Archive for February, 2015

Tony Jones, Julie McMahon and the truth

Having personally walked with and supported people that have been abused in various ways I find the whole story unsettling.  The closest thing to a summary I could find is here at  In short Tony Jones was a recognized major voice in the Emergent movement/conversation and he divorced his wife accusing her of mental instability.  His wife accused him of being abusive, and there are several public documents that verify at least some elements of her story.  Tony Jones and his supporters have accused Julie of making false accusations and claim evidence to back their claims.

Lots of people have weighed in on this issue that are much closer to it so I’m going to avoid trying to figure out that situation.

My experience with abusive situations gives me a grid to process situations like this.

In my all my experiences with abuse situations emotions always twist the perceptions and communication.  We are all skewed by our biases, both the abuser and the abused.  That however doesn’t mean there isn’t truth underneath it all.  For example there may be 5 indisputable events of abuse but the victim sees malicious intent in situations where there was none.  In desperation the victim might exaggerate the severity of the event in order to win people to his or her side.  They may engage in their own malicious behavior and act dishonestly.

There is a mix of truth and untruth in everyone single one of these situations.

If the victim is even the slightest bit unstable the abuser will use that to convince others that all of his or her claims are false.    It is a typical tactic.  When our friends tell us they are being attacked and have proof that at least some of it is unfair we have a tendency to defend our friends without even considering if any of the accusations are true.

When our friends are accused of being abusive we have a personal motivation not to believe the accusations.  We don’t even want to consider the possibility anything that would infer that we’ve been deceived as well.  We all have powerful internal motivations that guide our perceptions.  Jesus talks a lot about having ears to hear and how the light is the lamp of the body.  We often think that the great hinge in discipleship is using our will to act according to a certain behavior, but one step deeper than that is ensuring that we see things correctly, that our own selfish desires don’t cloud our judgment.

Abusive church leaders can be very, very convincing.  Self-professed victims can be just as convincing as well.  All lot of broken people are master manipulators.  They know how to appeal to our values, sensitivities and triggers.  They can convince even their closest friends.

When I hear a story like this I find it is important not to come to rash conclusions, to be diligent in understanding both sides, look at the evidence and consider the weight of each piece of evidence.

One confirmed fact in this is Tony Jones has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  I don’t know the details behind this, how much treatment has been sought, or how much therapy has been successful, but to get diagnosed with any type of personality disorder means there was significant dysfunction at the time of diagnosis.  People do get therapy and get better, and that might describe who Tony is today.  If anyone is so dysfunctional that a qualified professional would diagnose them them with a personality disorder they shouldn’t be in ministry leadership.

Why?  Because leaders are there to serve people, and if they have a serious dysfunction that inevitably results in more people being hurt, that defeats the purpose of leadership.  In Jesus’ story of the sheep and goats the difference between them was the sheep cared for people who could do nothing for them.  The goats did lots of things in Christ’s name but they didn’t care for the people who could do nothing for them.

Paul wrote the following to Timothy : “So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.”

(1Ti 3:2-7 NLT)

It is time we held our leaders to a higher standard.  If we don’t want to see the church’s dirty laundry aired to the world, than perhaps we should clean our laundry before it gets to that point.  We aren’t doing our friends and leaders any favours by ignoring serious character deficiencies.  If we are covering for a dysfunctional leader in hopes of preserving the reputation of the ministry then we have the wrong priorities.

I don’t know how to make sense of the situation between Tony and Julie, because I am not equipped to figure much out from where I am.  The better question for the rest of us is how can we avoid this stuff from happening in our own communities?  Do we have effective accountability mechanism?  If we had an abusive leader would we be able to figure that out and deal with it?  If people were spreading malicious lies about church leaders how would respond to it?

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