A Response to Tony Jones’s Statement

“It is not uncommon for church members to rally around alleged perpetrators within the church who claim innocence and are perceived by the congregation as the actual ‘victim.'”

~ Boz Tchividjian [source]

On January 27, 2015, Emerging Church leader Tony Jones released a statement responding to allegations of abuse against him by his former wife, Julie McMahon.

These allegations, which date back to 2008 when Jones served McMahon divorce papers, received a breath of new life in the last year in the comments section of David Hayward’s blog post about Jones and Mark Driscoll, “Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What came first, the thug or the theology?” They then came to the forefront of numerous people’s attentions when popular Christian leaders Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber announced their WX15 conference, originally produced by Tony Jones’s organization, the JoPa Group. Several concerned fans of Evans, for example, commented on  one of her blog posts about Evans and Bolz-Weber’s associating with Jones. “I saw your upcoming conference featuring women and got super excited,” said one individual, “until I saw that you’re partnering with Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt for the event. This is surprising to me because you’ve always been an advocate for the abused and for victims, but Tony Jones had been accused by his ex wife of some serious things, including throwing her against a wall and dislocating her shoulder from its socket.”

Survivors of abuse and survivor advocates alike took notice and began conversations about this on Twitter. The reaction from Christian leaders connected to Jones was defensive: Evans responded that she had conducted her own “diligent investigation of this situation,” and determined there was not a “good reason to believe Tony was an abuser,” but then later clarified under pressure that she had, in fact, “spoken with neither Tony nor Julie,” and her “diligent investigation” was “only review[ing] some relevant documents and emails.” Bolz-Weber claimed to be the victim, saying  she was being harassed by a “mob mentality” with “digital pitchforks” who were spreading “false allegations.” Matthew Paul Turner claimed those concerned about Evans and Bolz-Weber’s association with Jones were “bitching” (though he shortly thereafter apologized and retracted the wording).  Eventually, however, the JoPa Group decided to relinquish its involvement in the conference. That day was January 27, the same day Jones also released his 12-page self-defense against the allegations.

Being 12 pages long, the statement seems — at first glance — extraordinarily thorough and impressive. In it, Jones claims there is “documentable proof of Julie’s lies,” and that while he was holding back on that proof for years, “now the time has come for that documentable proof.” He never actually provides the proof, however. Rather, he makes reference to numerous court documents and records — but also never quotes from those documents and records. In other words, the statement is 12 pages of claims just as substantiated (or unsubstantiated) as Julie’s blog comments.

To the casual observer, it might seem like sure proof on Jones’s behalf against McMahon. And that is exactly how Jones’s friends and defenders have interpreted it — who are many and wield many followers. Rachel Held Evans, who has  previously went to bat for Jones against McMahon in the comments section of her blog, has been sharing Jones’s statement with individuals concerned about her defense of Jones, as evidenced in this Tweet from The Wartburg Watch’s Dee Parsons. David Sessions shared the statement and added, “Let this document be an example to online activists who treat unsubstantiated allegations of crimes as gospel truth.” Jeff Chu shared it, saying, “I don’t believe in litigation by hashtag. I love my friend @jonestony. I’m sorry he had to post this but glad he did.” Pastor Jay Bakker shared it. (You can see all of its shares on Twitter here.) And so on and so forth.

One observes the general impact of Jones’s statement being two-fold: (1) its lengthiness is impressive, implying truthfulness; and (2) people feel sorry that Jones “had” to release it, implying that Jones is the victim here.

There are many observations one can make about Jones’s statement. But I believe the two most important are as follows:

1. Jones’s statement is chockfull of half-truths and outright falsehoods.

I have spent hours upon hours, rolling into days now, finding and reading all the public records and court documents about the Jones/McMahon situation. There are a lot, as evidenced in Jones’s own statement. There are court-ordered psychological evaluations, custody battles, claims of domestic violence, etc. And after reviewing as many as I could find, this much is clear: Jones is not telling the whole truth. The public records and court documents indicate a damaged and broken marriage between Jones and McMahon, and Jones’s statement consistently underplays the real, documented damage he inflicted upon both his former wife and his children.

Whether intentionally or not, he misquotes many of the documents, making certain issues appear less significant than they actually are. He omits to mention various documents that would make him appear in a less-than-stellar light. And most importantly, he blatantly lies. For example, in his statement, Jones said the following:

Abuse was never mentioned in any divorce settlement, mediation, custody, or financial discussions. Tony and Julie have had nearly a dozen appearances in Family Court, and never once has Julie or her attorney alleged abuse in any form.

This is completely false, and there is a plethora of documentation that reveals it to be. The records include paragraph after paragraph about allegations of domestic abuse — from both Jones and McMahon. The records also indicate there are numerous parties that corroborate McMahon’s testimony of being assaulted by Jones.

None of this proves that Jones is necessarily an abuser, and it is not my place — nor should it be my place — to make such declarations. I also cannot disclose certain documents I have obtained because I feel that is not my role to play here. Most of these documents you can access yourself, and There are instructions here on how to access the register of actions here. (Further material will be made available on that site in the future.) What I simply want to communicate is that I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jones’s statement is not the entire story. It is, rather, half of the story as presented through a very particular, political lens.** Jones’s statement, when put in the context of the actual records, demonstrates his willingness to bend the truth and ignore the real damage he has inflicted on people, whether that damage was intentional or not.

2. Jones’s statement is a prime example of the dynamics of abuse.

Even if the court records put Jones in the clear (which they do not), the very fact that he released a 12-page statement that attempts to incinerate his former wife’s claims is evidence enough to me that he doesn’t understand the realities of abuse. In fact, it only makes me more willing to believe McMahon’s perception of Jones as manipulative and abusive.

Reflect back on what I said earlier about the release of his statement and keep the power differentials in mind. On the same day that he published it, who shared it and went to bat for him? Rachel Held Evans, with almost 60,000 Twitter followers. Jay Bakker, with over 16,000 followers. Jeff Chu, with over 6,000 followers. David Sessions, whose tweet was favorited by Zach Hoag (who previously “stood with SGM victims”), with 12,000 followers. Also keep in mind that Jones himself has over 14,000 followers as well as a nationally recognized blog and a respected speaking circuit as a pastor and progressive Christian thinker.

Now reflect on Julie McMahon. How many Twitter followers does she have? 167.

Where do McMahon’s statements receive a platform? In the comments sections of a few blogs. That’s it.

So on the one hand we have Tony Jones’s massive, 12-page-long statement that appears to destroy his former wife’s claims of abuse, being passed out among people with tens of thousands of followers; and on the other hand, we have Julie McMahon, who is struggling just to get her story heard. The power differentials here should be obvious. Even if Jones was 100% innocent, his decision to release such a statement — and in such a manner — is 100% not appropriate. This reaction does not fit the action of Julie sharing her story. In fact, it is so disproportionate that — in my mind — it indicates just how far Jones is willing to go to silence her accusations, which concerns me in itself. If you understand the dynamics of abuse, you should immediately see here that Jones is using his platform and power in relation to someone with far fewer resources in order to (1) control the narrative and (2) play the victim. These are two classic signs of an abusive relationship.

At the end of the day, I hope — especially for the children’s sake, but also for Julie and Tony’s sakes — that these issues can be resolved in a way that provides healing for everyone. But that healing cannot occur if those who wield the most power here — namely, Tony Jones and those defending him — so willingly enable him to continue to twist the facts and gaslight Julie to downplay the real damage and pain she and her children have experienced. Whether as Christians or as people who care about abuse in our own communities, we can and must do better. And we must be vocal in demanding better from our leaders.

** Update: I removed a reference to a psychological diagnosis as it was pointed out that such a reference could add to mental health stigma rather than further the points made here. I personally found the diagnosis helpful to understand where Jones is coming from, but as someone who knows full well the stigma mental illness has, I don’t want to miscommunicate.

Published by R.L. Stollar

R.L. Stollar is a child liberation theologian and an advocate for children and abuse survivors. The author of an upcoming book on child liberation theology, The Kingdom of Children, Ryan has an M.H.S. in Child Protection from Nova Southeastern University and an M.A. in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College.

43 thoughts on “A Response to Tony Jones’s Statement

  1. I have read quite a few real world documents on this myself. I considered the statement Tony Jones made in light of these documents. My response was hate. I make no bones about it. Tony is a liar.

    1. Organized Christianity in all its forms, as opposed to following Jesus (also loving the Blessed Mother, for balance), is just an excuse for misogyny and male dominance. The sooner women come out of the churches (and similar Abrahamic religious structures) permanently, the sooner the world might change for the better. Tony Jones is just another hypocrite and wanker. The Bible is just a book. The men in charge of religion are not anointed or special, only bullies who hide behind slick smiles. The cronies rallying around Tony Jones only prove the point. I’ve read the court documents and psych assessments online. Julie McMahon has no male privilege like Tony’s to sway misogynists (including the churchianity women with internalized misogyny) to her side. She nonetheless has the higher ground. Tony has nothing but his own bloated ego and phony faith. Forgiveness would be a sadistic joke when the ostensible Christians are Tony Jones and his sick ilk. Celebrity Christians like Tony Jones and the Duggar family are all cut from the same cloth of their own grandiosity. The sooner we leave them in the dust bin of history, the better.

  2. Thank-You for this! Thank-You for shining the light on Tony Jones. I just ache for Julie & her children. Dee Parson’s at TWW has a go fund me page set up for Julie. Those of us who believe Julie should put their money where their mouth is. Even if it is only one dollar, just to give her support, not that money is going to heal her wounds, but for her to know she has a crowd of people who care for her. I didn’t even know her name a week ago, so I am not some biased buddy of hers.

  3. Well said. Yes, the power differentials tell the real story. Again, I cannot thank David Haywood at nakedpastor enough for allowing that original thread where this all broke loose.

  4. It seems that everyone reading this situation from both sides is just guessing..taking the side that “feels” right to them? Ever been wrong about something you “felt” strongly. I just cannot do it..jump on the bandwagon and hold one up while crushing the reputation of the other. I cannot know…I have been abused…and I have been falsely accused. I am wondering…are any of you afraid that in bashing one in defense of the other..that you may be unwittingly sabotaging the truth and hurting someone who is innocent? Divorce is messy, and an ongoing custody battle is worse. I cannot believe that anyone is served by all of the online virtual attorneys, and character witnesses. These are real people going through real life hell and we are complicating it further. As far as trying to discredit the man’s ministry and the ministry of anyone affiliated with him? That makes no sense to me at all. And before you call me a troll…or any other stupid names…we are all expressing opinions here…and none are helpful..even though all are valid. Mine is, unless you have real life proof that should be exposed…stay out of it. “Love covers a multitude of sin”

    1. All knowledge is personal knowledge, so I agree I am expressing my opinion. But my opinion is based on reviewing a boatload of documents, so I feel comfortable with the opinions I stated here.

      1. Where are you quotes to support your opinion or your allegations on falsehood. So we have to take your word that you actually read and gone through all these documents. But none of your allegations have been backed up by links to those documents or direct quotes. You are base your thoughts on a previous bias and a one-side view. Honestly, none of this your business. You are someone with an opinion, but your opinion does not make something fact or true. Your opinion has the power to tear down or build up. You are making allegations without know specifics and true details.

    2. Tired platitudes, whether they include references to scripture or not, offered in the name of not stirring up uncomfortable claims are certainly not the answer here. Of course I am concerned over the possibility that I may harm an innocent person. Anyone with a conscience would have to be. Tony Jones may be a narcissist, but that fact doesn’t give us free rein to spread untruths about him.

      The documents don’t support his claims, however. What has happened in this case is that a man has suppressed his ex-wife’s claims regarding his abuse while he simultaneously worked quietly to destroy her reputation among his influential friends and colleagues for seven years. Finally, she managed to find someone willing to give her a platform to tell her side who then refused to bow to the pressure behind the scenes to take it all down. After months, this matter broke through the attempts to put it down, and Jones couldn’t hide from it anymore, which led to the statement under discussion.

      If it is your contention that a matter such I describe should not gain public attention, I honestly must question why. Knowing the extraordinary power differential at work here, I find it necessary to override my concerns about the possibility of harming Tony Jones since, considering the documents Julie has offered and the fact that Tony is clearly distorting and dissembling, it’s only remotely possible that he is being misrepresented.

      It’s far more likely that a skilled manipulater has cultivated a narrative for years among influential cohorts in anticipation that this day might come, and now his network has lept to his defense. At this point, Tony barely has to put forth any effort to crush Julie. His cronies are happy to do so for him, and their unsullied reputations and widely held admiration from their fans ensure that Julie’s uphill battle will now become all the steeper for it. I, for one, have no intention of standing by and allowing it to happen.

  5. My only qualm is the line “… it might seem like a total KO on Jones’s behalf against McMahon.” This seems like potentially triggering imagery for abuse victims.

  6. Excellent post. I really didn’t expect you to actually write a blog response to Tony’s statement when I tweeted at you that you should but man you nailed it my friend. Well done.

  7. Thanks for this and your earlier post on this fiasco.

    FWIW, I see no problem in discussing diagnosis since it has been brought it up by both parties. I agree that it is important for understanding the situation.

    Those inclined to demean/discount people w/mental illness can be tackled when they appear. And actually, this rather rotten inclination has already been exploited to discredit one of the parties and that is very important. As I see it, frank discussion is likely the healthiest approach.

  8. I would like to say personally that I am not a fan of Tony Jones or the Emergent Church movement. I am not defending him or implicating him. This is more about you and your court of rlstoller.wordpress blog. You are no different than a TMZ report or other media forums that start with a bias, a personal perspective and look for things that support your claims or bias. You really haven’t presented any substantial evidence to support your allegations except saying I read documents with no proof or quotes or references. I feel you want to go out of your way to bury Tony Jones based off your obvious issues with him. You looking to find any to hold him in contempt and convict him. This is wrong and unbiblical.

    1. I don’t have any issues with Tony Jones. I don’t read his blog or interact with him nor do I have any real bias for or against the Emerging Church movement. I also don’t have any issues with any of the other individuals mentioned here. (In fact, I have appreciated much of the work done by Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber and I’m really, really excited for the platform created by WX15.) I also don’t think one should read this post as if it was evidence in a court room. I specifically said in the post that’s not my role or place here. I am simply pointing out that I have actually reviewed the relevant documents and Tony’s statement plays fast and loose with the documented facts.

  9. As a Master’s student in Clinical Psych, I follow a podcast called New Books in Psychoanalysis. The latest one, from yesterday, talks about the Traumatic Narcissist. I’m not diagnosing anyone here, but I think listening to this can give good insights in to some of what appears to be going on here. TJ was given the DSM diagnosis of NPD, so this is worth a listen.


    1. Rob, Tony admitted he has that very serious AXIS II personality disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I have read every book out there, or so I thought…I will definitely check this out. Thank you.

      The fact that his associates are passing this off like the common cold is staggering! That diagnosis has the hallmark of “pathological lying” and being “devoid of empathy.” Let me repeat that, “devoid of empathy.”

      This list may help put it in context of how this diagnosis, along with the co-morbid traits that are shocking….should stop everyone in their tracks.

      I tried to get him psychiatric help. He sees just a “counselor.” That’s not going to cut it. the ironies of all ironies….when I learned from the first psych that he has NPD I said, “I will walk with you all the way through this.” And, I meant it. He used an NPD favorite gas lighting me that I was “bat shit” crazy and shunned and abandoned me when I was the sane one.

      Here are just a few NPDs that come to mind:

      Jim Jones
      Saddam Hussein
      Warren Beatty
      Ryan O’Neal
      Alec Baldwin
      Sharon Stone
      Elvis Presley,
      William Shatner
      Joan Crawford
      Pablo Picasso
      Ike Turner
      Lee Harvey Oswald
      Donald Trump
      Kayne West
      Charlie Chaplin
      Marlon Brando
      Eva Peron
      Simon Cowell

      Here is a portrait gallery of some of the more famous suspected narcissists:

      Adolph Hitler:
      Man with a spirit face appearingHe was self- centered, preoccupied with power, control, prestige, and grandiosity thinking.

      Joseph Stalin:
      Political opposition was eliminated during the Stalin era. Stalin was so preoccupied with having power, control, prestige and vanity that he jailed and sent to Gulags anyone who disagreed with him. He sent his henchmen to Mexico to kill Leon Trotsky, whom he felt was a threat.

      Joseph Mengele:
      This doctor was known as the ‘Angel of Death’ during WWII. He was known for his grandiose ideas, irrational thinking and especially his sadistic exploitation of people.

      Ted Bundy:
      This psychopathic serial killer had a number of characteristics of a narcissist like grandiosity and manipulation. He was also self-centered and enjoyed being in the public eye.

      Marilyn Manson:
      When confronted over the allegation that his music inspired Columbine Shootings, he simply denied any responsibility and stated that the killers needed more attention. Manson appeared self-centered, is exhibitionistic and enjoys being in the public eye.

      O.J. Simpson:
      Simpson lacks empathy and is often envious of others. He also believes that he is special and deserves merit.

      Paris Hilton:
      Paris lives in front of the camera-the world is her stage; she has been arrested for DUI, and seems to lack empathy.

      Madonna has claimed that she used “Cabbala fluid” to neutralize radiation at a Ukrainian lake. Her exhibitionism and larger-than-life ego is well known.

      1. The publicly disclosed (and even self-professed) clinically diagnosis is absolutely huge. It’s a game-changer. It’s like the people ignoring this revelation are either sadly ignorant of it’s pathology or willfully ignorant of it’s pathology… There’s no door number three.

        Bill Eddy’s book, Splitting is a good resource to start with … if any of those confused by all this want to learn more.

      2. Julie, I’m waaay late to this conversation. First, so sorry for all your pain and difficulties!

        I did read about all this a few months back and may have commented somewhere… can’t remember. But in case you do see this comment, belated as it is, I want to mention there may well have been little or anything you could have done to really impact Tony’s character or personality (if indeed “personality disorder” fits, which I’ll assume for now it does). I dealt with it mostly only peripherally during a 10-year professional counseling career, but studied the issue some… a “complex” that’s very difficult to change. I think that’s true even in the rare cases in which a person sees and admits to a serious problem and is willing to work on it. It sounds like that was not the case here.

  10. I was unaware of all of this, so thank you for the post. That said, my one complaint is that you did not quote the documents. Without doing so, and I mean this as helpful not bashng, why should I believe you? It is always a mistake to think one can make mention of something this explosive wihout actually going to evidence. Without evidence, and in these cases there is often scant evidence, the reader is left to pick by bias. Any evidence you have should be offered, in my meager opinion.

    1. I totally understand that concern. I cannot quote the documents at the moment because my source asked that they remain confidential for the time being, and that’s an agreement I need to respect. But, if you don’t know me and my advocacy work in general, I can understand why you or anyone else might not believe my word. I don’t really know how to alleviate that concern at the moment other than to say the only horse I have in this race is to see the church respond better to abuse allegations. I don’t write out of a vendetta against TJ or RHE or anyone else mentioned. In fact, I’m not at all invested in those communities. I simply am invested in advocacy for abuse survivors, and that’s why I got involved.

      1. I have absolutely no dog in this fight, I occasionally read Tony’s blog, but I’m not really on board with a lot of stuff he writes about and even his writing style doesn’t really impress me for the amount of attention he receives. That being said, it seems pretty easy to prove who is lying and who is not, all you have to do is post the police reports and/or the testimony of the child who witnessed the shoving incident. Seems like that would close the case. It’s not like the Internet can do anything worse to these people, just show us the goods!

      2. Hey Dean. As I said last week to Johannes, I cannot quote the documents at the moment because my source asked that they remain confidential for the time being, and that’s an agreement I need to respect. But, if you don’t know me and my advocacy work in general, I can understand why you or anyone else might not believe my word. I don’t really know how to alleviate that concern at the moment other than to say the only horse I have in this race is to see the church respond better to abuse allegations. I don’t write out of a vendetta against TJ or RHE or anyone else mentioned. In fact, I’m not at all invested in those communities. I simply am invested in advocacy for abuse survivors, and that’s why I got involved.

  11. I’m a psych nurse who used to be a minister, and I actually wish you hadn’t taken the info about NPD diagnosis down (assuming that it is substantiated…). A huge amount of church abuse is perpetrated by people with a narcissism diagnosis (or narcissistic characteristics), and personally learning about the disorder helped me get out of several toxic relationship cycles while I was working for the church. Decreasing stigma is important, but I really think that increasing knowledge about mental health issues is just as important. The Mayo Clinic has a decent rundown of what Narcissism means as a diagnosis: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/basics/definition/con-20025568

  12. There are many reasons for abuse to not be cited in initial divorce documents.
    In my case, my lawyer advised against it as it would make it more long and drawn out. Instead he tried to work to get my children and I the most freedom possible, including the freedom to move away from the area.
    After the divorce my ex publicly assaulted our son in a movie theater. the manager stopped him and called the police which led to another hearing to get protection for the children.
    There are SO many things that go into a wife finally deciding to leave an abusive marriage and not all of them are on paper.

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