualified support. Nor have any of a number of letter-writers whose documented support appears on Scribd (and more on Storify). The bulk of these supporters, it may be noted, have a financial interest in Tony’s reputation. Except Tony’s neighbour, whose support I have paraphrased elsewhere as, “I can see Tony from my house!” Take that for what you will — I know I do.
The whole things stinks like Tuesday’s fish special held over for the following Friday.
The whole things stinks like Tuesday’s fish special held over for the following Friday. But hold on, you’re almost caught up. Tony issued a document responding to Julie’s allegations and posted it on Scribd with the support letters, but once Stollar released excerpts from the actual documentary evidence, it promptly disappeared. Don’t worry, you can read that statement here. Turns out this story has more than its fair share of comment-deleting and post-removing. In my school of blogging, that’s extremely bad etiquette… but in this case it’s been met with screen-capturing and document-saving.
So a blogstorm was released. In addition to R.L. Stollar and David Hayward, Dee at The Wartburg Watch has been doing a good job of fostering good conversation on the topic and keeping up with new information as it comes available. She also links to a GoFundMe account to help Julie with legal or other family expenses as she sees fit. There are a lot of recent blog posts on the matter, but the best-titled among them all must be “Why Tony Jones can Kiss my Ass.” There’s also this post by Wenatchee The Hatchet which includes some thoughts on Rachel Held Evans in the mix, given her previous critique of Mark Driscoll. There’s a good list of Suggested Readings on the Jones/McMahon Controversy, but the granddaddy of all collections is Diagnosing Emergent by Brad Sargent. Brad is an outstanding systems thinker and diagnostician, so his work will be important not only in constructing an accurate timeline (to which I defer if there are any discrepancies with my recollection above), but also in addressing some of the larger questions which have yet to be posed.
There are some things I wanted to say about Tony Jones’ response statement. A quick scan will reveal that Jones repeatedly uses the phrase “Documented Fact” in response to McMahon’s allegations. Apparently that phrase does not mean what he thinks it means. Not only does he fail to provide the claimed documentation, he regularly suggests that he has documentation that certain things did not happen, like the semantic game that says neither he nor Doug Pagitt ever used a particular term. The assertion is ludicrous, of course. I defy anyone to provide documentation of the fact that I have not used the term “fahrvergnügen” in the past week. You see where I’m going with this. How exactly does Jones document the so-called “fact” that he and Courtney Perry did not even have one another’s telephone numbers prior to September 2008? And speaking of that relationship, ToJo was on the board of Emergent Village and National Coordinator for EV during the time when Courtney Perry was part of an advisory group to the board. So either they did know one another more than as “distant acquaintances” as he claims, or he was failing to fulfil his fiduciary responsibility as a member of the board. (viz., if he wasn’t in contact with Courtney Perry, then he wasn’t doing his job as national coordinator or as a board member — a major failing in either case.)
The divorce was exceptionally acrimonious — there is no disputing this point, and there now seems to be ample indication that Jones was employing gaslighting tactics against McMahon. The prime accusation though, was Julie’s assertion that Tony had been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, an Axis-II diagnosis (personality disorders) on the DSM-IV. Tony admitted this, though he mischaracterized it as Axis-I, a mood disorder. This is common throughout Jones’ statement, where he “slightly” misstates things or relates information selectively to cast himself in a better light when it becomes necessary to acknowledge a point. Here he attempts to portray Julie’s diagnosis as something more grave than his own — in point of fact, it is not, and her diagnosis was essentially a situationally-motivated mood disorder in comparison to his innate personality disorder. These mischaracterizations are common to his statement.
I have to agree with the sentiment in a guest post by Shaney Lee, that the release of those documents should never have been necessary. However, given the stonewalling and wagon-circling from Tony and his Emergent™ friends, it became the only way to bring the truth to light. This was caused by the same level of arrogance that portrays one’s spouse as crazy in the hope that professional psychological evaluations will show her to be so while the narcissist himself is vindicated as the sane one of the pair. Narcissists are most often master manipulators who can steer people and situations to their liking. Unfortunately it takes a special kind of arrogance to think one can pull the wool over the eyes of professional psychologists as well as the entire legal system just because one has already done it with his peers. Cue poetic justice.
So I’ve rambled on for 2,000 words now, which will not be a surprise to those who remember me as a long-form blogger. It’s my connection to this situation and my failing in it from 2009 that has me wanting to revisit it once more. There are a good number of new questions that I have swirling around in my head now as a result of it, largely around spiritual abuse and the kind of systems that either protect or prevent it. I feel I’ve much more to say, but for now I’ll cap this post off as essentially background to those ruminations. At that point, we’ll start to ask what exactly the New Emergent Manifesto might be.
Updated Feb 15, 2015 to add some italicized points of clarification and make a few minor factual corrections regarding timeline and terminology.