I haven’t said anything for several weeks now, though I know others have said things, and there has been some general chatter. I know that some have reached out to Julie McMahon with encouragement. It seemed like things have gone quiet, though really, nothing had changed. Tony Jones remains a bastard NPD out to get what he wants in the spotlight, at any cost. This single short statement holds a few things that deserve a bit of unpacking.
First, “NPD” is an initialism for “Narcissistic Personality Disorder“, which is a clinical term referring to an Axis-II personality disorder on the DSM. Tony Jones suffers from this disorder, and has acknowledged it publicly as of January this year. I’ve tried to be precise as consistently as possible in referring to it in Tony’s case as NPD rather than just saying he’s a narcissist, or at least clarifying in context that I’m talking about formal NPD rather than mere narcissism, lest anyone think we’re simply talking about someone who tends to be self-centered or has a high opinion of himself, or who simply enjoys the limelight more than the next person. Someone with NPD is all of these things, but these barely scratch the surface. Note this isn’t just some 5¢ diagnosis, either, but a clinical one following properly-administered tests, conversations, and observations by a licensed professional. We’re not flippantly discussing a verdict of a Carly Simon song.
NPD is not an easy diagnosis to get, either. We’re not talking one-liner-inviting ailments like OCD, nor are we talking about about AD/HD or some malady-of-the-week to be treated with Ritalin or some other miracle drug… (no offence intended to actual AD/HD or OCD sufferers) there is in fact no drug treatment available for NPD, and it’s not a simple tick-box on a diagnostic form. NPD requires a specific set of behaviors and beliefs to be present, each to an identifiable degree strong enough that NPD would become the diagnosis rather than another Axis-II personality disorder, and apart from Axis-I mood disorders, or some combination thereof.
NPD is not simply a weakness or mild handicap, like a thorn in the side. Apart from being a mental disorder, it is, in my view, a pretty clear disqualifier from ministry. This isn’t intended to be mean, vindictive, or discriminatory, it’s just practical in the same way that you don’t really want an interior designer who’s colour-blind. It’s just a career that this particular malady makes one unsuitable for.
Second, yes, I called Tony a bastard. (Maybe I should have capitalized the “B”.) I use the term to describe his behaviour because I believe he has behaved and is behaving reprehensibly toward his ex-wife, Julie. Bastard is probably one of the kinder words I could have chosen, and this is simply a matter of opinion. And no, I’m not afraid he’s going to sue me. Everything I’ve said here and elsewhere about this situation is what I believe to be true based on the evidence I have seen and testimony I have heard. These are my conclusions, and if I toss in an ad-hominem or two about Tony’s behavior, those bits are my opinion. My conclusions are based on more detailed information and more private information than what has been made available to the public, so I consider them to be pretty solid. And all that I’ve said about the semi-public person Tony Jones is covered under the protection of free speech, which makes it hard to support a lawsuit of any type. There have been a lot of threats of legal action over online comments, but those would be frivolous and are primarily just another tool in the arsenal of intimidation tactics. Calling him a bastard is a personal comment on his behaviour, which is always a choice. Despite the NPD diagnosis and the inherent difficulties that it brings for the individual to exercise restraint or to consider their actions’ implications upon others, this does not excuse culpability. Behaviour is always a choice.
Tony’s not too fond of people talking about all this, and wants to silence this kind of discourse through backroom pressure or threats of legal action. On the subject of free speech, I understand that one of Tony’s legal actions against Julie failed recently when his lawyer withdrew it at the recommendation of the judge, who seemed to think that there wasn’t much point litigating to force Julie to get other people to remove things they had said on their blogs because, well, free speech. Besides which, Julie is not responsible for what I write. I know she often reads, but it’s quite a stretch to think she directs any of these posts or that she could remove them. For the record, if she or anyone else asks me to remove them, I’m very likely not to. What I have written, I have written.
The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.
— Augustine of Hippo
Tony has repeatedly spun his own version of events publicly that don’t jive with the private version, which is more typically the one that rings true. He has lied publicly and stuck to the lie, enlisting others to repeat it for him to try and give it more credibility. He craves the limelight and seems to have an intense need to be seen as successful and as an intelligent leader of Emergent or whatever they call themselves this week. Even if this doesn’t seem obvious about Tony, these are the normal attributes of anyone with NPD, so by extension, they should be naturally expected of Tony — and his behaviour has been consistent with these expectations.
Because the NPD person has an innate need for these things, there is an inordinate craving for them that drives the individual to try and attain them at any cost – not entirely unlike a drug addict stealing to get their next fix, being willing to sink lower and lower in a spiral as long as they keep getting their fix. Because the NPD person does not consider how their actions impact others, they can pursue their goal at all costs, without ever weighing that cost to others. Someone said recently that using children as pawns in a battle with a spouse is child abuse, and I think this essentially true. It’s never right, and always devalues the child, making them into currency to be traded in the dispute, or mere tools with which to inflict pain and distress in the other.
Tony has done this with one of his children and seems to be setting up to do the same with the others, attempting to flip custody away from Julie. As it stands, he evidently has a fairly high-priced lawyer who specializes in flipping custody, and together with a refusal to use the recommended parental consulting agency to resolve matters, has instead made a quick and successful effort at depleting Julie’s resources to leave her in debt to a local law firm and unable to retain legal assistance to fight further. This is where Rachel Held Evans is completely naive in her assertion that such disputes should be left to legal channels and similar authorities. In this affair, Held-Evans is also acting hypocritically by continuing to support Tony Jones throughout the exposure of the events surrounding his divorce. Not hypocritical in the vague “and-you-call-yourself-a-christian” kind of way that most often seems to judge one person by the subjective standards of another, but hypocritical in the sense that after having made a name for herself in advocating for the abused, particularly women, and in calling out Mark Driscoll’s bullying behaviour, now when the bully is someone she’s close to and has been in league with while he abused is his ex-spouse, she’s not just silent, but has stood up for the offending party. Someone indicated to me that they have confidence that she has good reason for supporting Tony, or at least not not supporting Tony… but if that were true, her reason should be good enough to disclose publicly in view of the fact that she’s been called out now for her support of Jones. Evidently, it is not.
Recently things blew up in a post on Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Patheos blog when she posted a glowing endorsement of ToJo’s newest book. The comment thread was near the 900-comment mark when Nadia’s husband stepped in to say he was closing the comments. He preemptively apologized “in case” he deleted them all by accident, then proceeded to disconnect the Disqus comments from the blog post rather than just shutting them down, so it looked like wholesale comment deletion. The comments remain(ed) intact on the Disqus site, but the conversation mostly halted at that point. He then posted another apology for deleting the comments, but when it was revealed that the comment thread was still intact, he eventually posted a link to them.
Herein lies one of the major reasons I prefer to render commentary on this whole situation on my own blog rather than in comment threads, because this way I’m sure that they won’t magically disappear. It’s noteworthy here that Tony’s supporters seem to have much more difficulties keeping dissenting comments online than do Julie’s supporters. I imagine that has something to do with controlling the narrative. Just sayin’.
I have not read the entire comment thread, which was at many points vitriolic and attacked Julie in some very pointed attempts to discredit or otherwise disparage her character. Nevertheless, we learned some things we learned from this thread and a follow-on one at NakedPastor.
Is it Warm in Here?
When the heat is on, we learned that Nadia is not above having her husband step in on her behalf, apparently in similar fashion to Rachel Held Evans. These two women are leading the upcoming conference for women telling their own stories. Again, just sayin’. Nadia does not read any of the comments on her blog or Facebook or other social media – apparently at the request of her husband and her bishop. No word on what Patheos thinks of this, but I think it’s disingenuous to solicit discussion and then refuse to engage in it. If you want to have a comment section on your blog but intend to steer clear of it, you simply must disclose that fact… it’s both common courtesy and common sense. To not engage with your social media profile is even more duplicitous, since engagement is the very nature of social media. Maybe Nadia needs an antisocialmedia profile somewhere. She’s a busy person and is not obliged to engage, but if she plans not to, she should disclose it. As one commenter put it, what if an abused person tries to engage her this way seeking help? I might suggest she take the social media training that Jones and Pagitt were offering, but who knows, maybe that’s where she got these misguided ideas.
It was fine to vilify the victim in the early half of the comment thread, but when the mob turned to questioning Nadia’s actions in the later part, suddenly action had to be taken. One incident is not a pattern of course, but it certainly makes you wonder. It seems as though such vilification is fine, as long as it’s pointed in a certain direction.
The Mutual Endorsement Society
There is something called an “endorsement contract.” It’s unconfirmed whether the Emergent Industrial Complex is using these, but if so, it would explain how ToJo is getting the endorsements and support of people who have previously seemed reputable, like NBW & RHE as well as others like Brian McLaren, Sarah Cunningham, and Peter Rollins. HarperOne has denied they use such contracts, so it could simply be a mutual exchange of endorsements to help boost sales for both authors from the pool of the other’s followers. That would actually be more egregious though, as it means there’s a voluntarily-continued relationship for the exchange of endorsements and status. The motivation for those, in the context of this particular mutual admiration society, could only be ego-strokes and financial gain. In this vein, it was pointed out that Rachel Held Evans’ FTC Disclosure statement says you should “always assume that Rachel … Gets something beneficial for herself for anything she does on her blog or website”. So there you have it, according to Rachel’s legalese, there must be a quid pro quo.
Is This Astroturf I See Before Me?
The Disqus comment system makes it pretty easy to set up anonymous profiles and make them private so nobody knows you’re not who you say you are or where else you’ve commented to support Tony and try to paint Julie as a crazy person. A number of not-real people — or maybe just one person with multiple profiles — showed up to make nasty words about Julie as a smokescreen to deflect attention and try to control the narrative. This tactic is also called “astroturfing“, where you use fake accounts to try and make it look like there is grassroots support for some person or idea. Beware the astroturf… watch for multiple personalities posting essentially the same thing. Diversity may show the same kind of support for an idea, but the logic will vary, and will have primarily real people mixed in with a few anonymous ones.
Some Logic Really Isn’t.
Some people’s logic is FUBAR. They seem to think that if the victim has done something wrong, then it’s okay for the abuser to act as they did. It’s a little like asking the rape victim in an accusatory tone what they were wearing. Really this is just a smokescreen to deflect attention and try to control the narrative, but fundamentally this thinking needs to be exposed as anathema that it is. This is not a case of “courting the risk” or of people getting “what they deserve.” Knowingly supporting an NPD and continuing in relationship with them may come close to this as regards their eventual treatment by the NPD, but even then, I would say that it’s more likely a case of underestimating what an NPD is capable of. For this reason, I might wish to remain sympathetic toward Jones’ current supporters, but I and others have tried to put forward enough warnings already, to the point where many of those supporters have crossed the line into abhorrent behaviour of their own (McLaren and Pagitt come to mind here) where the reluctance to acknowledge documented behaviour can only be done for interests of their own which would boil down to primarily financial ones. These certain people also seem to think that if you can call into question the motives of the people (like me) who believe Julie and have been calling out Tony’s actions, then whatever Tony did is probably okay, because all you have to do to show that is speculate on and criticize our motives. And somehow it’s a good idea to list names and ask people to dig into all of our personal lives from a fake Disqus account. And again, this is just a smokescreen to deflect attention and try to control the narrative. I hope the absurdity of this thinking is readily apparent without further explanation.
Behold The Smoking Gun
Despite literally thousands of comments and posts in this larger discussion, the significance of the major point on the implications of ToJo having been diagnosed with NPD is still being missed. If anyone wants to see the smoking gun that should convince them that Tony is unfit for ministry, has lied pathologically, and does not deserve the endorsement of anyone who still cares about integrity, this is it. The only reason not to recognize this for the smoking gun that it is would be that you have chosen not to do so, and chosen deliberately. And that kind of says something pretty significant about the integrity of those involved here. Attempting to cover for and enable someone with NPD to continue to exhibit those classic behaviours should be unconscionable, and it definitely makes the supporter culpable. These behaviours are damaging and antithetical to christian pastoral care, so encouraging, endorsing, and enable them are also antithetical. And as noted elsewhere in this post, if these behaviours were absent, the diagnosis of NPD would not likely have been made in the first place.
He Said WHAT?
One anonymous pastor commented, telling the story of an encounter with ToJo at a conference. In their first meeting, after just one hour, Tony told this pastor that he wanted his wife murdered and that [redacted information concerning his children]. People may say things like this as idle chatter, but when it comes from a diagnosed NPD who is a gun-owning avid hunter, it should give you a moment’s pause apart from simply wondering what kind of person represents himself as a christian theologian, author, and speaker, then says those sorts of things to you within an hour of having met you for the first time. This one gets more interesting, as more details were posted on The Wartburg Watch this past week. The pastor in question has now come forward to provide a formal witness statement concerning her conversation with Tony Jones. It is well worth noting that the conversation took place a year ago, which was several months before the matter of the Jones/McMahon divorce and revelations about Jones’ actions came back into the spotlight in September 2014 through the Naked Pastor Thugology discussion. This is highly significant, because it means that Jones’ comments were not provoked by these public disclosures, but by what would have been status quo before they came to light. That is, while he was still falsely portraying Julie as crazy and mentally unstable, he made an unbidden expression of a desire that she be murdered, in fact escalating what had been the perceived characterization of his relationship with Julie. In other words, during a period of what might have been called “relative calm”, he made statements that were clearly over-the-top about extent of his disdain for his ex-wife, with comments that are clearly antithetical to any form of christian behaviour, let alone that of a leader or so-called theologian. I would outright question the theology of anyone who cannot find issue to be taken here. The comments about his children were similarly egregious but of a different nature, and although I have seen the unedited document, I am choosing to keep the same redactions. Although those comments would help prove a point about Tony’s actions and motivations, their disclosure could be detrimental to the children. That said, it is very possible that the substance of those comments are already known to them, since the typical NPD is likely to revisit similar themes in their program of verbal attacks in various contexts.
Oh, Those Loveable Narcissists
Now we have a new discussion dusting up, wherein Peter Rollins actually defends narcissism without naming Tony Jones. I had to check twice, but it’s true: narcissism is all good with Pete. It’s quite clear he’s talking about ToJo, but uses the term “narcissism” instead of “NPD”. Perhaps he should read my clarification above, though since he ought to know better, once can only surmise he’s using specific verbiage to try and downplay the diagnosis. In the comment section he claims to be educationally qualified to write about these matters, but that what he has written does not require such qualifications. This is well-observed, since a qualified psychological professional saying what he did would be quite irresponsible, and not merely incorrect. In the comments, Rollins distances himself from the Christian community and says his comments are not made in that context. (In the same comment he pretends not to have knowledge of Jones’ dual-marriage theology.) Since Rollins is normally presented as a Christian author and speaker, I imagine that people who buy his books or read his blog regularly might be curious to know when he’s speaking from a Christian theological perspective and when he’s just being psychobabbleogical, since it’s suddenly become unclear.
Rollins tries to make the argument that narcissism is just a natural defence mechanism and we shouldn’t shame people for it. Unfortunately, the Bible tends to suggest that narcissism and its related behaviours are bad and are qualities or behaviours that a Christian leader ought not to have. So the Bible disparages narcissism, which I suppose is fine if you’re trying to distance yourself from it and only talk about the (a)morality of narcissism in a psychoanalytic sense. Narcissism and its granddaddy NPD are complicated pathologies with a variety of associated behaviours, though the precise cause of NPD is not known. There is some validity to what Rollins says about the motivators of narcissism being psychological, as it can often stem (ironically perhaps) from a low self-image. The problem is that we’re not discussing this apart from the Christian context, as Tony represents himself as a Christian theologian, scholar, author, and leader. While NPD itself may be amoral in a vacuum, it should be noted that the majority of behaviors used to identify it are not… in the Bible, they are referred to variously as sin or bad character, and are used as examples of who should not be made a leader or elder. The opposite behaviors are generally appealed for as exemplifying good christian conduct, so the behaviour required of a leader is in no way consistent with that of a diagnosed NPD-sufferer.
In point of fact, my last post actually dealt with shaming, when Christianity Today tried to shame the shamers. This is what Rollins is doing as well, attempting to call shame on people who he says is shaming others. CT’s hands aren’t clean either, since before their shame-chat, they posted an article on Patrick Sookhdeok’s conviction (but one example). Maybe they’ve been listening to Rachel and follow the line that we should only follow the courts, despite any other well-known admonition to settle disputes among ourselves. This sort of story is just reporting, and reporting has no need to limit itself to reliance on the verdicts of the justice system. Personally, I maintain that to the extent that the truth is being told, if someone tells a story about what you’ve done and you feel shamed by it, there’s a good chance you’ve acted shamefully. Of course, the best defence against this is for you to behave better, but there are some people who by all evidence at hand genuinely need to be told that they are behaving shamefully. Diotrephes’ attitudes were fueled by narcissism (3 John 9-11), and evidently he needed to have this pointed out to him as well, and let it be a matter of public record. Clearly the Apostle John thought the matter serious enough to warrant this kind of attention. Publicly calling out the shameful acts of those calling themselves or acting in the role of christian leaders has some very strong precedent in the New Testament. Perhaps this is why Rollins suddenly felt the need to distance his comments from the christian context, but I couldn’t say for sure. What I can say is that when you put his comments into that context, they are clearly wrong, and enough so that I’m appalled by them.