|Dear TVC Member,
The purpose of this email is to address the recent New York Times article about an alleged 2012 camp incident with a former children’s minister and a minor. We are absolutely grieved by this report, first and foremost because the Bragg family does not feel loved and supported by our church.
We are also heartbroken because the Times article is inconsistent with the truth of how we have handled the situation and cared for the family. Due to this, we believe it’s essential that we provide as much clarity and transparency with our members as possible.
The Village Church wants to be a place where members receive the care they need and where leadership operates with transparency, even when to do so is costly. The recent Times article depicted TVC as a place where members are treated with disregard and where leaders are more concerned with protecting perpetrators or the church itself. That is not the case. While we are imperfect as a church, the care, compassion and spiritual well-being of our members and guests is at the core of who we are and how we operate as a church body.
Like others in the SBC, we have watched with grief as the reports of abuse have surfaced within our denomination. Though it is difficult to see these stories emerge, sharing them is the first step to bringing about change. At TVC, we know this firsthand, having publicly mishandled a situation with two members at our Dallas campus in 2015. At that time, we were forthright about our failures and need to correct broken systems and thinking within our church.
In the years since that situation, TVC has overhauled its systems of care, vetting processes for employees and volunteers, ministry structures and protocols in alignment with recommendations from outside experts. We understand that these measures as first steps toward an ongoing and never-ending vigilance to be a place of safety, care and transparency. We will always be learning.
When allegations emerged about a sexual assault case at a 2012 Kids Camp, we strove to operate in accordance with the law and the lessons we have been learning. We tried to be transparent and to offer the care that a situation like this warrants. Because the Times piece indicates that we did not do either of these things, we want to clarify our actions.
- The article implies that we were unresponsive to the Times. In fact, we interacted with the Times on three occasions during the writing of the piece providing context, information and clarifications.
- The article implies we have covered up the story. To clarify, we released the news before anyone else on September 16, 2018, on the front page of our website and in our weekend services. We contacted law enforcement within hours of the incident being brought to our attention and encouraged the Bragg family to report it to the police, as well. We also posted public updates to thousands of people on our social media channels. Some national media outlets picked up the story after we released the news.
- The article implies we did not publicize the accused individual’s name to protect him and/or the church. To clarify, the lead police investigator (Detective Michael Hernandez) specifically asked us not to publicize the name because doing so would jeopardize the case. We honored the direction dictated by law enforcement so the investigation could be properly handled by the police. We again proactively released an update by sharing Matt Tonne’s name publicly on our website and social media channels once it was a matter of public record and an arrest was made.
- The article states that TVC fired Matt Tonne knowing that he was named in the case. It implies that the reason of alcohol abuse is a cover for the reason of the assault allegation. To clarify, the decision to remove Matt for alcohol abuse was made back on May 15, 2018, prior to his being named as the alleged perpetrator in the case. Because Matt was then hospitalized for his own safety, TVC refrained from terminating him until after he was released from treatment.
- As the article states, church pastors met with the Braggs and they signed off on all public communication to address any concerns that the Braggs may have had.
- The article suggests that we did not offer care or express empathy for the family. To clarify,
- Matt Chandler reached out via email on several occasions and spoke in person to Mrs. Bragg the day we notified the families of 2012 Camp attendees.
- Brian Miller, one of our lead pastors, was actively involved in caring for the Braggs with regular communication.
- The family received regular ongoing care from their home campus, the Southlake campus, in the form of phone calls, emails, in-person meetings and pastoral care. They also received paid outside counseling, along with financial support. This continual and documented holistic care went on for over a year.
- The family expressed gratitude via email and in person for the support shown to them by TVC by elders, pastors, staff and many members.
- The family remained involved in ministry environments at the Southlake campus (including Student Ministry, Recovery Groups and Steps ministries and Kid Keepers Ministry) until as recently as last week.
- The article states that Love & Norris is TVC’s legal counsel. To clarify, our formal relationship with Love & Norris is in a consultant role in the specific area of safety, as Love & Norris helps churches and organizations reduce the risks of child sexual abuse.
- The article implies that the membership covenant is used to control members while protecting us from a lawsuit. To clarify, Doug Stanley referenced our membership process as just one piece of many that help us screen those who serve here. He did not say it would prohibit or prevent a member from committing this kind of crime. Our membership covenant’s dispute resolution process is not in place for the purposes of secrecy but is in place because we believe that the Scriptures prescribe the manner in which conflict should be resolved (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 6:1-6). All of our conversations related to the membership covenant’s dispute resolution process were made with the hopes of reconciliation.
Though we felt it was necessary to provide this clarity and transparency to our members, our first concern is still with the Bragg family and ensuring care, compassion and full cooperation with law enforcement. We continue to pray that truth will prevail, that justice will be served and that healing will come for all involved in this heartbreaking situation. Thank you for your continued prayers for wisdom and discernment for all those involved.