Tuesday morning, the morning after I posted on Facebook asking people to please stop promoting Nadia Bolz-Weber until she apologizes for defending Tony Jones, my professor came to class with her book. He didn’t see my Facebook post, of course, but it was another reminder that people have either forgotten all about this, or they somehow never knew about it in the first place. I am realizing that if you don’t know the story, that isn’t your fault. It was effectively covered up.
Tony Jones was accused of abusing and gaslighting his ex-wife, Julie McMahon, before and after their marriage, which ended in 2009. Julie began to share her story on social media in 2014-2015, and you can find documentation supporting her story at the end of this post. Like many others, I followed the story obsessively, and in the end, I lost my faith.
It wasn’t that a prominent name in the emergent church was accused of abuse—or it wasn’t only that. It was the way Tony’s community responded, particularly the women I had come to trust, Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber.
Julie reportedly reached out to Rachel and Nadia at the time, believing that these women who claimed to advocate for women would help her, but they didn’t. According to Julie, Nadia even hung up on her. Both women told Julie not to contact them. They issued statements in support of their friend, Tony Jones. They deleted comments from their blogs, comments from people like me who needed them to listen and care. They carried on with their plans to host a conference with Tony, proving to us that power, celebrity, and capital gain were more important than believing victims.
To this day, Rachel and Nadia have not apologized for the harm they inflicted upon Julie and upon anyone who was watching with bated breath, hoping we weren’t wrong to trust them and all that they represented. I have talked to several women who can recount a similar experience: we lost faith in the church when no one in leadership believed Julie McMahon, not even the progressives, not even the women.
To say that Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber were important to me at the time would be an understatement. When I discovered Rachel’s blog, I was furiously sorting through the rubble of my deconstructed worldview. The more I read from and about Rachel and Nadia, the more I began to believe in the church and also in this emergent, progressive, different kind of Christianity. Over time, I began to reconstruct my faith—but it was a fragile faith, and admittedly, it rested in their hands. Once it became clear that they had no intention of apologizing and making things right, I knew I was done.
In the same way that I believe Tony Jones’ fancy, spiritual words are now disqualified, no longer meaningful, I believe that Rachel and Nadia should not be promoted unless they apologize and repent. I don’t care how many hot takes they tweet or how many fierce, important books they write. I do understand they have arguably said and done multiple good things, but these good words and deeds are like resounding gongs, clanging cymbals, and I am tired of listening to them.
It is easy to defend victims on the internet, but it is incredibly difficult to defend victims when it is your friend, mentor, pastor, or next-paycheck who is being accused. I understand that they were put in a difficult position, but that’s the point.
It is 2019, a little over four years after I first heard Julie’s story, and I am writing this to tell you that I still believe her.
Note: More information can be found on Stuff Christian Culture Likes. Stephanie Drury, who runs the page, has also written about this on Medium, where she links multiple pertinent sources.
Thank you for posting this. I hope Nadia and Rachel come to recognize the truth and take responsibility for their [in]actions.
Thanks for posting. Thought you might be interested in this piece I penned https://thehumanist.com/commentary/rise-party-nones
Very interested. Thank you for writing and sharing.
I only learned of this tonight while researching references from Brannon Howse’s “Marxianity” video where the name “Rev. Tony Jones” came up – and not in a good way. I wondered if this was the Tony Jones I knew 20 years ago. I was a parent of young kids in the youth program at Colonial Church where Tony Jones was the youth pastor. Our oldest daughter went to the church camp that he led when she was in 4th grade. In every interaction I ever had with Tony Jones I can unequivocally assure this reader that he was 100% pure ego. He was dismissive and snide to any mom with whom he “had” to interact. You could read the enormity of his baldy, pompous head from yards away down the hall. I had no doubt then that his sweet ex-wife Julie must have been miserable being married to that arrogant ass and if she says she was abused, I believe her 100%. All the signs were there for the making of an abusive, deceitful, manipulative, ambitious narcissist. We left Colonial Church shortly afterwards in sensing that the Spirit of God was just gone in so many ways. Lots of families moved to Christ Presbyterian Church in those days. And then there was the issue with the youth pastor…
Now, 20 years later, when I drive by our old church off Hwy. 62, the stunning, stinging arrogance of a man who was supposed to be a humble servant and member of our clergy, still comes to mind. I wonder each time whatever happened to that egotistical jerk. Now I know. My sympathy to Julie. I hope she had a good divorce lawyer.
Ugh. Thanks for sharing this. I haven’t heard anything in a while, but the last I heard is that he got custody. I hope that was wrong or that something has changed, but it seems unlikely. I think of her often (without having met either of them—but having met my share of church-y egotistical jerks).