11E Social Media Upheaval 2015 – Shining Lights onto the Emergent Movement

On This Page:

  • Introduction: What Makes the Social Media Interactions in 2015 Different?

NOTES: This page originally included what is now on page 11F Social Media 2015 – Select Sources, Chronological Listing. That material was becoming too long, so it was split into two pages.

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Introduction: What Makes the Social Media

Interactions on Emergent in 2015 Different?


In 2009-2010, the social media eruption about Emergent and Tony Jones was carried out mostly on just five blogs that either posted multiple original articles and/or engaged in comment threads dealing with the “death of Emergent” and/or Tony Jones’ theological perspectives that brought up his personal issues. Some of these blogs had comments from Julie McMahon, and a relatively small number of people were commenting at all, and probably less than a dozen were posting multiple comments. (If you are interested in specific numbers, read all linked articles and their comments on page 05 Social Media 2009-2010.)

  • Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi).
  • Tony Jones (tonyjones – on beliefnet; and tonyj).
  • Bill Kinnon (kinnon.tv).
  • Ken Silva (apprising).
  • Brother Maynard/Brent Toderash (subversiveinfluence).

The rest only posted once (even if the comment threads had something from Julie McMahon), or they reblogged articles written by other people.

  • Josh Brown (iamjoshbrown).
  • Ken Cook (neothoughtsofken).
  • Phil Johnson (teampyro).
  • Reformata blog.
  • Remonstrans blog.
  • Matt Stone (mattstone).

In 2014, the eruption was carried out almost entirely on one single blog, and involved Julie McMahon sharing her story of alleged abuse of spiritual power and gaslighting, as well as her asking for apologies from key people involved. In the 1,082 comments, Julie McMahon posted 181 of them. Most of the people who were multi-time commenters on both sides of the divide in the 2009-2010 debate showed up again this time, along with dozens on people new to the controversy and perhaps a dozen or so people from way back in Emergent’s history who commented now for the first time publicly about the Tony Jones/Julie McMahon situation. (If you are interested in specific numbers, read the comments on page 09 Social Media 2014 and analyze the commenters for their views and longevity in the Emergent/Progressive Movement and/or knowing Tony Jones and/or Julie McMahon.)

Besides Julie McMahon sharing her story, people raised a large range of issues related to spiritual abuse and victimization in general, to this situation in specific, to whether and why this venue was a good/bad place to carry out these disclosures and discussions.

  • David Hayward (nakedpastor).

In 2015, the eruption over the Emergent/Progressive Movement and Tony Jones seemed to involved the spectrum of social media as a system, using representative of many different media formats. Twitter parody accounts and hashtags were used to track events, themes, discussions, deletions, blockings, unfollowings/unfriendings, etc. These other media tools supplied more of a daily journal and archive index than did blogs.

This time around, about a dozen bloggers – some of them the same ones who had blogged and/or commented in 2009-2010 and 2014 – posted series rather than just one-off articles. Some did this on blogs; others on Storify, Tumblr, and Twitter. A few other differences were in store. In the first three months of 2015, probably as many as 40-50 bloggers posted one-off articles with their views, concerns, questions on the situation. Surprisingly, a few of these series and posts generated hundreds of comments – several posts even over 1,000 comments each.

Perhaps the discussion had so much more traction because far more Emergent/Progressive insiders and sympathizers were involved in the push-back and react-pushback-on-the-pushback. A number of issues of integrity had come up periodically over the years of Emergent Village and thereafter. Perhaps people had hit the limit of their tolerance for these unresolved issues or unanswered questions.

  • Where are the women and people of color in Emergent? Or is it really just a white men’s club?
  • Is there a genuine and “generous” alliance with LGBTQIA, or are they just being used to give good press to a straight white men’s club?
  • Is there really an academic base to Tony Jones’ developing provocative theological points, given his apparent inability to sustain civil dialogue about it, or have they actually been driven by his personal issues and motives?
  • What does the overwhelming level of deflection and defensiveness when he is faced with criticism show?

Also, consider the arc of radicalization of spiritual abuse survivor communities. It seems they may have passed the threshold of holding back. The are no longer “respecters of persons” and so persona, reputation, and credentials that are impressive to consumer Christian culture has little influence over them; people of supposed stature and authority were the very ones who wielded their power without conscience to victimize them. So, by my intuitive count, there have been at least 10 to 20 regular commenters on multiple blogs who are survivors of spiritual abuse with substantial expertise in discerning and discussing relevant issues. (Precise counts and analysis will have to wait a while.)

Clearly, this was not the same playing field as in the previous two eruptions of Emergent-related issues. The number of posts from all social media sources is likely at least in the hundreds, to thousands if we count all posts, tweets, comments, and pingbacks. The number of participants across the theological spectrum is far beyond what some could imagine. And the shock and awe of intense push-back on issues of duplicity has been a revelation. The issues at hand will likely continue to be illuminated under Kingdom klieg-lights, and advocates for those abused will not allow them to be silenced or slink back into the darkness.

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January of 2015 brought with it an intense push-back against what some have called the Emergent Empire or the Emergent Industrial Complex. Blog posts, Facebook, Twitter – all seemed ablaze with inflamed people who were unhappy with certain situations and with each other.

This situation has gained far more traction in spiritual abuse survivor communities, and is not likely to go off the radar for as long as antics by certain Emergent/Progressive individuals continue. For instance, The Wartburg Watch (TWW) posted two articles about Emergent celebrities and issues which, together, drew over 1,250 comments in the first 5 days. What Tony Jones Should Learn From Stanley Hauerwas About Marriage (January 19, 2015) was TWW’s first ever post to hit over 1,000 comments. To date, they’ve had 11 posts total (as of March 20, 2015) on Emergent/Progressive Movement and Tony Jones and Julie McMahon, with just over 5,000 comments total.

Meanwhile, parody/fake Twitter profiles popped up for Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and The JoPa Group. They were joined by the Emergent Parody YouTube channel in creating a satirized parallel world of Emergent.

There have been screen shots galore and PDFs. And Storifies and Scribds. And tumblr compilations like Emergent Nightmares. And block outs and comments off and deletes in. And Follow–>Direct Message–>Unfollow so people couldn’t respond to non-engagement comments. And major edits of comments without notice.

And what next? And why? And why now?

The rather swift development and sometimes rancorous nature of the debate has come as quite a shock to many. Some people seem to think this just looks like a rehash of allegations or gossip from 2009-2010, or challenges to alleged accomplices to apologize from late 2014 – all related to that messy divorce case of Tony Jones and Julie McMahon. I don’t. I see something far larger at work than simply “private details of a contentious divorce.” While a small portion of the two prior major “eruptions” of Emergent issues called out some other individuals than just Tony Jones, it was mostly just that – individuals. This time, the social media blitz-klieg seems to be shining its light on the surrounding personal relationships and entity partnerships that create some kind of Emergent Empire and keep the institution afloat: speakers and publishers, next generation leaders and first-generation mentors, others with vested or vestment interests that may prove to be conflicts of interest.

Also, the push-back seems to involve far more people who are progressive theology insiders, and the triggering instances appear to be about hypocrisy versus integrity within the Emergent/Progressive stream. And, oddly, the main push-back seems to have gone just two months, from the mid-January announcement of the forthcoming WX15 event, due to be produced by The JoPa Group, til about early March. Could it be that the social tolerance level for the Emergent/Progressive Movement has hit a tipping point? Maybe things have just gone into temporary radio silence, or maybe critics have simply tired of the mess and are letting the main Emergent cast of characters in this public drama further isolate themselves? That’s something to keep observing and considering …

At any rate, this more intense environment of scrutiny is why I have suggested that if the larger organizational and institutional issues are not resolved this time around, this Emergent network of interconnections may unavoidably implode. If issues are brought into the light, what had been on its way to a deeply institutionalized Emergent Industrial Complex may still implode, but it might end up dismantled and at least some parts salvaged. That may be out of the hands of the presumed leaders, since in a consumer culture that supports such a production Complex, the power for survivability rests on the consumers. But what would it take to see something survive this internally-induced onslaught and be salvaged for whatever is next?

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Cartoons by David Hayward / nakedpastor

All of the following are cartoons by David Hayward, usually posted with relatively short related articles on his nakedpastor blog. I have selected this series of cartoons for their relevance to the issues of spiritual abuse, and kept them in chronological order here to show his development of material from when the first post on Tony Jones went up on September 5, 2014 (and led to a record 1,082 comments in about three months!) to the present. I have also merged the same list into the chronological list of social media postings for 2015. This could make a good case study into the in-depth use of one form of media for “digital dissent.”

September 5, 2014. Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What came first, the thug or the theology?

September 12, 2014. what you can expect when you speak up against spiritual abuse.

September 30, 2014. 10 Questions Churches Can Ask Themselves About Spiritual Abuse.

October 3, 2014. 10 Suggestions on How to a Create Safe Space.

October 14, 2014. 8 Clues You Are in a Controlling Church.

November 9, 2014. Tony Jones, the Church, and the Empire strikes back!

December 31, 2014. Are you a victim of a more subtle abuse?

January 4, 2015. controlling people HATE being told they’re controlling.

January 10, 2015. infographic on the cycle of abuse against women and how to break it.

January 16, 2015. spiritual abuse and can theology hurt people?

January 18, 2015. the obscene practice of sucking up to authority.

January 19, 2015. Abuse and the Privileges of Power.

January 20, 2015. believe the abused when they talk about their experiences.

January 21, 2015. leaders and the inordinate adoration they may require.

January 24, 2015. what a woman hears when she shares her experience of harassment, abuse or assault.

January 26, 2015. Emergent and wolves in sheep’s clothing.

January 30, 2015. your wounds are yours and yours alone.

January 31, 2015. sharing your experiences in the face of threats.

February 2, 2015. Actually, it’s cool for leaders to be tyrants!

February 4, 2015. Why do our leaders want us to be silent?

February 5, 2015. Tony Jones and there are two marriages.

February 8, 2015. telling your story: an invitation to intimidation.

February 13, 2015. Tony Jones’ Story and Julie’s: are victims still guilty until proven innocent?

February 15, 2015. Where do people go when the whistle blows?

February 19, 2015. 11 reasons why we allow abusive leaders to continue.

February 22, 2015. Tony Jones’ and company’s continued attempts to silence people and control the narrative.

February 23, 2015. It’s not abusive to call a bully a bully!

March 1, 2015. 7 reasons why it’s so scary to challenge Christian leaders.

March 4, 2015. this seems to be the popular strategy for surviving accusations of abuse.

March 6, 2015. the number one reason why the church doesn’t care for its own victims.

March 9, 2015. Bullies and Blindness: an analysis of the interview between Justin Blaney and Justin Dean.

March 12, 2015. Tony Jones and Julie McMahon: secrecy and silence.

March 13, 2015. tips on how to silence a dog (or a person).

March 15, 2015. why abusers police how the abused file complaints.

March 18, 2015. spiritual abuse spreads with our disbelief in it. Quote: “I used to think that when I cartooned or wrote about spiritual abuse that I was touching a nerve. Now I think it is the nerve. The problem at the core of our communities is not theology, it is power.”

March 29, 2015. 10 observations from my personal experiences with narcissists.

April 2, 2015. silence doesn’t make abuse go away.

April 7, 2015. the cross or the crown: Gary Webb and the silencing of your story.

April 8, 2015. Is this about Tony Jones vs Julie McMahon or about the abuse of power?

April 10, 2015. Does our need for heroes hurt us? Includes some discussion of the abuses of theological pacifist John Howard Yoder and official apologies made by his denomination decades later for Yoder’s sexual assaults on women. A connection between Yoder and Tony Jones has come up in a post by Sarah Moon.

April 12, 2015. 10 silent rules and expectations that finally get you in the end!

April 14, 2015. a list of how abused people feel and why abusers count on it.

April 15, 2015. Christian publishing and the perils of peer reviews.

April 24, 2015. Julie McMahon, Tony Jones, and Submergent: My Update.

April 27, 2015. Julie McMahon: this is my story, this is my song.

Emergent Nightmares / Bad Emergent

The person or people (I’m assuming plural and so will refer to “they”) behind Bad Emergent and Emergent Nightmares seem to know how to use the range of social media for “digital dissent” and social activism. Perhaps better than any other individual or virtual entity tracking the unfolding Emergent/Progressive Movement meltdown, they have captured and curated key buckets of data from the gushing flow of facts and fictions, questions and opinions, concern trolls and cautionary voices – as they were happening.

Emergent Nightmares provides probably the most comprehensive source in this situation for conducting research into a case study on use of a range of social media to expose allegations of abuse and archive crowd-sourced information. The social media timelines later on this page include many of the compilations they created.

They put together or provide a hub for the following media.

An Emergent Nightmares Facebook page as a place to share links from inside and outside of Facebook.

An Emergent Nightmares Storify “social stories” account with 10 pages of primary source material from such issues as the WX15 conference, the #IBelieveJulie Twitter campaign, possible mediation solutions, the “spiritual wife” timeline, evidence against Tony Jones, and the evolution of Rachel Held Evan’s responses.

Storify posts #1 through #8, are dated approximately mid-January 2015. Posts #9 and #10, approximately mid-February 2015. (Storify posting dates are an imprecise “a month ago” or “two months ago.”) Sometimes a more accurate date can be derived from contents on the page, sometimes not.

  1. #WX15: Courageous Storytelling about Corrupt Emergent Leadership
  2. Updated: #IBelieveJulie: Julie McMahon on Tony Jones: Abuse, Threats, and Cover-Ups
  3. Abuse Stories Open Thread #IBelieveJulie #EmergentNarcissit
  4. #IBelieveJulie: Julie McMahon Encouragement Fund
  5. #IBelieveJulie: What a Woman Hears when she Shares her Experience of Harassment, Abuse, or Assault
  6. @nakedpastor on #IBelieveJulie – sharing your experiences in the face of threats
  7. Julie, Brian, Rachel: One Possible Solution to the Tony Jones/Julie McMahon Situation
  8. Tony Jones and his Spiritual Wife – A Timeline
  9. Updt 3: #IBelieveJulie: The Evolution of Rachel Held Evans’ Response
  10. #WhyTony: The Evidence Against Tony Jones

An Emergent Nightmares Tumblr account with scores (if not hundreds) of entries with links to pages of primary source material, and often including key quotes from the linked pages. Topics covered range from abuse allegations in this situation, general resources for surviving spiritual abuse, relevant timelines, background posts by/about key figures in the Emergent/Progressive Movement, apparently self-appointed proxies who seek to protect Emergent and Tony Jones.

An Emergent Nightmares Twitter account (@BadEmergent).

Four parody Twitters accounts for key figures in the controversy: Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, The JoPa Group, and Rachel Held Evans. For background on parody accounts, see Twitter Help Center pages on: Parody, commentary, and fan account policy, and The Twitter Rules (which deal with content boundaries and abuse, as well as account suspension).

Tony Parody Jones [suspended]. 100% Parody. @jones_parody Legal ex-husband of Julie McMahon, and legal father of her 3 children. Now married to my spiritual wife. 100% First Amendment Protected! In My Own Reality. Emergent-Nightmares.tumblr.com. [Started January 16, 2015.]

Doug Parody Pagitt. @pagitt_parody. 100% Parody. Co-conspirator with @jones_parody in the @joparody_group. I am the puppet-master. 100% First Amendment Protected! Master of Tony Jones’ Reality. Emergent-Nightmares.tumblr.com. [Started January 16, 2015.]

The JoParody Group. @joparody_group. 100% Parody. We profit from the latest trends in Christian money-making. Headed by @jones_parody. @pagitt_parody helps, too. 100% First Amendment Protected! We Enforce Tony Jones’ Reality. Emergent-Nightmares.tumblr.com. [Started January 16, 2015.]

Fake RachelHeldEvans. @RHE_parody. 100% Parody. Sucked in to @jones_parody‘s Reality. @pagitt_parody applies pressure, too! 100% First Amendment Protected! Emergent-Nightmares.tumblr.com. [Started January 21, 2015.]

An Emergent Nightmares Vimeo account which, as of March 22, 2015, includes only one video but also links to all of their other social media accounts.

Stuff Christian Culture Likes (SCCL)

Stuff Christian Culture Likes on Facebook has a relatively large following – almost 10,000 people. They have consistently posted in 2015 on issues related to the Emergent/Progressive Movement, and to main people currently involved: Tony Jones, Julie McMahon, Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber, etc.

Their post format is set up to allow replies to specific comments, and their posts on Emergent typically bring in a number of main comments, sometimes with dozens of replies to particular comments. Also, SCCL does not edit material to create a revisionist record or (at least to my knowledge) remove comments unless there is a legal or safety reason for doing so. So, SCCL has become a main source for archiving crowd-sourced information, opinion, challenges, etc. Trigger Warning: Some SCCL commenters use language that may come across as blunt, vulgar, sarcastic, etc. Be aware of this if this kind of language is a trigger issue for you.

Twitter Hashtag Campaigns

#C21PHX. (Starts with Tweet from The JoPa Group on July 10, 2014.)

#EmergentNarcissist. (Starts with Tweet from FakeRachelHeldEvans on January 22, 2015.)

#IBelieveJulie. (Starts with Tweet from Julia Doughty on January 18, 2015.)

#nodigitalpitchforks. (Starts with Tweet from Merry Faith on January 18, 2015). A link on this Tweet leads to an Imgur site entitled WX15 shaninigans, which contains screencaptures of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s January 16, 2015, responses on Facebook to abuse allegations against Tony Jones. (She later deleted these posts and comments.) The Imgur site also contains screencaptures of interchanges between Matthew Paul Turner and Justin Hanvey.

#WhyTony. (Used for other campaigns. New topic starts with Tweet from Chris Booth on January 14, 2015.)

#WX15. (Used for other campaigns. New topic starts with Tweet from Tony Jones on January 12, 2015.)

The following hashtags were used occasionally in Tweets, but for various campaigns and are too generic to be helpful other than indicators of key themes that came to mind to those who tweeted: #C21. #CoverUp. #DamageControl. #TwistMyArm.

TruthAboutTony (Storify) and WhyTony (Twitter, Scribd)

Supporters of Tony Jones/Emergent also got involved in some group archiving of social stories related to their cause célèbre. In addition to individuals posting and commenting on blogs and Facebook, there were several compilation sites for sources from Twitter, blogs, PDF statements, and emails. Three media sources – Twitter, Scribd, and Storify – were used by the individual or group posting as WhyTony. (It is unknown who or how many initiated these sites, although the notes on Scribd and Storify explaining why their postings uses the plural, “We have come to understand …”)

WhyTony (Twitter account, with tweets from January 27-31, 2015). Described as: “The latest Tweets from WhyTony (@WhyTonyJones). A Twitter profile designed to peacefully share more information related to the #WhyTony hashtag. Email your positive/hopeful messages to lovefortony@gmail.com.”

WhyTony (Scribd account, with PDF statements posted January 27-31, 2015, and removed February 12, 2015 – see the site for the notice explaining the removal.). The original postings included this tag: “Statement offered in response to the questions raised by the #WhyTony hashtag.”

TruthAboutTony (Storify account). Described as: “A collection of messages designed to peacefully share more information related to the #WhyTony hashtag. Please email any positive/hopeful messages to lovefortony@gmail.com.”

Emergent Parody and Satire Pieces

Duplicity often brings up ironies, and humor is one way some have found to deal with such foolishness. The Emergent/Progressive Movement meltdown has generated a generous amount of relatively dark humor, mostly in the form of parody and satire. The posting of stand-alone humor pieces represents a distinctive difference from earlier social media eruptions on Emergent in 2009-2010, and 2014. (Although, David Hayward’s cartoons on spiritual abuse topics since the epic nakedpastor “thugology or theology” thread in 2014 frequently embody dark humor.)

TRIGGER WARNING: While cathartic for some, satire and parody and sarcasm often act as triggers to abuse flashback, anxiety, or other emotions for others. Be warned that these entries here and in the later timelines on this page may be disturbing.

Emergent Parody (YouTube account).

Jeff Breakfast, Public Figure (Facebook account).

  • February 19, 2015. “Silence Watch 2015” poster, featuring The Reverend Breakfast with seven Emergent/Progressive celebrities: Doug Pagitt, Rachel Held Evans, Peter Rollins, Sarah Cunningham, Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren, and Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Other Emergent Parody and Satire Sources

  • November 25, 2008. emergent village hitler (YouTube). “Hitler gets some bad news.” (This video apparently has gotten linked to on multiple occasions over the years, when new situations have arisen involving Emergent.)
  • Date Unknown. There are 700 Marriages, by King Solomon (parody on the eBook, There are Two Marriages, by Tony Jones).
  • February 2015 (early to mid-February – date approximate, but likely around the February 10 deadline for applications to the Christian Spirituality cohort at Fuller Seminary, to be led by Tony Jones). The Bellicose Brothers Christian Commentary posts, Bellicose Brothers Video – Episode 001 Fuller Seminary and Two Kinds of Premarital Sex vimeo.com. Note: Rated MATURE (NSFW).

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