An American Christian Chapter II — The Joneses
I need to remind the reader that this is from my perspective and experiences compounded with others’. The people I mention all have their side, and it would be unfair of me to make this out to be the absolute truth. I do not know the depths of everyone’s motives or intentions. Still, considering the damage and pain forced upon so many people, I don’t feel like it would be appropriate to interpret their words and actions any other way.
There have been many attempts made by multiple people for decades to discuss a lot of these issues, and each time they are met with resistance. There is always a claim that no one reaches out to talk through their grievances, but this is patently false.
They’ve actively chosen to be harmful, believing they are doing God’s work. Just like every other cult.
All names have been changed and replaced with pseudonyms.
If you haven’t read Chapter I yet, please start here.
I want to introduce you to the Joneses; A family that has dedicated their lives to ministry and Christian service. A family born and bred to create fiduciary relationships, manipulate, control, and subjugate its followers. It wasn’t because they were inherently evil, but goddamn have they perpetuated it.
The Church was led by the pastor and his family, Ben and Beth Jones. Their five kids all served in a leadership position within the Church I grew up in, and currently serve in a leadership position within a few other churches in the US. They’ve thrived on nepotism.
Lauren was the oldest daughter and the Church’s worship leader. Devon, the oldest son, was an abject bully who could do no wrong, at least not publicly. Raymond, the middle child and most comfortable to be around, was my friend for a long time. There was also Karen, the difficult one, and Lauren clone, and Willow, the baby of the family and future “rebel” (She got a tattoo). I was a year older than Raymond and three years younger than Devon. Lauren had another two years on top of that, and Karen and Willow just sort of existed in my world. The boys were taught to be competitive and overly masculine, and the girls were taught to be skinny and subservient.
Lauren was kind, boisterous, and wore a lasting smile. She became the worship leader at First AG when she was still a teenager and was all the other girls’ rivalry. She drew most of the guys’ attraction and turned down many proposals, both for courtship and marriage. Something that was continually done for her by her father, Ben.
Lauren was always modest, always a lady. She played piano and taught an etiquette class when she was a leader in Master’s Commission. Her appearance was a priority, and she was never without make-up. She and her sisters were always to look pretty, exude relentless positivity, and never make a scene.
In the early 2000s, she was in a pseudo-long-distance relationship with a man who used to work at the Church (they wrote letters for a bit). He once confided in me years after my departure that Ben, her Father, had pulled him aside and told him explicitly that his daughter would never pleasure him with her mouth*. The man had no response, because who would. It didn’t pan out.
*I cannot verify the validity of this story as I wasn’t there. Knowing the source, however, I feel that there is truth to it. I’m only relaying what I was told, not stating it as fact.
Devon will come up a lot as this series progresses for several reasons, mostly because he was the loudest and responsible for most of the abuses and truculent behavior. Devon is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met, a trait Ben passed on to both his sons dutifully. He was obsessed with two physical characteristics: his height and hair. Ben had been bald since he and Beth had gotten married, and if you wanted to look at lineage, Beth’s father was the same way. Devon did everything to ensure he would keep his hair, and in the end, his brother ended up being the one to lose it all. Something he accepted gracefully.
Devon’s height, or lack thereof, was a very sore spot for him. All his peers were at least 6'1" if not taller, and his 5'9" stature became an intense focus. He compensated for this by working out non-stop. He packed on muscle and made sure that people knew it. He never missed an opportunity to take his shirt off, no matter the situation. He obsessed about his abs, doing upwards of 1,000 sit-ups a day, but never getting the definition he longed-for. His gym routine was his second priority in life, barely trailing his focus on ministry. Devon’s desire for God and prophetic* yearnings was beyond intense. He spent hours in prayer and biblical study, often writing sermon after sermon, prophetic word after prophetic word. Devon’s ability to focus on something and achieve his goal was uncanny. He is still an incredibly dedicated person.
*Prophecy is highly subjective and rarely accurate. When things come true, Evangelicals hail the word as proof of God. When it’s false, they say God is mysterious, or the prophet must have misinterpreted Him. “People are fallible, and God is never wrong.” Prophetic words are often extraordinarily vague or a broad translation of what “God is feeling” about a situation. It is often called a Word of Wisdom, or more colloquially a Word.
I’ve watched Devon rage at more sporting activities than I care to mention. During my third year in MC, our entire team would go to the gym once a week to play wallyball. It was a highlight for almost everyone and at least a break for the rest. We all got a chance to relax a bit and play a dumb game. Teams were different every time, and while some people, like Devon and a few others, were focused on winning, the rest of us were content to throw a ball around. Since we were all broken down into teams of four, we would play short games in different courts and switch off when the game ended. We were scheduled to play for 90 minutes at the end of our day before going home.
On this particular outing, my team happened to be having an excellent run. We had won every game that day, and we were enjoying it immensely. We had beat Devon’s team twice already, and this was not something that would stand. Devon had decided that we were “prideful” and that a lesson needed to be taught. So, he made everyone stay late. And we had to keep playing until we lost. Every team cycled through, and we continued to play them without a break until we lost from pure exhaustion.
Devon then came in and told us, “See, you aren’t so great, after all.” We were never allowed to all be on the same team again. His pettiness cost everyone an extra 40 odd minutes of their already brutally long day, and no one left that gym feeling good. Raymond’s team had been the one to best us, and he seemed just as happy about it as Devon. Competition, friendly or otherwise (mostly otherwise), was at the core of the Jones boys. There was no room for anything else. They were not content allowing someone to be better. Ever. I tell this story to help give you an understanding of Devon’s pettiness. As these articles go on, it will help provide context to many of the issues I bring up.
Ben Jones is a man who has mastered the ability of being a trusting shoulder to lean on, but only when he is getting something from you. His kinship is based on a give and take basis only. So long as you have something to give him, he will happily take it. Once the situation is reversed, it’s only a matter of time before his availability evaporates.
Ben is simply a very kind asshole. He shot and killed his neighbor’s cat, an affair that ended up in the local paper with a lawsuit. He’s used the term mongoloid from the pulpit to describe someone with special needs. He told his congregation that those with beat-up cars should not have the Jesus Fish because it makes the Gospel look bad. He’s spoken poorly of people publically after they’ve shared something private with him. He turns criticism against him back against his critics as those who have “walked away from God.”
One night after a Master’s Commission Dinner theater, Ben encouraged his son Devon and a few MC students to fight some drunk patrons from a wedding that took place across the street. He told Devon “not to be a wuss” and immediately locked himself back inside the church before the fight broke out, refusing to call any authorities, who were only a block away.
Beth Jones is perhaps one of the most outwardly kind people I’ve ever known. She has a very warm and motherly personality, so much so that while I was in the program, I started referring to her as my semi-mom.
Beth, unfortunately, went in fully with whatever Ben and Devon said. Considering the adherence to patriarchy in the Jones family, it’s not at all surprising that she often shifted her ideals to those of her husband and son, even when she openly disagreed. Talking to Beth always made me feel safe. She made me feel like I wasn’t a horrible person, generally after being berated by her son. I honestly wish I could have trusted her more.
Her unrelenting fastidiousness to purity culture went as far as shaming victims of sexual misconduct or assault, simply because of how they dressed, spoke, or looked. Mind you; this was of women in the church who already adhered to the ideals of purity culture. Beth’s email had the words “courtshipqueen” embedded in it, and she was, without a doubt, one of the strongest proponents of courtship and purity culture within our church.
The Joneses gave the appearance of the perfect family. Considering how well they all still get along, I suppose there’s some truth to their life. Unfortunately, a lot of that is posturing. Because they were supposed to be the model Christian family, they did their best to pretend they were. They bragged about never having to struggle with specific issues, took pride in being over-compensated for something of little value, and primarily cared about what others thought of them. Wealth slowly became essential, and they began to subtly turn their nose up at others who weren’t as well off. They were just “blessed” more than most because they believed they were doing things right, which made them closer to God.
As the kids got older, there was a shift in priorities to wealth management, politics, golf, social circles, privileged information, gossip, and power. It was never enough to be in a leadership position within the Church; there needed to be subjugation. They required people to rely on them, ask for their advice and counsel, and more than anything, they needed people to be under their “spiritual authority.” Spiritual authority is the catalyst used not only by the Joneses but most Evangelical leaders in America today. This cop-out allows for unchecked abuse in God’s name simply because of a position held in a non-profit organization.
As I type this now, I was sent a social media post from one of them mentioning how much they are being slandered and are just brushing it off. This mentality is a common theme in the Jones family. Everyone is out to get them, but “It’s only because those people are hurt and bitter. They just need forgiveness.” There is very much a lack of understanding and self-assessment as to why someone might be hurt and bitter. I know that they will read this post and once again take to their pulpits or social accounts and proclaim how broken I am (Hi guys, I hope you’re doing well!) without reflecting on why. They’ve stalked my family and friends before, and they’ll do it again.
I’m sure this will be read, and an attempt will be made to reach out to me and those I associate with to try and see what’s up, but it will not be to understand, it will be to silence. They will not be able to discern that I’m not bitter towards them but am working out the damage done to me. They will not understand that I care for them as people, but disagree with how they treat others. They will only see what I’m writing as an attack. I’m saddened by this conclusion because it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m not trying to “cancel” them (god, I hate that word); I’m trying to describe the mental, spiritual, and sometimes physical abuse they propagate.
(*Yes Devon, forcing people to stay awake beyond their limits is physical abuse.)
Despite my stories, it is crucial to understand that the Joneses are not monsters. They are not the Trump family, not even by a degree. I’m not trying to demonize them, but as I mentioned at the top of the post, I’m not going to shy away from sharing past experiences. I don’t believe myself to be a morally superior person in any way. I continually fuck things up, and my only solace is that when I realize it or it’s brought to my attention, I do my best not to make the same mistake.
I recently heard Devon describe how he handles criticism. He mentioned that there’s a truth in all of it, even if he disagrees. However, he also said that you have to look at “the fruit” of a person before receiving their criticism. Devon, I’m afraid that’s a poor way to perceive anything. Christianese words aside, if we only changed our perspectives based on how we judge our critics’ righteousness, then the world would have burned a long time ago. It’s on fire now because people stultify critics who don’t already think like them. You cannot expect to change if you surround yourself with sycophants and those who have the same perspective as you.
There isn’t much more I need to expound upon with the Joneses in this part, So I will write one more story before encouraging you to move on to the next chapter.
On my 20th birthday, my mom told me she and my dad were separating. It was my second year of Master’s Commission, and I was already in the midst of the most hellish and unyielding period of my life. I was torn. I knew it was a long time coming, but it still hit hard. I lived at home during my MC years, and not having a place to escape made me feel trapped. I told the two male leaders, Devon and Noah, what was happening and how troubled I was. I vividly recall Devon telling me that I had to fight it and that my parents should be seeing me as an example. I was told I didn’t need time to deal with it; I needed to pray.
Pastor Ben was mediating all of this with my parents, telling my Father one thing and my mother another. My father was directed to let my mother take her time in a trial separation and to not reach out to her, no matter what. On the other hand, my mother was told that he would reach out to her if he cared. After six months, my mother filed for divorce and told my father that he should have reached out if he cared.
Why Ben did this is beyond me.
Other issues arose, none of them good. I watched my father fall utterly apart. I watched him cry himself to sleep. I watched him suffer brutal panic attacks. I watched my mother, confused by all it, completely separate herself from the Church while navigating her new life. I soon found out that she had been having an affair with a co-worker. Two years later, she died of a clogged artery from elective surgery.
Through all the absolute shit that happened in that period, Devon and Raymond were still the first to show up at the emergency room and hug me.
This continues in An American Christian III and IV in a two-part overview of the Master’s Commission Program created by Joneses.