Photo of Rachel Held Evans I’ve been thinking about the latest update on Julie McMahon’s situation this week, the one where she’s having to drop the matter of trying to use the courts to achieve the return of her son to her lawful custody after his father, Tony Jones, refused to return him after scheduled visitation back in January. The one where she’s already in for $6,000 in legal fees and can’t keep spending money she doesn’t have to force her Emergent/Convergent leader/author/speaker ex-husband to abide by the court’s prior custody ruling.

Just how naive is Rachel Held Evans?

And the biggest thing I’m thinking is a question: just how naive is Rachel Held Evans? She apparently has a reputation as a supporter of victims’ rights and advocate for abuse victims, and says things likeAs Christians, our first impulse should be to protect and defend the powerless, not the powerful.” But in the situation with Tony Jones and his ex-wife Julie McMahon, the walk and the talk are not on the same path. Others have pointed out the discrepancy and registered their disappointment already, because in response to a direct question about her work with Tony, she responded with this statement:

I take abuse allegations very seriously, and if I had good reason to believe Tony was an abuser I wouldn’t work with him on a conference. But my experience with and diligent investigation of this situation has given me reason to doubt that this is the case. …[To comment further] in this forum, would be unwise – legally and ethically – so I’m not going to comment on it again, and I’m going to have to moderate comments… Part of advocating for abuse victims is to encourage them to work through the proper legal channels. I have done this consistently.

Several days later, she added a footnote, saying “By way of clarification, I don’t want to overstate my knowledge of this situation or involvement in it. I have spoken with neither Tony nor Julie about the details of their divorce, only reviewed some relevant documents and emails, not all of which are public.” No official word on why that admission did not prompt her to withdraw her unqualified support for Tony. Actually, she has qualified her support elsewhere by saying she doesn’t agree with him theologically at every turn. Her support for his actions bears no such caution.

So yes, “diligent investigation” is apparently not so diligent, which makes the rest of her stance all the more grievous. But the final bit about sending abuse victims to work through legal channels is what I find most puzzling, and it’s something I’ve questioned since I first read that comment back in January. How do you advocate for abuse victims by just telling them to file a police report or get a good lawyer, and then become known as such a great advocate for those victims? The advocate in that case is the justice system, and that’s where my earlier question comes in: how can she be so naive? If there isn’t a ton of hard evidence for criminal charges, justice becomes the domain of the wealthier party. And in the Julie v. Tony issue, it’s a civil dispute, where it costs money to be heard. Too much money — many (most?) people wouldn’t have gotten as far as she has.

So to suggest that everyone just shut up and tell Julie to go fight it out in court is simply naive. That’s all I’m saying. Okay, maybe that’s not all. I have a problem with people who say they’ve investigated and really haven’t. They’re telling people that they looked into it enough to get to the bottom of it, and that people should take their word for it. Unless they’ve specifically put adequate qualifiers on that, which so far nobody has — not Rachel, and not any of the cast of characters who endorsed Tony by writing and posting letters of support. The letters were pulled down, but we know who you are and what you did. For the record, I know of no deeper outside investigation than the one partially documented at Diagnosing Emergent. Brad is a champion internet sleuth and collator of documents, and not all of what’s been seen by him, by R.L. Stollar, by David Hayward, myself, Wartburg Watch, and others has come out yet. I don’t know if all of that documentation will come out, but it keeps surfacing, and I looked through more evidence just this morning. There are a few who claim to have researched the case and are posting in comment threads, but their words tell me they have only had a cursory look.

And that’s what’s so disturbing— to speak out in defence someone who has confessed having a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) after having done little to no investigation, or doing so on the basis of casual observation is misguided and wrong. (Pro Tip: any time someone’s story differs from that of someone with NPD, the NPD is pretty much lying. Just sayin’.) And to do so as a leader and in writing is irresponsible. It’s malpractice. It’s professional misconduct, and it’s reprehensible.

And I’m of this opinion even more today because I’ve just read what is perhaps one of the most important articles in this “dialogue” so far. It’s written by Dr. Christy Sim, whose doctorate and area research focuses on healing after domestic violence, so she knows what she’s talking about. Her dissertation was titled: “Body, Theology, and Intimate Partner Violence: Healing Fragmentation through Spiritual Play.” She’s written a brilliant piece that although it references this discussion specifically, doesn’t take sides or say who’s right/wrong between Tony and Julie. The brilliant part is how she really “gets it” in the way she goes at the issue of the ToJo support letters and how a person is received when they step forward with stories of abuse. She writes,

There are some points I want to highlight as a foundation for why public (and written) support of someone accused of abuse is a serious problem.

First, for all those who could be victims of abuse, as Julie McMahon claims to be, the following messages are coming through from those with power and influence, and they’re being heard loud and clear:

  • We can team up and together malign your character by showing how “crazy” you are.
  • Your voice does not matter because our friend’s reputation is more important than your perceived experience.
  • We have never seen our friend behave inappropriately; and because we (and he) are in power, our story trumps your story.

Wow. She unpacks each of those, explaining what’s being said/perceived and what the problem is with each message. I can’t say what she says any better, so please, read her article in Christian Feminism Today, titled Domestic Violence Allegations in the Faith-Based Community: How Shall We Respond?.

The article goes on to offer positive steps, with reasoning why they’re important. Things like making your default position one of believing the person who steps forward to tell their abuse story, without demanding proof. I said that some of us have looked into the matter for ourselves, and this is true. Not everything we’ve seen has been presented in public, and some of it takes a good bit of internet sleuthing to dig up, but there has been enough information made public already for most people to reach a conclusion, if they need to, about whose story has the greater percentage of truth in it. And the main point here is that those who are propping up the person with power, prestige, and pedestal are way offside in what they’ve done to malign the voice and character of a single mother who can’t afford the cost of legally enforcing existing child custody rulings against a confessed narcissist. I truly don’t know what it will take for them to rescind their support and apologize for giving it so blindly, but their support in the way they’ve done it is damaging to abuse victims, to the emerging church movement and the church as a whole.

Should they allow Tony’s name to be slandered? Well, the truth is never slander so if they can’t produce better evidence for this alternate narrative they’ve bought into, they need to shut up, withdraw their support, and urge Tony to abide by the court’s decision. And if they have even the slightest understanding of what NPD truly is, they’ll suggest he step down from any ministry position and anything even ministry-adjacent. And they shouldn’t just walk, but run to withdraw support and get out of the NPD vortex. Currently, they’ve been duped. I believe that there’s forgiveness and acceptance available from their followers and the wider community if they will but come clean now, and admit they were wrong. They don’t even have to support Julie’s version, just admit they were wrong to support Tony, and stop. But the longer this goes on, and the more evidence that comes out, the more nails they put into the coffins of their own ministries.

And how sad is that?

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