This is old news to some, but around 7 years ago, emergent church leader Tony Jones had a dirty, nasty, filthy affair with the woman who would become his second wife, Courtney Perry. [1]

Only he didn’t. At least, not according to him and his friend, Doug Pagitt, the latter having called Tony’s then-wife, Julie McMahon, and said, “Julie, this is Doug. You and Tony’s marriage is just words on a piece of paper. You may be the legal wife but Tony has a spiritual wife now.”

(That’s all according to a comment left by Julie McMahon on a September 2014 blog post wherein Tony was, ironically enough, in the process of being wistful about the fall of disgraced evangelical megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll for his “toxic theology.” Given the lack of denial of the “spiritual wife” comment from either Doug or Tony, the intensity with which Julie speaks of the memory, and the fact that a similar idea provides the framework for Jones’ Two Marriages book, I am inclined to believe that some kind of “spiritual wife” justification was, in fact, trotted out to Julie.)

The Wartburg Watch has a very balanced assessment of the ensuing drama. PhoenixPreacher has a very biting assessment of Tony. Much controversy has swirled around Julie’s allegations of physical and emotional abuse vs. Tony’s allegations concerning his ex-wife’s mental stability.

Most disappointingly: otherwise respectable progressive evangelical leaders like Rachel Held Evans appear to be circling the wagons around Tony, brushing off concerns about the abuse allegations with vague comments to the effect of, “I’ve looked into it, there was no abuse, you’ll have to trust me on that.” It’s shades of the kind of cover-up that we’ve been seeing with C. J. Mahanney and the Sovereign Grace Ministries scandal, only now it’s the progressive, feminist, LGBT-friendly wing of evangelicalism that’s working to silence abuse victims.

With that in mind, I would like to call attention to three things.

One is that there can be no doubt that Tony Jones and Courtney Perry abused Julie McMahon, because (as I’ve said elsewhere on this blog), infidelity IS abuse. No really: infidelity IS abuse. Clandestine extra-marital affairs always involve lying to, gaslighting, and emotionally manipulating the non-cheating spouse. When a cheating husband is sexually involved with both his wife and an affair partner, it puts his wife at risk for STDs and endangers her health, could even give her cervical cancer. (I admittedly do not know whether this was a possibility for Tony, Courtney and Julie). The discovery of the affair is emotionally devastating for the faithful spouse, and cheating often wreaks financial havoc on him/her. (Julie McMahon complains that Tony Jones resisted paying child support and caused her to lose her home. Whether this is accurate or not, I cannot say.) Since Courtney was clearly aware that she was an Other Woman, I count both her and Tony among Julie’s abusers.

Second, the Bible holds that ecclesiastical leaders should be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2) or “the wife of one husband” (1 Tim. 5:9). Given that polygyny was rare in Jewish society at the time and polyandry was non-existent, I don’t think these passages are about polygamy. I also don’t believe they are a requirement that a minister be married (since Paul was not married, and Jesus was possibly not married) nor a restriction stating that a person may only be married once (which would exclude divorced persons and all re-married widows/widowers from ministry). No, I think it was a phrase that effectively meant, “a minister of God must be a one-man woman,” “a minister of God must be a one-woman man.” In other words, faithful to one’s spouse. Having cheated on his first wife, Tony Jones is clearly ineligible for ministry. Other leaders should not be promoting him and inviting him to speak at conferences.

Finally, in his biting commentary on the subject, PhoenixPreacher called Tony’s “spiritual wife” solution “genius….and wicked as hell.” I can agree on the “wicked” part, but I would replace “genius” with “derivative and unoriginal.” Mormonism founder Joseph Smith beat Tony to the idea by approximately 180 years. (When you’re reduced to stealing some of the worst theology that ever came out of an otherwise intriguing and sometimes innovative frontier Christian heresy, that’s kind of saying something.)

On a broader scale, for an adulterer to use God or theology to justify his/her behavior is nothing new. My ex-husband told me he was not going to end his emotional affair because he had prayed about it and God had told him to continue it, so I did not get a say in his “friendship” with the other woman (or all of the money he was spending on her). Divorce Minister‘s wife invoked some vague Old Testament passage about how a woman could leave her husband if he didn’t earn enough (never mind all of those OT passages about stoning adulterers). Infidelity forums are full of stories from people with religious spouses, Jesus Cheaters, who somehow convinced themselves that the God of the universe had personally signed off on their cheating. You thought the “God of the Lost Car Keys” was bad? Get ready for the “God of Thinking With Your Little Head”!

In any case, I’ve recently received some more of my ex-husband’s unpaid parking tickets in the mail. This time, I think I’ll take a page from the JoPa book and try paying the City of Chicago with “spiritual money” instead of “legal money.” I can’t see any flaws in that plan. Can you?


[1] If you are not a Mormon history buff, you might want to Google the phrase “dirty, nasty, filthy affair” right about now.

3 Comments on I Now Pronounce You Man and Spiritual Wife

  1. JTK- The proper marriage theology is BS. What about Gothard and SGM then? They had proper marriage theology per your definition.

    It is patently ridiculous and hypocritical to act like RHE’s continuation of a professional relationship with Tony is a result of her marriage theology.

    In fact, it’s disingenuous. We are all painfully aware that people from across the doctrinal spectrum, have affairs, cover them up with emotional abuse, and justify them with amazing mental gymnastics. People from across the doctrinal spectrum also seek power, curry favor with power, and protect the gathered power of themselves and their cohort.

    The fact that there is little appreciable difference in the behaviors around power and its maintenance between one camp and the next is THE POINT. As soon as you pretend it’s about the theology you’re essentially saying that it wouldn’t happen in your (theologically correct) camp. Not only is this am outright lie, but it makes it clear to victims in your camp that they cannot seek assistance from you. That is disgusting.

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