Tony Jones’ Story and Julie’s: are victims still guilty until proven innocent?

"Guilty Until Proven Innocent" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
“Guilty Until Proven Innocent” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

When the American Civil War was over, Lincoln granted amnesty to all soldiers. That is, he gave specific orders that all soldiers were to be allowed safe passage home without any harassment. Who was wrong and who was right no longer mattered in the same way because Lincoln finally got what he wanted and what America needed: union and peace.

The whole Tony Jones and Julie McMahon issue that has been going for many years but which came to a more full light when Julie finally gave her version of events uncensored and uncensured on this blog post just last September has come to an interesting place.

More people are starting to believe Julie.

I’m happy about this. But I want to be clear what I’m happy about. I’m happy that Julie’s story is finally being heard and believed. It’s not about that she’s going to win and Tony’s going to lose. Although this is an issue, it has never been the core issue for me.

It was about a woman being heard as a “reliable witness to her own life” (Rebecca Solnit).

But now that more evidence and even proof is emerging showing that Julie’s story has substance, people are now changing their minds and lending support to her. Some are patting themselves on the back and being patted on the back for now believing Julie. Others are suspicious that they are fair-weather friends, drifting wherever the powered or popular opinion blows them.

On the one hand, this is good. Like Lincoln and the union, Julie is getting what she wanted and needed. She’s being heard, believed, and vindicated. Let’s rejoice that more people are listening!

On the other hand, have we learned anything? Even though things may change for Julie, will things change for victims? This is my burning question.

For example, when Matthew Paul Turner says, “I can no longer stay neutral… Much of the documentation provided here tells a story that I wasn’t, until now, privy to”, this indicates to me that things haven’t changed. (edit later in the day: Turner deleted this post without explanation, which explains why the link is dead. But he did say this.)

  • First of all, when we do not believe a victim, we are not being neutral but adversarial.
  • Secondly, when we believe the alleged abuser and silence the alleged victim, it betrays our fascination for preserving the privileges of power.
  • Thirdly, it’s never been about proof. It’s about listening to victims share their experiences and believing them. This doesn’t mean we don’t believe the alleged abuser. This doesn’t mean we don’t realize there are complications and that all parties share some responsibility. But we allow both sides to share tell their story from the beginning and then let the evidence and facts start rolling in as they certainly will and in this case certainly have.

I was in communication, and still am, with the alleged abused. I tried to stay in communication with the alleged abuser and friends, but I have either been told explicitly to stop attempting contact, or my contact has been cut off with them by them, or they’ve made it clear they will have nothing to do with me ever again. You see, controlling the story has worked up to the present. However, now the story is out of authoritative control and is in the hands of the people.

Yay internet!

Lisa and I were talking about this this morning over coffee. She agrees that the issue is believing victims. That’s the core issue. We’re happy a victim has finally been heard.

But look at what she and her supporters had to go through: threats; intimidation; ridicule; loss of friends; debt; years or months of sleeplessness, stress and anxiety;self-doubt; fear; demands for proof of medical records, police reports, emails, and court documents; then finally being believed not because you are a person but only because you produce authoritative authentication. In fact, they don’t believe her but the authorities and their documents.

So here are my 7 questions:

  1. Are we still not going to believe victims until all the facts are in?
  2. Are victims guilty until proven innocent?
  3. Are women’s stories automatically held in suspicion?
  4. Are we still more impressed with power than the victims of it?
  5. Are we going to believe the first official report of events?
  6. Are we enamored by leaders to the point of moral blindness?
  7. Are women the most reliable witnesses of their own lives?

As we can read through all the comments and related posts, many women have experienced and are experiencing the very same thing: abuse, silencing and not being believed. Some people want to believe this is sporadic and rare. No! It is pandemic and common.

Unless we learn a lesson from this story, this will continue to repeat itself over and over and over again.

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43 Replies to “Tony Jones’ Story and Julie’s: are victims still guilty until proven innocent?”

  1. I have found double standards and abuse exist in all levels of work and play, religion and secular, home and neighborhood. I am glad that victims through the internet are finally able to tell their stories.

    Not to diminish the seriousness of women’s abuse by spouses, but they face the same thing in the workplace, in my case, education. Whereas coaches can “verbally abuse” kids on the playing field, using all sorts of expletives, female .teachers have to walk a very thin tightrope of classroom management because if one kid even hints at a teacher molesting, improper touching, saying or doing something wrong towards that child, the teacher is automatically put on suspension and kids know this and use this to their advantage. (Funny thing, kids take it from the coaches!) On the other hand, if a teacher says a kid does something wrong, she has to have all sorts of detailed documentation, dates, times, places, exact wording of what the kid says,etc (try writing details at the moment something happens while trying to manage a classroom, it is like juggling snakes!) Then even if the kid does not admit to anything, usually nothing is done about it or perhaps a warning. Johnny can be witnessed by a whole room full of students saying they all saw him toss scissors in the air, and if he denies it, not much can be done.

    I taught middle school art and I was written up in my permanent record because a nasty little boy took a postage size stamp picture containing a nude by a famous artist (2 dots represented the breasts so it was not graphic by any means) and added nasty things to it. When I turned him into the office with his school work which included making fun of the artist’s name (Suerat) and the nasty images, I got into all sorts of trouble. The same picture was in art books in our school library as were many other artworks of nudes but I was written up for giving a child “porn” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! At the same time in our culture, in movies, on TV and internet, these kids could see much more graphic stuff.

    My principal spent more time writing up and disciplining his teachers than the students. In a meeting with parents he would let angry parents unleash loud and vehement words against me as if I was in the wrong because little Johnny had not turned in their homework, or caused mayhem in the class, etc. p.s. I later heard from someone that this principal was allowing all sorts of nasty stuff (written and verbal) between him and another person at the school.

    I am sorry to vent and in no way taking away from what abused women go through, but looking back, in the name of keeping peace and wanting to do a good job as an educator, I realize now, I have been bullied, mistreated and yes, even abused by the higher ups, while the level of educational quality and my joy of teaching have been robbed by all the PC guidelines that now rule education.

  2. When I first began writing about this story in 2010, I was shocked at the vitriol I experienced from those supporting the powerful by disparaging the powerless.

    The fact that “progressive” women willingly believed the “bat shit crazy” campaign over acknowledging the pain of a now single mother with three young children was more than perplexing.

    That Brother Maynard and I became bad guys to people in this movement because we dared blog about this, asking questions, was rather discouraging.

    The standards of evidence seemed to be, “if Tony says it, it’s true — if Julie says it, it needs to be notarized and accepted as evidence by a court of law… but even then, can we really trust the court system.”

    Thank you, again, David for counting the cost but still being willing to support the powerless.

  3. I think we forget just how difficult it is for a victim to finally find a voice and say something. Is it any wonder that few report their abuse because they see other victims being re-victimized for telling? Like you, I tend to believe a victim, but I also leave room for the other story. In lay-counseling couples, I particularly see this as important, to validate and listen to both stories (the truth is often somewhere in the middle), and pray and walk alongside the hurting. But if there is abuse, it becomes clear, particularly when the one accused of abusing cannot see his/her part of the pain, refuses to listen to counsel, gathers people around to control the story and villify the victim. In those cases, reconciliation is extremely rare.

  4. David, can you share more about your idea that you can believe the victim while not necessarily disbelieving the alleged abuser? I feel like that is getting at the heart of the issue — that yes, the accused is innocent until proven guilty, but the accuser needs to be similarly presumed innocent of lying. Yes, it means holding contradictory stories in your mind for a time, but we owe it to victims to presume their honesty from the beginning. Am I understanding you?

  5. Yes. Many, in this case, believed the alleged abuser. The alleged abused wasn’t even allowed to share her experiences. And then when she did there was more attempts to silence her. Then intimidate and threaten, etc. As one is deserved to be heard and believed, so the other. I think we agree.

  6. John, that is an honorable question. Thanks for asking it. It made me check my heart a bit.

    Many of us who are not eyewitnesses have trouble even assigning terms like “victim” or “abuser” when there are contradictory stories, evidence, and testimony and we ourselves haven’t witnessed the behavior in question (or are very distant from it).

    It’s important to offer equal platform to all parties as David has said he’s trying to do. Neither party should be defaulted as guilty til proven innocent or innocent until proven guilty. We should try to hear, see, and experience as much light from as many sources as possible. Well asked.

  7. Thank you David. On a disappointing day where people I used to admire have left me down a hundred-fold, this was balm. I’m furious with them because they made a name for themselves as advocates for the abused, but when that became uncomfortable and inconvenient, they used the tactics of abusers to silence. No one is immune. To think that your group is above the fray is to start yourself down a path of letting the abusive fray right in the front door.

  8. “We should try to hear, see, and experience as much light from as many sources as possible.”

    Yes, but that already didn’t happen in this case (and many people keep losing sight of this). For some reason, one powerful side/system tried to silence a single person for years. For me, that is a huge red flag. As I posted elsewhere, if everything was done above board by the powerful man and his system of people, then what is the ‘reason’ to keep Julie silent? One rarely comes out of a marriage unscathed, even if everything is amicable. But, from my perspective, ethics did not come into play here at all, much less Christian ethics. And, last I heard, Tony and the Emergents are Christians.

    Thank you, David.

  9. Here’s where things are getting lost: there is the hang up on “believing” the accuser in any given scenario. For the Christian, we are called to judge rightly– this means we examine the totality of the available facts before arriving at a final conclusion. Believing one side or the other isn’t the issue (in fact, an outsider should be as impartial as possible). What IS the issue is that abuse allegations must always be taken SERIOUSLY. Never should one be taken lightly. They must be seriously investigated. Seriously listened to. Seriously considered in light of the facts. And any end judgments must be made seriously.

    With all this talk of “you must believe the accuser always and immediately” we lose sight of the real issue that has plagued the church– not taking abuse allegations seriously.

  10. I just spent the last 2 days reading the comments from the September post. I wish I had words of wisdom but I am just heartbroken.
    It reminds me of Orwell’s animal far. These were the people I looked up to to be different. The protectors of the abused have become the abusers.
    “Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

  11. Julie,

    Something that has deeply troubled me in reading all of these comments and documents is the degree to which it seems that you were abandoned so your husband could pursue his education and career.

    How did you manage raising 3 tiny ones in MN while Tony was in Princeton. Like how was that even possible? You are a strong woman.

    Has he ever publicly or privately owned up to leaving you barefoot and pregnant so he could be a quasi-emergent celebrity? Has he ever said, “yeah, that was pretty shi++y of me to pursue my PhD 1/2 way across the country when we had a newborn” or “yeah, it would probably push my limits if I were left alone with the kids while you traveled 1/2 the year”?

    Thank you for sharing your story, I can only imagine the burden you bore and continue to bear being what seems to be a functionally single parent most the time.

  12. In my observation, the whole system is broken. It’s not enough to just ‘believe’ and support a single victim (but, of course, only after records have been produced lending credibility to her story!). We, as brothers and sisters, need to open our eyes to the reality and speak out. The system has repeatedly enabled and protected abusive leaders and it needs to be not just challenged, but dismantled!

    Jesus was outspoken about the abusive religious leaders of his day – and he was not afraid to take offensive action either! Yes, he loved the abusers, but he made it crystal clear that their behaviour was unacceptable. IMO it’s about time we did the same.

  13. Thank you, David, for advocating for the victim and specifically providing safe space for Julie to begin speaking.
    There’s so much more work to be done in this area of victim empowerment. Not to derail the particulars of this conversation… But the logic you use here needs to be elevated for the Black Lives Matter movement and the lynchings of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and so many others.

    This is a good start and again grateful for you and the way you allowed for this space!

  14. You know, I also feel really sorry for Courtney’s (Tony Jones’) ex-husband. Apparently she and Tony Jones took up when they were both married. I feel so sorry for Julie, so sorry for the children, and all of the family and friends: a betrayal to them all. But there’s another story too: This ‘other woman’s’ husband who got a raw deal and was betrayed too. And how his life must have been shattered and turned upside down. That’s a man who has my prayers!

  15. So which is the abused that is assumed guilty here? Varies depending on the site. You seemed to have held your trial and assumed guilt,so is this a self critique?

    *let the tar and feathering begin…

  16. I think when they threatened David Hayward/The Naked Pastor from America that he had ‘been warned’…they sealed their own fate, didn’t they?

    Professional, rational people don’t go around doing that…ever.

  17. I’m glad NP stuck to his guns. The Emergent movement seemed a bit squicky when I first heard what they’re supposedly about and what they say. I’m saddened that the Emergents had either perpetrated the silencing or stayed silent when it turns out, there was a wolf among their own.

  18. Julie there is a way for Christian leaders to act that goes “beyond the pale” then of the Christian who is not.
    Being a servant. Jesus said that a leader was to be lower and wash the feet of those who he led. The actions of the emergent leaders and SO MANY of Americans “Christian” leaders has been the opposite. Tony leaving his wife for another (which is a fact); self described NPD…..the list goes on. Brian McClaren did state that he would sue Julie. Rachel and Nadia will not even sit down with the accuser and talk.
    In my mind, they have the keys in their hands to make this right, but refuse to do so. The truth always comes out.

  19. ” But if there is abuse, it becomes clear, particularly when the one accused of abusing cannot see his/her part of the pain, refuses to listen to counsel, gathers people around to control the story and villify the victim. In those cases, reconciliation is extremely rare.”

    Thank you Mary! Great description. There’s a BIG difference between hearing about two people engaged in a bitter divorce, and hearing about the deliberate behaviour of one powerful party trying to bully and intimidate another into oblivion. That is abuse.

    Most of us hate to be in the middle of someone else’s conflict. We don’t really want to hear personal details and would prefer they sorted themselves out in private, and bullies know that. They know how to play us. They act with dignity and constraint in public, using words that make us feel sorry them while also suggesting the character or motives of the victim are questionable. They use words like crazy, bitter, angry, or unforgiving, and we never hear another word the victim says except through that filter.

    Yet, becoming a ‘victim’ is as simple as getting in a bully’s way. It is the act of getting between a bully and his/her frustrated desires. It isn’t a character flaw. It isn’t reserved for certain personality types. No-one chooses it. It is simply being unfortunate enough to be targeted by a cruel, selfish person.

    As you point out David, the spotlight is always on the victim to prove their point and earn the right to be heard and believed. I would like to take that spotlight and put it squarely (and I’m using restraint now…) on the abusers instead. Let’s not make excuses for them any more. Let’s step up and expose them.

    Another provocative post. Well done David! 🙂

  20. Brief introduction: I’m an ordained evangelical minister, board certified chaplain, adultery survivor, blogger, and proud, native Minnesotan.

    Your cartoon, NakedPastor, could easily be amended to express how many Christians experience the church after adultery has taken place and their marriage has ended in divorce. All you have to do is change the title “Abuser” to “Adulterer/Adulteress” and the “Abused” to “Faithful Spouse.” Such is the typical response in Christian circles to adultery as I experienced and others have shared on my blog, which is about “Taking Adultery Seriously.”

    As I read the documents/evidence released by R.L. Stollar, I was struck about how Julie’s story is very similar to my story as well as many others I encounter in my ministry to infidelity survivors. The blame-shifting, gas-lighting, minimizing, and narrative-control “game” is sickening but VERY typical in situations where adultery is involved. And like this excellent post says and cartoon suggests, I join you in hoping to see the Church change to be a place someday where adultery (abuse) survivors–i.e. faithful spouses–are not presumed guilty of some sin that “caused” their spouse to cheat (and abuse them). This is not Biblical as Jesus taught us that sin flows from the sinner’s heart alone (see Mark 7:20-22) and is very hurtful. I argue on my blog from Scripture that adultery is soul rape ( and think how damaging accusing a rape victim of causing their own assault is!

  21. Lived in 6 different homes from the age 13 to 19, understand family issues. So thankful this did not occur in my home
    ulie filed a harassment restraining order against Tony in late 2013 [Hennepin County Case #27-CO-13-8209]. That order was contested at a hearing on May 13, 2014 [court transcripts available], and that restraining was dismissed and vacated for lacking evidence and not meeting the legal burden of proof [Hennepin County Case #27-CO-13-8209, filed May 16, 2014].

  22. Mary/Margaret (whomever you are),

    As Bridget over at The Wartburg Watch has already commented that your story doesn’t add up and you post different things about it on different blogs and can’t keep it straight.

    So let’s go over this again. A husband/father leaves his wife and their young children while he has an affair with another woman. And you blame the wife/mom who got left and the children? Are you for real?
    A sponsor in a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous would hold a recovering drunk’s feet to the fire for having done same and REQUIRED that proper amends be made to the former spouse, children, family and friends.

    By the way, what do you do for a living? You were able to find the Minnesota court records on Tony and Julie’s case AND use the word “vacated”. OK, most folks don’t know that. And you came to post that here under some ruse about ‘caring for the children.’

    If you cared for children, you’d have told their bum for a father to get back to their mother and make it all right with the entire family!!

  23. “Many of us who are not eyewitnesses have trouble even assigning terms like “victim” or “abuser” when there are contradictory stories, evidence, and testimony and we ourselves haven’t witnessed the behavior in question (or are very distant from it)” -BethanyAnn

    Are you for real? Let’s go over the facts. Tony Jones IS A BUM! He left his wife and their three small children so he could have sex with some other woman (who was also married). Tony Jones abandoned his family, and the wife he had made vows to.

    Heart check? Why don’t you do a Bible check. There are very explicit instructions in the Bible for dealing with a sexually unfaithful spouse, and especially one like Tony Jones who is in Christian leadership. Other Christians – including Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt – should have confronted Tony Jones and demanded that he step down from Christian leadership and attend to his family and to his vows. Tony Jones should have been required to step down entirely when he took up with his shack-up honey and left his wife and children.

    Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt and the rest of the Emergent crowd are a bunch of spineless cowards. Even unbelievers could have ‘manned up’ and handled business.

    What kind of society have we become where you would actually defend a man who bailed on his wife and young children? Heart search? You haven’t even begun.

  24. @Divorce Minister,

    I went to your web site and read your articles. Thank you for sharing that here and with others. I am so sorry that you have experienced the pain of infidelity (your ex-wife’s). I am so glad that the Lord has been helping you heal, and helping others, as well as brought you a new wife and her daughter. Praise!!!

  25. Thanks, Michaela. It is amazing what God can do with ashes. He never wastes our pain but transforms it into a testimony with power. That, at least, is what I have experienced and continue to experience.

  26. Amen, Divorce Minister! Thank you so much for coming here and sharing, for blogging at your own site, and for helping other folks sort it out. A real ministry to help the victims of infidelity.

  27. You didn’t think this through, did you? I mean look, I get that you’re a proponent of “Guilty Until Proven Innocent when the Accuser is Female”, that much is shriekingly obvious. I recognize that you’re a supporter of convicting using the lowest standard of evidence, and the belief that the accused shouldn’t be allowed to damage the “victim” further through such evil means as “Cross Examination’ or having the right to “Confront their Accuser” and the belief that “Innocent until proven guilty” is defacto anti-rape victim and just serves to traumatize the victim further.

    I mean if we’re being completely honest how many rape victims have been punished by rapists having a “right to a trial” (much less fair one?). Rapists don’t deserve rights.

    I understand that you don’t view yourself as a horrible person that would strip others of their fundamental rights. In fact you likely have a justification for it on your fingertips right now. A denial. But at the end of the day you’re campaigning to deprive those charged by the state of having basic protections. You want to see the machinery of the state put to action and if a few innocent men are destroyed by that state well a few eggs, right?

    I know none of this is reaching you. It never reaches self righteous people like you. But someone that comes later. Someone that reads this maybe a few years from now might snap out of it and think “My God, these people are advocating for kangaroo courts and witch hunts and they don’t even realize it?”.

  28. Actually Patrick C. I have no illusions that this should be in the courts. Again, you keep wanting to pull this back into an issue of a messy divorce and a disgruntled ex. What gets me is how our Christian leaders today can get away with stuff and find protection and support from their peers plus keep a lot of their fan base while their victims suffer in their wake. I will never regret that observation.

  29. Just…thank you. Thanks for enduring the stress so that the weakest members of the human family can hear that it is AT LEAST POSSIBLE to be heard for who we are.

    How everyone responds depends on what’s led them to this exact moment in time, but your adamance that every voice gets some room is healing to those (like me) who have felt there is no room without (pre-existing) popularity.

    Thanks for letting Julie tell her side for all the “nobodies” in this world. I feel like a prostitute trying to believe some partners are capable of faithful and generous love. You are providing sanctuary for those without it elsewhere – and I believe there is probably no higher calling.

  30. And if people can comment publicly on the Mars Hill or Duggar case, and call out problems with how the church community handled it, then why not discuss the concern over how Julie’s been “handled” by the EV group? It just makes no sense to me – either all three cases should be “in house” cases, or none of them. The hypocrisy of who deserves privacy is painful. This blog was a decent litmus test of the EV commitment to their position. Regardless of what anyone claimed about Tony Jones here, it was his (and his defenders) own words that made my opinion gel. I only hope some of them could understand that.

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