FLOWER MOUND, Texas — An 18-year-old who was allegedly sexually abused seven years ago by a now former children’s minister at The Village Church in Texas, led by Reformed pastor Matt Chandler, has filed suit against the church on claims of gross negligence and to obtain damages for emotional distress.
According to reports, in 2012 Associate Children’s Minister Matthew Tonne abused the then 11-year-old girl, who is not being identified, as she was in her cabin at Mount Lebanon Kids Camp.
The Village Church had a policy prohibiting the opposite sex from being in children’s cabins, but both male and female staffers allegedly used the cabin where the girl and others were sleeping to hold meetings.
The teen’s family says that she told them about the incident in February 2018, at which time they contacted both the church and the police.
In June 2018, the church fired Tonne, but because of an ongoing problem with drunkenness. According to the Religion News Service, Chandler outlined last month during the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting that Village Church did not know at the time that Tonne had been accused of sexual abuse.
The teen and her family, however, allege that Tonne had been identified in May, a month before his firing.
In September, Village Church posted a notice on its website that the Cedar Hill Police Department was investigating a report of a sexual assault at a camp that youth from the church had attended in 2012. It expressed support for the teen who had come forward, and provided assurance that “no persons of interest in this investigation … have access to children at The Village Church.”
“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 statement read. “We have been working with the family and Detective [Michael] Hernandez to do all that we can to bring healing and the light of justice to this situation, including the decision to make this investigation public now.”
The church also noted that it has since required all staff and volunteers who work with children to undergo training with the third party organization MinistrySafe.
Tonne was indicted by a Dallas County grand jury in January on a charge of “indecency with a child involving sexual contact,” and he turned himself in to police. He denies any wrongdoing and is free on bond.
The girl is being represented by Boz Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham and brother of former pastor Tullian Tchividjian. He is the founder of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) and a former child abuse prosecutor.
According to Relevant Magazine, the lawsuit alleges that The Village Church failed to “implement reasonable policies and procedures to detect and prevent the sexual abuse of [the child] by Tonne,” and that it also did not “adhere to the policies and procedures it had in place at the time.”
The Village Church has “not yet to date demonstrated a good faith desire to resolve this,” Tchividjian further told The New York Times. “We have provided ample opportunity and ample time for that. We have hit a brick wall, and at that point in time we had to make the difficult but necessary decision to press forward to filing the lawsuit.”
Chandler said during a sermon last month that while the thought he and others did the best they could to care for the family as soon as he became aware — viewing the matter not just as a pastor but also a father, he also stated that he has been “introspective” about the matter and outlined specific ways that the church could do better.
“This is every parent’s worst nightmare. This is every organization’s worst nightmare,” he stated. “At no point did we try to hide or obscure the facts. I am not interested in defending any name here, but to see justice and healing.”
View Chandler’s remarks in full below.