My last post laid out the situation surrounding the divorce of Tony Jones and Julie McMahon, and introduced the matters which were brought to light concerning not only Tony Jones, but Emergent Village. It’s clearly evident that Tony lied concerning the details of his divorce, and has misrepresented the facts at points to skew public perception in his favour. While conclusive evidence of an affair with Courtney Perry has not (yet) been made public, those who have viewed it seem generally convinced that an affair began while Jones and McMahon were still married (and indeed, perhaps while Perry was still married). Having seen some of it, I’m convinced an affair took place, and the psych eval makes it clear that the evaluator also believes this to be true. Let’s set aside the affair though. Affairs happen, people lie, people get divorced, dog bites man. Nothing to report there, so far as it goes. Sad though it may be, this is still true in Christian churches and in those engaged in Christian ministry. Even through the midst of the public debate of Julie’s story, it had been stated repeatedly that this was not about the divorce. So what’s it about? Let’s begin with Tony’s behaviour through the affair, divorce, and subsequent relationship with Julie. For our purposes today, whether he was a good husband or father is not germane, and let’s be honest, very few of us want to be judged on that question alone.
Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted/spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception and sanity. —Wikipedia
Tony engaged in gaslighting tactics against his former wife, Julie. The term comes from the 1938 stage play (and film adaptations) Gas Light, where the main character uses systematic psychological manipulation on a victim. The plot concerns a husband who attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment, and subsequently, insisting that she is mistaken or remembering things incorrectly when she points out these changes. (See the Wikipedia article, and note the terms that come up in the “See Also” section). In the Jones/McMahon story, Jones asserted that McMahon’s suspicions of an affair were due to her own pathology.
Meanwhile, he was telling his associates that the marriage had been over for a long time, and that Julie was crazy. There are a large number of Emergent™ leaders and “Friends of Emergent” who recollect hearing and repeating this, and a few have since apologized to Julie for repeating the message. Whether or not one uses the term “gaslighting” or finds it particularly accurate in this instance, it seems abundantly clear that Jones was constructing an alternate narrative of his relationship with McMahon, a web spun of lies and deceit. From the point at which he began to get McMahon to actually believe the alternate version, it becomes mental abuse. It’s alarming to realize how frighteningly close he came to succeeding in this effort — I don’t want to think about what may have happened if Julie had gotten herself admitted to hospital instead of encountering a wise intake nurse who told her, “Honey, you don’t need a mental hospital, what you need is a good lawyer.” In my mind, that was the turning point in the whole story, and God bless that nurse, wherever she may be.
As events unfolded, Tony was professionally diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, an Axis-II Diagnosis on the DSM-IV, which was in use at the time of the diagnosis. (Current is DSM-V, which also includes the condition, as does the ICD-10.) I use these terms not because I am a trained psychologist by any means, but in order to illustrate that the diagnosis was made in that context by a trained professional, and not by a casual observer. As such, it’s not a matter of speculation or opinion open to debate by the masses. In Tony’s statement in response to allegations, he indicates that he plans to submit himself for psychological evaluation again this year, and that evaluation will presumably be done under the DSM-V, which may help to better describe the range and extent of the disorder for him. There is no reason to expect that those results would be made public in any fashion, nor is there any reason to expect that the diagnosis will change, as may have been implied by the mention of re-evaluation in Jones’ public statement. Although there was some discussion of removing NPD from the DSM-V, this is not an indication that NPD is not a problem or that it doesn’t exist as an Axis-II disorder. Rather, the discussion was one of categorization. In the absence of having NPD as a valid diagnosis, it would seem that the psychologist’s diagnosis would trend toward psychopathic behaviours or toward some other distinct personality disorder (or a combination thereof).
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder in which a person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and to others in the process.
A basic understanding of NPD is really helpful in appreciating what this is all about, and in addition to the Wikipedia article, there is excellent information available from the Mayo Clinic website. The standard treatment for NPD is psychotherapy, however there is no known cure for it. In other words, it is hoped that helping the narcissist to better understand his condition and its impact on others will better enable him to avoid behaviours that are destructive to himself or others. One cannot, however, teach empathy — a person cannot experience what simply isn’t there, although those effects can be taught on an intellectual level. If the narcissist wishes to change his behaviour, the tools are available to help equip him to do so. Unfortunately, this approach seems to teach behavioural change without the ability to affect the underlying cause of the destructive behaviour. That is, if there’s no moral compass, and/or no ability to empathize, and/or no extrinsic or intrinsic motivation to change behaviour, it seems unwise (to me, at least; again, I’m not a psychotherapist, nor do I play one on TV) to assume that such changes will be genuine or be long-lasting. As far as I’m concerned, no matter what Tony tells you, there’s no such thing as a well-balanced narcissist.
At this point, I can point out that pathological lying is one of the characteristics of NPD, as is stalking, scapegoating, self-aggrandizement, cheating, shaming, selective memory/amnesia, gaslighting, proxy recruitment, lack of empathy, and a number of others.
And this is where I start to get really upset with Emergent™. When the psych evaluations were completed in 2009, Julie forwarded them to several emergent leaders, including Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren. She asked again for some intervention and some understanding, perhaps an apology — clearly she was wanting someone within this group of leaders with whom they were associated to at least hear her story again in light of what these evaluations revealed. What she was met with varied from “I don’t believe you” to “I don’t want to see it” to “Don’t contact me again”. All of these, I want to suggest, are culpable, irresponsible, and reprehensible examples of clerical malpractice. When one looks back at the stories told by Julie and by Tony, and consider that one of these may be employing hallmark NPD tactics of lying, gaslighting, scapegoating, self-aggrandizement, and related behaviours including cheating, one should perhaps ask whether they’ve understood matters correctly, and whether they’ve seen or become participants in the NPD behaviour of proxy recruiting, whereby the narcissist gathers people around him to do their bidding, usually through manipulation paired with other tactics such as lying, sometimes in an impassioned or dramatic fashion. To refuse to take this second look is utterly appalling in light of the evidence presented.
There were a lot of Emergent™ leaders, hangers-on, and “friends” who were at an arm’s length and had no knowledge of these events. But there were a number on the “inside” who either knew or should have known what was going on unless they willfully blinded themselves to it. How did the Emergent™ leadership allow an environment where this could happen, and worse, why did they not only stand by idly, but remain recruited proxies in the retelling of the Julie-is-crazy meme in the face of documented contradictory evidence? The truth is coming to light here, and it will be worse for those who try to hold the old party line than for those who step up now and admit complicity then. One can repent of one’s actions or try to justify them, and the approach taken tells a lot about someone.
Here we have Tony’s behaviour running amok, documented now as dating back to 2008 or earlier and continuing today. Other classic NPD behaviours include frivolous lawsuits, parental alienation syndrome, threats, and intimidation. These are tactics which Tony is currently employing to silence objections, garner sympathy, and make attempts to gain custody of one of his children. Did I mention proxy recruitment? This is still going on— check for a list of people writing letters that say, basically, “Well, gosh, I was with Tony in his home, and he seems alright to me!” or “I work with Tony and he seems like a pretty good guy.” The NPD always seems like a charmer until you’re at cross-purposes. And what of these so-called leaders who refuse to reconsider the situation based on hard evidence? No, they don’t recant. They won’t consider the story of the abused, saying “this is how I experienced it.” Instead, they’re going to keep trying to prop it up, save face, and protect the book sales. Some are going to go down with the ship, and others will try to bail out at the last minute with some story of why they waited. Let me just say now that all the “noble” reasons for leaving support with Tony will be gone by then. I have to think the majority of people have eyes to see through that sort of crap.
Everyone loves a wise quote. Here are five that would seem to apply.
- The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality. — John F. Kennedy
- You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right. — Aung San Suu Kyi
- If any of you happens to see an injustice, you are no longer a spectator, you are a participant. And you have an obligation to do something. — June Callwood
- The most ominous of fallacies: the belief that things can be kept static by inaction. — Freya Stark
- He who allows oppression shares the crime. — Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus
This is therefore a call to those leaders in and around Emergent Village in 2008-2010, and who have currently issued letters or made statements of support for Tony Jones, whether formally or informally. It is similarly a call to those on the fringes of Emergent™ who heard and repeated the Julie-is-crazy meme based on what you had been told at the time. Please rescind your support for these actions against Julie and for covering it up in whatever large or small way you participated. If you are not sure how to go about this, you can reach out to me, David Hayward, Ryan Stollar, or Dee at The Wartburg Watch. We can put you in touch with Julie and/or help you compose or publish an appropriate statement. If you read the comments on the thug-or-theology thread, you’ll see that Julie has only asked for apologies and has been quick to voice genuine forgiveness when those apologies were offered. Most importantly, if you are a leader with a voice, you owe it to those around you who trust you to not lend your voice to a campaign that props up abuse. Make it stop.