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In January 2019, Matthew “Matt” Tonne, associate children’s pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, was accused of indecent contact with a child. The alleged contact took place at the Mt. Lebanon Retreat and Conference Center in Cedar Hill, Texas. The Village Church is pastored by Calvinistic Southern Baptist luminary Matt Chandler.
Matthew David Tonne, the 35-year-old accused, was dismissed as associate children’s minister from the Southern Baptist megachurch on an unrelated matter in June, senior pastor Matt Chandler said Jan. 24 in video and printed comments at thevillagechurch.net. The alleged crime occurred at the Mt Lebanon Retreat and Conference Center, a Baptist ministry in Cedar Hill, Texas.
“We want to state clearly that there are no persons of interest in this investigation that have access to children at The Village Church,” Chandler said. “We would not let anyone who is under investigation for a crime like this be near any of our children at TVC.”
Tonne, a husband and father of three, had been out of jail since Jan. 9 on $25,000 bond. His original court date of today (Jan. 29), has been rescheduled to Feb. 7, based on documents filed in Dallas County District Court.
The Village Church is making at least one change in its ministry to children, Chandler said in the website comments.
“We have decided to no longer do overnight events with elementary children based on counsel from MinistrySafe,” Chandler said, referencing the ministry founded by attorneys to help churches, camps and ministries protect children from sexual abuse. Additionally, the church has hired a director of care, Summer Vinson Berger, whom Chandler described as a licensed professional counselor skilled in trauma care.
“She is helping us evaluate all of our current practices and will help us further strengthen our ministry here,” Chandler said. “We view physical and emotional safety as a top priority and will continue to pour resources into that area.”
No details of the 2012 incident were available, other than a statement about the health of the victim and the victim’s family.
“Earlier this year, the minor came to a place where it was possible to verbalize the memory of what happened for the first time through ongoing therapy. (Cedar Hill Police) Detective (Michael) Hernandez has been investigating the case since that time,” Chandler said. “It took courage and strength for the child and the family to share this information, and we want to support them in any way possible.”
The church has no other reported incidents of abuse at the 2012 camp event, Chandler said.
“We have been working with the family and Detective Hernandez to do all that we can to bring healing and the light of justice to this situation,” he said, “including the decision to make this investigation public now.”
Parents and children at The Village Church have no need to fear for their safety from sexual predators at church events, Chandler said.
“We are committed to doing all that we can to protect our children,” he said.
Pastor Chandler might want to pay attention to the news (or this website). Parents have EVERYTHING to fear when it comes to entrusting Evangelical churches with their children. Sexual predators are deeply embedded within Evangelical congregations. Thoughtful, protective parents ought not to let their children out of their sight. Chandler can’t know for sure if there are other predators lurking in the shadows of the Village Church. Is his “word” good enough?
You can read the church’s press release here.
Tonne maintains his innocence. Recently, the mother of the girl allegedly abused by Tonne spoke to the New York Times:
Christi Bragg listened in disbelief. It was a Sunday in February, and her popular evangelical pastor, Matt Chandler, was preaching on the evil of leaders who sexually abuse those they are called to protect. But at the Village Church, he assured his listeners, victims of assault would be heard, and healed: “We see you.”
Ms. Bragg nearly vomited. She stood up and walked out.
Exactly one year before that day, on Feb. 17, 2018, Ms. Bragg and her husband, Matt, reported to the Village that their daughter, at about age 11, had been sexually abused at the church’s summer camp for children.
Since then, Matthew Tonne, who was the church’s associate children’s minister, had been investigated by the police, indicted and arrested on charges of sexually molesting Ms. Bragg’s daughter.
Ms. Bragg waited for church leaders to explain what had happened and to thoroughly inform other families in the congregation. She waited for the Village to take responsibility and apologize. She waited to have even one conversation with Mr. Chandler, a leader she had long admired.
But none of that ever came.
“You can’t even take care of the family you know,” she remembered thinking as she walked out of the large auditorium. “Don’t tell more victims to come to you, because you’re just going to cause more hurt.”
At the Village, one of the most prominent Southern Baptist churches in the country and a bedrock of Texas evangelical culture, Ms. Bragg said leaders had offered prayer. And at times she was grateful, and she tried to respect their decisions.
But as months passed, she came to believe their instinct to protect the institution outweighed their care for her daughter or their interest in investigating the truth.
For years she trusted that her church’s top leaders had acted in the best interest of the congregation, and that if she disagreed, the problem was hers. She had a spiritual reason: to doubt them was to doubt God.
ut her daughter’s ordeal showed her a different side of her church. The Village, like many other evangelical churches, uses a written membership agreement containing legal clauses that protect the institution. The Village’s agreement prohibits members from suing the church and instead requires mediation and then binding arbitration, legal processes that often happen in secret.
The Village also uses an abuse prevention company called MinistrySafe, which many evangelical churches cite as an accountability safeguard. Ms. Bragg assumed that MinistrySafe would advocate for her daughter, but then she learned that the group’s leaders were the church’s legal advisers.
The Village permanently removed Mr. Tonne from the staff within weeks of learning his name from the Braggs. To this day, the Village denies he was fired because of a sexual abuse allegation.
Mr. Tonne’s lawyer said his client had been falsely accused.
The Village declined to answer a list of detailed questions about the matter from The New York Times, and Mr. Chandler declined multiple requests to be interviewed.
Unable to wait any longer to hear from church leaders, Ms. Bragg asked for a meeting with them. The first opportunity, the church said, would be several weeks away, three months after the family had reported the incident.
At the meeting, none of the church’s top three pastors were present. Ms. Bragg and her husband brought a list of 15 questions, asking about church policies and the camp. They received no clear answers.
Ms. Bragg raised the possibility that the perpetrator could have been someone from the Village. That was impossible, she recalled being told by Doug Stanley, a senior director at the church, because leaders followed the church’s moral code, enshrined in the membership covenant.
She turned to her husband as they walked out. “Thank God” for the police detective assigned to the case, she said. “If we were relying on our church to give us information, we’d be leaving empty-handed.”
As summer ended, Ms. Bragg got welcome news. The police detective had filed the case with the Dallas County district attorney’s office, and the Village was finally ready to make a public statement. Relieved, she prepared a family statement to accompany the church’s announcement, which was posted online.
Then, on a Sunday in September, Mr. Chandler told the congregation that an allegation of sexual assault had surfaced. He did not name the suspect. “It took courage and strength for the child and the family to share this, and we want to support them in any way possible,” he said.
What he said next infuriated Ms. Bragg. “We want to clearly state that there are no persons of interest in this investigation that have access to children at the Village Church,” he said. “We would not let someone who is under investigation for a crime like this be near any of our children at T.V.C.”
It was a technicality. Mr. Tonne had already been removed.
You can read the entire feature article here.
Pastor Matt Chandler denies doing anything wrong, says a report in Commercial Appeal.