TL;DR — Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans reportedly rebuffed Julie McMahon when she tried to report domestic and emotional abuse at the hands of their theologian colleague and both told her to stop contacting them.
What follows is evidence (legal records and court documents) supporting the above statement.
In September 2014, David Hayward aka The Naked Pastor published a post titled Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What came first, the thug or the theology? and what unfolded in the comments section is still causing tremors in the progressive/emergent Christian world. Julie McMahon, ex-wife of emergent leader and theologian Tony Jones, chose to share her story of spousal abuse in the comment section of this post. She told of physical assault, emotional manipulation, gaslighting, abuse of power and position by Jones, and covering of tracks. According to McMahon, Jones used his connections and influence within the Emergent church to silence her in and ostracize her from those circles. Jones has painted Julie as an unreliable witness (“batshit crazy” is the term many firsthand witnesses claim to have heard her called by his camp).
On January 12, 2015, Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber announced their plan to co-curate the WX15/Why Christian? conference. The event would be facilitated through the JoPa Group. JoPa is a “social media consulting and event planning company” co-owned by Tony Jones and Emergent leader Doug Pagitt. WX15 was touted as a feminist triumph, featuring eleven female speakers, and its tagline posed the question: “Why, in the wake of centuries of corruption, hypocrisy, crusades, televangelists, and puppet ministries do we continue to follow Jesus?” Why, indeed.
By this point McMahon’s story had begun spread throughout online progressive circles. These circles, populated by people who looked to Evans and Bolz-Weber as pioneers of modern feminist Christianity, began asking questions about why Evans and Bolz-Weber had partnered with an accused spousal abuser. Most people assumed that the two simply did not know McMahon’s story. When attempts to inform Evans about the situation remained unanswered on her Facebook page, some took to her blog in an effort to tell her of McMahon’s allegations against the man Evans was partnering with. Others told her in direct message and she replied that she would would not responding to any further messages on the subject. In response to the public outcry, Evans posted this statement:
“I take abuse allegations very seriously, and if I had good reason to believe Tony was an abuser and these allegations were credible I wouldn’t work with him on a conference. But my personal experience with and diligent investigation of this situation has given me reason to doubt that this is the case. (The fact that I too was accused of being part of a massive EV coverup when this all happened before I was even published and not even remotely connected to EV raised some red flags from the start.) There’s always the chance I’m wrong, of course, but I’ve made the decision to continue participating in the conference with Nadia. To debate the circumstances of another couple’s divorce further, in this forum, would be unwise — legally and ethically — so I’m not going to comment on it again, and I’m going to have to moderate comments so that the comment section isn’t inundated with rumors, which I also take very seriously. There are other forums for such conversations. Part of advocating for abuse victims is to encourage them to work through the proper legal channels to achieve justice. I have done this consistently.”
This was a profoundly disappointing response for survivors of domestic and spiritual abuse. What followed was a firestorm of exchanges on Twitter in which Evans equivocated, backpedaled, and changed her story several times. The entire episode is documented here and warrants reading as there is a discrepancy between what Evans has said about abuse in the past and how she has reacted when abuse allegations are made within her own camp.
The Emergent Nightmares Tumblr produced a synopsis of the entire exchange:
“I love RHE too, she was one of my first regular Christian bloggers. She commented more broadly on that post but then deleted it. Here are the three versions I have after various degrees of her moderation, in chronological order:
Exchange between Rachel Held Evans and Danica Newton (The last of which is the most recent, because she closed comments after that.)
Rachel’s brand is progressive activist. It must have been a shock to have her carefully prepared social media campaign on Why Christian?/#WX15 incite activist conversations about Christian corruption and hypocrisy in the Emergent movement.
David Hayward (aka Naked Pastor) has been facing incredible pressure to take down Julie’s comments on his blog.
But our most pressing question is why Rachel can say “Always believe abuse victims” regarding victims of Sovereign Grace Ministries and Mark Driscoll, but then say, “I don’t believe Julie. There is no corroborating evidence for her claims. She should use the courts.” (The court system routinely fails domestic violence victims, especially when the perpetrator has more money and power and social currency and access to legal representation.) The reason Rachel told Julie to just use the courts could be that she doesn’t believe Julie’s story is about abuse, but believes it is simply an acrimonious divorce causing issues for her friend Tony Jones. But Julie’s concerns are about abuse, gaslighting, public shaming, coverups, and the complicity of many Emergent leaders.
Meanwhile, followers of Nadia Bolz-Weber began asking her the same sorts of questions. Bolz-Weber responded in a tweet, labeling McMahon’s accusations “false things (that are) being said about myself and my dear friends,” further dismissing McMahon’s advocates as a “digital pitchfork” wielding mob.
At his blog, RL Stollar has cited from 8 official documents. These documents are:
- Fairview Health Services’s Pertinent Information Report of Julie McMahon Jones’s Assault Complaint from September 4, 2008;
- Hospital Report on Julie McMahon’s Injuries from September 11, 2008;
- Fairview Health Services’s Medical Report by Bradley Robert Williams of Julie McMahon’s Injuries from September 17, 2008;
- Hospital Follow-Up Report on Julie McMahon’s Injuries from October 22, 2008;
- Email from Tony Jones to Julie McMahon from December 27, 2008;
- Denise Wilder’s Psychological Evaluation Report of Julie McMahon Jones from February 2, 2009;
- Denise Wilder’s Psychological Evaluation Report of Anthony Jones from February 3, 2009;
- Hennepin County Family Court Services’s Custody and Parenting Time Evaluation from May 28, 2009
RL Stollar also posted a response to Tony Jones’ statement on the subject here.
In April 2015 Bolz-Weber posted a glowing review of Tony Jones’ new book, “Did God Kill Jesus?” McMahon supporters took to that blog post to ask why, as a Christian pastor with a feminist platform, Bolz-Weber was continuing to support an alleged spousal abuser. These comments disappeared after Bolz-Weber’s husband Matthew deleted them. Matthew posted a statement apologizing for accidentally deleting the comments before the comments were actually deleted. The comments (archived here) reappeared a few hours later. In a blog post Matthew explained, “Please know that Nadia has not read any of these comments and does not know what’s been said here. In response to the advice given to her by her Bishop, her Spiritual Director, and her husband (me), Nadia makes it a policy to not read any comments on her blog or on her Facebook page.”
On January 21, 2015, a “transition statement” (that has since been removed but archived here) was published on the Why Christian? site, stating “The buzz also generated some unforeseen speculation because of social media claims regarding the first marriage of a member of the JoPa Group. In order to protect and keep the focus on the event’s participants and its thirteen speakers, JoPa offered to help transfer production of ‘Why Christian?’ to Nadia and Rachel and their team.”
Many feel this statement is inadequate. For abuse survivors who had rallied around McMahon’s cause, the subtle sweeping under the rug of Jones’ abuse allegations felt very familiar. It is incredibly disheartening that after all of that, neither Rachel Held Evans nor Nadia Bolz-Weber chose to publicly stand with Julie McMahon. They did not choose to act out the values they have long built their platforms upon — values of advocacy, giving space for survivors, elevating the voices of the marginalized, and empowering women. Instead, Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber chose to move along as quietly as possible, delicately sidestepping the abuser in their midst while proclaiming:
“We are desperate for real-life, flesh-and-blood stories of how the light continues to shine in the darkness and how the darkness has not, will not, cannot overcome it. We’re not interested in 10-step plans for how to grow our churches or a symposium on community organizing. We just want to hear about the Gospel of Jesus and how it continues to disrupt, disorient, and bring life to a troubled world.”