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.