This is a dark narrative of a sexual abuse situation at The Village Church in the Dallas, Texas area. Matt Tonne who was on staff allegedly sexual abused Christi Bragg’s daughter. According to the Braggs The Village Church moved to defend itself. However, Matt Chandler denied the accusations. This post combines social media, and different sources to tell the story of how The Village Church allegedly let down a sexual abuse victim.
“By the way, if this is too weighty for you, if you need to check out for a second and take a deep breath, do that, and then kind of circle back around and join me when we get to the text. Last week, the Houston Chronicle ran the first story of three stories about 700 sexual abuse victims in Southern Baptist churches…that’s just the SBC…where there was victim shaming and blaming and there was protection for the predator. No wonder we’re jaded when it comes to authority. No wonder we’re skeptical when it comes to power.”
Matt Chandler on February 17, 2019
“I make mistakes. I am painfully aware of my limitations, of the weaknesses of the Village Church, of our failures. They are numerous. I don’t think I’m naïve to that. But when it comes to reporting as soon as we had heard, taking our cues from the detective and family, I’m not sure what we could have done different.”
Matt Chandler’s response to the NY Times at the SBC meeting in Alabama.
“Your whole world, it shatters.”
“What we encountered Wednesday was a church that has made a conscious choice to protect itself rather than reflect the Jesus it claims to follow…It’s a terribly sad joke,” she went on. “We followed the rules. We followed the bylaws. We have no clue where to go from here.”
Christi Bragg to The Village Church
Another dark and disturbing scandal came from The Village Church in the Dallas, Texas area. This incident happened after another scandal in 2015. The troubling topic of child sex abuse emerged yet again not only in The Village Church, but is also highlighted how this is an issue in the Southern Baptist Convention itself. This post is a narrative of what happened using multiple sources to weave together the story of Christi Bragg, Matt Chandler, Matt Tonne and The Village Church.
Christi Bragg, The Village Church and Disturbing News
Around 2008 Chrisi Bragg and her family started to attend The Village Church. Christi didn’t grow up in an evangelical church and longed for her family to be a part of the local church. When the family showed up it took a couple of Sundays before they could all sit together. In The Village Church she signed a membership covenant and covenanted with the leadership. You can see what Christi signed in, “Preserving Matt Chandler’s The Village Church’s Bylaws and Membership Covenants from 2009 and 2014 Respectively.” In The Village Church she was part of a small group which became her life. Her friends were welcome in her house most likely and she in theirs. When a lawn mover broke down, the small group purchased another one. When Christi had medical issues they helped her financially from what I have read. And the small group paid for her children to attend church camps. It was a very affirming environment for Christi that helped her faith. But as a mother she was happy that her children were involved in The Village Church. Matt Chandler made a huge impression on Christi Bragg and she looked up to him. But according to my research it appears that there were also problems. One of her daughters was having deep issues, and she could not connect the dots. Her daughter dealt with recurring nightmares, suicidal ideation and cold sweats. The family sought out medical help but didn’t exactly know what was happening.
Then in February of 2018 while they were packing the van for a weekend at the lake she learned something horrifying. Her daughter told her that she was sexually abused at a church camp in or around 2012. She woke up to a man touching her in appropriately. Christi Bragg is a sexual abuse survivors herself and this news was devastating. After-all she did not want her daughter to endure what she went through.
Filing a Police Report and How The Village Church Responded
When the family arrived at the lake Christi filed a police report that stated that her daughter was sexually abused. She also was in contact with Josh Patterson who told her that The Village Church would also file a police report. Josh told Christi they would pray for her and gave her a contact that would be in touch with her. Christi Bragg as a concerned mother reached out to many sources in the evangelical Christian community. From the camp, to a Baptist retreat center to other local churches. Christi was trying to find out what happened and who was involved. This occurred while the police also began their own investigation. Call after call that Christi made was ignored and she did not receive a call back. Then Christi’s daughter began to name a man who hung around the cabin. That name was The Village Church’s Associate Children’s Minster Matt Tonne. Matt Tonne as I learned had an active Twitter account for several years. These were a few of tweets that stood out as I looked over his feed.
Three months after filing a report with the police and notifying The Village Church Christi asked for a meeting with the The Village Church leadership. She had a number of questions about protocol and child safety policies at The Village Church. At the meeting none of the leadership, including Matt Chandler were present. Christi had a list of 15 questions and raised the issue that it could be a pastor or another person from The Village Church who sexually abused her daughter. Doug Stanley, the Senior Director of The Village Church denied that a Baptist pastor or person in leadership could have done anything. Why? Because leaders followed the church’s moral code which is in the membership covenant. Christi Bragg and her husband had enough and they walked out. The Village Church was in denial over the situation. She was thankful that local law enforcement was handling the situation.
In June of 2018 The Village Church removed Matt Tonne from their staff. You can see Matt Tonne on the Flower Mound staff through the Internet Archive. The Village Church said that Matt was removed for alcohol abuse. The Village Church will not admit that Matt Tonne was removed for allegations of child sex abuse. According to Tonne’s Twitter feed he had gotten into the University of North Texas counseling program in August of 2014. Was Matt still working on his masters program when he was let go? That is one of the questions that I have in this narrative. The Village Church also did not notify the community that an alleged sexual assault of a minor had occurred by a pastor that was on staff for years. In a June 14, 2018 email (if anyone has this email can you send it to me please so I can insert it into this post) Matt Chandler explained that Tonne was removed. The church was encouraging Tonne to be supported and sent notes to him. Christi Bragg really received not notes. Why can’t The Village Church notify the community what Matt Tonne allegedly did? There also was another issue that came about as well. The Village Church also used MinistrySafe. However Christi Bragg when asked The Village Church told her that it would be a conflict of interest to speak to the MinistrySafe representative. MinistrySafe represented The Village Church and not the victims in this case if I am reading this correctly.
As the issue dragged on Christi Bragg was troubled by how The Village Church handled her. Also her friends started to raised questions as well. The Village Church paid for Christi to have eight counseling sessions. Plus they gave her $1,000 as well at Christmas of 2018. I like how the New York Times captures the filing of charges against Matt Tonne and what Matt Chandler said. I will quote from the newspaper.
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.”
The problem with Matt Chandler’s statement is that he applied it to after Matt Tonne was removed. Did Matt Tonne as a Children’s Minister have access to children from 2012 until February/March of 2018? He did as a part of his job description. In November a grand jury indicted Matt Tonne. In January of 2019 the Dallas County District Attorney indicted Tonne for indecency with a child involving sexual contact. Tonne was released on a $25,000 bond earlier in January. According to the Religious News Service his release was based on the condition that he not have contact with the “complaining witnesses” or her family. Plus, he was to have no contact with any child under the age of 17, except for his own three children. If Matt Tonne is convicted he faces a $10,000 fine and a sentence of up to 2 to 20 years in prison. As the situation dragged on the Bragg family had more questions. Mr. Bragg suggested meeting Matt Chandler for coffee and discussing what was happening. According to the New York Times the assistant for Chandler said that could be done months away. Family and friends pushed the Braggs to hire a lawyer. Other Christians said that was not Biblical and that you don’t bring in legal representation. Plus the membership covenant for The Village Church stipulated no legal action. Christi Bragg remembered what happened in 2015 when The Village Church tried to practice church discipline on a female who annulled her marriage to a child pornography addict. If you are not familiar with that story you can read, “Has Matt Chandler’s The Village Church Recovered from the Karen Hinkley/Jordan Root Scandal?” Christi feared she would be the subject of church discipline also.
A Tweet in 2016 where The Village Church advertises itself as a place for healing.
Matt Chandler’s sermon from February 17, 2019
Matt Chandler’s Sermon in February of 2019 and The New York Times Breaks the Story and the Defensive Reaction by The Village Church
In February of 2019 Matt Chandler was working through a sermon series called Heaven on Earth. During the sermon called The Promise Fulfilled Matt Chandler started to talk about the Houston Chronicle story about sex abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention at the 5:15 minute mark. Christi Bragg thought she was going to vomit when she head Matt Chandler say that they hear sexual abuse victims. She got up and walked out of the service. Eventually the Braggs got out of their membership covenant and walked away in May of 2019. They tried a legal mediation beforehand and that did not work. Right before the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Alabama in June of 2019 the New York Times published a massive story about The Village Church and sexual abuse in the Matt Tonne situation. You can read that story in, “Her Evangelical Megachurch Was Her World. Then Her Daughter Said She Was Molested by a Minister.” Matt Chandler immediately went into damage control. The church emailed a response to the Times story. You can read that email in, “Matt Chandler’s The Village Church Responds to the New York Times Story of Child Sex Abuse by a Minister Through an Internal Email to Members on Tuesday June 11, 2019.” Matt Chandler denied what the New York Times published and said they worked with the victim and followed the advice of law enforcement. The writer of the New York Times article, Elizabeth Dias claimed that Matt Chandler refused an interview or to respond to questions to the newspaper. Chandler responded at the SBC Convention meeting at a luncheon. He talked about how they did the best they could. Chandler said the following.
“We are an imperfect church with imperfect people,” Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Texas, told a group of Southern Baptists at their annual convention Tuesday.
“I make mistakes. I am painfully aware of my limitations, of the weaknesses of the Village Church, of our failures. They are numerous. I don’t think I’m naïve to that. But when it comes to reporting as soon as we had heard, taking our cues from the detective and family, I’m not sure what we could have done different.” You can watch what Matt Chandler said in the YouTube video below. The Braggs according to the New York Times plan to file a lawsuit against The Village Church.