05 Social Media 2009-2010 – Exposure of the Personal Issues

On This Page:

  • Social Media, Julie McMahon, and Tony Jones ~ August 2009 through February 2010

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Social Media, Julie McMahon, and Tony Jones:

August 2009 through February 2010

INTRODUCTION. I have been blogging since 2003 – kind of a long time for someone my age (nearly 60). And have been involved in blogging about issues related to emerging and missional ministry since the mid-2000 decade. I remember the first bursts of online activity around comments by Julie McMahon Jones in the autumn of 2009. Emergent had been more on the periphery of my attention for some time, and thus, so had Julie. But as details started seeping through the connections of the Net, I was rather shocked at how the intensity and rapidity of interactions increased.

And since three or four of the central blogs involved in the “controversy and comment wars” were from friends of mine, I paid even closer attention. I watched as comments were redacted, or deleted, or deleted and restored, or comment sections closed. Obviously, there was far more going on here than I’d been aware of. So I learned what I could, to expand my framework of understanding about how this seemed to fit into my studies and research writing on spiritual abuse and toxic organizations – plus how this might all relate to the emerging ministry movement.

Very few people were standing with Julie or even just hearing her out in those days. And that was part of what triggered a justice response for me, given that’s part of my calling. I’d been doing writing and resourcing on various abuse survival and recovery issues for nearly 25 years by then. So, you’ll find a few comments of mine in the mix on a couple of the blogs cited here. And after this “social media Vesuvius” of late 2009 through early 2010 died down, I kept researching and reflecting on the issues it had raised. This entire research site is one result of that engagement with issues and people over five years ago.

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Overview

The divorce of Tony Jones from his then-wife Julie was finalized November 16, 2009. Before that, however, Julie started using social media to challenge the seeming hypocrisy and lack of conscience by him in particular and Emergent in general at his apparent infidelity.

Her early attempts to get her story out were met with public silence or deflection by Tony, and aggressive defense from his avid supporters. About a dozen blogs engaged in fast-paced threads where a few deleted Julie’s comments (whether posted with pseudonym or actual name), and a few others refused to delete or edit comments from her, her supporters, Tony, or his supporters.

It wasn’t always predictable who would edit/delete, or not. But it did eventually come out that additional behind-the-scenes pressure was put on at least some bloggers to convince them there was no infidelity involved in this divorce, to delete Julie’s comments, and/or to stay out of Tony’s private life (despite his being a public figure in the Emergent/Progressive Movement). If you read all the threads linked to here, you’ll find some whispers and some yells among those who had experienced such pressure. I will let those posts share their own specific stories in their own words.

Anyway, it seems like some of the bloggers involved in this “social media eruption” got drawn in, even if they hadn’t meant to be, simply for posting something about Emergent and then their blog becoming a battleground for the opposite factions. Others were responding intentionally to the situation at hand, taking to task Tony Jones and his supporters. Regardless of the reasons for involvement, the key blogs/bloggers involved were:

  • Josh Brown (iamjoshbrown).
  • Ken Cook (neothoughtsofken).
  • Phil Johnson (teampyro).
  • Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi).
  • Tony Jones (tonyjones – on beliefnet; and tonyj).
  • Bill Kinnon (kinnon.tv).
  • Reformata blog.
  • Remonstrans blog.
  • Ken Silva (apprising).
  • Matt Stone (mattstone).
  • Brother Maynard/Brent Toderash (subversiveinfluence).

Several additional blogs were posting about related isses at that same time, which may have been sparked in part by the dual controversies of theology (Tony’s views on “spiritual and legal marriage”) and life issues (the divorce situation of Tony and Julie). For instance:

  • Jamie Howison (stbenedictstable) posted about sexual misconduct and clergy.
  • Scot McKnight (jesuscreed) posted a series on marriage and divorce.

I strongly recommend reading the entire set of 35+ posts, with all comments that are still available, plus deleted ones restored here. Then consider questions like these:

  • What possible patterns do you see at work here, whether you consider them constructive and destructive?
  • What trigger issues, emotions, and other potential drivers of behavior do you as possibly being in play here, and which motivations by whom?
  • Once you have read the entire NakedPastor “theology or thugology” thread from September through December 2014, and The Wartburg Watch thread from January 2015, come back to these patterns and posts, and reflect on how the apparent silencing of Julie McMahon and lack of resolution to the story then in 2009-2010 may have led to the ways that things re-emerged in 2014 and 2015.
  • How do the personal, theological, and organizational issues of the Emergent Movement seem to you to intertwine in this series of posts? Or, in your interpretation, do bloggers and commenters not seem to interconnect them? Given what has unfolded since 2009-2010, what impact might such a difference in perspective make to the trajectory of Emergent?

Notes

The following chronological list of posts mostly represents a compilation I produced around the time they were posted. It includes some posts and dates that may not be so much directly about the situation between Tony Jones and Julie McMahon, but are helpful in providing the flow of historical context to those posts that were directly relevant. A number of posts overlap topics, covering personal, theological, and organizational issues related to the Emergent Movement.

Some posts are included in the chronology, although they were merely reblogs of other people’s posts. They are here for those who want to research patterns of digital dissemination of information.

Also, sometime in 2014, the Emergent Village website was set to bypass being captured by the WayBack Machine, and so those links are not available. I have left them intact anyway for historic reference purposes. It looks like the emergentvillage.com domain has recently been picked up by a “tiny house” business.

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Comments presumably from Julie McMahon, whether posted under a pseudonym or her own name, are indented when quoted below. Some of these were deleted from the blogs on which they were posted, but various sources have supplied copies and/or images of the text. In some cases, I had copied and pasted them into a file myself.

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2008

September 01, 2008. Publishers Weekly posts the article, Emergent and Beyond.

October 20, 2008. Emergent Village announces it will change its organizational form and drop Tony Jones’ National Coordinator position: A Letter from the Board to Friends of Emergent Village.

October 31, 2008. Ken Silva posts, EMERGING CHURCH: EMERGENT VILLAGE MAKES SIGNIFICANT CHANGES IN STRUCTURE.

November 1, 2008. After an 18-month period of consideration, Emergent Village Makes Significant Changes in Structure.

December 03, 2008. Dr. Peter Jones posts, 53: Homosexuality – The Evangelical Temptation, in which he tracks some of the history of Tony Jones on this issue.

December 26, 2008. Tony Jones posts Taking a Deep Breath, indicating he would be taking the following week off of blogging. January 4, 2009. An anonymous comment left on this post by “SoSad” says:

I know all about what is going on with you and how you’ve left your wife. You’ve cheated and lied and deceived for a long time now. I prayed for you last night. I prayed that you would leave the sin you’re choosing to return to your family. I prayed that God would forgive you for all of the hurt you are causing. You are wrong Tony. All that you are doing is wrong. You have really, really majorly screwed up, but you can be forgiven. I’m going to keep praying that you’ll seek that forgiveness.

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2009

June 5, 2009. So, You’re Disappointed with Emergent …

June 7, 2009. Tony Jones posts, Death of Emergent Round-Up, on belief.net.

June 9, 2009. Josh Brown posts, Beliefnet Has Sold Out (but not Tony Jones), Rick Bennett & Nick Fiedler Are Freedom Fighters, and Emergent Is Way Too Self-Serious For It’s Own Good. A comment was posted by a reader going by the pseudonym of “what the &%$#?!” on November 14, 2009:

My beef with Emergent is Tony’s flaunting of his adulterous affair. At the recent C21 gathering, Tony and his girlfriend were seen together, while Tony is legally married to Julie Jones. Pagitt condoned the whole affair and covered it up.

This comment was posted about one month after the Christianity21 event, and two days before the divorce between Tony and Julie Jones was finalized on November 16, 2009.

June 26, 2009. Tony Jones posts, I Guess I Needed More Time Off, on belief.net. It mentions JoPa contracts, and that Tony is editing the Didache book (which was released December 1, 2009). And also that “Life has been busy: I spent the entire last week with my kids — one of the greatest weeks of my life. … I’ll be back in full force on July 1, reporting from the Cornerstone Festival.”

August 20, 2009 – and comments in September and October 2009. On Ken Cook’s blog post about Tony Jones and Gay Marriage, Video Blog, posted on August 20, 2009, an anonymous commenter(s) posted three comments between September 11 and October 12, 2009, about Tony’s situation. In between, Ken asked for documentation. The comments:

Anonymous said… Please note that Tony Jones DOES NOT live with his wife Julie and 3 children. Due to his sin, he now lives alone and away from his once intact family, and they are divorcing. (Sep 11).

Anonymous said… why is the truth about Jones and his marital situation not public? The situation re: “his sin” has been happening for long enough (Sep 13). Ken Cook said… Anonymous – Can you support your accusations? I would love to see documentation of this. As to this point, I don’t know if what you are saying is true. (Sep 13).

Anonymous said… Tony Jones has a girlfriend, Emergent church staff photographer, Courtney Perry. Emergent National Coordinator, Tony and wife Julia are still married. That is adultery, but the Emergence brand of Christianity would consider it to be alright. Is anything a sin? (Oct 12).

Note that this last comment was posted the day after the 2009 Christianity21 event.

September 2009. Tony Jones took the month off from blogging.

October 2, 2009. Tony Jones posts, Coming Back, after a month-long blogging hiatus in September. Quote: “I’m trying to get a small business off the ground, struggling to complete my dissertation, and working to love and support my children and the others whom I love.”

November 13, 2009. Ken Silva posts, Tony Jones And Courtney Perry Et Al.

November 16, 2009. The divorce of Tony Jones from Julie McMahon is finalized on this day.

November 24, 2009. Tony Jones posts, On Fatherhood, about single parenting. The post features a picture of Tony and the Jones’ three children (without Julie).

December 28, 2009. Tony Jones posts, Single Parenting at the Holidays: Hellos and Goodbyes, on tonyj.net. The post shows the same photo used in the “On Fatherhood” post. In the opinion of source, Tony’s “single parent martyrdom” post around Christmas seems to run counter to what Julie wrote as a comment about his so-called commitment level a week later on his January 4, 2010, blog post on pastors and legal marriage. (See entry on the January 4, 2010, post below for the comment).

December 29, 2009. TallSkinnyKiwi posts, Emerging Church Movement (1989-2009?).

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2010

January 2010. Scot McKnight blogs a series on Marriage and Divorce. In the coming weeks, individual posts are widely linked to and referenced by others. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.

January 3, 2010. A photo of Courtney Perry and Tony Jones, apparently at a New Year’s Eve party, is posted.

January 4, 2010. Tony posts, A Call to Clergy: Stop Performing Legal Marriages, on tonyj.net. There are some comments from Courtney Perry (#27 and #28) on this post, and comment #38 posted by Julie Jones (on January 5, 2010, 12:31 am) was deleted. Julie’s comment:

A legal marriage does not assure one that their [sic] will be any more monogamy than any other relationship…as in our case, it did not. I agree the First Amendment is great and necessary, as I am exercising it here. I think the same pastor and Catholic priest who co-officiated our wedding should have had us gone through a rigorous reverse process to divorce, complete with the gathering of our family and friends in a holy place, and publicly denouncing our commitment…or in this case…your commitment.

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January 5, 2010. A Response to Tony Jones on TallSkinnyKiwi. Julie’s comment, under the pseudonym “Me,” was posted January 7, 2010, and removed later.

On December 27, 2008, I wept in an Emergent leaders living room having read the emails confirming the adulterous affair. The leader was furious and said, I asked them both about that so many times!”

Hours later, self preservation must have taken over and a webmaster was given orders to clean up a certain website and delete the bio page of a certain board member of a certain movement.

I am now divorced as of November 16, 2009.

My experience of this up close and personal movement is that it has in this corner become an extremely destructive cult-like environment.

My children live with me full time and have been through pure hell.

The spin of why this happened is diabolical and I can only say MY half of the court ordered $4000 psychological evaluation, clinical interview, and results of the MMPI testing do NOT have a serious mental illness diagnosis.

When I contacted the Emergent Discernment Team that discerned through a prayer meeting held in Dallas, Texas determining that they needed to fly an Emergent leader to convince me to check into a hospital immediately, not one of them was concerned with the facts…not one.

Thank God it’s over and heaven help these people. They deserve each other.

Posted by: Me | January 07, 2010 at 01:32 AM .

Meanwhile, one source noted: “Julie’s pain comes out in what she wrote on TSK’s post last night.” The comment below was posted by Julie Jones on January 06, 2010, at 12:24 am, and the text is taken from a screenshot.

Andrew,

I believe that was the said “spiritual wife” who left the comment and quote, “divorce is what needs to happen for people to heal, grow and truly love.” I would only add, “And to justify an otherwise adulterous affair.”

Maybe it was a different courtney.

That smell you may have smelled has a name…it is called “crazy, cult talk.”

Julie Jones

Posted by: Julie Jones | January 06, 2010 at 12:24 AM

The source later noted: “Andrew has removed Julie’s comment now, too. The victim has no forum to share her pain, apparently. I guess she will simply need to start her own blog.”

Note: This situation with Andrew Jones is particularly important. Andrew was a leader in one of the earliest work groups within the Young Leaders Network in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So, he was a peer in leadership with Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones of what soon became Emergent Village, and others. His reputation as a long-time missionary and mentor gave him status in most of the streams in the emerging ministry movement. So, for him to delete Julie McMahon’s comments was a really big deal.

Andrew and Julie have in recent times worked through that situation and are reconciled with one another. And Andrew may choose to share more about that sometime on his own timetable. But he has sought to restore her comment, which has been difficult technically, due to switching his blogging platform, plus archive problems. But it is noteworthy that both have also spoken of the overall situation several times. So, I feel it is important to place these references here so you can read for yourself some first-hand witness to behind-the-scenes issues that are relevant to the period of the 2009-2010 “conversations.”

June 24, 2014. Andrew Jones posted, Emergent Dust Storm. He critiques The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity by Gerardo Marti and Gladys Ganiel and their apparently uncritical repetition of an opinion expressed by author Phyllis Tickle about Andrew’s relationship with 2009 being the end of the Emergent ethos. This significant post also opened the way to speak of what remained unfinished from the foment of late 2009 and early 2010 in the situation of Tony Jones. The entire post is key to interpreting many issues and aspects of the decline of the Emergent Movement. But here is an excerpt of particular relevance to the topic of social media in 2009-2010:

Some of you may remember a rumor about an impending article for a big mag on the “Death of Emergent” and it had a lot of people asking questions and some people running scared. The writer of the phantom article was investigating the leadership ranks of Emergent over accusations of sexual immorality, cover-up, threats, misogyny, bullying and a purging of internet sites to delete evidence. None of us seemed to know if these accusations had any legs. I suggested the leadership tell us what was going on rather than having people find out second hand.

I had some harsh conversations with EV leaders, as reflected in some of my posts – which are awkward to read with all the deletions. In the end, I was assured that all the accusations were false and ungrounded. And it turned out that the big sensational article that was going to bring down Emergent Village was never published. But  during the heated discussions, I was “de-friended”, thus my “Goodbyes to Emergent” post.

[…] Looking back, I may have been too harsh and snarky towards Emergent Village and for that, I am sorry for any distress I may have caused it.

I may have been too secretive and mysterious about my disconnection with Emergent Village and for that, I am sorry for any miscommunication that may have happened.

And lastly, I may have been too hasty to dismiss and delete the comments of women who claimed to be victims, and for that, I am sorry I did not stand with you. Please forgive me. I hope my next blogging season will be more honest, vulnerable and transparent.

June 25, 2014. Julie McMahon responded on Andrews TallSkinnyKiwi blog with a lengthy comment. Due to technical problems with his new blogging platform, the comment did disappear (as apparently the comments did on other posts); but it was not purposely deleted. Andrew was able to restore the comment into the body of the post.

September 17, 2014. Julie McMahon notes in one of her comments on the NakedPastor thread that: “Off line I received a warm and heart felt apology a few weeks ago actually from Andrew Jones the Tall Skinny Kiwi…I thank him too. The real deal! // Truly healing and I feel God’s work is being done here, and now, and virtually …”

September 23, 2014. Andrew Jones responded in the same thread to Julie’s comment: “Julie, you were very gracious to forgive me a few months ago. As you know, I was told you were crazy, vindictive and lawsuit-happy. I believed it initially but as I observed your behaviour over the years I came to the conclusion that I had been misinformed and misled, along with many others like me, with tragic consequences. I am glad your story is finding a place to finally land and be heard. I have asked Tony for his story but am still waiting.”

September 24, 2014. Julie McMahon responds: “[…] Andrew Jones….you and your nomadic, global missional family have always had my utmost admiration. You are, and have always been the ‘real deal’ so thank you for hearing my story and receiving it as a follower of God. Thank you for being an advocate and for being authentic. […]” And in a later comment the same day, she says: “Andrew Jones-the Tall Skinny Kiwi […] Thank you for being the ‘real deal.’ You made me laugh when you said all those years ago, ‘You actually don’t seem as “bat shit” crazy as I was told.’ You and your nomadic, global missional family traveling the world with a truck…restore my faith.”

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January 6, 2010. Bill Kinnon posts, Here’s a Thought. He uses the “A” word of adultery. Julie Jones comments on January 6, 2010, at 11:40 pm, using her own name., Bill does not delete her comment. She says:

Bill,

Thank you.

For the love of God and truth and out of respect for the 10 commandments, I thank you.

Julie Jones

January 6, 2010. Well, 2010 is Unorthodox So Far, is posted on Brother Maynard’s blog. This is the post that had “dueling comments” between Bill Kinnon and Tony Jones, and it appears to me that Tony deflects attention away from the questions and issues at hand. (Sidenote: In my opinion, Tony Jones seems to exhibit similar patterns elsewhere when comment threads apparently become uncomfortable for him, as with the 2014 post on NakedPastor, where he participated briefly.)

January 7, 2010. TallSkinnyKiwi posts, Goodbyes to Emergent Village. Some of the commenters wonder how Tony Jones’ recent blogs relate, since he apparently is distancing himself from Emergent Village.

January 7, 2010. Emergent Pain and Discord in the Emerging Church by Ken Silva.

January 7, 2010. Edited repost of Ken Silva’s January 7 article on Emergent Pain and Discord in the Emerging Church by the Reformata site.

January 11, 2010. Jamie Howison posts, Thinking faithfully about sexual misconduct, relating these issues to Tiger Woods and to clergy. A link or reference to this post seemed to pop up regularly for a while, as best as I can recall.

January 11, 2010. Phil Johnson posts, Village Idiots, at Pyromaniacs. Quote:

The demise of Emergent Village is by no means the end of Emergent thinking. If you doubt that, read the comments under the “Tall Skinny Kiwi” posts linked above. And pay close attention to what Andrew himself says—and doesn’t say—about the reasons for his departure.

As a matter of fact, the comments at Andrew’s blog last week were both informative and troubling on several levels. It’s clear that the real catalyst hastening Emergent Village’s meltdown is something more than a few key leaders’ sudden doctrinal scruples. It seems a moral scandal of televangelist proportions is about to “emerge.” Serious accusations from credible sources have been floating around for months and popped up last week in a couple of comment-threads. (They were subsequently deleted by blog administrators.) I’m not going to describe those accusations here or host a discussion about the brewing scandal. (I’m fairly confident the facts will eventually come to light.) My point here is merely that we shouldn’t assume that the collapse of the Emergent/ing movement ends the threat of Emergent/ing ideology.

What it more likely means is that the fight for clarity, conviction, and the authority of Scripture is going to become more difficult than ever in the mainstream of the evangelical movement. Buckle up. This is probably not going to be an easy ride.

January 11, 2010. Scot McKnight starts a series on belief.net with Marriage and Divorce 1 and posts Marriage and Divorce 2 on January 13.

January 12, 2010. Ken Silva posts, Thrown Under the Emerging Church Bus.

January 12, 2010. Matt Stone posts, Andrew Jones says goodbye to Emergent Village on January 12, 2010. [In one conversation, a friend of mine noted that Matt Stone is across the dateline in Australia, and that he was putting together the digital details rather quickly, from something he posted January 11.] Quote from the post:

Not sure I’ve ever seen so many comment deletions in a single web conversation before. Excerpt from a comment by Matt later on: “… the Pyromaniacs lack grace alright. But they’re a useful source sometimes. And there does seem to be a scandal of sorts percolating under the surface, though I’m gathering it may not be as serious as they insinuate.”

January 15, 2010. Remonstrans posts, Emerging Sectarianism. It alludes to scandal:

Tony Jones vacated his position at EV and JoPaproductions made room for women—at least some women—to emerge. (And in that there is another irony that now threatens to come to light.)

February 09, 2010. Bill Kinnon posts, Brian [McLaren] Wants to Frame the Reviews: ‘If you disagree with me, you are probably a Fundie!’ This thread includes critiques of Emergent.

February 10, 2010. Bill Kinnon posts, Reviewers Reviewing McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Many comments by Bob Carlton and Mike Morrell challenging people on their views of McLaren and his book, and/or apparently continuing the challenges against anyone alluding to the “gossip” situation of Tony Jones. Note that Julie J responds to each of them, Mike Morrell on February 11, and Bob Carlton on February 12; apparently she had emailed each of them and had gotten no reply from either.

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