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Tag: Pastor Matt Chandler

The War Against Deconstructing Evangelicals

three simple rules

“Let’s say our faith was like a sweater. Yarn: our ideology. Weave: our tradition. This is how you wear it. Don’t change it, even if the sweater doesn’t keep you warm any more. Even if it’s too tight or the threads cut off oxygen at your neck. This is the way. Doubts and questions mean disrespect, and those are the seeds of evil, so just don’t.

But over the years, a thread comes loose and you try to just tuck it in alongside the others. You can cover the fraying up. You can pull the thread and think, ‘Oh, I don’t need this one, because it is harmful to me; it’s itchy and gets caught on corners.’ It comes out easily. And the sweater stays together. Then you pull another, and another, and soon you find all the yarn is gone. You have deconstructed the entire thing. You are left naked. People gawk and run away, and you feel two opposing things: the freedom of glorious nakedness, and the fear of the same.”

— Lisa Gungor, writing in her memoir The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen

Deconstruction in an Evangelical context is the reexamination of one’s beliefs. The reexamination often leads to changed theological/social/political beliefs. Sometimes it leads to an abandonment of Christianity altogether. Not everyone who deconstructs becomes an atheist or an agnostic, but many do. Others move on to kinder, gentler expressions of faith or embrace paganism, spiritualism, or a plethora of other religions. And yes, some people, after carefully reexamining their beliefs, remain Evangelicals.

I follow and read over one-hundred Evangelical blogs and websites, along with listening to a handful of Evangelical podcasts. (I wade in the sewer so you don’t have to.) This allows me to stay in the Jesus loop, even though I haven’t been a Christian for fourteen years. I have noticed an increasing number of sermons, articles, podcasts, and blog posts about Evangelicals who are deconstructing. Most of these media points take the approach that doubts and questions are fine — deconstruction — as long as people remain in the church. Those who exit stage left are attacked and mocked. How dare they leave Jesus! How dare they stop attending church and putting money in the offering plate — they never, of course, say the offering part. How dare they come to different conclusions from those of their pastors. How dare they abandon the one true faith — Evangelical Christianity.

All sorts of excuses are given for why people deconstruct: poorly taught, wrong beliefs, negative church experiences, falling out with church leaders, secret desire to sin, and a number of other excuses. What these Evangelical preachers and talking heads never do is take deconstruction (deconversion) stories at face value. Instead of asking the people deconstructing why they are doing so, these Evangelical gurus impute motives on doubters they do not hold. In other words, they are dishonest interlocuters.

Recently, Evangelical megachurch pastor Matt Chandler had this to say about deconstruction (via Neil Carter’s blog):

You and I are in a day and age where deconstruction and the turning away from and leaving the faith has become some sort of sexy thing to do. I contend that if you ever experience the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, actually—that that’s really impossible to deconstruct from. But if all you ever understand Christianity to be is a moral code, then I totally get it.

Former Evangelical Neil Carter had this to say about Chandler’s statement:

Leaving aside the quibbling over semantics, his posture towards the topic made me bristle for the same reasons it did most other exvangelicals: There is nothing sexy about deconstruction. It is a gut-wrenching, disorienting experience, and no one who has walked through it would ever portray it in the glib, shallow way Chandler did.

He rounded up the usual suspects in his effort to invalidate the process, assuring his listeners that people only leave because they didn’t really understand their faith correctly. Surely they are rejecting some other form of Christianity, most likely a shallow, legalistic version gleaned from a superficial reading of the Bible. Or maybe somebody was mean to them, yada yada. I’ll spare you my rants about those theological scapegoats today.

What gets me most is how naturally Chandler falls back on peer pressure as the culprit. Like we’re back in youth group again. He’s convinced people are only doing this because everyone else is doing it and they want to be cool, too.

I wonder which of our tactics gave us away? Was it the way we enroll our children in weekly group lessons aimed at convincing them to disbelieve in his religion, teaching them songs to go along with each topic? Or maybe it’s the weekend-long retreats where we all hold each other, crying around a campfire as we each talk about how our rejection of faith has made our lives complete?

Chandler, of course, is saying that “real” Christians never, ever walk away from Jesus. Thus, those who do weren’t “real” Christians to start with; that we had some sort of defective, dead faith. However, our stories suggest that Chandler — let me speak bluntly — is full of shit. I know countless former Evangelicals who held orthodox Evangelical beliefs; people who devotedly and unreservedly followed after Jesus Christ; people who gave their time, money, and talents to the advancement of the Kingdom of God; people whose lives were shining examples of what it meant to be a follower of the one true God. Don’t believe our stories? Ask the people who knew us best: our families, friends, and fellow church members, if we were born-from-above, Holy Ghost-filled, adopted children of the Triune God. Ask them about how we lived our lives. Ask them about our devotion to the things of God. I know as far as my life is concerned, I was a real Christian, and critics who suggest I never will search in vain for anyone who knew me who will say that knew I was an unbeliever.

John Cooper, the lead singer for the Evangelical Christian rock band Skillet, took matters a step further when he said:

I don’t even like calling it deconstruction Christian. There is nothing Christian about it. It is a false religion.

And for all those formerly Christian people who have tried to tell all these young folks that they think they found a third way. Their third way is this: It’s OK if you’re into Jesus, just don’t be into the Bible. I’m here to tell you young folks, there is no such thing as loving Jesus but not loving his Word.

A false religion? Child, please. What’s with all the hysteria over deconstructing Evangelicals? Here’s what I see and hear: fear. Young adults, in particular, are exiting Evangelical churches in record numbers. More and more people are saying they are atheists or agnostics or NONES — people who are indifferent towards organized Christianity. Powerless to stem the tide (and God seems quite indifferent), Evangelicals such as Chandler and Cooper lash out at the people who dare to say the emperor has no clothes.

Eric Scot English, a progressive Christian, wrote an article titled Why Evangelicals Hate Deconstruction that said, in part:

Public critiques from evangelicals regarding deconstruction are on the rise over the last few years. Do you ever wonder why? I mean, what could be the harm in thinking critically about matters of faith? Wouldn’t any denomination or church movement encourage such thinking as a means for people to grow in their faith? In this article, I will provide two reasons why evangelicals hate deconstruction and why they continue to call it “dangerous”.

First, it’s important to understand what it means for someone to “deconstruct” their faith. To be clear, religious deconstruction is not the same thing as philosophical deconstruction (which was espoused by postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida.) Religious deconstruction is the tearing down of theological presuppositions and beliefs in order to reconstruct beliefs under a new paradigm. That new paradigm does not have to be a different denomination or religion, but it often results in a significant change.

Usually, doubt is the catalyst that demonstrates the need for deconstruction. Therefore, all deconstruction is built upon the foundation of doubt. This is an important idea for people who experience doubt to understand. Doubt is healthy and doesn’t necessarily lead to a weakening of one’s faith. There are many people in evangelicalism who begin to doubt and become atheists as a result. This is largely because evangelicalism discourages doubt when they should see it as an opportunity. Instead of becoming an atheist, which is a huge leap from doubt, the individual should consider going through a journey of deconstruction. Deconstruction is the only way that harmful beliefs can be dealt with religiously. However, deconstruction cannot happen in isolation. It must be followed by reconstruction.

Oftentimes missing from the critique that evangelicals raise about deconstruction is the reconstruction journey that often follows. Reconstruction is the rebuilding of religious beliefs upon the new paradigm that the individual has established. Reconstruction allows the individual to find their own beliefs instead of what has been spoon-fed to them most of their religious life. The fact that reconstruction is rarely, if ever, mentioned in evangelical conversations bolsters the fact that they fail to understand the basic concepts of deconstruction on the whole.

….

There is nothing inherently wrong with deconstruction. It is a process that I would recommend to anyone who wants to develop critical thinking and have faith that is their own and not something that was simply handed to them. Those who deconstruct often find a new sense of enlightenment (no pun intended) that may result in some grief over the faith they knew, but that ultimately grows into excitement about the process.

My only quibble with English is over his suggestion that atheism shouldn’t be the end game. Don’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. (Atheists ask, what baby?) Much like the Evangelicals he rightly criticizes, English says that “faith” is the desired outcome — just not the Evangelical version of faith. English says:

There are many people in evangelicalism who begin to doubt and become atheists as a result. This is largely because evangelicalism discourages doubt when they should see it as an opportunity. Instead of becoming an atheist, which is a huge leap from doubt, the individual should consider going through a journey of deconstruction. 

English implies that the path from Evangelicalism to atheism doesn’t involve reconstruction. He really misses the mark on this point. As a man who was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years and who is now an atheist, I can say that the past fourteen years post-Jesus have been one long reconstruction project. And I suspect most Evangelicals-turned-atheists who read this site would say the same. Shouldn’t the goal of deconstruction be to follow the path wherever it leads? English seems to have a desired outcome — faith — in mind rather than encouraging people to embrace their questions and doubts wherever they may lead. In my case, the path has led to atheism, humanism, and socialism. I, for one, took a serious, good-faith look at progressive Christianity, but I found it to be intellectually unsatisfying. And, quite frankly, the progressive, liberal churches in this area are dead as a hammer. Filled with old people (of which I am one) and reticent to change, the churches my wife and I attended had nothing that said to us that this is the place we want to call home. We found sleeping in on Sundays and watching football with my sons far more appealing than incoherent sermons and unsingable music. (Looking at you Episcopals). Nice people, to be sure, but we found these churches unappealing, to say the least.

Punch “evangelical deconstruction” in a Google search field and you will find a plethora of articles, blog posts, sermons, and podcasts about deconstruction. I looked at dozens of these sites. Some of them raged against deconstruction, while others encouraged people to deconstruct/reconstruct as long as they remained Christians. Not one site saw atheism, agnosticism, or humanism as a desired outcome. Why is that? What are the underlying factors that keep these prognosticators from seeing that unbelief might be a desirable outcome? Shouldn’t happiness and peace, along with meaning and purpose, be the ultimate goal? I wonder if some of these folks still believe in the existence of Hell or think that meaning and purpose can only come through faith? If so, how is this any different from what Evangelical preachers are saying? Maybe people such as English will stop by and explain.

Other posts on deconstruction and deconversion:

Yet Another Christian “Explains” Why Believers Lose Their Faith

Pastor Mike Dunn “Explains” Why People Walk Away From Evangelical Christianity

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: Mother of Alleged Victim of Evangelical Children’s Pastor Matt Tonne Speaks Out

matt tonne

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

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.

Baptist Press reported at the time:

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.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Children’s Pastor Matt Tonne Accused of Sex Crime

matt tonne

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Matthew “Matt” Tonne, associate children’s pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, stands 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 Southern Baptist luminary Matt Chandler.

Baptist Press reports:

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.

Bruce Gerencser