Julie McMahon, Tony Jones, and Submergent: My Update

Julie McMahon, Tony Jones, and Submergent: My Update

"Hear. See. Speak." cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward "We will hear nothing negative about us. We will be blind to our own faults. And we certainly won't let you say anything critical of us."

Recently I have received messages from people asking me for an update on what's happening with the Tony Jones and Julie McMahon situation, as well as with the Emergent, Convergent, and what I would like to call Submergent movement. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, so I would like to give my most recent overview and assessment.

I call it Submergent because I believe there is a campaign to submerge truth and keep it below the visibility of the public.

For those who don't know or need a refresher, it all started with my innocent blog post back in September of 2014, Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What Came First the Thug or the Theology. Tony's response to my critique of his post motivated his ex-wife, Julie, to comment. Then, over the next few months, Julie was able to finally find a place to tell her story uncensored and uncensured.

The barrage of phone calls, emails, and other kinds of messages I received on the heels of that was intense. The concern, frustration, and anger of those contacting me was overwhelming. The pressure for me to take down the post or at least edit out comments was almost unbearable. The attempts to silence me was like nothing I'd ever experienced. I was told to lawyer up. I was threatened. They attempted to shame me. I was called all kinds of names and accused of all kinds of things. I might have caved a little. In fact, I still wonder if I did the right thing closing comments after Christmas to preserve the event. But, since then, others have taken up the story and provided even more venues for victims and survivors to share their experiences. All you have to do is google it and you will find plenty to read. So, even though this whole thing started by not taking down the post and comments, it continued when other people took up the cause, not just for an abused and silenced woman, but for all victims of abuse everywhere.

Essentially, the cat is now out of the bag, and there is no way to get it back in. I was encouraged that perhaps Julie's story was not only being heard and believed, but that Julie might get some validation and even justice, and that the Christian culture would see through our hero worship and realize that there are serious problems with Christian leadership today, especially concerning the abuse of power.

Then, just as suddenly as all this hit the fan, the plug was pulled. Dead silence. Oh, Julie continues to be personally litigated to death by Tony. But my hope that this would help us be more honest, humble, and helpful for victims and survivors of abuse was beginning to fade.

The typical tactics any regime would use to keep going unchecked were put in play. They did this in three ways:

They silenced dissent.

They did this by no longer engaging with dissenting voices. Yes, all of a sudden there was no engagement with me or any others like me asking questions about what happened. Again, it's not about the divorce. It's about the coverup of all that happened around it. You can silence people with intimidation. But when that didn't work, they decided, I'm sure of it, to employ the strategy of just ignore it and it will go away. You can silence your critic by shutting him up or plugging your ears. So, not only did I stop receiving phone calls and messages from the major players‚ including friends and those who used to endorse my work‚ I was now being unfriended, unfollowed, and blocked by many of them. The result is that we critics feel like we've been isolated and alienated from the main conversation. Many of us feel banished to the wilderness where our voices are no longer heard. We keep writing about the issue, but we really do wonder sometimes if our words are going anywhere and will bear fruit.

They control the narrative.

As a result of not publicly engaging with their critics, they control the narrative. They are the ones with the biggest platforms, with books, speaking gigs, and huge social media sites, to tell their stories. The interesting thing is that they aren't even referring to this issue anymore. They continue on as if nothing at all happened. So, for those who haven't read the backstory, it really does seem as if nothing at all happened. I used to think this was big news and that it would catch fire and consume the interest of everyone and issue in the necessary change to power. No, it has not. It has been contained. They do this by deleting dissenting comments, reporting parody twitter accounts and Facebook pages and having them removed, and by taking down whole posts that express any other narrative than the one they want believed. People who read them would naively be lead to believe that all is well in the land. But it is not. Many might believe there is peace, when it is only fragile and fraudulent. They are controlling the narrative and promoting their own version of events. They promote themselves as champions of some of the abused, when in fact they censor the humble, raw, and real stories of other abused people that might compromise their careers. We keep trying to publish the minority report, but sometimes, to be honest, we lose hope.

They protect each other.

They are protecting each other's reputations and revenues. They continue with their books, events, and speaking gigs, which apparently is quite lucrative. Hey! I understand. I left the ministry in 2010. I also left my income. I have no retirement plan. As I get older, this becomes more of a concern. Honestly, I really do hope my next book is a best seller. It would help. So, I totally get why people would want to protect their reputations and revenue. They may feel their life depends on it. I get it! So, they continue to give each other glowing reviews and glorify each other in public, giving everyone who isn't aware of what's going on the impression that they are raising the bar of excellence and blazing a new trail for the improvement of Christian theology and community. I'm not so sure this is happening. It seems to me that they've isolated themselves in a bubble of self-congratulatory ambition, untouched by the real and raw questions and concerns that are raised around them. If it was strictly business, I would understand. But I thought we were in this for the betterment of us all, especially the downtrodden.

So, that's my assessment right now. We've been silenced. They control the narrative. They protect each other.

I watched the remarkable documentary Virunga yesterday. It's the story of Virunga Park in the Congo. The Congo has been exploited for its natural resources for centuries. The exploiters create internal unrest because this paves the way for them to drive up the middle of the conflict and steal whatever they want from the land. SOCO, the British oil company, simply does whatever it wants. It comes down to money. They pay people off, bribe politicians, rebels, and whoever else can get them closer to their goal. People die. They don't care about anything but making more money. When they are secretly taped or videoed, they say they fired that person, or that person doesn't work for them, or that it didn't happen. They issue public statements asserting the opposite of the accusations, trusting, usually correctly, that our reaction will be, “Well, they're a public company. They wouldn't lie. Hm. Maybe there are two sides to this story!”

I realized while I was watching this that this dynamic is at play in all spheres of human life, including the spiritual. An influential Christian writer or speaker can just say, “That isn't true. This is what really happened.” And many people will think, “Well, he's a public figure. He wouldn't lie. Hm. Maybe there are two sides to this story!”

No, people aren't being killed. But they are being disappeared in other ways. People are being silenced. People continue to get abused, silenced, and shamed, all for what? Someone told me recently to follow the money. I'm beginning to wonder if that's true.

My hope is that my small voice, as well as the small voices of others, will eventually be heard and open the ears of more people to the abuse of power prevalent in Christian culture today.

If you know what I'm talking about, please join us all at The Lasting Supper!


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