Emergent Leader Tony Jones has a group of friends who fail to look beyond the benefits his celebrity status gives them
Have you been following the ongoing Tony Jones/Julie McMahon strife in social media lately? Tony Jones is part of the Emerging Church movement. R.L. Stollar did a great piece summing it up and here is a quick overview:
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.” A Response to Tony Jones’s Statement
Here is how Tony Jones responded publicly about his divorce:
Being a theologian has always felt like the right fit for me. I realize that my divorce impacts my credibility in some circles, but I am thankful for the communities that continue in relationship with me and continue to allow me to serve in the capacity I have felt called to since middle school. – Tony Jones
Interesting … he still feels called to ministry despite one of the most bitter, contentious, and ongoing divorce court battles I’ve seen (the battle still continues today), while evidently leaving his wife and children in dire financial situation. But it is the second part of this quote that I’d like to focus on:
… but I am thankful for the communities that continue in relationship with me and continue to allow me to serve in the capacity I have felt called to since middle school.
What communities? Who is allowing him to serve in the capacity he has felt called to since middle school? Who are these people who ignore domestic violence among their ranks in support of a friend?
There is a disturbing pattern that we have seen time and again, where the church creates a climate where leaders defend other leaders for no other reason except that they are their buddies, meanwhile the marginalized, the abused are left in the dust. Let me name a few stories SSB has covered:
It has happened in Calvary Chapel: Chuck Smith knew of the gross abuse problems going on with Pastor Bob Grenier and his church and sons. But the abuse was overlooked and Chuck Smith essentially said his hands were tied. It’s messy to call out one of “your own,” isn’t it?
It has happened in my case. After Chuck O’Neal’s lawsuit against me and four others was dismissed, he tried to recreate his image and has done so by buying a relationship. Chuck O’Neal’s church supports Tony Miano monthly for his full-time street preacher “ministry” and also endorsed Tony Miano’s book. They speak at conferences together. Do you think that Tony Miano would ever speak out against Chuck O’Neal and his bad behavior for suing? Nope, nada. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
In the Sovereign Grace Ministries/CJ Mahaney situation, we saw how pastors covered up for each other and kept known sex abuse cases amongst themselves instead of reporting to authorities. The pastors continually denied knowing about these sexual abuse cases, yet once in court, one pastor finally admitted under oath that he did in fact know of the sex abuse coverup.
This lawsuit was dismissed only because of the Statute of Limitations, but the appalling pattern which we are observing is leaders in high places who deliberately turned a blind eye to known abuses. In C.J. Mahaney’s case, his friends in high places (at The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel), even wrote public statements in support of C.J. Mahaney. Not one of those men who issued those statements has publicly recanted them (although one of the statements has been removed).
But this is how I see it working with C.J. supporters: “We love C.J. Mahaney and what he stands for. He’s got all the right doctrine. He believes in complementarianism just like we do. He’s Reformed, he’s got charisma, he draws a crowd, and a crowd follows him at conferences and buys his books. He has endorsed the books that I wrote, so that means more people buy my books, so let’s not let a little church squabble interfere with OUR relationship. I’ll just let C.J. Mahaney handle his church because it really doesn’t affect me.”
We are now watching the same pattern unfold with Tony Jones and his circle of friends who have come to his defense.
They have done this publicly via statements of support, they also support him by endorsing his books, inviting him to speak, etc. Additionally, some of these defenders shut down anyone who challenges their endorsement of their good buddy, Tony Jones. They shut down the conversation by removing comments, unfollowing on Twitter, etc.
In fact it was seeing this kind of behavior by a notable friend of Tony Jones which prompted a recent tweet of mine:
They have even attempted to shut down conversation by threatening lawsuits against bloggers who speak out or allow conversations on their blog. Yes, David Hayward was threatened when he allowed Julie McMahon and others a place to share their personal story on his blog post. Her voice was previously silenced in Emergent circles and she was referred to as “bat-shit crazy.” (That exact and very memorable phrase was heard by people who had never even met Julie, but were warned to stay away from her.)
I stumbled across a great video which describes the pattern of what is going on with Tony Jones and his friends. Some call this kind of network diagram a mind map, others call it a spider web. Whatever the term, “Emergent Parody” uses it to show how Tony Jones and some other people involved with Emergent events and books are all tied together. This video is only 4 minutes long, but as you see the web of connections between these folks, we have to ask ourselves, “who is benefiting from these business-like connections?”
Brad Sargent has been following and writing the ongoing developments in the Tony Jones situation, especially as it relates to abuse systems. This is from his article, 10 Institutional: Christian Industrial Complex:
If/when money becomes a major issue to the insider elites, the oligarchy typically becomes a plutarchy (i.e., plutocracy, rule by the rich). This is where the individual celebrities link up with complementary financial partners: event sponsors and promoters, publishers, speakers bureaus, social media platforms, certifying agencies, etc. Where grassroots movements might be far more sustainable, the consumer networks require constant streams of new products to keep the income maintainable – and sometimes the reduction in the size of the celebrity group at the top of the publicity pyramid.
When the demand side of consumers marries with the supply side of elites-and-partners, this once-creative counterculture is on the way to a closed system. Only those individuals who have the required platform, message, social media following, connections with others in the directory are allowed to be designated as elite insiders, and – for “the greater good” – there is now a gridlock against outside voices that critique. Inside critiquers are likewise not very welcome, and so various enforcers of the system find ways to silence, deflect, or remove them.