Internet Wars Cause Real Life Casualties

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Since writing my post on the Tony Jones Debacle of 2015, events have continued to unfold. Open and honest communication between camp Julie and camp Tony has been strained and tenuous, at best. People from Stuff Christian Culture Likes and the Wartburg Watch have continued to call on high profile individuals within the progressive Christian community and those directly involved with what’s gone down with Julie and Tony in the past to communicate with and listen to Tony Jones’ ex-wife, Julie McMahon. Responses from people like Brian McLaren, Matthew Paul Turner, Rachel Held Evans, and Nadia Bolz-Weber have ranged from an apparent willingness to communicate and make amends, to angry blog and social media posts, to silence.

Meanwhile, critics of camp Tony have been anywhere from measured and tenacious, to aggressive and abusive, to their best impression of a soccer player beating the hell out of another player and then saying, What? I didn’t do anything!

I haven’t been able to keep up with every single volley back and forth between the camps, nor all the blog and social media posts. (In fact, some have been deleted, making it impossible for me to read.) But here is what I’ve observed, and what has taking up a good deal of my headspace.

The Calling of Shenanigans
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One major criticism by Group Julie against Rachel Held Evans is that she has publicly, and quite often, called out Mark Driscoll for his abusive theology, misogyny, and homophobia. She even went so far as to contact the elders at Mars Hill, and encouraged others to do so as well, to demand that they make Mark Driscoll change his behavior. Not only did she discuss public statements, like his books and those made in sermons, but also stories of former congregants who escaped the Mars Hill madness. Matthew Paul Turner did the same. (I believe MPT has disabled his blog for now. The original letters he posted from a former congregant who was under discipline at Mars Hill, therefore, are no longer there.)
In comparison, Rachel has decided to mostly stay out of this clusterfuck, instead advocating for resolution through the court system, (as she has before when decrying the horrific nightmare of Sovereign Grace Ministries.) Of course, it makes sense to pursue resolution through the courts, to a point. Rachel can’t call a Twitter quorum and decide custody issues. But there is more at play here than a domestic relations dispute. We have tacit support of a friend and colleague, Tony Jones, and all those who engaged in abuse and inappropriate behavior. There seems to be an unwillingness to believe that a woman who threatened to kill herself in order to get Tony to skip yet another trip away from his family, could be the same woman who was physically, verbally, and emotionally abused by this man.
And you know what? I get it. It’s easy to cry foul on a person, like Mark Driscoll, for whom there is no love lost. It’s much harder when the person is your friend and colleague. It’s harder when you’re in shock because of what he has been accused of doing. It’s harder when the other person, (Julie) has a tendency for high emotion and dramatics, and your friend has told you that she’s mentally ill. By the same token, I’m sure it’s easy to cry foul on Tony Jones when you don’t like him. Most of the people who believed Julie from the outset had no love for Tony. That’s not to say that they weren’t right for believing Julie right away.

Abuse and assumptions
Some of the people in groups like Stuff Christian Culture Likes can be real dicks. It doesn’t matter what you say or what your reasons are, if it doesn’t align with what they want and expect, you are clearly a horrible person. Even when people change their minds, like Matthew Paul Turner finally, publicly declaring that he believes Julie, it’s too little, too late. Every single action and possible motive is scrutinized and framed by that person’s past experience of church abuse. It seems to be forgotten that people like Rachel, Matthew, and Nadia are just people. They’re imperfect people who make mistakes and don’t have impervious armor for when verbal abuse,
and valid criticism alike, rain down on them.

And, as in all things, the dicks ruin things for everyone. It’s easier for Matthew Paul Turner to call SCCL a swarm and hide when people are rude and hold him accountable for every injustice ever. But for the most part, the people within SCCL are measured, reasonable, and thoughtful people who are hurting. They know what abuse looks like because they’ve been abused. They can smell the stink of church-speak and gaslighting from a mile away. They know that, perhaps, all of this could have been avoided if progressive leaders had just listened to Julie. They just want to be heard, understood, and for injustices to be made right.

The Proud Don’t Live Here
Documents from Julie and Tony’s divorce, psychological evaluations, and Julie’s medical records were released the other day. Whatever Julie may have done, it’s clear that Tony and church members abused and railroaded her. Such a person has no business being in a position of power and authority, especially when he doesn’t get how any of it is his fault.
From what I saw, no one was dancing an I told you so dance. In groups like SCCL, the only emotions I saw were hurt, anger, confusion, and grief. Not only were they, (and I) heartbroken over the abuse, but also the reactions, so far, from progressive leaders. Matthew Paul Turner deactivated his online presence and went dark. I’ve only seen silence from Rachel and Nadia, although I’m still hopeful that they are taking time to respond thoughtfully. I imagine that, they too, are possibly grieving. No one ever wants to be right about abuse. No one wants to be right that they are witnessing church abuse and the silencing of victims all over again, especially from people who gave people like me hope for the future of the church. Everyone has been wounded. No one is celebrating.

Maybe we should stop projecting our own shit onto Rachel and Nadia

Do you remember the first time you ever felt betrayed by someone? Maybe your parents broke a promise or lied to you. The time you found out a friend had been talking about you behind your back. Then there’s the doctor who didn’t treat you with respect. Perhaps a teacher took advantage of their power over you and treated you like shit.

As you grow up, you find role models, idols, heroes- people you look to for guidance and strength. They are inspirations and repositories from which we pilfer our ideas and world views in order to piece together our own personalities. They are family members, friends, writers, sports stars, actors, politicians, musicians, artists, clergy, and activists. We do this, whether unwittingly or with obsession. The pedestals on which we attempt to place these people are so high, so precarious, and so distant; is it any wonder they fall? And inevitably they will fall, with a staggering crash. The rubble and settling dust now obscure your way.

Getting to the point- last week there was a huge fallout in the progressive Christian community. An upcoming women’s conference, (WX2015) featuring Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber, was* being facilitated by Tony Jones, a big and divisive personality within the progressive evangelical community. People began crying foul, as Tony Jones has been accused of spiritual, physical, and emotional abuse by his ex-wife. More people piled on when both women declared that they intended to move forward with the conference as was, believing that that was the right decision based in the information they had.

My heart sank. I admired these women, and here they were, seemingly behaving in a way that was at odds with everything I knew about them. I felt betrayed by Rachel most of all, as she frequently calls out abuse and the abusers within the church. More than that, though, it was because I so identify with her journey as a doubting Christian growing up in an evangelical world. I had put my faith in two women, whom I consider to be wise, empathetic trouble-makers, and it seemed that I was wrong.

What was I supposed to do now? I was going in circles, wanting to believe Tony Jones’ ex-wife, but not giving up hope that Rachel and Nadia weren’t abandoning what was right. And what did it say about me, that I had not chosen wisely when it came to in whom I’d placed my trust?
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I had to. Sorrynotsorry

I talked it over with Mike and stewed over it for days. I was surprised by how much I was bothered by this.

Then I fucking woke up and realized: Of course they’re going to let you down, you dipshit! They’re people. Just because they’re smart, wise, kickass women doesn’t mean they’re not going to make mistakes. It’s entirely possible that I would make the same decision, were I in their place.
What’s more, how does anyone know for sure that their decision is the wrong one? All we see are carefully constructed responses on Twitter or blogs. We’re not privy to their conversations with God about it. We don’t know about the crackers and ginger ale consumed because this whole ordeal has their stomachs in knots. We have no idea how many times their computers almost faced defenestration because someone was an asshole to them, and how it could all go away if they could just divulge what they know to everyone.

I still don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong, but I don’t blame Rachel and Nadia for the decision they’ve made. Having read both sides of the story, I reckon the actual truth is in there somewhere. Honestly, I think the number of fucks I have to give about it are beginning to run low. I do know that we’re all human and we all make mistakes. One of those mistakes is to place people on pedestals. It’s a horrible mess to clean up once they inevitably crumble.

*Apparently, because of the events of the last week, facilitation of the WX2015 conference has been handed off to Rachael and Nadia.